Jeremy Wilson discovers a gigantic, paranoid ecosystem of online conspiracy theorists, some of whom believe that modern music is infused with subliminal Third Reich propaganda. No, really.
Almost all Western music, from Mozart’s moving “Requiem in D minor” to Justin Bieber’s equally moving “Beauty And A Beat”, is constructed with a system of twelve notes. When we hear those notes in modern recordings or performances, we are listening to a set of sounds that have, depending on who you believe, developed as the result of evolution, compromise and practicality… or a cabal of Nazis and Jews.
First of all, how did Western music settle on a twelve-tone scale? There is a natural phenomenon in music known as an octave: the relationship between any pitch and the pitch that occurs at double or half that pitch’s frequency. Hum the opening two notes of “Singin’ in the Rain” or “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”: the two notes are an octave apart.
To create a palette with which music can be composed, however, the octave needs slicing up into smaller intervals. After a couple of millennia of experimentation, Western music settled on chopping the octave up into twelve sounds, notes that were an equal distance apart from each other. This system isn’t perfect, but it’s flexible and in practice works well.
However, these notes are only relative markers: a way of dividing an octave into usable intervals. They don’t stipulate which pitch the octave should be based on and thus the actual sound of any of the twelve notes.
The frequency of sounds are measured in oscillations per second, otherwise known as hertz. For practical reasons, when describing what pitches the twelve note scale should produce, a note known as “A above middle C” is assigned a frequency, the current standard of which is 440 Hz.
The story of how the pitch of A=440Hz was reached is long and storied. Until the nineteenth century, there had been no effort to standardise musical pitch and the pitches used across Europe varied widely. Different countries, cities, composers and even performers all had different ideas of what “A above middle C” should sound like.
In the 1500s, “A” could mean anything from 377 Hz to 567 Hz, a huge difference. (About five consecutive keys on a piano.)
As the centuries wore on, the problem of having no standardisation took another turn. As instrument technology improved and concert halls got bigger, the pitch at which people pegged “A” started to get higher. This produced a “brighter” sound, more suited to filling larger spaces.
The increased brightness of higher pitches becomes particularly apparent on stringed instruments as the higher string tension amplifies the harmonics: the hidden higher pitches within the note.
But things began to get out of hand when singers could no longer reach the top notes. This led the French Government to set A at 435 Hz in 1859. A=435 Hz was a compromise between comfort for singers and a pitch audiences would find sufficiently bright.
A few major US orchestras insist they are special snowflakes and play at A=442 Hz
Of course the British weren’t happy about the French setting the rules, and contrived a reason to set a standard pitch of their own. The Philharmonic Society said that the French hadn’t specified A=435 Hz but rather A=435 Hz at a room temperature of 59° F.
They decided that room temperature in England was 68° F and thus the same instrument playing at A=435 Hz in chilly France would actually be playing at A=439 Hz in warmer London. So they standardised 439 Hz.
A conference was held in London in 1939 where it was proposed that 439 Hz should be the standard international pitch. But they then realised that due to 439 Hz being a prime number, it would be difficult to reproduce in a laboratory, so they decided to bump it up to 440 Hz.
This pitch is still the standard pitch for all popular music and most classical music in the US and the UK – though a few major US orchestras insist they are special snowflakes and play at A=442 Hz.
Most German and Nordic orchestras these days go a little further and play at 443Hz, which is one of the reasons that orchestras like the Berlin Philharmonic are sometimes praised for their “brighter” sound.
A process of compromise had brought the world together and got it singing from the same hymn sheet – at least, that’s the official story. Some corners of the internet believe there is a more nefarious reason that we are mostly listening to music pitched at 440 Hz, and that it goes back to that 1939 meeting in London.
Most of the conspiracies, of which there are many, draw on an essay called “Musical Cult Control: The Rockefeller Foundation’s War On Consciousness Through The Imposition Of A=440Hs Standard Tuning” written by Aids conspiracy theorist and vaccination opponent Dr. Leonard Horowitz.
The essay is very long, but its major premise is that the Illuminati, founded by the Rothschild family, funded research into “musical weaponry” and that the Rockefellers and Rothschilds employed Nazi party propagandist Joseph Goebbels to convince the British to adopt A=440 Hz in 1939. Furthermore, it has some specific points to make about the different pitches.
The effects of A=440 Hz are apparently “dire”.
The music industry features this imposed frequency that is ‘herding’ populations into greater aggression, psycho social agitation, and emotional distress predisposing people to physical illness.
A=440 Hz messes with your chakras.
According to preliminary research… A=440Hz frequency music conflicts with human energy centres (i.e.,chakras) from the heart to the base of the spine.
A=444 Hz is where things should be at.
Alternatively, the most natural, instinctively attractive, A=444Hz frequency that is most vividly displayed botanically has been suppressed. That is, the “good vibrations” that the plant kingdom obviously broadcasts in its greenish-yellow display, remedial to emotional distress, social aggression, and more, has been musically censored.
Or possibly A=432 Hz.
A lot has been written on the A=432Hz tuning preference that is mathematically consistent with the Fibonacci series of numbers, and, therefore, universal design.
The number 432 basically permeates the universe
Most of the conspiracy theorists like to run with the Goebbels story, including one spectacularly-titled blog post “Nazis Stole Our Pitch”. But by and large they are more concerned with convincing people of A=432 Hz’s magical properties:
A=432 Hz, known as Verdi’s ‘A’ is an alternative tuning that is mathematically consistent with the universe. Music based on 432 Hz transmits beneficial healing energy, because it is a pure tone of math fundamental to nature.
They all claim similar things: music tuned in A=432 Hz is more beautiful to listen to. As one theory puts it, “It also induces a more inward experience that is felt inside the body at the spine.”
Others take the concept further, proposing that A=432 Hz is the tuning of the “Cosmic Keyboard” or Cosmic Pitchfork.
All sorts of evidence is presented to back up A=432 Hz’s claim to greatness. The ancient Indian Kali Yuga calendar lasts for 432,000 years and there are 43,200 * 2 seconds in a day. So the number 432 basically permeates the universe, according to these online academics.
So are the pitches we hear when Justin Bieber’s autotuned voice whines on the radio the result of a bureaucratic compromise, or are we hearing Nazi propaganda? Below you’ll find two versions of former English rock band Oasis’s hit single “Wonderwall”. The first is tuned to 432 Hz and the second 440Hz. You can decide for yourself: which one is more in tune with your chakras?