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1627 __ « Sylva Sylvarum : Or a Natural History in Ten Centuries - Experiments in consort touching Music »
Francis Bacon (1561-1626)
Comment : In the spring of 1626, Lord Bacon died. In the same year, Dr. Rawley, " his lordship's first and last chaplain," as he always proudly entitles himself, collected and published the different poems which were written to the memory of his honoured master. In the year 1627, he published the Sylva Sylvarum, with an address to the reader, explaining the intention of Lord Bacon in the compilation of ; this work, and the probable objections which might be made to the publication; that it was not methodical ; and that many of the experiments would be deemed vulgar and trivial. Credited with the first enunciation of "inductive reasoning" Bacon was at once a scientist and politician, rising to become Lord Chancellor under James 1. Sylva Sylvarum was conceived as part of a great work incorporating "all knowledge" which Bacon began after his conviction for bribery (he pleaded guilty). He was fascinated with numbers and the book consists of ten chapters each with 100 subjects. Some of these are medical (eg the cause of hiccoughs) but most are abstract. More explicitly, it is an anthology of one thousand paragraphs consisting of extracts from many books, mostly from antiquity, and Bacon's own experiments and observations. At the end of the volume, Rawley also included the New Atlantis. A Worke vnfinished. This brief tract is a description of a utopian island and its scientific community: Salomon's House. The Sylva Sylvarum is particularly fascinating as it contains numerous passages dealing with medical treatments for the prolongation of life and the preservation of flesh. But also a great passage dealing with Music. In particular, Bacon's interest in instrumental combinations directly reflects new conceptions of both music and science as experiment that are wholly of their time and would have been unthinkable before. Moreover, the performance context of the sixteenth-century title pages that list so many instrumental alternatives is very different from that of late fifteenth-century music. He says certain instruments agree together and produce concordant music, but others (as the virginal and lute, the Welsh and Irish harps) do not accord.When he first mentioned the "Acoustique Art" in his Advancement of Learning (1605), Francis Bacon (1561–1626) was drawing a distinction between the physical acoustics he expanded in the Sylva Sylvarum (1627) and the harmonics of the Pythagorean mathematical tradition. The Pythagorean tradition still survived in Bacon's time in the works of such diverse people as Gioseffo Zarlino (1517–1590), René Descartes (1596–1650), and Johannes Kepler (1571–1630). In Bacon's words: "The nature of sounds, in some sort, [hath been with some diligence inquired,] as far as concerneth music. But the nature of sounds in general hath been superficially observed. It is one of the subtilest pieces of nature". Bacon's "Acoustique Art" was therefore concerned with the study of "immusical sounds" and with experiments in the "majoration in sounds", that is, the harnessing of sounds in buildings (architectural acoustics) by their "enclosure" in artificial channels inside the walls or in the environment (hydraulic acoustics). The aim of Baconian acoustics was to catalog, quantify, and shape human space by means of sound. This stemmed from the echometria, an early modern tradition of literature on echo, as studied by the mathematicians Giuseppe Biancani (1566–1624), Marin Mersenne (1588–1648), and Daniello Bartoli (1608–1685), in which the model of optics was applied in acoustics to the behavior of sound. It was in a sense a historical antecedent to Isaac Newton's (1642–1727) analogy between colors and musical tones in Opticks (1704). Athanasius Kircher's (1601–1680) Phonurgia Nova of 1673 was the outcome of this tradition. Attacking British acoustics traditions, Kircher argued that the "origin of the Acoustical Art” lay in his own earlier experiments with sounding tubes at the Collegio Romano in 1649 and sketched the ideology of a Christian baroque science of acoustics designed to dominate the world by exploiting the "boundless powers of sound". (Paolo Gozza)Bacon's idea about hearing are scattered in several different places among his writings. The most extended discussion is that in the second and third centuries of the "Sylva Sylvarum", a work intended to demonstrate his method of compiling natural histories, which he describes as "a higher kind of natural magic". The distinctive qualities of natural magic, especially in Bacon's terms, were the emphasis on inductive rather than deductive logic and the assumption that nature's secrets could be discovered by the artificial manipulation of nature.that is, by experiment. In the "Sylva" Bacon reviews the subjects of musical consonance and music's effect on the mind and body, and then at great length proposes a series of investigations into questions concerning the physical propagation of sound. Matters relating to artificial manipulation of sound are tantalizingly raised, though not investigated, in a brief passage in the "New Atlantis", which was published posthumously together with "Sylva". (Mark Michael Smith)
Original excerpt : « CENTURY II.EXPERIMENTS in consort touching Music.[...]110.We have no music of quarter-notes; and it may be they are not capable of harmony; for we see the half-notes themselves do but interpose sometimes. Nevertheless we have some slides or relishes of the voice or strings, as it were continued without notes, from one tone to another, rising or falling, which are delightful.111.The causes of that which is pleasing or ingrate to the hearing, may receive light by that which is pleasing or ingrate to the sight. There be two things pleasing to the sight, leaving pictures and shapes inside, which are but secondary objects; and please or displease but in memory; these two are colours and order. The pleasing of colour symbolizeth with the pleasing of any single tone to the ear; but the pleasing of order doth symbolize with harmony. [...]112.Tones are not so apt altogether to procure sleep as some other sounds; as the wind, the purling of water, humming of bees, a sweet voice of one that readeth, etc. The cause whereof is, for that tones, because they are equal and slide not, do more strike and erect the sense than the other. And overmuch attention hindereth sleep.113.There be in music certain figures or tropes, almost agreeing with the figures of rhetoric, and with the affections of the mind, and other senses. [...]114.It hath been anciently held and observed, that the sense of hearing, and the kinds of music, have most operation upon manners; as, to encourage men, and make them warlike; to make them soft and effeminate; to make them grave; to make them gentle and inclined to pity, etc. The cause is, for that the sense of hearing striketh the spirits more immediately than the other senses; and more incorporeally than the smelling; for the sight, taste, and feeling, have their organs not of so present and immediate access to the spirits, as the hearing hath. [...]122.I suppose that impression of the air with sounds asketh a time to be conveyed to the sense, as well as the impressing of species visible: or else they will not be heard. And therefore, as the bullet moveth so swift that it is invisible; for we see, that the apprehension of the eye is quicker than that of the ear. [...]129.In delation of sounds, the inclosure of them preserveth them, and causeth them to be heard farther. And we find in rolls of parchment or trunks, the mouth being laid to the one end of the roll of parchment or trunk, and the ear to the other, the sound is heard much farther than in the open air. The cause is, for that the sound spendeth, and is dissipated in the open air; but in such concaves it is conserved and contracted. So also in a piece of ordnance, if you speak in the touch-hole, and another lay his ear to the mouth of the piece, the sound passeth and is far better heard than in the open air.130.It is further to be considered, how it proveth and worketh when the sound is not inclosed all the length of this way, but passeth partly through open air; as where you speak some distance from a trunk; or where the ear is some distance from the trunk at the other end; or where both mouth and ear are distant from the trunk. And it is tried, that in a long trunk of some eight or ten foot, the sound is holpen, though both the mouth and the ear be a handful or more from the ends of the trunk; and somewhat more holpen, when the ear of the hearer is near, than when the mouth of the speaker. And it is certain, that the voice is better heard in a chamber from abroad, than abroad from within the chamber.132.It would be tried, how, and with what proportion of disadvantage the voice will be carried in an horn, which is a line arched; or in a trumpet, which is a line retorted; or in some pipe that were sinuous.133.It is certain, howsoever it cross the received opinion, that sounds may be created without air, though air be the most favourable deferent of sounds. Take a vessel of water, and knap a pair of tongs some depth within the water, and you shall hear the sound of the tongs well, and not much diminished; and yet there is no air at all present. [...]137.It were extreme grossness to think, as we have partly touched before, that the sound in strings is made or produced between the hand and the string, or the quill and the string, or the bow and the string, for those are but “vehicula motus”, passages to the creation of the sound, the sound being produced between the string and the air; and that not by any impulsion of the air from the first motion of the string; but by the return or result of the string, which was strained by the touch, to his former place; which motion of result is quick and sharp; whereas the first motion is soft and dull. So the bow tortureth the string continually, and thereby holdeth it in a continual trepidation.138.Take a drunk, and let one whistle at the one end, and hold your ear at the other, and you shall find the sound strike so harp as you can scarce endure it. The cause is, for that sound diffuseth itself round, and so spendeth itself; but if the sound, which would scatter in open air, be made to go all into a canal, it must needs give greater force to the sound. And so you may note, that inclosures do not only preserve sound, but also increase and sharpen it. [...]140.There is in Saint James’s fields a conduit of brick, unto which joineth a low vault; and at the end of that a round house of stone; and in the brick conduit there is a window; and in the round house a slit of rift of some little breath; if you cry out in the rift, it