unsung song

HuayKeaowTreePOSTCARD#59: Chiang Mai: I’m awake before it’s light, start the computer and there’s a link to a music file of Gregorian Chant [Zen Flash/Gregorian Chant]. Click on that? Do I really need to have this kind of thing at 5 o’clock in the morning? Is it too early for the mystical voices and rustle of ecclesiastical robes of 10th Century Churchianity? Naw… go for it. The darkness of the rooms here and glow of the screen suit the dramatic nature of the performance – a world ‘created’ by God (the power of the church), manipulated, some would say, and thinking about it gives me the willies… but the breathlessness of the chant, itself, wow! The phenomenon of exhaled air pushing through partly closed vocal cords, opening for the next breath then closing, and it does it again and again. The absolute physiological miracle of it. Forget the applied ‘meaning’ of Christianity or Islam or Hindu – it’s just the ‘voice’ that’s in it. Tone quality created in volume of throat, in void of mouth, intricate  cranial cavities generate high frequencies, and the whole head is resonating like a fantastical musical horn, or a trumpet-like whistling wind-instrument, or acoustic device fixed at the top of the vocalist’s body. The performing ‘harmonic’ of human voice (and gasp of inbreath that follows it), echoing in stone walls of old Europe and holy places a thousand years old – listening to it blows me away…

After a while, there’s some light in the sky and the birds have started their dawn chorus all around me here in tropical South East Asia, third floor, level with the treetops – open all the windows and let the sound in. Allow the intermingling Gregorian Chant to overlay on the flow of random exotic birdsong. An extraordinary mix. Birdsong is unstructured, uncreated, unmade – a song ‘unsung’ like the sound that water makes rushing over and through the pebbles in a stream, a myriad of small collisions, the incidental harmony of it. I have to go and hear this birdsong performance in natural surroundings. Get dressed, out the door, along to the elevator and down three floors to street level. There’s an old tree with large root formation not far away. Streets are quiet, I get there quickly, take a photo as the sun peeps through the buildings [see image above]. Then stand under the tree and listen.

Birdsong is on-going. It is as it is, and stops when we forget about it. Same every day, a story told in a multitude of voices about something that’s always there; an event presented for its own sake. The sky is full of it, an abundance floods everything, devastates the scarcity of small mindedness. There is one bird nearby, it pauses to take a bird-size breath of air… a small interval of silence, then it continues. The regular pace of all these incidental pauses sprinkled through the pattern of groupings of sound, forms an almost discernible construct but not really a melody. There’s no beginning or middle, and no end. It’s more like a huge chord played on an instrument with a great number of strings. An event that’s there all the time, as the planet spins towards the sun, daylight invading national boundaries, mountains and lakes, the narrow line between night and day moves out of darkness into light, the constant herald of birdsong always and forever on the edge of global night.

Chuang Tzu and Hui Tzu were crossing the Hao river by the dam. Chuang said: “See how free the fishes leap and dart: that is their happiness.” Hui replied: “Since you are not a fish, how do you know what makes fishes happy?” Chuang said: “Since you are not I, how can you possibly know that I do not know what makes fishes happy?” Hui argued: “If I, not being you, cannot know what you know, it follows that you, not being a fish, cannot know what they know.” Chuang said: “Wait a minute! Let us get back to the original question. What you asked me was ‘How do you know what makes fishes happy?’ from the terms of your question you evidently know I know what makes fishes happy. “I know the joy of fishes in the river through my own joy as I go walking along the same river.” [xvii. 13] [The Way of Chuang Tzu, page 97, ‘The Joy of Fishes’, Thomas Merton]


Many thanks to zenflash.wordpress.com for providing these wonderful posts I read every day
Includes excerpts from an older post: Listening 1


23 thoughts on “unsung song

  1. I also enjoy listening to Gregorian chants, and I couldn’t be more anti-Christian church. lol I also listen to a CD of birds singing, it’s a 10 hour tape. I think it’s the vibration that’s so soothing. 432 hz or something like that. They call it the Golden note? It’s strange to wake up and read this after having just listened to the same things you describe in your post last night. (Pandora has a Gregorian Chant channel, and a Sanskrit channel, youtube is full of Nature sound audios). peace

  2. Thanks and good to know you were listening to the same thing. About birdsong, I heard that listening to high frequency sounds is beneficial in some way, don’t know much about it and whether 432 hz is high or is seen in that way. How about the ‘Golden note, can you tell me more about it or send me a link? Thanks for dropping in…

      • Thanks, that’s really interesting and worth looking at in detail, I’ll have a ponder… the video of the sand patterns is very clearly showing us the difference – and it’s interesting how listening to the sounds intensely like that has an effect after you switch off and return to silence. Thanks again I’ll google it for more info as you suggest.

