Unexplored Harmonies

Afloat the radiant spaces,
Past clouds in windy flight.
The song of silent places
Breaks through the veiling light.

NATURE shapes our lives by many subtle forces: by climate and sound, by light and shadow and silence. Our senses are dulled with repetition, and much beauty that, we might see and hear eludes us. But though we may become unconscious of her power, Nature is never without, influence over us. It is not only by visible and audible beauty, but also by invisible colors, inaudible sounds, flowing over us every day, that Nature affects our lives. In the peaceful stillness of wood or field we are soothed, not only by the absence of dissonance, but also by silent harmonies actively at work. Often what seems to be empty silence is really deep-lying music, as harmonious as the sweep of summer fields on a mountain-side. Our eyes, our ears, are as windows built at. the end of tunnels, through which we reach to the gardens of sound and color beyond.

There are other gardens lying between these two, but we can not turn the corner from the tunnel of ether to the tunnel of air, from light to sound. Yet these secret gardens can reach us, their fountains play over us unceasingly. We have so much joy in visible colors, that it seems a pity we cannot enjoy all the harmonious forces of Nature. Not, indeed, from curiosity; not so as to speculate on the kind and degree of their influence; but from sheer love of beauty, would we study them.

I have seen a Mexican bird, allied to the northern hermit thrush, whose throat fairly quivered with notes inaudible to my ears. What T could hear of his song was thrillingly sweet, and I longed to hear the whole of it. But his small body vibrates to notes we cannot catch at all. And if this is true of sound, it is even more true of light. We hear seven or eight octaves of sounds, but we see only the equivalent of about one octave of light. Between the lowest color-vibrations we can sec, and the highest sound vibrations we can hear, are twenty octaves of invisible light, of inaudible sounds. Is there no way in which we might enjoy these also?

We cannot train our eyes to extend their range of vision, a range developed through thousands of years of evolution. But science has lately found a kind of periscope to turn the corner from light to sound. It combines electricity with magnetism (they are interchangeable, like steam and water) in an electric bulb connected to a telephone; it is called the ‘oscillating audion’ wireless receiver. Because magnetism from luminiferous ether can vibrate metal in air, this bulb changes invisible light into music. And what more fascinating than to listen to music till now inaudible to human cars? The fact that we use a metal medium need not detract from the wonder of the thing. When we listen to violins, we do not think of the cat-guts rasped by rosin; when we hear wood-winds, we do not think of the bamboo reed that is vibrating with every breath. Neither need we think about the action of the metal as it transmutes ether-vibration into air-vibration.

The music heard with an oscillating audion bulb compares with the buzzing type of wireless heard on crystal receivers much as a violin compares with a policeman’s whistle. It is as sweet as flutes, as variable as Hawaiian guitars. So far, we have heard only man-made music, sent out by man-made wireless stations. But we may come to hear natural vibrations of ether, as we now hear natural air notes on an æolian harp.

If one grouped ether-vibrations into four parts, like music, then X-rays 1 would be the soprano, colors would be the alto, heat waves would be the tenor, and electro-magnetic (wireless) waves would be the bass notes. And as music is not confined to one straight line, but spreads in all directions through the air, so ether-waves spread, as we see in light rays. But, unlike visible light, electromagnetic rays pass through houses and people. Some say they pass over; whichever way it is, they certainly get past ! When sent from wireless stations, they can encircle the earth, for it makes no shadow to them as it does to light rays. A radio conversation between Europe and America can be overheard instantly in Japan.

Speed, however, is sufficiently appreciated in these days; it is of the musical side of wireless that I wish to tell. Ether-vibrations, too high-pitched for human ears, are transmitted by means of electricity, and made audible at the receiving end by means of the ‘oscillating audion ’ bulb. What happens is, that the audion also sends out a silent note, conflicting with these ether-vibrations; and the resultant beats are audible when passed through a telephone. The sending machine is very large and clumsy, so that all tuning, after the initial pitch of sending has been decided upon by the transmitter, is left to the receiver. Because the note heard is the resultant of two inaudible notes, one of them under the control of the receiver, the pitch of the note listened to is also controlled by the receiver. The sender may use a telegraph key to interrupt his note, but he does not change this pitch.

Exceptions to this are found in such stations as Annapolis, where t he sender transmits one pitch when his key is raised, and another when it is lowered. This gives alternated notes, generally about a third apart. The lower note is confusing, both for dot-dash signals and for chord effects in combination with other stations. One might say that stations of this type are like organs that play as soon as air is pumped into them, while the other, more common type, is not audible until the keyboard is played. The keyboard being at the receiving end, the listener plays the tune. The sender makes the letters of the dot-dash code by interrupting one of the two inaudible notes at certain intervals. He makes the rhythm, while the listener (if he be musically inclined) plays any melody he likes, for he makes the tune. Hundreds of listeners in different parts of the country can play different tunes without interfering with one another.