will make a fearful roaring at the window. The cause is the same with the former; for that all concaves, that proceed from more narrow to more broad, do amplify the sound at the coming out. [...]144.There be two kinds of reflexions of sounds; the one at distance, which is the echo; wherein the original is heard distinctly, and the reflexion also distinctly; of which we shall speak hereafter; the other is concurrence; when the sound reflecting, the reflexion being near at hand, returneth immediately upon the original, and so iterateth it not, but amplifieth it. Therefore we see, that music upon the water soundeth more; and so likewise music is better in chambers wainscotted than hanged. [...]153.Barrels placed in a room under the floor of a chamber, make all noises in the same chamber more full and resounding. So that there be five ways, in general, of majoration of sounds; inclosure simple; inclosure with dilatation; communication; reflexion current; and approach to the sensory. [...]EXPERIMENTS in consort touching exterior and interior sounds.There is another difference of sounds, which we will call exterior and interior. It is not soft nor loud; nor it is base nor treble; nor it is not musical nor immusical; though it be true, that there can be no tone in an interior sound; but on the other side, in an exterior sound there may be both musical and immusical. We shall therefore enumerate them, rather than precisely distinguish them; though, to make some adumbration of that we mean, the interior is rather an impulsion or contusion of the air, thant an elision or section of the same; so as the percussion of the one towards the other differeth as a blow differeth from a cut.188.In speech of man, the whispering, which they call “susurrus” in Latin, whether it be louder or softer, in an interior sound; but the speaking out is an exterior sound; and therefore you can never make a tone, nor sing in whispering; but in speech you may; so breathing, or blowing by the mouth, bellows, or wind, though loud, is an interior sound; but the blowing through a pipe or concave, though soft, is an exterior. So likewise the greatest winds, if they have no coarctation, or blow not hollow, give an interior sound; the whistling or hollow wind yieldeth a singing, or exterior sound; the former being pent by some other body; the latter being pent in by its own density; and therefore we see, that when the wind bloweth hollow, it is a sign of rain. The flame, as it moveth within itself or is blown by a bellows, giveth a murmur or interior sound. [...] EXPERIMENTS in consort touching articulation of sounds.193.The unequal agitation of the winds and the like, though they be material to the carriage of the sounds farther or less way; yet they do not confound the artuclation of them at all, within that distance that they can be heard; though it may be, they make them to be heard les way than in a still; as hath been partly touched.194.Over-great distance confoundeth the articulation of sounds; as we see, that you may hear the sound of a preacher’s voice, or the like, when you cannot distinguish what he saith. And one articulate sound will confound another, as when many speak at once. [...]CENTURY III.[...] 208.It is certain, that in the noise of great ordnance, where many are shot off together, the sound will be carried, at the least, twenty miles upon the water. But then it will come to the ear, not in the instant of the shooting off, but it will come an hour or more later. This must needs be a continuance of the first sound; for there is no trepidation which should renew it. And the touching of the ordnance would not extinguish the sound the sooner; so that in great sounds the continuance is more than momentary.209.To try exactly the time wherein sound is delated, let a man in a steeple, and have with him a taper; and let some cail be put before the taper; and let another man stand in the field a mile off. The let him in the steeple strike the bell; and in the same instant withdraw the vail; and so let him in the field tell by his pulse what distance of time there is between the light seen, and the sound heard; for it is certain that the delation of light is in an instant. This may be tried in far greater distances, allowing greater lighs and sounds. [...]217.The mediums of sound are air; soft and porous bodies; also water. And hard bodies refuse not altogether to be mediums of sounds. But all of them are dull or unapt deferents, except the air. [...]EXPERIMENTS in consort, what the figures of pipes, or concaves, ot the bodies deferent, conduce to the sounds.How the figures of pipes, or concaves, through which sounds pass, or of other bodies deferent, conduce to the variety and alteration of the sounds; either in respect of the greater quantity, or less quantity of air, which the concaves receive; or in respect of the carrying of sounds longer and shorter way; or in respect of many other circumstances; they have been touched, as falling into other titles. But those figures which we now are to speak of, we inted to be, as they concern the lines through which the sound passeth; as straight, crooked, angular, circular, etc. [...]EXPERIMENTS in consort touching the mixture of sounds.224.There is an apparent diversity between the species visible and audible in this, that the visible doth not mingle in the medium, but the audible doth. For if we look abroad, we see heaven, a