Friday, August 9, 2013

The 64 Foot Pitch

by Jen Hunt, Annie Dillard-like writing exercise, from the archives

I am fascinated by the reality of undertones in music. Organ makers are keenly aware of the phenomenon. Take a two foot sheet of metal, roll it into a tube, and send a hurricane gust through its innards. There you have middle `C'. Now make a tube twice that length. This four foot tube will hum at a pitch an octave lower. The lowest note you can press on an organ, by finger or foot, is the 32 foot pitch. As you might expect, it requires a thirty-two foot tube and a lot of wind. You press the note timidly and say a prayer. You hope the unseen monster who makes the pipe bellow isn't suffering asthma today. But there is another reason-- besides lung capacity and metal shortage-- why the bottom drops out at thirty-two feet. Go any lower than that, and human ears can't pick the note up. Adventurous organists, however, search for ways to get around this. They grope for the lower pitches like a party show-off with a limbo stick. Performers have noticed and music theorists have confirmed that by pressing the lowest note, the 32 foot, and adding a higher note it, say a quint, you create an undertone one octave lower still. This 64th pitch is a note the human ear can't hear, but the body can feel.
I ask myself if there isn't a 64 foot pitch to the world around me. Maybe even the amoebae experiences the tone as a massage which throws his whole body into palpitation. My soul yearns for proof of a spiritual reality undergirding the world my body sees and feels. Until I was eighteen I lived as one deaf, or rather unmoved, to the boom of the 64 foot pitch. Now the Holy Spirit's quint has wobbled my gut. I feel the groans of the whole creation. And I groan as well.

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