View Full Version : Alien music

2003-May-30, 01:31 PM
What makes music sound the way it does? Why is it that some notes have sharps and others don't? Why is it a different frequency of sound can be the same note? Why do some notes in combination sound right while other combinations don't?

Is it all to do with human hearing? If that's the case, could it be that alien music might sound awful because while it sounds right according to their perception, it won't sound right according to ours?

2003-May-30, 02:09 PM
I think music's appeal has to do with the frequency's that our ear drums resonate at.

I don't really think there is any convention to a musical note, just that it sounds good... I really couldn't tell you why they have naturals, flats and sharps. It could be that notes are determined to be different pitches by the human ear's perception...for instance the difference between a flat and a natural may be the smallest significant difference in pitch that our ear can detect....anything in between might just sound to us to be a slightly low pitched natural note or a slightly sharp, flat note.

Alien music could be awful by our standards...it depends on what frequency their ear drums resonate at, and their "resolution" for hearing sound frequencies...would it be possible for them to have entier pieces of music that were just one note to us, but due to minor frequency variations sound like Holst to them?

2003-May-30, 02:18 PM
Interesting question. I think that the medium wherefrom the musical experience derives matters; music is not necessarily connected to the motion of molecules. Music has more to do with waves themselves, the modulation of waves in general. For instance, you could have a musical experience using color combinations. So, I believe that a sound-like perception is achievable by any living creature capable of decoding modulated waves and translating them into physical pulses.

Itīs interesting to guess what kind of music could arise in various environments. Marsīatmosphere should yield a sound without volume. A symphony wouldnīt be as vibrant as it is on Earth; each atmosphere would have its own character, demanding new instruments and techniques. Itīs an issue for the future colonization of space. We could also speculate about creatures capable of making music out of optical signs. Such music would be far richer. Just imagine being capable to hear an infra-bass.

2003-May-30, 02:38 PM
Very interesting topic. The system of sharps and flats in western music sounds "good" or "normal" to our ears, but if you've ever listened to Chinese opera you know that our system is not the only one. Other cultures, I believe including the Chinese, use scales that include notes only a quarter tone apart, something that just sounds like a mistake to our ears. Alien ears might detect even smaller variations in frequency, resulting in what might sound to us almost like a steady drone, but have wonderful melody to those aliens. I recently read an article about a pipe organ in a European church with ne pipe so long that is resonates at just barely within the lowest range of human hearing. So maybe we couldn't even hear alien music. Like I said--interesting topic.

2003-May-30, 03:29 PM
The same with bird calls, most of the call is not within our range of hearing. Of course other birds can hear the whole message.

2003-May-30, 03:45 PM
I read a great sci-fi story, so long ago that I can't remember where or by whom, about aliens who visited earth because they loved our arts. They had evolved so far that they no longer had problems or suffering, and couldn't create the emotions that our music and other arts contain. Apparently they could perceive it the same way we do though.

Anyway the story line involved a deal they made with the earthlings to clean up post-war radioactive contamination of Earth in exchange for a large consignment of priceless art treasures. The president of the US was dismayed to find that their list included relatively little American art, and when the aliens came to collect their payment, he substituted all US products. The aliens were miffed, re-contaminated the planet for us, and went away saying "Never trust an Earthling". Very funny.

2003-May-30, 04:23 PM
What makes music sound the way it does? Why is it that some notes have sharps and others don't? Why is it a different frequency of sound can be the same note? Why do some notes in combination sound right while other combinations don't?

Here's a good overview (http://tyala.freeyellow.com/4scales.htm)

In brief, it's all about the ratios of the frequencies between the notes. A note with the same name ("C") is always an exact multiple of another note with the same name: the C one octave above middle C has twice the frequency of middle C, and so on.

Notes sound good together when the ratio between them is a nice, tidy number. C and the G above sound good because G is exactly 1.5 times the frequency of C. C and the F above sound good because F is exactly 1-1/3 times the frequency of C. And you've got an F-sharp/G-flat between them because there's room there for another note with a decent ratio. Meanwhile, C and C# don't sound good together because it's more like 12/13 than 2/3.

For whatever reason, the white keys on a piano sound harmonious together in the 12-tone scale that we use. If you start with C and go C-D-E-F-G-A-B, you've got a nice tidy major scale. But if you want to keep the same ratios and start with a different note, then you've got to start using sharps or flats.

Other cultures use different scales, so there's nothing too special about it. But certainly aliens might hear things very differently indeed.

2003-May-30, 07:48 PM
Of course Aliens singing (http://plaza.ufl.edu/sandler/images/AlienSong.mpg) can be rather funny. (*.mpg file. :-))

2003-May-30, 09:55 PM
Of course Aliens singing (http://plaza.ufl.edu/sandler/images/AlienSong.mpg) can be rather funny. (*.mpg file. :-))

I was just sure that was going to be the "Diva" from The Fifth Element. :D