number of stars, trees, hills, men, beasts, at once. And the species of the one doth not confound the other. But if so many sounds came from several parts, one of them would utterly confound the other. So we see, that voices ot consorts of music do make an harmony by misture, which colours do not. [...]225.The sweetest and best harmony is, when every part or instrument is not heard by itself, but a conflation of them all; which requireth to stand some distance off, even as it is the mixture of perfumes; or the taking of the smelles of several flowers in the air. [...]235.Sounds are meliorated by the intension of the sense, where the common sense is collected most to the particular sense of hearing, and the sight suspended; and therefore sounds are sweeter, as well as greater, in the night than in the day: an I suppose they are sweeter to blind men than to others; and it is manifest, that between sleeping and waking, when all the senses are bound and suspended, music is far sweeter than when one is fully waking. [...]EXPERIMENTS in consort touching the reflexions of sounds.There be three kinds of reflexions of sounds; a reflexion concurrent, a reflexion iterant, which we call echo; and a super reflexion, or an echo of an echo; whereof the first hath been handled in the title of magnitude of sounds, the latter two we will now speak of. [...]246.There be many places where you shall hear a number of echos one after another, and it is when there is a variety of hills or woods, some nearer, some farther off; so that the return from the farther, being last created, will be likewise last heard. [...]250.The like echo upon echo, but only with two reports, hath been observed to be, if you stand between a house and a hill, and lure towards the hill. For the house will give a back echo; one taking it from the other, and the latter the weaker.251.There are certain letters that an echo will ahrdly express; as S for one, especially being principal in a word. I remember well, that when I went to the echo at Pont-Charenton, there was an olsd Parisian, that took it to be work of spirits, and of good spirits. For, said he, call “Satan”, and the echo will not deliver back the devil’s name; but wil say,”va t’en”; which is as much in French as “apage”, or avoid. And thereby I did hap to find, that an echo would not return S, being but a hissing and an interior sound. [...]253.Where echos come from several parts at the same distance, they must needs make, as it were, a choir of echos, and so make the report greater, and even a continued echo; which you shall find in some hills that stand encompassed theatre-like. [...]269.The species of audibles seem to be carried more manifestly through the air that the species of visibles; for I conceive that a contrary strong wind will not much hinder the sight of visibles, as it will fo the hearing of sounds. [...]271.Visibles are seen farther off than sounds are heard; allowing nevertheless the rate of their bigness; for otherwise a great sound will be heard farther off than a small body seen. [...]276.In visibles, after great light, if you come suddenly into the dark, or contrariwise, out of the dark into a glaring light, the eye is dazzled for a time, and the sight confused; but whether any such effect be after great sounds, or after a deep silence, amy be better inquired. It is an old tradition, that those that dwell near the cataracts of Nilus, are strucken deaf; but we find no such effect in cannoniers, nor millers, nor those that dwell upon bridges. [...]EXPERIMENTS in consort touching the sympathy or antipathy of sounds one with another.278.All concords and discords of music are, no doubt, sympathies and intipathies of sounds. And so, likewise, in that music which we call broken music, or consort music, some consirts of instruments are sweeter than others, a thing not sufficiently yet observed; as the Irish harp and base viol agree well; the recorder and stringed music agree well; organs and the voice agree well, etc. But the virginals and the lute; or the Welsh harp and Irish harp; ot the voice and pipes alone, agree not so well; but for the melioration of music, there is yet much left, in this point of exquisite consorts, to try and inquire. [...]281.The experiment of sympathy may be transferred, perhaps, from instruments of strings to other instruments of sound. As to try, if there were in one steeple two bells of unison, whether the striking of the one would move the other, more than if it were another accord; and so in pipes, if they be of equal bore and sound, whether a little straw or feather would move in the one pipe, when the other is blown at an unison.It seemeth, both in ear and eye, the instrument of sense hath a sympathy or similitude with that which giveth the reflection, as hath been touched before; for as the sight of the eye is like a crystal, or glass, or water; so is the ear a sinuous cave, with a hard bone to stop and reverberate the sound; which is like to the places that report echos.EXPERIMENTS in consort touching the hindering or helping of the hearing.283.When a man yawneth, he cannot hear so well. The cause is, for that the membrane of the ear is extended; and so rather casteth off the sound than draweth it to.284.We hear better when we hold our breath than contrary; insomuch as in all listening to attain a sound afar off men hold their breath. The cause is, for that in all expiration the motion