Music at 432 Hz
On September 30 Prince celebrated the release of Art Official Age and Plectrumelectrum with a Q&A on his Facebook page. Users were invited to submit questions. It came more that 3,000, and yet Prince answered just one. Some Emanuel invited him to «emphasize the importance of music to tune the frequency of 432 Hz». Prince responded with three words, the title of an Art Official Age song: «The Gold Standard». What is the gold standard tuning? What the connection between frequency of 432 hertz and the music we listen to?
Throwing a stone into a placid pond produces concentric circles. Something similar happens when it comes to sounds, which are the product of vibrations in the air. The sharper the sound, the greater the vibration: when Robert Plant invites you to squeeze his lemon he makes it to a higher frequency than when Nick Cave talks to Kylie Minogue before killing her. Each sound has its own frequency, the unit of frequency per second is hertz (Hz). We perceive frequencies between 16 and 20,000 Hz. Notes are sound, and each has its own frequency. In the Western world, it was decided that the A above Middle C vibrate at 440 Hz. According to the laws of equal temperament that regulate the tone as we know it, the A in the lower octave vibrates at 220 Hz, one octave higher is 880 Hz. Similarly, Middle C vibrates at 261.6 Hz, D at 293.7 and so on.
It’s a norm, the product of a long history of opinions and some rethinking. There was a time when the pitch of the musical instruments varied greatly. The Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi inspired an Act of the Government dated 1884 so that the A note was brought to 432 vibrations. For this reason, in 1988 Italian senators Boggio, Mezzapesa, Cappelli and Azzarà submitted a bill for the normalization of the pitch at 432 Hz. In other centuries, Mozart had suggested 422 Hz, Handel 423. Their opinion could win, but the execution of music in increasingly large halls led to adopt a sharper pitch so that instruments sounded brighter without giving the singers too much trouble. The frequency at 440 was adopted only in 1939 at a London conference and accepted uniformly in 1953.
Supporters of the gold standard tuning says that 432 hz is a more natural frequency than 440: they affirm is in connection with the laws that rule the universe. In support of their thesis they show vague or complicated calculations, an alleged consonance with the movement of the planets and the pulse of the human heart, a relationship between sound and our body cells, and even the composition of the DNA. According to them, the same score played at the 432 Hz pitch would produce a more harmonious result, inspiring positive feelings. On the contrary, the current pitch encourage negativity. To prove it they point their finger to rock music which would inspire antisocial feelings because of the tuning at 440 Hz.
It’s an underground movement, which aims to provide a relaxed and positive listening experience. Echoes of New Age spirituality live side by side with a hint of conspiracy theory when thet say the Nazis are responsible of the spread of the 440 Hz pitch. Softwares like Audacity let you listen to your favorite songs with a different pitch, websites compare performances, records and concerts are played on instruments tuned in a different way. In Italy, the Stone Circles Fuzz Orchestra – the evolution of a Pearl Jam cover band called Ten Jam – play rock music with the gold standard tuning.
There’s no convincing scientific evidence to support their thesis – unless you consider significant some mathematical coincidences. Nor listening to music transposed to 432 Hz provides significantly different experiences, especially when it comes to rock music. Eight vibrations per second on the fourth octave of the piano represent a range hardly noticeable and every definition of the pitch – 422, 432 or 440 – has its pros and cons. But if nothing else, Emanuel and Prince marked a point: the music in which we live is the result of an arbitrary choice.