A Marvel of Nature – Ubiquitous Sound

By SK RAM

Sound is pervasive energy which is transmitted to our ears in the form of vibrations. Information from our inner ear is interpreted by our brain giving a meaning to sound. It is postulated that sound waves were formed just after the creation of the universe when the Big Bang produced energy of different wave lengths which spread across the cosmos. Fast vibrations produce a high-pitched and slow ones a low-pitched sound. The human being can perceive only a range of sound which is measured in hertz. The transformation of chaotic sound into a harmonious form is the result of evolution and the interaction of the human kind with nature which undoubtedly has inspired gifted men and women to set to music their own interpretation of this magical phenomenon.

It is reported that rishis of ancient India could hear a spiritual rumbling sound which was inaudible to the uninitiated; the sound of silence. This sound could have originated as a result of the movement of the earth travelling at the speed of 600 kilometres per second through the cosmos. However, it is to be noted that celestial vibrations have been interpreted by Hindu spiritual luminaries as sound which is a component of eternal energy, and inevitably religious-minded societies have interpreted it as a manifestation of the Supreme Being.

Sound can be appreciated in different ways by the human ears. On the one hand regular vibrations cause sounds that are pleasing and soothing; on the other hand irregular and high frequency sounds are heard as noises which are considered as a form of pollution that may offend our ears and consequently be the source of many worries to the inhabitants of our planet. Thus hollow booming sound caused by loud speakers fitted in cars or the noisy music of night revellers enjoying their week-end in bungalows, the screeching of car tyres, strident noise of the neighbour’s alarm system, due to accidental triggering, the sound of blaring horns early in the morning or late at night prove not only to be irritating or nerve racking but also disturb our peace of mind and tranquillity.

Sounds of nature can have soothing effect on the mind. Life would be monotonous without the whistle of the wind through filao trees which has lulled many of us to sleep. The sound of water cascading down a stream or the breaking of waves on the shore are all pleasant sounds that soften our attitude.

The song of the nightingale has inspired poets and storywriters. The sweet call of the bird which was appreciated in ancient days by “emperors and clowns” has been immortalized by John Keats in his “Ode to a nightingale”. The whistling of our local “serin” kept as pet cheers the mood of its owner by its musical chirps. The crow of the majestic cock used to be the wake-up call for workers in the days when the alarm clock was a timepiece of luxury. Quite unfortunately not all sounds of nature induce relaxation. Some may produce strong emotions. The growling of thunder or the howling gusts of cyclonic winds may trigger moments of anxiety and cause panicky feelings to sensitive persons.

Modern technology has brought a further dimension to sound. The invention of the telephone has been a landmark in the reception and transmission of sound. Long distance conversation has consolidated social ties between family members and friends. Cultural, scientific, and political events can now be followed by inhabitants of remote regions in real time. The broadcast of educational programs have contributed to improve the outlook of the world population by broadening their awareness on different aspects of life. The combination of digital surround sound and pictures has made movies more entertaining and has added more thrill to actions.

Evolution has endowed the humankind with vocal organs which form a perfect apparatus for verbal communication. There is no living creature that can produce sounds to match the versatility of the human voice. Men and women have been able to combine thoughts and language to make sound meaningful. Nature has inspired gifted artists and composers to set to music their own interpretation of the sounds it produces. Tender or spiritual feelings can be expressed through songs or prayers. The first vocal expression of the human being is the baby’s cry which is an important indicator of his/her state of health.

In the medical field the stethoscope is used to listen to body sounds which direct the physician to reach a diagnosis. Ultrasound is widely used as a method of medical investigation to clear the doubts of the doctor.

The lively sounds of church bells announce a wedding ceremony while melancholic tolls pay respect to a departed person. The melodious chimes of the Big Ben can be recognized all over the world. In Hindu temples bells are rung to invoke a deity or to ward off evil spirits. The sensation of ringing bells in the ear on the other hand can upset the person who is affected by this troublesome disorder.

Sound is a marvel of nature which has not yet revealed all its secrets. Physicists are still racking their brains trying to unravel its mystery. NASA scientists have recently discovered “earth sounds” which are produced by the electromagnetic field of our planet. Are they the same sounds that Vedic rishis heard thousands of years ago?


* Published in print edition on 8 March 2013

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