Why did you think they call ’em ‘B’s?

Ok, I admit it: “I hear in color.” It’s called ‘synesthesia’, kinda rare, and I’m neither over-proud nor, on the other hand, embarrassed, to ‘come clean’. I’ve had it as long as I can remember, having to discover gradually in early grade school that not everyone was similarly afflicted. Actually, the most glaring facet of this neurological ‘crossed-wires’ syndrome is the colors of all the numbers and letters. As in: ‘Duh, how could anyone sane *NOT* notice that ‘2’ is cardinal red?!!’ Or that ‘Ab on the piano is perfectly maroon’?
I’ve learned, like most folks with various quirky abnormalities, to view it as a classic ‘Curse/ Blessing’.
The ‘curse‘ part is forcing some random, sweet-intentioned guitar-player to wonder why my face’s expression looks so much like Munch’s ‘The Scream’ when I hear his first chords, albeit in tune with-himself, but horridly ‘wrong’ according to my color-sense… Oh and God’s design also(?)


But let’s get to the ‘B is for Blessing’:
My ‘Tavor Oak’ tree just outside the bedroom window is blooming this week. A protected and threatened species here in Israel. The hum of 5000 honeybees is almost deafening.

Starting at about 6:30 AM my world is a gentle but insistent wash of light-brown water-colored hues. Can’t help but love ’em, stingers ‘n all. But by noon, 1 PM, the pitch has lowered a half-tone to Bb. A darker, but still brown shade. Like I said: ‘How could anyone not see/hear that?”
So yesterday I decided to get WIKI-ed on this. (Can anyone reading even remember how long it would have taken me, in the olde days, begging my Mum to take me to the Library in the 1953 Pontiac, go through the card catalogue, find out where they hid the :700 books, etc. Along with wasting my life on smelly tomes from the 1930s about ‘Honey Through the Ages’. And going home broken-hearted never to know that:

‘Honeybees buzz their wings at a frequency of between 190 and 250 beats per second.’

Thanks, Google! Yes, Bees sing in the key of ‘B’, until they get fattened up and tired during the day, at which stage they ‘modulate’. Yippie! Kinda like seeing Venus in the sky at night lately… and exactly where Space.com (oh, and Kepler) said it oughta be. Science works.
So yeah, another dumb Word Press-post from Solberg-the Freak-of-Nature. There’s probably a point in here, but bees, bless their hearts, are busy enough with their own problems and will prolly not click ‘Like’. Cool by me; just keep making honey. You go, girls.


13 thoughts on “Why did you think they call ’em ‘B’s?

  1. promisesunshine

    I dream in color. But that is nowhere near as fascinating as this post is. I can’t decide if I want to close my eyes and pretend I can see color by notes on the piano or look at random numbers to see their color, so I can be this cool.
    Instead, I give you random:
    Those eye tests with the number hidden in the dots must drive you batty if the number is the wrong color.
    This skill would be handy for piano tuning?
    I’m reminded of an experiment I tried for one of my classes years ago. I think it might have been the clarinet experiment. I wanted to learn to play, by using a book. Ha. Anyhow. I started with a scale that had a B (or Bb I forget) in it. And I just couldn’t get there. That B was a sumbitch. It wasn’t until long after the experiment that I found out why. Something to do with the turning point of the instrument or something like that. The note was hard for everybody. I wasn’t supposed to do it yet.
    Do individual voices have specific to them colors or is it all by note?
    Also now I’m very curious about mhz. mghz, frequency, for gosh sakes. Some frequencies are good for healing, some for brainyness. I suppose it’s no accident how fast bee wings move. Warrants further study at some later date.

    1. solberg73 Post author

      Trying to hit all the bells you rang here: Have to think about color-dreams; last night’s longest episode had me in a green car arguing with a pink-dressed lady about the sweet-corn I was to supply for her dumb sister’s wedding; she said it wasn’t yellow enough… That counts?
      Signs in the ‘wrong’ color just reinforce to me that this ain’t a perfect world, and I sigh. And yeah, I tuned pianos lots of times just by the ‘pure redness’ of ‘A’, etc. No pitch-pipe needed, but that’s another talent/curse.
      Bb reed instruments like the clarinet (and my tenor sax) do hate ‘B’ and also C#, so you’re not alone, it’s a built-in mechanical decision.
      And yeah, there’s plenty to discover on bee-frequencies, also cat-purrs; they use ’em to ‘heal’ stuff. Really. No ‘new-age’ conjecturing needed.
      Foggy as hell this AM; haven’t yet even checked what tune the bees are playing today. Thanks for your thoughts.

