Biophilia: Love of Living Systems

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In life, there are things we are attracted to and things we are averse to. All of us are afraid of certain things, some deep-seated enough to be classified as phobias, and naturally all of us love certain things, which for the purpose of linguistic flow I will refer here to as philia’s.

I have always been a lover of nature, but I can say, hand on heart, that my love of nature has never been as powerful a force in my life as it is in this very moment to the point where I would go so far as calling it a purpose.

Recently, I came across something that absolutely captivated me. Biophilia is the love of nature in all her manifestations. Bjork is an artist who loves nature as well as music and approaches both in her own, unique way. I believe in what Bjork is doing, her process, her mind, and what she produces. I deeply admire and am so inspired by how she applies her passions with such audacity, in such a way that I am sure that nothing will stand in her way. Bjork’s latest album, Biophilia, is a magnificent display and celebration of nature in all her wonder. She launched a 3-year world tour for Biophila, with the expressed intent of changing the way people experience, think about, create and express music as well as her desire to put nature on stage, so to speak. Bjork’s belief is that the lines between nature and music blur, because they are really the same thing.

In the process of manifesting Biophilia, Bjork, a pioneering world-leader in music, turned to David Attenborough, a pioneering authority on nature. Listening to them speak about natural music and musical nature was like a spring tide of brilliance in my mind, a kaleidoscopic explosion of inspirational thoughts that spiraled inward and outward and left me mindgasmically out of breath but hungry for more. What magnificent minds they have. They stopped being Bjork and David, and became communicators of a message I believe the world needs to hear, if only we would listen. I sublimated straight into excitement as I listened to them speaking and sparking with each other, both so passionate about their respective fields and their newly-expressed integration and collaboration.

Bjork wanted to celebrate sound, and the sound of sound. She partnered with some other world-leaders in their field including experts in musical instrument creation (a man spent 5 years creating a new instrument to use that takes a day to program 1 minute’s worth of music), interactive artists to create new ways of creating and manipulating musical notation in an intuitive way that was accessible to people who perhaps had never studied music, world-leading neurologists who shared the power of music and how it is a medium that activates almost all areas of the brain, the list goes on. All of her research, networking and creating culminated in a rather spell-binding production where she visualised aspects of the natural world through music. For example, inspired by thunder and lightening, she used a Tesla coil to generate electrical charges on stage that produced the baseline for her song as well as bolts of lightening on stage. She also wrote a song about crystals, inspired by the contrast of their rigid, mathematical structure and their captivating beauty. The time signatures are 17/8 and 4/4 in the chorus, and she powerfully conveys her song to the listener with convincing integrity to the crystals that inspired it.

I will go out to find Bjork’s Biophilia album and will continue exploring what she has to say about music, nature and how both are experienced freely, but it isn’t about her. It is about the message, and how she challenges us to continue in our own direction on our own path.

Music is a catalyst between our inner and outer world. People respond to music in ways that words could never describe. It can elevate us or depress us, bring us to tears or have us in stitches of laughter, it can move us emotionally or literally to the point where we cannot remain still and burst out of our seats into a groove. In this modern day and age but already reaching back into history, people have used music to express some of what words cannot. Music has progressed, and so have we, so it makes sense that in some instances we embrace progression and let technology assist with expressing what perhaps was not able in the past, as seen in electronic music and with a multitude of fascinating apps that enable intuitive music creation, such as what Bjork has done. So too, the science of sound is so fascinating and enables us to blend the sensory experience of music to a point where we can SEE, FEEL, HEAR music – how its vibration and frequencies generate patterns and can move objects, how it affects water, how notation can be creatively displayed in new ways, and so the list goes on.

As I looked further and further into what I was seeing, I got more and more excited and started pondering along certain paths. Join me, if you like, and hopefully something will be interesting to you and will send you off on your own tangent:

Ehipassiko:

– It has been scientifically proven that playing, creating, studying, interacting with music enlarges parts of our brain that otherwise wouldn’t be. Enhancing the capacity of our brains is absolutely a worthwhile endeavour, and I am baffled by the thought that if we could, some of us don’t. Why does society not place more importance on creating/experiencing music? Why is music not part of the curriculum at all levels of education? Why is it seen as “extracurricular” and not something that all children are exposed to in their early learning years, when they are most receptive? Evolutionarily, expanding the capacity of our brains will be beneficial to generations to come. So why is this optional, and seen to only be preserved for “musical people” or “creative types” or “musicians”? These labels serve no one.

– Imagine Maths being removed from school curricula… That’s right, you can’t. Neither can I, because we need it to develop part of our brain and it assists with functioning more than training us to be mathematicians. So now, let’s imagine together if music was as non-negotiable as maths, if everyone didn’t have to be incredibly talented but was given a chance to develop their own way of being musical… Maths develops PART of our brain, whereas music develops almost ALL parts of our brain. I am not suggesting we force it on everyone, but firmly believe there should be more focus on it and integration of it into school curricula.

