Saturday, May 10, 2014


Version by Nathan Fillion

The third function of the brain -- after accepting and filtering the sensorium and converting it into concepts -- is bodily action: moving muscles, both the big ones like running and the little ones like licking your lips.  As the structure of the body evolved, so that we stood up and held our arms out to the sides in that da Vinci wheel of the human being, a small/large set of evolving abilities began to interact.  This synthesis allowed the emergence of the human voice as a musical instrument, a kind of bagpipe with living lungs (from standing upright) and the ability to interrupt the column of air in various subtle ways.

When you take a class in singing or speaking, one of the exercises is to repeat and repeat thetipofthetonguethelipsandtheteeth thetipofthetonguethelipsandtheteeth thetipofthetongue
thelipsandtheteeth thetipofthetonguethelipsandtheteeth, because it is an exercise that makes you move those very structures.  

More properly, it should go: 
the column of air
the larynx
the pharynx
the bony sinuses
the tongue
the teeth
the lips

They are all involved in making the music of singing, which draws in spoken words, because once sounds are flexible and controllable, they are available to be metaphorical and the sounds in combination can stand for meanings of things perceived by the sensorium and also the viscera (emotion).

Fingers can also act on the environment to make sounds: percussion, vibration, narrow apertures, plucked strings, struck keys, drawn bows.  Those sounds can be put into concatenation with the voice sounds and their meanings.  Maybe it was the fingers on instruments that taught the fingers to write, to take that set of oral spoken meanings and re-metaphor them as marks -- chiseling, carving, imprints on a receiving surface with a stylus, using a small instrument to make an ink trail.  Voice sounds were easier to symbolize and line up -- left to right or the reverse or top to bottom -- than were the instrument sounds, which were devised as symbols a little later after people thought about the scale, the chord, treble, base, the staff lines.  The science of controlling fingers and breath to make a flute noise could be figured out by a child, but it took more accumulation of patterns to write symphonies.

Human accomplishments managed by the brain arrive through capacities offered by the body and then learned by the brain, inscribed on the Jello cerebral cortex, neuron by neuron, which can then be synthesized into something emergent.  Emergence is the product of mutation (new opportunities) developing into a new synthesized skill.

As much as we love wordlessly humming a tune and whistling while we work all alone, the capacity to sing, to metaphorize speaking and writing, meant being able to do it in a group as an art form of coordination among people, both to be in tune and to harmonize, to organize the form into stanza and refrain and chorus.  It was not just speaking but also singing that was one doorway to the fourth brain, the communicating community communing, not just understanding information but becoming in tune, both as an aesthetic entity, a chorus, and also as a group that shares meaning.

Often today I’m frustrated when dealing with young people because they talk without moving their lips, as though the tipofthetongueandtheteeth were the only structures involved.  They do not produce the plosives, fricatives, or hum of closed lips that are consonants.  I can’t tell what the hell they’re saying.  When I ask for a repeat, they give me the same flickering moan as before, except louder.  

Someone else can figure out why they do that -- whether they are ashamed of their words, hiding, or think it is too much effort.  Maybe it’s part of the whole backlash against “doing the right thing well” that is part of the emergence we call culture.  Instead of “read my lips,” they seem to be doing “read my mind.”  It would be easier to do the latter if they would meet my eyes with theirs.  This is the era of the hidden.  Maybe it’s a deeper code that I haven’t learned.

Jessye Norman

Maybe we’ve let the whole thing about drawing up codes, laws, regulations, and prescribed consequences go too far, so that the “paper” is overwritten and annotated to the point of becoming a big rubbed-out blur.  Perhaps our brains are scarred by an assaulted sensorium; maybe we’re not getting enough time for the cells to form the tokens of concept; maybe our game board has no squares to land on that reward clear speech and beautiful sound.  Will there be no more Jessye Normans?

On Sunday mornings some Methodist congregations begin before the formal liturgy with singing.  It is an emotional denomination -- at an extreme, speaking in tongues in a way that breaks the words but keeps thetipofthetonguethelipsandtheteeth interrupting the column of air, resonating in the chambers of the bones under the face, not just standing for feelings but more primarily becoming the feelings, because it is the lungs, the diaphragm, and the other blood-flow-dependent parts of the body that amount to emotion.  Each person with the simultaneous whole, gathering the congregation into a resounding chorus until the sanctuary shakes with it, a concerto for human voices "in concert."

Does anyone sing with their computers?  I keep meaning to use voice more, learning to see music, not in notation but in the tracings of the vibrations on the screen.  

Singing in the congregation draws the people together into that Fourth Brain so that its meaning is clear and can feed back into the Second Level, the processing done by interacting parts -- the inscribing of memory tokens and, Third, the path actions should take.  It is the synthesizing, the synergy, of all the four stages of the brain’s work that gives rise in the end to identity, the whole thinking, feeling, acting person.

This quote comes from the announcement of a “psychoanalytic educational forum” in Boston led by Neal Kass, MD, and called “Body Music: Getting Next to Deep Emotional Experience."  Kass says,  “Felt experience, especially traumatic emotional experience, is held by people in their bodies.  If one listens, there is a music to this bodily configuration.  For two people to experience together, there is a visceral, musical, bodily connection that allows often dissociated felt experience to emerge into a mutual play-space. . .  Clinical material from the analyses of two adolescents in which music was literally involved will be explored in detail.  Music can help two people live together in a shared place, a play space, and in turn this transforms the shape of held emotion.  The musical play modality will help us explore the overall dilemma of joining another in felt bodily experience.”    

UUMA Service of the Living Tradition

Where two or three gather and sing, one might recover sanity (or maintain it) and if the chorus grows, if the tokens of indignation, sorrow, desire, brokenness and aspiration accumulate enough, a new board game -- a new culture -- can emerge.  That’s why nations have anthems, that’s why labor unions have blues, that’s why denominations have hymnals.  The best moment in a whole year of ministry was always going to the General Assembly, attending the Service of the Living Tradition for the ministers, and pealing out:

Rank by rank again we stand,
from the four winds gathered hither.

Loud the hallowed walls demand

whence we come and how, and whither.

That's why Blackfeet have drums.  And the wind was there with them.

No comments: