Andrew Hicks: Composing the World

Composing the World: Harmony in the Medieval Platonic Cosmos
Andrew Hicks
Oxford University Press USA, 2017
Hardback. 344 pages, 235x156mm, ISBN 9780190658205

The idea that music and the universe were somehow linked has its roots in Plato and resurfaced in the medieval era and beyond as man sought to explain the world around them and its rather awkward relation to their concept of a creator God. Recent advances in scientific research have reduced belief in extra-terrestrial involvement in creation, but have also increased interest in the historic link between music and astrology. Andrew Hicks’ book Composing the World, with its subtitle of Harmony in the Medieval Platonic Cosmos, addresses this, starting with the introductory statement “We can hear the universe!”, the 2016 proclamation that the Laser Interferometer Gravity Observatory (LIGO) had detected a “transient gravitational-wave signal.” What LIGO heard was described as “the vibration of cosmic forces unleashed with mind-boggling power across a cosmic medium of equally mind-boggling expansiveness: the transient ripple of two black holes colliding more than a billion years ago”.

Hicks suggest that sound has always been an integral part of the study of the cosmos. Focussing on philosophical thinking in the 12th century, he traces the development of intellectual thinking on the notion of ‘music of the spheres’ and the role of celestial and aural harmony. Although by no means an easy read, it does offer fascinating insights into the way the medieval mind worked as it tried to develop the notion of “a cosmos animated and choreographed according to a specifically musical aesthetic”. You will learn more than you need to know about such things as “Cartesian dualism, Uexküll’s theoretical biology, and Deleuze and Guattari’s musically inspired language of milieus and (de)territorialization”

Skipping through the later Renaissance and Age of Enlightenment, Hicks concludes that these ancient notions of musical cosmology are “relevant to our modern philosophical and scientific undertakings”. The chapter headings are –

PRELUDE: Listening to the Universe
PART ONE: The Framework
1. Harmonizing the World: Natural Philosophy and Order
2. Knowing the World: Music, Mathematics, and Physics
PART TWO: The Particulars
3. Composing the Human: Harmonies of the Microcosm
4. Hearing the World: Sonic Materialisms
5. Composing the Cosmic: Harmonies of the Macrocosm
POSTLUDE: The Musical Aesthetics of a World So Composed
Appendix One: William of Conches, Glosulae de magno Prisciano
Appendix Two: Hisdosus, De anima mundi Platonica

Further information can be found here.

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