– Bjork was frustrated learning the theory of musical composers from Germany, who she appreciated but didn’t connect with because she felt much more connected to her Icelandic context and wanted to express that. However, the structured approach to music that so frustrated her also brought her a powerful platform from which to proudly and passionately want to make a difference. It seems that many pioneering artists look at structure, personally struggle with it and step outside the proverbial square into a new realm where they create something new. This is what will propel us into an age of pioneering, which is where we need to be to move our society into a new civilization.

– Bjork’s apps that an interactive artist she partnered with created have been integrated into the musical curriculum in Iceland. They let children intuit their compositions, to see notation in new ways, and it makes music accessible before it has been studied. How have we confined ourselves and our concepts around music? Is “not having aptitude” sufficient as a barrier? Absolutely not. I think we all have a responsibility to ourselves to find a way. Not all of us can be like Bjork, who has a remarkable range of musical ability – she can sing, has a wide range, she can compose, she understands and manipulates music theory in a remarkably stimulating, eccentric, holistic, scientific and novel way, she teaches others about music, she is a music artist, she can play various instruments – the list goes on. We need not all be like Bjork – that would defeat the point. But: How can each of us integrate music in our lives in such a way that we would be able to all proudly and confidently say “I am musical”? How can each of us challenge our own ideas of what “making music” sounds like, ranging from ability-oriented creation such as Mongolian throat singing or didgeridoo playing right across to dancing, grooving to the rhythm of the indicator in our cars,  singing, clapping, playing the spoons, enjoying the sound of stirring food while cooking or baking, or revelling in the sound of birdsong.

– I feel quite passionately that we need to look at our lives and proactively seek out the musical aspect to them. The story of our lives is like a retrospectively unfolding composition – sometimes symphonic, sometimes cacophanic. As soon as we start to think, we see: The original rhythm, our heartbeat, so intrinsic to our being. The chamber in which we grew, the womb, what were the sounds there, how did we hear sounds of the outside world there? I wonder how music sounds to us as babies in the womb, as well as in different spaces (echoing caves, under water, small rooms, amphitheatres) over the course of life. The sounds we hear in the silence, what the sound of our blood pumping and coursing through our veins sounds like, the symphony of our breath and how we compose our breathscape each day, what happens to our breath when our heart speeds up in any form of cardiovascular activity… The Sound Inside. What trees growing sounds like, trees bending in the wind, what sounds can we make with our body intentionally and unintentionally… The possibilities are infinite.

– Music helps to understand and build relationships, first with ourselves, then with music, with others, how to create harmonies, how to resolve, how to leverage and be ok with or even appreciate dischord. Music is not optional – to me it seems as essential as breathing. We can breathe shallowly and survive, or we can breathe deeply and thrive, as it enhances digestion, clears our minds, even burns more calories and certainly increases overall wellbeing. We can distractedly have music on in the background of our lives, or we can consciously bring it to the foreground and thrive by proactively engaging with it.

– How can we NOT see music in nature? The symphony of a sunset, the cacophony of a thunderstorm cracking the sky open, droplets on a leaf, throbbing heat, sharp-pitched icy cold…

– People say that we should “take note” of things… Why can’t we “make notes” of things? I am going to sometimes try to look at something, and sing in response to it, or see what music it feels like, what sounds it creates, what sounds I can create.

– Why do we enjoy some music and not other music? What do we enjoy about the music we love the most, and why? What do we not like about music we do not enjoy? Can we find aspects to appreciate in it, even though we don’t enjoy it? Can we learn something from it anyway?

– After this intellectual foray, I no longer accept that “some people aren’t musical”.  The only thing more ridiculous than saying that is believing it. In certain cultures, everyone is expected to sing and dance, just as in other cultures certain practices are revered as sacred and non-negotiable parts of life. In the West, I know music is important but it is seen by some perhaps as something to enjoy from afar, where we can buy albums and go to concerts. Bjork creates the kind of music that isn’t great “background music”, because it deserves to be in the foreground! She wants to and does challenge us on an intellectual level about our ideas of what music is, and what it can be. Some of her songs are not “enjoyable” as such, but there is a science and a conscious aspect behind them all that we simply must at least appreciate and let plant seeds and spark new thoughts. I think everyone can benefit from engaging with music at a deeper level – learn an instrument or harness your own one (voice) – just SING, it doesn’t matter if you don’t think you have a good voice, JUST SING. Our larynx is a remarkable thing – think about our vocal register when talking; we don’t use a particularly wide range. Our singing register sees our capability stretch out in both directions far more, which indicates that evolutionarily at some point, there was a need for us to utilise our voices beyond just talking. Some birds and animals only communicate with sounds to us like singing, society at large seems to appreciate musicals and how there seems to be a song for most things in life, and how music can express what words can’t. These points all take us to a place in a clearing in the forest where we should meet, and hum and sing and create music together.

Music is transcendent – it is used to celebrate, to commemorate, to consolidate, to elevate, to soothe, to infuriate, to make a statement, to ask a question. Music is in nature, and nature is in music. The two are reflections of each other, as are we. Music has infinite potential and need not have any limits – neither do we.

We cannot go back, we must music forward. It is in our nature.

 

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