All wireless stations cannot be so tuned, but most trans-Atlantic ones are of this musical type; their notes can be intercepted in any direction, without reducing the signals at their destination, by using an audion bulb. They can be combined to form chords. I have made music in Washington, D.C., out of the inaudible note sent from Bermuda, combining the resultant with one made from the note of Sayville, Long Island, and perhaps a third at New Brunswick, New Jersey. Or I have combined the two notes sent by Annapolis with one of the other stations. Sending stations choose, each, a certain pitch on which to send, so that they will not interfere with one another.

When two stations within a few hundred miles of each other choose notes (silent) that are only about a third apart when made audible, then they can be combined, and raised or lowered together to any pitch desired. This makes chords. These musical stations also send harmonics on half, and a third, and a fifth, of the length of wire used for sending the fundamental note. Trans-Atlantic stations often use a mile or more of wire, both for sending and receiving; and amateurs find it difficult, to use so much wire. Therefore, many amateurs hear only the harmonics of the notes sent by high-powered trans-Atlantic stations, as they are in tune to perhaps half, or a third, of the fundamental sent by these stations. Like the fundamental, the pitch of the harmonic is controlled by the listener; by tuning a short wire in resonance with one of the transmitted harmonies, its resultant note can be lowered to any pitch. Harmonics are always fainter than fundamental notes. Stations several thousand miles away are also faint, such as those in Europe, and their signals are unsatisfactory, at present, for musical purposes.

With a sensitive audion bulb and wellinsulated connections, the best distance from which to listen is from two to six hundred miles. At a less distance, one station will come in louder than the others, and its note will not fit in well for chords. Night is the best time to listen in, because then there are no sun rays to conflict with the electro-magnetic rays, and there are fewer interruptions from stray electricity in the air. The latter is true also of the winter; summer, with its many thunderstorms, causes continuous crackling in the telephones.

The musical stations along the Atlantic coast are at Marion, Massachusetts; Sayville, Long Island (another is being constructed at Port Jefferson, Long Island); New Brunswick and Tuckerton, New Jersey; Annapolis, Maryland: Charleston, South Carolina; and there are others on the Gulf of Mexico.

There are also low-powered sending sets that can be tuned by the receiver, such as those used by radiophone stations and air-planes. When a radiophone sends Victrola music, or human speech, it is merely transmitting sounds from a Victor or a man through the ether. In order to do this, it has to send another extra-high-pitched note, which carries the variations in sound made by the Victor. This note is continuous from the moment the radiophone is turned on; and though it is tuned out (up) by those listening to the Victor, it is lovely for chord-making in true wireless music.

So much for the music that can be heard any day, by anyone having an audion and its connections. How about the still unheard ethereal harmonies of the universe? Radio operators are too busy reading messages to be able to play with music. Scientists are too busy experimenting to stop and enjoy the results of their discoveries. It is difficult to be a calm analytical mathematician, anti yet respond to Nature’s stimulus to the imagination. Hard, but worth trying ! Wireless may seem to the artist to be a very dry subject; but the musical side of it can be enjoyed without learning any code, without danger of electric shock, with merely a few lessons in tuning and connecting an oscillating audion and its batteries and controls. It is no harder than playing a guitar, and its notes are as variable as those of Hawaiian guitars and as sweet as flutes; they are as truly ethereal as a harp is Æolian. Also, it has a constant though unappreciated influence over our lives, for its passage affects us as truly as does the climate, or light and sound.

At last we are finding an ent ranee into the secret gardens! The harmony of color, which is a balanced adjustment of ether waves, is being transmuted into harmony of sound — into air-waves blending in music. Surely it is not enough just to read messages sent by ingenious man; it is not enough to manipulate ether for its speed alone. If we are patient, we may yet hear the morning stars singing together, or catch a whisper of moonbeams filtering down. As pattering leaves played over the ‘let’s pretend’ games of my childhood, so I would let ethereal harmonies play over my dreams to-day. Even the noisy telephone may take its place in the harmony of life!

I would like a lyre tuned to ethereal winds. With a frame of ebony and bakelite, with frets of selenium and strings of magnetic alloys bound in gold-leaf, it would respond to far-off suns, its melodies would be shot through with light. Then would I hear the music of the spheres that Shelley dreamed of, light and sound blending into the harmony of eternal life.

With music interwoven,
The rainbow colors throng,
Their melodies of heaven
Are blending into song.
Through comet’s swirling traces,
Past moonlit fields of night,
The song of silent places
Spreads harmonies of light.
  1. Radium rays, and others named only by letters, should be grouped with the X-rays as part of the soprano of ether-waves. — THE AUTHOR.