I’m guessing this phrase originated with people fussing with their radio dials. These digital days, ‘tuning in’ has mostly been replaced by ‘surfing’ – which implies skimming over the surface (with, perhaps, a more thrilling element of speed).
There is nothing ‘surfacey’ about the more personal meaning ‘tune in’ has acquired over the years. To tune in to something, or to be in tune with something, (nature, another person) requires empathy, a depth of understanding and a peaceful coexistence.
I have named this blog ‘Just Tuning In’ in honor of just intonation and my work with microtonal composer Ben Johnston. Just intonation “is the tuning system of the later ancient Greek modes as codified by Ptolemy; it was the aesthetic ideal of the Renaissance theorists; and it is the tuning practice of a great many musical cultures worldwide, both ancient and modern.” (Bob Gilmore in his introduction to Ben Johnston’s “Maximum Clarity” and Other Writings On Music, p.xiv.)
Just tuning operates in accordance with the overtone series, allowing pitches to work harmoniously together with the least amount of conflict in the wave patterns of simultaneously sounding notes. Because of this, it sounds smooth and calm to our ears.
Perhaps there is a lesson in all of this. Tuning in – not sleep walking through life, but rather cultivating a level of awareness that engenders more of those strikingly lucid moments and greater feeling of connection with the world – and all this with greater calm and inner peace. I can’t say that struggling with Ben Johnston’s string quartets for the past ten years has brought me inner peace…. but my understanding and awareness of pitch certainly has skyrocketed!