  2. somewittyhandle

    By my reckoning, 190Hz takes the buzz as low as a G (Happily for Rimsky-Korsakov).

    Sorry to hear of your affliction, which raises interesting questions. I remember being given an essay assignment as a schoolboy: “How do I know I see the same thing when I see green as you see when you see green?” My attempt at answering this question fell a long way short of Descartes’ “Discourse on Method”, but I did grapple with the main problem: we may both give the same name (‘green’ in this case) to the sensation we experience when we look at something which we ipso facto mutually designate to be green. But we can never know that we have the same sensation. You now remove the question a further order: how do I know I do or don’t feel the same thing when I hear G, as you feel when you see green when you hear G?

    For me, a large part of the purpose of art (whether it be visual, audible, or written) is to find means of expression to bridge that gap. The poet, or the composer, can convey much more about what he felt than by just deploying a circularly-defined adjective like ‘green’. It’s a way of joining up us humans, if we can do a bit of reading between the lines.

    It’s always seemed to me that ‘perfect pitch’ was mere superstition. “Middle C” at 261.626 Hz is an entirely arbitrary convention, adopted for convenience so that the whole orchestra can tune to the same pitch. There is no earthly reason 262 sounds any better or worse than 255 or 257. And indeed, it doesn’t, to the clean palette. The notes only have meaning in relation to each other. The intervals are important, but not the position of the baseline (like Einstein’s railway station?) Hence, bagpipes gamelans, and kalimbas tuned to various different arbitrary pitches all sound good (just not together, perhaps).

    And, even the intervals have an arbitrary element to them. When I tune my guitar, I generally dislike the standard tempering provided by the electronic tuning gizmo. It’s useful if I’m accommodating a keyboard, or other such instrument shackled to conventional temper, but some of the intervals are annoyingly impure and slack. For the sake of equal treatment to all keys, the notes are evenly spaced logarithmically within the octave. This necessarily means that you can’t have the 2/3 ratio in wavelength you really want for a pure 5th interval, for example. The major 3rd interval is also off. So, if I don’t have a pianist to humour, I manually tune to the key of the song, allowing myself a nice resounding 3rd and 5th in the root chord. And, I’ll pick a spot for that root wherever feels right at that moment, with total disregard for Helmholtz and his slaves. Often, it will depend on what my larynx feels like before or after coffee. Probably sounds like mud to you!

  3. solberg73 Post author

    If mud, it is fairly refined mud: Your welcome explication here is all coherent and familiar. I would say that the most potent part of the discussion concerns the arbitrary designation at some point before I was born of A 440. So what, had I been born 150 years earlier I would have been condemned to live in an annoying color-world akin to the dish where water-color artists wash their brushes that week? The second WTF is where, in Bach’s tempered Name, have I a cranially-housed time-base, which provably can, like a digital freq-counter, distinguish between , say, 440 and 444? . And in less than a one-second sampling-time! Ha, someone owes me an answer, otherwise I shall go full-speed into the the fuzzy wing-nut world of ‘crystals’ and ‘quantum viberations, y’know’.
    A subject dear to my heart, Duncan, and I’ll have more to say presently.

    1. somewittyhandle

      Dear to my heart also!

      I hasten to point out that A is only defined at 440 Hz in certain places. The New York Philharmonic, for example, currently adopts 442 Hz as A, as is common in France and Hungary. Boston Symphony Orchestra uses A= 441 Hz. Germany, Austria, and Russia use A=443 Hz. Berlin Philharmonic has recently ‘re-arbitrated’ from 445 Hz to 443 Hz.

      Handel’s own surviving tuning fork for A measures up at 422.5 Hz, and most modern day baroque orchestras tune to A = 415 Hz. At La Scala in Milan, A = 451 Hz. Bach tuned A= 460 Hz before Leipzig, and A = 470 Hz after.

      I also distinguish between 440 Hz and 444 Hz (I suspect this is normal auditory function). The curse I escape is that neither of them means ‘A’ to me (or indeed magenta). ‘A’ only unequivocally means ‘A’ if it’s 3/2 x the frequency of ‘E’, and ‘E’ only means ‘E’ if it’s 2/3 of the frequency of ‘A’ (in the arbitrarily-centred key of ‘A’) .

