The Music of the Spheres: False Universality
The ancient Greeks knew of nine spheres: the Sun and Moon; the planets we know as Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn; the “Starry Sphere” (the fixed stars in the sky); the Crystalline Sphere (the sphere which controlled the procession of the equinoxes). These were all assumed to move round the Earth, in a kind of stately and unvarying procession. Pythagoras’ research into sound led him to believe that the spheres, in common with all other objects which move, must vibrate, and that those vibrations must produce sound. As each sphere is a different size from the others, and moves in a different way, the sounds must all be different. However, as all Nature (to Pythagoreans) was a harmonious mathematical whole, the sounds emitted by the spheres must also be harmonious: a kind of glorious universal chord as they made their way through space. The idea of universal harmony and of the discordant chaos when something happens to upset it has persisted in myth and poetry ever since. (Source)
It was said that only the spiritually enlightened were able to hear the music of the spheres. I have a theory (purely speculative, of course) that this notion was developed as an explanation for tinnitus. Tinnitus, in short, is when people constantly and (usually) inexplicably hear a ringing, buzzing, hissing, or crackling sound. The average person has likely experienced this after going to a rock concert; upon returning home, you find yourself experiencing an annoying, persistent ringing sound. One should try to enjoy that sound, because whoever hears it as a result will never be able to hear that frequency again. For whatever reason, the philosophers of ancient Greece refused to accept the particularity of the sounds that they were hearing, and instead viewed this music of the spheres as a universal phenomenon which was only capable of being heard by those initiated into the divine. One should keep in mind that tinnitus often accompanies the natural hearing loss of the elderly, which may have contributed to its association with wisdom, that the ability to hear music of the spheres was something that had to be earned.
Here is a musician’s rendition of what tinnitus sounds like.
Apparently, tinnitus is quite prevalent, usually as a result of loud music, or by loud machinery at factories. Wear your earplugs.
Those who are interested in the biopolitics of sound are directed to the blog Sonic Warfare.
Those who would like to hear what it really sounds like in space (and I should warn that I don’t know if these videos are accurate) are directed here (see Saturn in particular, 3:10-4:40), here (Jupiter), and here.
Lastly, there’s a well-written article here about the effect of music on the brain.