One of the most magical pieces of elemental music I have heard is the air escaping from Arctic glacial ice as it was melted by the sun. Very subtle, calming, beautiful and quite a surprise. Who would have thought of musical ice? I hadn’t until I experienced it directly.
Who would also have thought of a musical App focusing on the elements? The ‘Elemental’ App is one of the many Apps that I introduced in a previous post. In this App the elements of earth, wind, water and fire can be placed anywhere on a grid. Each element has a different sound and appearance and the App plays them in succession. You can come up with all sorts of interesting combinations. The App is quite simple and appealing in a strange sort of way!
Fundamentally, it is because of the element of air that we can hear music. As noted in ‘What is Air?’ Air is used to communicate – sounds travel through air to the ear of the listener. Air helps some musical instruments produce sound – passing over the reeds of clarinets, vibrating across the mouthpiece of a flute and through a tuba. As well as helping make musical sounds, air carries these sounds to our ears. While we may not be able to see air, it performs many essential functions in our lives.
When you dig deeper, there are many ways that the intuitive elements (fire, water, air, earth and aether/spirit/void) are expressed musically. Think of all of the song titles you know that have an element or related word/s in them. I can only share some of these for songs in English (no doubt there are equivalent titles in other languages). Here are a few examples of the many available:
- I feel the Earth move (under my feet): written and recorded by Carol King
- Wild is the Wind: written by Dimitri Tiomkin and Ned Washington; recorded by many artists – David Bowie’s version is the one I’m most familiar with
- The River: written and recorded by Bruce Springsteen
- Burning up (for your love): written and recorded by Madonna
- Spirit in the dark: written and recorded by Aretha Franklin
We cannot, of course, forget bands with names like ‘Earth, Wind and Fire’ and ‘Air Supply’. As an aside, I thought that Air Supply, an Australian soft rock band that was formed in 1975, mainly had local success. It turns out that they have sold more than 100 million albums worldwide and had eight Top Ten hits in the USA in the 1980s! (Thanks Wikipedia). The things you learn when exploring the elements!
Musical elements are certainly versatile and are used across all sorts of musical styles. Moving forward a few years, the first three lines of the 2011 song ‘Gatekeepers’ by Dutch hip hop band Dope D.O.D go like this:
Yo I flow like water, burn like fire
Down to earth whirlwind wilder than your average type of
Chitty chat taxi driver
The elements also present themselves in meditation music that uses rainfall, trickling streams, waves, gentle winds and other sounds from nature. The fifth element/quintessence, known as spirit, void or space, can be found in songs from nature, as well as in forms such as chants, singing bells and flutes.
The direct expression of the elements in the human voice and their use in healing was not a subject that I was aware of until my brother Rod drew my attention to it. He forwarded information about ‘Elements in the Voice’, which in this case includes metal and wood, from Jill Matson. Thanks Rod!
According to Jill, Earth in the voice is associated with the feel of stillness, security, quietude, being slow moving, being reflective, low-pitched, calming and secure. It can be used to try and calm someone down. Water, another example of an element in the voice, is associated with the feeling of kindness and understanding. Water has also been said to be intoxicating, soothing, healing and uplifting. A person with this voice links words and ideas. In an unbalanced state it is said that this voice type can be draining and sad. The way we speak to others certainly has a lot of power.
These are some of the ways the elements can be expressed musically and through sound. I’ll be keeping my eyes and ears open for more. Please let me know of any examples you come across as well. Thank-you.
(This post is dedicated to my brother-in-law Peter Webb who is a talented musician and visual artist. It is his birthday today – Happy Birthday Peter!)
An Afterword of sorts:
In 2020 a friend shared a musical performance using instruments made of ice with me. This seemed perfect to add to my musical elements blog, so here it is. ‘Ice Music‘ is a short film introduced by American ice sculptor Tim Linhart. Musicians play hand-carved ice instruments inside a glowing igloo concert hall as Tim describes the genesis of his magical idea and the challenges of maintaining the instruments. Tim sees a spiritual dimension to listening to ice music, given the instruments are frozen water and our bodies are mostly liquid water. The spiritual connection makes a lot of sense given that we have a ‘blue mind’ hard-wired to water as an element. The energy transfer between the two types of water would be fascinating to explore.
Another elemental connection to music is a CD and song called ‘Elemental‘ by the Tasmanian artist Clair Ann Taylor. I have written about her debut album, and other artistic expressions of the elements in Tasmania here.
(Since this post was written in 2014, my brother-in-law Peter has died of cancer. So now this is dedicated as a tribute to him).