When the Frequency for Tuning Instruments Became a Grand Conspiracy Theory

Con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries are like block­buster Hol­ly­wood movies. Instead of the painful, con­fus­ing tedi­um of his­tor­i­cal detail that meets us when we try to under­stand the world, they offer spec­ta­cle, clear dichotomies of good and evil, the promise of redemp­tive res­o­lu­tion. If only, say, we could rid our­selves of scur­rilous fig­ures behind the scenes, we could get back to the gar­den and make every­thing great. Or, if only we could change the fre­quen­cy of stan­dard musi­cal pitch from 440 Hz to 432 Hz, we could throw off the yoke of Nazi mind con­trol, expe­ri­ence pure med­i­ta­tive bliss, open our root chakras, and.… Wait… what? 

If this one’s new to you, you’ll find rab­bit holes aplen­ty to fall into online. Retired den­tist Leonard Horowitz, for exam­ple, has elab­o­rat­ed a the­o­ry that has “the Rock­e­feller Foundation’s mil­i­tary com­mer­cial­iza­tion of music,” then Nazi pro­pa­gan­da min­is­ter Joseph Goebbels, trick­ing the world into 440 Hz, “effec­tive­ly per­suad­ing Hitler’s sup­posed ene­mies in Britain to adopt this alleged­ly supe­ri­or stan­dard tun­ing for the ‘Mas­ter Race.’” Mean­while, on YouTube (and even in sci­en­tif­ic jour­nals), notes Thom Dunn at Boing Boing, pseu­do­science about the “‘med­i­ta­tive qual­i­ties of 432 Hertz” pro­lif­er­ates, “which, of course, relates back to Horow­itz’s the­o­ry that 440 Hertz is a weapon of Nazi aggres­sion.”

Like most con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries, “there is a ker­nel of truth here—that there has been an his­tor­i­cal debate between these fre­quen­cies for mid­dle ‘A,’ and that 440 Hertz won out large­ly because of West­ern indus­tri­al­iza­tion, which coin­cid­ed with some World Wars.” The his­to­ry, how­ev­er, pre­dates the Rock­e­feller Foun­da­tion and the Nazis, extend­ing back at least to 1885, as Alan Cross writes at Glob­al News, when “the Music Com­mis­sion of the Ital­ian Gov­ern­ment declared that all instru­ments and orches­tras should use a tun­ing fork that vibrat­ed at 440 Hz, which was dif­fer­ent from the orig­i­nal stan­dard of 435 Hz and the com­pet­ing 432 Hz used in France.”

The push for world­wide com­mer­cial stan­dard­iza­tion final­ly decid­ed the ques­tion in the 20th cen­tu­ry, not mind con­trol. It was just busi­ness, but why do the pro­po­nents of 432 Hz believe this is the supe­ri­or fre­quen­cy? In the video above, gui­tar teacher Paul Davids sat­i­rizes the rea­son­ing (over the X‑Files theme): some­thing to do with “the nat­ur­al har­mon­ics found in sacred num­bers” and the “psy­chic poi­son­ing of the mass of human­i­ty.” Davids quick­ly moves on to dis­cuss the actu­al his­to­ry of tun­ing, from the 15th cen­tu­ry onward, when stan­dards ranged from coun­try to coun­try, even city to city, any­where between 400 and 500 Hz. (Learn more about the his­to­ry of pitch in the video above.)

Some clas­si­cal musi­cians who play Bach, for exam­ple, tune to 415 Hz, not because it has mag­i­cal qual­i­ties but because it’s the fre­quen­cy Bach used, one semi­tone below today’s stan­dard 440 Hz. But all of this is aca­d­e­m­ic. Should not our ears and chakras be the judge? I stick close­ly to the cri­te­ri­on, “if it sounds good, it is good,” so I’m open to con­sid­er­ing the supe­ri­or­i­ty of 432 Hz. So is Davids, and he demon­strates the dif­fer­ence between the two pitch­es in some fin­ger­picked exam­ples of clas­si­cal and con­tem­po­rary hits. What do we hear?

Each of us will have a dif­fer­ent response to these fre­quen­cies, depend­ing on sev­er­al fac­tors, not least of which is our degree of con­di­tion­ing to 440 Hz. Musi­cians and com­posers, for exam­ple, are far more sen­si­tive to changes in pitch and more like­ly to feel the dif­fer­ence, espe­cial­ly if they try to sing or play along. What does Davids hear? He per­son­al­ly dis­miss­es any notion that 432 Hz tun­ing will “let a dif­fer­ent part of the uni­verse vibrate,” or what­ev­er. For one thing, play­ing in a dif­fer­ent key makes the fre­quen­cy change large­ly irrel­e­vant. For anoth­er, every musi­cal note res­onates at mul­ti­ple fre­quen­cies, nev­er only one.