        1. solberg73 Post author

          Ha. Together we could probably do a respectable ‘Port-noise Complaint’ knock-off on this.
          Important to me, as a scientist, to stress the sublime ‘impossibility’ of human hearing differentiating between such marginal frequency-off-sets. I mean, we can certainly, tactically, feel the change from 15 C to 20 C, but not ID it by number. (the Kelvin gap, even more ‘real’ is even smaller.) So WTF explains my (over-rated?) ‘perfect pitch’?)
          Also: Back when I was entertaining crowds with the guitar, I loved to begin, mock-professorially, with a discussion of tuning methods. I’d suggest at first to 5th-fret the low ‘E’ string and compare to the next-in-line ‘A’, Then onward.. until I ‘discovered’ to my disappointment, that the ‘G’ at 5th fret did not equal ‘B’. Told the audience: ‘Well, that doesn’t work!’
          Continued by lightly touching each string at the half-length ‘octave’ point and comparing it to the octave played by pressing the fret. Anyone convinced thereby was swiftly reminded that: “Great, we’ve now proven only that our frets haven’t ‘wandered’ up or down the neck by night.”
          If the crowd seemed uniquely intrigued, I could continue with the 2/3 overtone series, but the Moral was always ‘Yup, there’s no way to tune a guitar.” and by then I was already playing a song.
          One of the ‘joys’ of being here in the Middle East is the ‘alternative facts’ allocations of Arabic scale points. I’ll upload here a song shortly to demonstrate it, since speaking about tones is close to dancing about architecture, ha.
          Meanwhile, the Bumblebees fly, wolf-tones howl, equally-correct orchestras bicker on absolute zero, and I’m left to cautiously, low-confidence-level protest a la Galileo : ‘And yet..I still say it’s a ‘B’ Weep for me, clutching a convincing handful of Philogisten.

          1. somewittyhandle

            It must present a dilemma at Mardi Gras: if you’re playing on the back of a carnival float travelling at, say 5mph, this will account for a Doppler shift of 3Hz at 440Hz. So, the people ahead of the float will be hearing 443 Hz, while the people behind will be hearing 437 Hz.

            1. solberg73 Post author

              Yes of course, a well-known challenge, solved by requiring the Saints to come ‘marching in’ at an un-doppled pace. Don’t ask, it was pure hell back when they attempted to ‘come riding in’ and worse. ‘come flying in’.
              Seriously, I have an ice cream truck every fri afternoon, drives past at 115 dB, his canned muzak insufferable in any of the 4 apparent keys I hear as he approaches and, thank god, recedes. I’m thinking to well, temper the guy. Already protested that his 438 ‘hurts’, but he didn’t get the joke.
              Also thinking here, while we enjoy this levity, that I’d have advised the choppers in Nam *Not* to play the Valkyries Ride. Too easy for the ‘enemy’ to use it for course and speed acquisition. Probably why they lost the war. the old ‘red-shift’ trick.

              1. somewittyhandle

                See, I challenge the sense of 440 on mathematical grounds. Settling on 444 would have made it divisible by 2, 3, and 4, to allow easy movements in fourths, fifths, and octaves. Although E might be a beast…

                1. solberg73 Post author

                  By the way, the bees were solidly Bb all day yesterday, in the 25 degree premature heat.
                  We’re looking I suppose, inter alia, for a way to anoint the diatonic scale and frequency ‘waypoints’ with a wand of cosmic inevitability, as I see it. Thinking about Speilberg’s ‘Close Encounters’ alien tune here; was it proffered as a ‘well, of course!’ universal muzak-of-da-spheres’? 9-10-8-1-5.
                  Maybe just declare ‘A’ as Pi, Planck’s Constant, or the Fine structure ratio? Bees on Sunflowers singing Fibonacci medleys, or ‘Songs in the Key of Phi’ by Lenny and the DaVincis?
                  Together, we’ll get to the bottom of this, I have no doubt.

  4. eleanorio

    I’m wading in here rather late, but I do have some input regarding A440 and its relative A’s. As a singer who has sung with lutes, harpsichords, modern pianos and symphony orchestras, the higher the concert A, the more arduous the Queen of the Night’s Vengeance Aria or the soprano part in Ode to Joy are. These pieces were written when A was not quite yet 440Hz and hence much easier to sing. Modern orchestras like the brighter sound of A444; singers have a much different opinion.

    1. solberg73 Post author

      Thanks El, your experience is certainly relevant here. These days some of my bees would rather die than sing the whole damn B minor Requiem in the new elevated pitch. And for you, it’s a dozen more vocal-chord vibrations .. per second! And for the same pay? Might as well call it Nodes to Joy.
      Anyway, a full semitone difference at this place on the keyboard is 26 Hertz + or-. , so we’re talking about ‘skewing’ rather than outright modulation. I have a nice old Russian piano here, in tune with itself but a quarter tone low. Takes me a couple minutes to get used to it.
      And of course the big question is HWJT? (How would Jesus tune?) Or, seriously: is there any divine blessing on a particular frequency assignment.


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