I got to thinking bout Shepard tones the other day, not something I have done often. A Shepard tone is a continually ascending or descending tonal structure comprised of tonal loops, that effectively sound like they are ascending or descending forever. It came up recently because of an interview I read with Jeff Tweedy about Wilco’s album “A Whole Love” and the use of a Shepard tone in the song “Die Alone”, he also mentioned “I am the Warlus” by the Beatles and I was like, OK, what is all this about.
Beatles Shepard Tone
(backwards, just because I had to)
Wilco Shepard Tone
The Wiki page on Shepard Tones is filled with info and there is no closed market on the use of the Shepard tone. It goes back to J. S. Bach, who composed a Canon using a Shepard tone, entitled coincidentally, the never ending canon.
The Shepard tone supposedly elicits a similar response to most folks who listen to it, that it is foreboding, possibly depressing, even scary. This seems to me to be a clear example of why music is more universal, somehow more engrained in our deep limbic reptilian brain.
Listening to these songs made me ponder the following. In this vast world of ours where there can be languages that are so strikingly different that certain tribe of humans (such as those in South Eastern Africa) may not even have the proper vocal chords to vocalize another part of the worlds speech, there is similitude in music. Even though I know it is vastly different throughout the planet, music still seems to follow certain rules, it seems to be a more accessible language than language itself all across the vastness of humanity. I think that is fascinating, why are we more comfortable with music than language, perhaps language is a better safer way of communication?
Just a thought.