  3. I am enjoying reading your posts so much – you have a wonderful way of taking us along with you, having us see and hear and feel the same ordinary and yet amazing things. Often feel like some mundane comment will just spoil the mood. And would like to hit the like button a dozen times. ❤

    • Thank you for these kind words, it means a lot to me because blogging is a curious solitary thing. Friends drop in and ‘like’ then they’re gone. So it’s good to feel that others are seeing and hearing the same kind of things – receiving conscious experience, quite ordinary. This is why I do it, I think, it’s just there, a natural inclination to reach out to the world. Thank you again and please drop in any time.

  4. What a gorgeous post– from the Gregorian chants, to your prose and the beautiful photograph and lastly but not leastly, the Merton quote. Very uplifting. Am listening to the chants right now and will investigate The Golden Note. Thank you so much for sharing all of this.

    • Good to know you are listening to the Gregorian chants too. And the writing of Thomas Merton seems to apply in all kinds of spirituality, doesn’t it. I’m grateful to hipmonkey for introducing the Golden Note aspect of this. About the tree roots, they are attached to a block of stone I think and part of the foundation of a house that was demolished to make way for a new development. Nice that they left the tree where it was.

    • Yes, I went through the William Burroughs experience (and survived), the immediacy and minimalism of it, I can see. Didn’t know about Paul Haines, had a look in Wiki but there are two, one lived in Canada and the other in Australia. Maybe you can help me with this, send a link sometime?

      • He contributed the words to a couple of Carla Bley’s albums: “Escalator Over The Hill” and “Tropic Appetites”.

        This track might whet your appetite for more?

        There is also a collection of his work performed by various artists:


        A favourite of mine:


        You have to go to the house
        For a different reason
        To see the old reason
        And in time
        The houses become themselves
        And are torn down

        – Paul Haines

      • Wow, yes there’s an appetite for it… I keyed in the right Paul Haines and explored a lot of music that suggested Frank Zappa, then John Maclaughlin and I’m thinking of downloading ‘Darn It’. But no words, no poems in ordinary written form that I can read – do you have any links that’ll get me there? Many thanks for this interesting new direction…

      • There is a bookof his writing, “Secret Carnival Workers”.(http://www.chbooks.com/reviews/secret_carnival_workers_revealed_torontoist)

        The CD version of “Darn It!” has inserts with details of the performers plus the texts, but I’m not sure whether you get a copy if you buy it in mp3 format. I can scan the material and e-mail you though.

        The CD version of “Tropic Appetites” has the complete lyrics. Once again I don’t know what, if anything, you get if you download it. Otherwise again, scanning and e-mail is possible.

        The original 3 disc vinyl version of “Escalator Over The Hill” came in a box along with a booklet containing the complete libretto. I think I still have mine, but it would take a while to locate. I replaced the vinyl with CDs, but I don’t think there was too much packaging. Again, whatever there might be would need a search. We have moved house, and not everything has found a convenient place in our home as yet.

        You might also check out http://www.allmusic.com/artist/paul-haines-mn0000018254. Once again, no texts as such I’m afraid.

      • Thanks for these links, I’ve examined them all. I looked at “Secret Carnival Workers” in Amazon but it’s way out of my price range. Anyway I’d have to have it shipped to Asia and the postal system is not secure. DHL is the best way but expensive. I’ll be looking in used book shops. I downloaded the “Darn It!” album in iTunes, no inserts or literature but a lot of really creative compositions. I’m interested in the CD version of “Tropic Appetites” you mention that has the complete lyrics. Thanks for offering to scan the material and e-mail to me. I’m writing separately about that. Send as a jpg file and I can do the OCR and edits. I started to watch the video: “Escalator Over The Hill” and it’s all interesting too but mostly I’d like to look closely at the words. This was our starting point. So thanks again for introducing this new direction I didn’t know about, or maybe there’s something familiar or unknowing about it, and it’s had an indirect influence on the way I write, the periphery of conscious thought.

    • Thanks for visiting and I’m happy that it worked for you, it did for me too. So glad that Chuang Tzu wins the argument with Hui Tzu who is just being ‘picky’…

  5. “An almost discernable construct, but not really a melody.” Your writing is very much like this birdsong you describe. I was lifted away from an encroaching pack of stray thoughts, and into the abundant sky you offered us. Thank you…

    This, too, was beautiful: “Forget the applied ‘meaning’ of Christianity or Islam or Hindu – it’s just the ‘voice’ that’s in it.” This is it. The deep and holy core of practice anywhere is this voice that reverberates in the human heart, creating an almost discernible construct in the tapestry of humanity, in parallel to the voices that resonate in our skulls and rattle about in the made world…


    • Nice to have you visit here! Thanks for these kind words. Yes, birdsong is kind of all-encompassing, when the encroaching pack of stray thoughts is held back long enough to get forgotten about. What’s left after that? The applied meaning has been put aside and there’s just the Truth of everything, present, here all the time, whether we are aware of it or not…

  6. love your postcards. was particularly intrigued by that game of logic from merton and chuang tzu and had to raise my level of awareness (if it has a level) to get it. thx for that stir too.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.