This week’s Ongoing History of New Music episode is all about musical conspiracies, a real tinfoil hat kind of show. One of the things that will be discussed is the issue of how our music is tuned incorrectly according to the natural world. This is the great “432 Hz vs 440 Hz” conspiracy. More on the show anon, but to get you prepped for it, here’s an article that explains what’s the issue is.
Would you believe that there is a conspiracy theory about the way we tune musical instruments? And that this theory even involves the Nazis, chakras, and whatnot? No? Then sit down and enjoy perhaps the most ridiculous conspiracy theory of all times.
To understand what all the fuss is about, we need a little bit of historical background. As you probably know, musical instruments need to be tuned. When you turn a tuning peg on a string instrument or adjust the length of the tube of a wind instrument, it makes it sound a little bit higher or lower.
For different instruments (and even different strings of one instrument) to sound good together, they all have to produce the same tone (same pitch) when they play the same musical note (e.g. A).
The usual way to specify a tuning is to give the frequency of the note A4. The modern standard is A = 440 Hz, where Hz is a unit meaning “per second”, so “440 Hz” refers to 440 vibrations per second (such as those of a string). To tune to this frequency, a musician would either listen to a tone played by some tuning device and tune by ear or use an electronic tuner.