is outwards; and therefore rather driveth away the voice than draweth it; and besides we see, that in all labour to do things with any strength, we hold the breath; and listening after any sound that is heard with difficulty, is a kind of labour.285.Let it be tried, for the help of the hearing, and I conceive it likely to succeed, to make an instrument like a tunnel; the narrow part whereof may be of the bigness of the hole of the ear; and the broader end much larger, like a bell at the skirts; and the length half a foot or more. And let the narrow end of it be set close to the ear; and mark whether any sound, abroad in the open air, will not be heard distinctly from farther distance, than without that instrument; being, as it were, an ear-spectacle. And I have heard there is in Spain an instrument in use to be set to the ear, that helpeth somewhat those that and thick in hearing.There be these differences in general, by which sounds are divided : 1) Musical, immusical, 2) Treble, base, 3) Flat, sharp, 4) Soft, loud, 5) Exterior, interior, 6) Clean, harsh, or purling, 7) Articulate, inarticulate. We have laboured, as may appear, in this inquisition of sounds diligently; both because sound is one of the mist hidden portions of nature, as we said in the beginning, and because it is a virtue which may be called incorporeal and immateriate; where of there be in nature but few. Besides, we were willing, now in these our first centuries, to make a pattern or precedent of an exact inquisition; and we shall do the like hereafter in some other subjects which require it. For we desire that men should learn and perceive, how severe a thing the true inquisition or nature is; and should accustom themselves by the light of particulars to enlarge their minds to the amplitude of the world, and not reduce the world to the narrowness of their minds. [...]EXPERIMENT solitary touching the pleasures and displeasures of the senses, especially of hearing.700.Of musical tones and unequal sounds we have spoken before; but touching the pleasure and displeasure of the senses, not o fully. Harsh sounds, as of a saw when it is sharpened; grinding of one stone against another; squeaking or shrieking noise; make a shivering or horror in the body, and set the teeth on edge. The cause is, for that the objects of the ear fo affect the spirits, immediately, most with pleasure and offence. We see there is no colour that affecteth the eye much with displeasure; there be sights that are horrible, because they excite the memory of things that are odious or fearful; but the same things painted do little affect. As for smells, tastes, and touches, they be things that do affect by participation or impulsion of the body of the object. So it is ound alone that doth immediately and incorporeally affect most; this is most manifest in music; and concords and discords in music; for all sounds, whether they be sharp or flat, if they be sweet, have a roundness ad equality; for a discord itself is but a harshness of divers sounds meeting. It is true that inequality not stayed upon, but passing, is rather an increase of sweetness; as in the purling of a wreathed string; and in the raucity of a trumpet; and in the nightingale-pipe of a regal; and in a discord straight falling upon a concord; but if you stay upon it, it is offensive; and therefore there be these three degrees of pleasing and displeasing in sounds, sweet sounds, discords, and harsh sounds, which we call by divers names, as shrieking or grating, such as we now speak of. As for the setting of the teeth on the edge, we see plainly and the organ of the hearing, by the taking of the end of the bow between the teeth, and striking upon the string. »
Source : Bacon, Francis (1627), “Sylva sylvarum”. In “The Works of Francis Bacon — Philosophical works : Of the proficience and advancement of learning, divine and moral. Sylva sylvarum; or a natural history in ten centuries (century I - VIII)”, Printed for C. and J. Rivington, etc., London (1826), New edition in ten volumes, vol. 1, pp. 286-316 and pp. 318-341, and pp. 474-475.
Source : Banks, John (2006), “The instrumental consort repertory of the late fifteenth century”, Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., p. 27.
Source : Feingold, Mordechai & Gouk, Penelope M. (1983), “An early critique of Bacon's Sylva Sylvarum: Edmund Chilmead's treatise on sound”, Annals of Science, 1464-505X, Volume 40, Issue 2, pp. 139–157.
Source : Dostrovsky, Sigalia (1974), "Early Vibration Theory: Physics and Music in the Seventeenth Century." Archive for History of Exact Sciences 14 (1974–1975), pp. 169–218.
Source : Gouk, Penelope Mary (1982), "Acoustics in the Early Royal Society, 1660–1680." Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London 36 (1982), pp. 155–175.
Source : Hunt, Frederick Vinton (1978), “Origins in Acoustics: The Science of Sound from Antiquity to the Age of Newton”. New Haven and London.
Source : Gozza, Paolo. "Acoustics." Europe, 1450 to 1789: Encyclopedia of the Early Modern World. The Gale Group Inc. 2004. Encyclopedia.com. 13 Jun. 2009.
Source : Gouk, Penelope Mary (2004), “English Theories of Hearing in the Seventeeth Century”, In “Hearing History : A Reader”, edited by Mark Michael Smith, Athens, University of Georgia Press, pp. 137.
Urls : http://www.sirbacon.org/sylvasylvarumpreface.htm (last visited )

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