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Ordinary Time 2017

01 March 2011
breath - everything that has

We're singing music by Larry King on Sunday.

No, not that Larry King. The other one. The one who was organist at Trinity Church, Wall Street in New York.

Larry King embraced the new electronic possibilities offered by magnetic tape. These iconic 1970's electronic sounds offered a completely new sound world to sacred music -- and they still do.

His pieces with electronic tape haven't really entered the mainstream.

But why not?

The psalms tell us: "Let everything that has breath / praise the LORD." (Ps. 150:6)

Note the two words "everything" and "breath".

It's not people that the Psalmist is after here, it's really about the diversity of instruments. Earlier in Psalm 150 we have "the blast of the rams-horn" (when have you heard one of those lately?), "lyre and harp", "timbrel and dance", "resounding cymbals", "strings and pipe" . .

Well, we at least have the strings and pipe part down, right?

But I think the Psalmist is really imagining a noisy sound world that offers praise to the Triune God.

Sound -- and hence music -- is made of pressurized air waves. That's how we hear pitch, dynamic, timbre, etc. Sound relies on things that have "breath".

Cymbals move the air. They have breath.

Organ pipes certainly have breath. I've always enjoyed early North German organ builders who knew this and drew little faces on their facade pipes so it looked as if they were singing (see here, though really I should be able to illustrate this better). Clearly, the pipes have breath.

And the speakers mounted on the walls of the church . . . maybe the Psalmist couldn't even conceive of this breath back then (neither could he conceive of trombones, I bet), but yes, the speakers, and the wav file and the iPod and the CD and the original electronic tape and the audio system in the church, this too has breath.

I'm electronic music's newest convert, it seems.

"Let everything that has breath
praise the LORD.
Hallelujah!"

Labels: , , ,

 
 
Comments:
I love the concept of linking sound and breath...

...but the pedant in me wonders whether the Psalmist would have imagined God as Triune. My understanding is that the doctrine of the Trinity postdates the Psalms by quite some time.
 
Kathryn, you are, of course, right. In writing that, I was linking my understanding with God (Triune) with the Psalmists understanding of praise (everything that has breath!)

Thanks for allowing me to clarify.
 

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