How do we hear music?

To the educated modern man, sounds are vibrations moving through a medium like air that reaches the ear, transformed into electrical signals and perceived in the brain’s auditory cortex as sounds. Daniel Levitin, the record producer turned neurologist wrote on the hearing process: “Sound waves impinge on the ear drums and pinnae, setting off a chain of mechanical and neurochemical events, the end product of which is an internal mental image we call pitch……..Sound is a mental image created by the brain in response to vibrating molecules”. (Levitin 2008). Further down this process of hearing, Levitin explained that “if I put electrodes in your auditory cortex and play a pure tone in your ears at 440 Hz, there are neurons in your auditory cortex that will fire at precisely that frequency, causing the electrode to emit electrical activity at 440 Hz- for pitch, what goes into the ear comes out of the ear”. (Levitin 2008)

Neuroscience explains a musical note or pitch as a mental image in the brain. However, music is clearly experienced as an auditory and pleasurable sensation within and a far cry from the vibrational phenomena theorized by modern physics. How then can a phenomena like molecules vibrating in the air be transformed into a tonal and musical experience?

To bridge these 2 disparate phenomena, Albert Soesman’s explanation has to be considered: “we can say with respect to hearing that we erase the sound vibrations. We never hear a vibration, in fact, we eliminate it. We erase everything earthly, and this is possible because the organ of hearing has freed itself from its instinctive aspect; the ear has been internalized”. (Soesman 1990). Soesman explained that instinct is “something that binds us to the earth.” (Soesman 1990) For the metal in the church bell to resound beautifully or the strings of the violin to sing in its gorgeous tone, these materials first have to be freed from the earth. In the same way, the ear has to be liberated from its earthly aspect for hearing to happen. (Soesman 1990).

This can be observed in embryology:

“Bone marrow is man’s source of life, from the metabolic point of view; it is what keeps the blood alive. Now, in the petrous bone, into which hearing has withdrawn, something odd happens. At a certain moment we see in embryology how hosts of cells go to this petrous bone to ‘eat’ the bone marrow our source of life. The most ‘holy space’ is devoured and becomes a dead, cavelike space. We can recognize the same process in this. For this bone is at first quite alive, but then all this life is removed”. (Soesman 1990)

Steiner wrote something quite similar:

“Ear is the organ that in fact separates the airborne aspect from the tone itself, so that we receive the tone we experience as resonance or reflection. The ear is actually the organ that reflects back inside us the tone living in the air, but does so in a way that separates it from the element of air. The tone we hear then lives in the etheric element”. The ear “overcomes the tone resounding in the ear and to reflect the pure etheric experience of the tone into our inner being”. (Steiner 2016).  

In hearing, tone production and the formation of the ear organ, there is a similar process of liberation and separation from the earthly aspect.


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