Sympathetic Resonance

Racism is on the brain today. It’s been there for a while, and maybe it hasn’t been there long enough. I recognize that because I am a white, heterosexual individual, I often don’t see the effects of racism or bigotry until it hits a national scale. There are a lot of people in the United States who are hurting. There are a lot of people who are pushing back, and there are a lot of people who don’t know how to respond or how to help.

It’s a bit overwhelming to think that now is the time that we need to deal with this; many of us have put it off because we haven’t felt ready. But there are those who haven’t felt ready and have dealt with it every day of their lives. Personally, I have felt crippled by a lack of understanding of what to do, and at times, disgustingly enough, a lack of motivation.

On a seemingly unrelated (but very, very related) note, I watched a Youtube video about sympathetic resonance, and now I’m trying to rethink the way that I take action in this world.

For those who haven’t brushed up on their musical theory (and don’t feel like watching the twelve and a half minute video I just linked to), sympathetic resonance is a harmonic phenomenon that happens when you strike a vibratory body, and other nearby bodies of harmonic likeness that were formerly passive begin to vibrate to match the external vibrations of that first body. The simplest way to see this in action is to place two tuning forks which are tuned to the same note next to each other. If you strike the first tuning fork, then stop its vibration with your hand, you will hear the un-struck fork resonating. This doesn’t just work for the same note – if the second fork were tuned to harmonize, then it will still respond, just not as loud – the closer in likeness it is, the louder it will respond.

The same goes for guitars, pianos, and other string instruments – that is why a digitally created sample of an instrument just doesn’t sound quite the same, because it doesn’t have that sympathetic resonance in the background. Playing a string on a live guitar or a key on a live piano transfers a little bit of energy to the surrounding strings, creating a “glow” as they respond.

This has really gotten me thinking lately. In light of the Charlottesville white supremacist march, and in regards to the amount of hate groups that have surfaced all over the country in alarming amounts, sympathetic resonance is a concept that needs to be plucked from the music world and placed in the real world. If a minority speaks out, those with “harmonic likeness” that were formerly passive need to resonate, vibrating to match. If we find ourselves being passive, we need to tune ourselves to those in need, so when they call, we respond. Those who are dissonant need to see that our melody is enforced — we stand together, connected by a common harmony. Harmony will drown out dissonance any day.

I think a lot of time when someone wants to stand with minorities, the first instinct is to play their own note in support… but this can drown out the original melody, and shift the focus of the song. If you support someone, give them the “glow”.

What’s even cooler about sympathetic resonance is that if someone strikes a body, puts their hand on it to silence it, and then removes their hand, the body will start back up again: the surrounding vibrations from the sympathetic bodies will give their energy back to the original string. And this is how the music continues.

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