Log­i­cal­ly, the dif­fer­ence between 432 and 440 Hz is arbi­trary, even in the most med­i­ta­tive of relax­ing 432 Hz videos on YouTube. “It all comes down,” says Davids, “to what you’re play­ing and how it sounds.” Or as Thelo­nious Monk put it in his indis­pens­able advice to musi­cians, “You’ve got to dig it to dig it, you dig?” and “A note can be small as a pin or as big as the world, it depends on your imag­i­na­tion.”

For more, read Ted Gioia’s 2017 piece in The Dai­ly Beast, Are We All Mis­tun­ing Our Instru­ments, and Can We Blame the Nazis?.

via Boing Boing

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

The His­to­ry of Music Told in Sev­en Rapid­ly Illus­trat­ed Min­utes

Music Is Tru­ly a Uni­ver­sal Lan­guage: New Research Shows That Music World­wide Has Impor­tant Com­mon­al­i­ties

Vis­it an Online Col­lec­tion of 61,761 Musi­cal Instru­ments from Across the World

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness


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Comments (6)
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  • Brett W Bydairk says:

    I was under the impres­sion that mid­dle A in Britain was 444 Htz. Have I been wrong all these years?

  • Question says:

    Hel­lo Josh,

    I read your entire arti­cle and I’m won­der­ing what it is that made you write it? You touched on none I’d the sound peer review sci­ence. You sim­ply men­tioned it as thought it was still a joke.

    The Rock­e­fellers DID set the stan­dard. When the debate start­ed is beside the point. It mat­ters that a stan­dard was set uni­ver­sal­ly for music… that is juet a very odd thing to decide mat­tera. Com­mer­cial ben­e­fit? To what degree? Giv­en the cir­cum­stances of the world at the time, it makes no sense that a com­mer­cial stan­dard be set for the world. Espe­cial­ly over some­thing as arbi­trary as music.

    There is so much research out there dis­cussing the actu­al use and test­ing of fre­quen­cy. There is an entire world of sci­ence that exist to study it now. They are using vibra­tion / fre­quen­cy to assist with depres­sion and oth­er congntit8ve declines. Tes­la had a machine, wide­ly report­ed and known about, that was con­fis­cat­ed by the u.s. gov­ern­ment and is one of near­ly 5300 patents held for nation­al secu­ri­ty rea­sons by the u.s. gov­ern­ment.

    Why is it absurd to think that those in pow­er would not want us to have clean ener­gy? Free health care? Unlim­it­ed abun­dance of food? The abil­i­ty to trav­el with­out pay­ing them?

    There is only one per­son stuck in a rab­bit hole judg­ing by this arti­cle and it would be the only per­son involved in its cre­ation.…

  • Simply Conscious says:

    well said

  • Steffany says:

    Excel­lent arti­cle and even more amaz­ing your play­ing. I tried to find the song you played last and my app Shaz­am could­n’t find it.
    Could you share with me the name of the songs you played in your video? The first are obvi­ous clas­sics but the oth­ers were great but tye last song brought me to lyrics I’ve nev­er sand before, the words just came to me, i fig­ure it is a song I’ve heard before but i could­n’t find it and i am excit­ed to know more.
    My favorite part in your arti­cle was your opin­ion that if it feels good then it is good, ( for you. ) i agree!
    There is a song Tchaikovsky wrote and ded­i­cat­ed to Leo Tol­stoy and it is said it brought him to tears. I heard it and i was sent to anoth­er place. Helen Keller felt the song and she was also brought to tears. How she lived her life to be the amaz­ing per­son she was with­out her ears, makes me hap­py that noth­ing could stop me too as long as i don’t quit.
    Thank you again for writ­ing the arti­cle and i hope you post those great songs. Im excit­ed to hear them in their entire­ty.

  • Tammy says:

    Well said!! Author here is bonkers. Ignor­ing so much quan­tum physics sci­ence we have today for sim­ply pen­ning dri­v­el to slam con­spir­a­cy the­o­rists. Kudos for clap­ping back 👏

  • Joe S says:

    Writ­ten by a Rock­e­feller employ­ee?
    The “close­mind­ed­ness” is astound­ing.
    You must be “Josh­ing” us.

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