The spiritual side of drumming
As you may or may not know, Drumming has been part of rituals in many cultures throughout human history. In some cultures it’s been more prevalent then others. And those that had an incredibly strong connection to drumming still have it to this day. Cuba, Brazil, many countries in Africa, contain cultures that come to mind right away. If you have done any kind of research into these places you will know that Cuba for example, has the Santeria religion and the bata drums that are part of many of sacred ceremonies.
What is it about drums that makes them widely used in this way? Could it be that they are simply an ancient instrument and that ancient cultures didn’t have much choice but to use them? After all the piano is much newer innovation in our history. I personally don’t think that has much to do with it. What I truly believe is that ancient people instinctively knew what science has now proven in connection to rhythm and drumming.
If you have been following the blog here for a while you may have seen my interview with pianist Dan Tepfer. He is a physicist and fantastic player as well. What we discussed in the interview is something that has fascinated me for over 30 years now. The topic is the true nature of rhythm. What is it exactly? What is it composed of? How do we detect it? How do we use it and interact with it in daily life. A heavy load of questions that I will attempt to tackle here as much as possible.
Do you have rhythm? Do certain cultures have more rhythm then others? Can you get rhythm? Or are you born with it? The answer to all these questions so far is “yes”. Rhythm to this day is highly misunderstood. It stems from most peoples merely superficial knowledge of how we use it. This has added to the mystery of rhythm and created the myth that either you have rhythm or you don’t.
Here is the thing…We are permeated by rhythm. There is no such thing as a human being without rhythm. Let’s start with the obvious. Heartbeat, breathing. This seems to be the default proof of most people who start this journey. But there is still a lot left in the human body. Speaking …this is actually an incredible process of the body. Noam Chomsky, linguist at MIT and one of my personal heroes, says that language can be considered to be an actual additional organ we humans have. If you start to think of it like this it becomes even more interesting. The air pushed through the apparatus used for speaking, the tongue must perform tasks in conjunction with the lips, face and many times the hands. (If you are Italian haha). When you start to think about the coordination involved it’s quite astounding. To get the tongue to move exactly at the same time as the lips, not getting bitten by the teeth already it seems like a lot of work. We do it many times even walking or performing other very involved tasks. It seems like a rhythmic work of art. Which brings me to walking. Walking is of course highly rhythmic. Not simply because of the reasons we see quickly. Which is the sequential movement of the limbs in synchronization with arms etc etc. The most interesting part about walking to me, is that you are also playing a rhythmic game with the planet and the force of gravity. Using gravity you push yourself forward just enough so that you land at the distance your limbs are designed for. And then do it again and again. This requires you to have rhythm with the earth. Imagine if there was no gravity? No earth? You would just float away. The earth is your constant rhythmic partner for so many things.
So you see you have rhythm. But like the rhythmic skill you developed to do all this, rhythm has to be developed in the language of music. It’s representation in music becomes almost like an aural manifestation of something invisible that is part of our daily lives. That already is a really cool way to start thinking about the mystery of it. Our connection to it. And the depth of our use of it.
Rhythm the universe and you
I will refer once again to the video I did with Dan Tepfer. You will find it under this title on the blog. Let’s get to the main issue here. Rhythm when analyzed scientifically, is a series of waves. Drums live in the realm of pulses and cycles that we interact with and detect in the rhythmic realm. When these are super accelerated they turn into pitch. If this is hard to picture you can grab a Metronome and turn it to the highest speed it will go. You will notice that at a certain point the pulses becomes a continuous sound and you can no longer hear the separation between them. This is the point were pulse starts to become pitch. If you take a basic pulse and put a cycle on it it becomes two pitches when super accelerated. (Please refer to the video for very detailed explanation from Dan and Me) if you accelerate these pitches even further they become the notes we use in music. And when you accelerate them even further, they become light. Although light operates differently it seems that it is still a rhythmic wave… making it basically rhythm. These concepts can be extended into sounds and rhythmic ideas that involve orbits of the planets and a slew of other things that make you soon realize something very deep. The people of our ancient cultures probably knew or felt that somehow rhythm connects everything and everyone. That rhythm has been part of our lives in such a profound way that it can lead to spiritual awakening and life-changing realizations. Rhythm is that which is unseen but felt. An underlying force in life. A power that moves you emotionally through our 5 senses. And outside of them. A power that helps you exist in this world. And a vehicle for you to understand the true nature of things and see through the clutter of simple material existence. Rhythm is a gateway to mathematics that can help you in music. And of discovery of what many people called sacred geometry. Rhythm is in nature as we discovered through fractal geometry brought to light by Professor Mandelbrot and his wonderful work using the Mandelbrot set. (Search on google for this amazing work) I like to think rhythm is an Invisible force that binds everything together ( yes like the force in Star Wars) and that this type of thinking has been the birth of most religious concepts, insights, ancient believes etc. If you think about it there’s a long lineage and connection. Drumming now, is a raw representation of this. Drumming is the original language in which we speak to the universe and this unseen force. The thing that connects us to it and provides a gateway to the immense wonder of it. Which then leads to insights, inner peace and a much broader view of existence.
In Spanish there is the phrase “El Conocimiento” which means “the knowledge”. But the phrase implies a knowledge that is connected to the “unseen world”.
To me the “spiritual side” of this means simply the understanding that can provide insight into deeper meaning and lead to a true understanding of the nature of our existence. Freeing us from problems and helping us to develop into a more enlightened species. I may be idealistic in the sense that anything can help our species hahaha. But it seems that modern science is now proving what ancient people knew. I don’t think science is the new god and I don’t believe there is any being up in the sky or anything like that. However I do believe that these things, “el conocimiento” are what lead us to more truthful moments in our existence. And not the construct of the untamed mind.
It’s important for us as musicians to know these things because we can get one of the things that we absolutely depend on. Inspiration. It’s important to know this as a human being because of what it gives us. For me…it is a path to all that is meaningful in life and a filter for keeping the heart and mind clean. A way to transition into knowledge of our true situation in the universe.