#68. prāṇa

CAT# (YEAR COMPOSED): 68 (2002)
INSTRUMENTATION: for four voices and (clay) bells
PREMIERE BY: premiere by students at the Joensuu conservatory in Finland (Liina Ockenstrom, Marjo Paakkonen, Teija, Kormilainen, Salla Seppa) at the Conservatory of Joensuu, 25 October 2001, Joensuu Conservatory.
SCORE: prāṇa focuses on a single technique – that of the glottal whistle (or M4). When producing M4, it is not possible to (nor is it the point) to predict and sing exact pitches. The beauty of the M4 is that time-varying multiphonic sequences (biphonation or triphonation, or more) are the norm! Therefore, in this score no pitches are identified, and the singer needs to care for only beginning and ending at specific times (notated in clock time). However, the bell pitches are precisely identified.


NOTE: prāṇa focuses on the production of a special vocal technique – that of the glottal whistle. Presumably a non-oscillatory mode of sound production which often features the production of two or more independent frequency contours over time, such as is shown in the spectrogram below.

glottal whistle as performed by Demtrio Stratos

prāṇa – vital breath (one of ten modifications of the cosmic wind) comes from will power – it rises from the sacred junction (brahmagranthi), where two important line (nadi) of the metaphysic nerve system, ida and pingala, meet the main line susumna (comparable to the spinal cord). At the base of this main line lies the creative, cosmic power, the female power aspect (sakti) of Brahman, “coiled like a snake” (kundalini).

Technically  prāṇa exploits a single „extra-normal‟ technique of voice production – that of the so-called glottal whistle (Neuauer, et al. 20041). This method of sound production features what is assumed to be a vortex-induced oscillation at the upper edges of the vocal folds, with the body of the folds featuring little to no mucosal wave. The percept of this production is of a whistle produced, not at the lips, but rather somewhere from within the neck!

Musically, the glottal whistle is a little used and unique method for producing two or more independent frequency contours by a single person. The pitch range is usually high, and sometimes extremely so (ie. over 5 kHz). The timbre or sound quality will vary with each performer, but when properly done, will feature a spectrum with a sharply decreasing amplitude envelope, so that the energy above the fundamental frequencies is minimal. We have found that the source production seems not to be entrained, so that any and all frequency ratios are possible, dependent upon pitch range. When trained properly, the glottal whistle is reproducible and reliable, to the extent that a performer may call up the technique when having the time to set the laryngeal framework properly.  However, it should be noted that this technique seems not designed to produce specific pitch content, though this may be possible depending on how the vortex interacts with the resonance and feedback characteristics of the upper vocal tract.

Prana is a Sanskrit word and refers to the flow of energy that runs throughout the body through a network of channels referred to as the meridians. It is also believed that this energy exists throughout the cosmos and that all living beings, animate and inanimate depend upon its nourishment. In China this energy is known as Qi and in Japan as Ki.

“Qi produces the human body just as water becomes ice. As water freezes into ice, so qi coagulates to form the human body. When ice melts, it becomes water. When a person dies, he or  she becomes spirit (shen) again. It is called spirit, just as melted ice changes its name to water.”
Wang Chong, AD 27-97

Prana (Qi, Ki) is fundamental to the understanding of traditional oriental medicine and is essential to maintain the balance and vigor of our physical body, mind and spirit.  Prana is everywhere. It moves energy continuously through the body, circulating through the cells, tissues, muscles and internal organs; and may be replenished through diet, exercise, rest and meditation. This circulation of energy is designed to be self-regulating by correcting energy imbalances automatically.

Prana (Qi, Ki) is a demonstrable energy source, made up of electric, magnetic, infrasonic and infra-red oscillations. Not only may Qi be perceived, but also psychically directed. It may be photographed using Kirilian photography. When Ki leaves us, we die. According to ancient philosophers, life and death is nothing but an aggravation and dispersal of qi.

Still, Prana is controversial, even for those who accept it as valid. In Chinese philosophy, the nature of Qi is an ancient controversy. Among traditional medical practitioners, Qi is often considered to be similar to the western concepts of the energy flow responsible for homeostatic balance in humans, while others have argued that new physics (nonlinear dynamics, quantum physics) may offer better insights. A significant conflict has surrounded the question as to whether Ki exists as a force separate from matter, or if Qi rises from Matter, or if Matter arises from Prana.

The concept of tunneling in modern-day quantum physics where physical matters can “tunnel” through energy barriers using quantum mechanics captured some of the similar concepts of Ki (which allows one to transcend normal physical forces in nature). The seemingly impossibility of tunneling through energy barriers (walls) is only limited by the conceptual framework of classical mechanics, but can easily be resolved by the wave-particle duality in modern physics. By the same token, this duality is similar to the metaphorical duality of yin and yang, which is governed by Qi (the flow of energy). Examples of quantum tunneling can be found as a mechanism in biology used by enzymes to speed up reactions in lifeforms to millions of times their normal speed. Other examples of quantum tunneling are found in semiconductor and superconductors, such as field emission used in flash memory and major source of current leakage in Very-large-scale integration (VLSI) electronics draining power in mobile phones and computers.

The popular understanding of Prana as being the same as air could be said to be a misunderstanding, or a simplification of the concept. The incorrect assumption that Prana is respiratory air arises from the popular understanding of the practice of Pranayama, in which the control of Prana is achieved (initially) from the control of one’s breathing. According to Yogic philosophy the breath, or air, is merely a gateway to the world of Prana and its manifestation in the body.

In practical terms, Prana can be explained in various ways. Feelings of hunger, thirst, hot, cold, etc. in the body could, according to this worldview, be interpreted as pranic manifestations. All physical feelings or energies that arise or flow within the body might also be interpreted as evidence that Ki is at work. The presence of Qi is said to be what distinguishes a living body from a dead one. When a person (or any other living being such as an animal) dies, the Prana, or life force, is thought to leave the body through one of several orifices.