Culture, Crisis & Creativity

by Dane Rudhyar

7. Musical Form &
the Inner Space of Tones

In our Euro-American culture, the concept of musical form occupies a central position. The new approach which, science has taken in this century, and particularly stressed in atomic physics clearly reveals the mental attitude which has conditioned the development of music, especially since the early Renaissance, but probably also to some extent since the classical period of Greek culture.

What the contemporary physicist tries to tell us, the general public, is that form is the foundation of all basic and scientific knowledge, for that knowledge refers to the relations between entities far more than to what most interests the common mind, the substance of these entities as perceived by our senses. We are told that we should transcend our usual way of thinking according to which "form" refers always to the form of something—the shape of some material substance—and try to think of pure relations in themselves. The substance of the world has recently become dematerialized by the physicist. The famous Einstein equation established a relation between matter and energy that allowed men, bent on conquest and self-preservation at any cost, to produce atom bombs. Matter as such has vanished. It has become a mere background for the cosmic stage on which nonsubstantial entities are seen enacting ever changing dramas of relationship. The actors have relatively little importance in themselves; what really counts is the development of their interrelationships—the dramatic plot. This development also obeys formal patterns seemingly imposed by the character of the human mind, and in many instances by the paradigms of our particular culture and its language.

At the level of the creative activity of the artist this "relationistic" approach becomes formalism. The nature and even the quality of the material used by the artist then assumes a secondary role. In music the concept of "musical note" and the formal arrangement of notes written on a two-dimensional score which can be read takes the place of the direct experience by the hearer of "living tones" whose quality or timbre are all-important.

Abstract notes vs. complex tones pulsating with magical potency—this is an opposition which, though in practice may lose much of its absolute character, is so basic as to characterize a fundamental contrast between the music of the Orient (also of all the most developed tribal cultures) and European music.

We have already discussed such a contrast when opposing the magical to the esthetic approach to the arts. What makes such a discussion so relevant and today indeed essential is the fact that, as our traditional Euro-American culture appears slowly to disintegrate, we are confronted with the inescapable task of reintegrating these two opposing world-pictures into a new synthesis. The human attitudes which have produced them in the past can and should be seen as the two poles of a more inclusive approach to life, man and the universe. But this can be accomplished only if, first of all, we are clearly and objectively aware of the essential meaning of the two polarities and of what is the inevitable result of overemphasizing the importance of one of them at the expense of the other. In this connection music is a particularly significant field to consider because its development in the Western world has taken a totally new and striking character.

Notes versus Tones

European music is fundamentally a music of notes, rather than of tones—and interestingly enough in English the two words contain the same letters. A musical note is an abstract entity in that it theoretically has meaning primarily, and in a sense almost exclusively, in terms of its relation to other notes. The relation exists in time when one considers a note as part of a sequence, a melody. We may call such a relation horizontal for it so appears on a musical score. A vertical relationship exists when two or more notes occur simultaneously on the score, constituting a chord. A music of notes is two-dimensional; the vertical dimension introduces a factor of complexity. A modern orchestral score often displays an extremely complex organization of notes.

A musical note is like a mathematical point having neither dimension nor substance. Its relation to other notes exists in a two-dimensional outer space; but, at least in theory, the note itself has no inner space. It merely is one of many factors which, in their interrelatedness, define a form. Within that form the musical note may well play a particular function; but this functional character exists only with reference to the form. Of itself, a musical note is devoid of experienceable life-contents because it can refer to any actual sound. It may be performed on various instruments without losing its identity as a note and provided its relation to other notes is not altered, a note may be "transposed" to a higher or lower pitch and also retain its musical identity, thus showing that it is not fundamentally related to any particular vibratory frequency. In other words, it is essentially a black dot written on the staff of a music score. It exists primarily in the flat space of a score, and that space is essentially empty. Between the two succeeding notes of a melody there is nothing, only empty space—the kind of space that astronomers of the last century thought existed between planets and stars. Today, however, the astronomical picture is very different: energies and substances of various kinds fill and circulate within the space that once was considered a "pure void."

Every musical instrument produces sounds which have a characteristic timbre or quality; thus if a musical score is performed on a piano, an organ, or by a string ensemble the actual sounds being heard in every instance differ greatly. Yet the musicians say that it is the same music which is being performed. For them therefore music resides in the pattern of notes, not in the actual sounds (or tones) the score is supposed to represent; it is not primarily and vitally concerned with the actual sensation of sound produced by instrumentally or vocally generated air waves which strike the ears. Music essentially exists at the level of "pure forms" apprehended by the mind. As the apprehending mind of the hearer evidently affects his emotional state, the classical European music of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries also influences the feelings of people, yet this influence operates through the mind-generated form, rather than strictly through the vibratory impact of tones releasing tone-power.

Sound refers to a specific kind of activity, just as does the life-force animating a living body. The Hindu philosopher names this energy of life, prana. Prana makes possible and sustains all the activities occurring within a "field" we call a body. Sound, in India, was considered the essential characteristic of another kind of field operating in what was called akasha. A "living tone" is an organism of sound, just as a human body is an organism of biological activity. For the Hindu musician the kind of sounds which can be registered as wave-motions within the atmosphere or through solid matter represents only the concrete manifestation of a finer type of motion in akasha. If I use the term "living tone" it is simply to indicate that a real tone has an "organic" character. It is a complex entity, a field of "sonal" activity, including a fundamental sound and many overtones. It has a particular timbre depending upon the nature of the source of its emission and the manner in which this tone has been produced.

Because it is a complex field of "sonal" activity, a tone has an inner space within which much can happen, just as a human body has its own multilevel inner space defining its total personality. At least in ancient times, Asiatic music dealt with tones and with groups of tones originally named in India grama—a word used also to speak of a village, an association of living human beings performing various definite functions. The "livingness" of these tones was implied in the accepted fact that they originally were derived from the cries of animals or in some instances from the sounds of natural elements. These tones were also believed to be the bodies of devas or nature-spirits said to ensoul and guide the growth of plants, and to control the many processes operating within the Earth's biosphere.

These processes were linked with the rhythms of seasons and days, some of which today we might call "circadian rhythms." Students of circadian rhythms affecting the daily activity and internal functions of animals and men are now aware that drugs taken at different times of the day and/or the year produce different organic effects. Likewise the traditional Hindu musician performed his ragas or raginis (primary and secondary organisms of tones) according to the time of the day or the season. To perform a dawn raga at sunset constituted a sacrilege, for such a performance would work against the over-all harmony of nature.

At no time was the musical space separating the tones of a melody (and Hindu music was essentially melodic and rhythmic) thought to be empty. The manner in which a performer approached a tone, perhaps gliding toward it or in some other way preparing its emission in which his entire organism was involved was—and remains today—of the greatest importance. It was important because a living and organic relationship was felt to exist between the successive tones of a melody: the instrumental or vocal approach to a tone was as significant in the melodic flow, as the quality of the approach a human being makes to another person is important in the development of their relationship. A Western musical note being in principle only a dimensionless mathematical point, it can have no vitalistic relationship to a succeeding note.

Euro-American melodies are discontinuous: to use Bergsonian terms, they operate in mathematical time, not in living duration. In the past when Hindu musicians first came in contact with Western music, they thought of it as a music "full of holes." Western music has an objective as well as a formalistic character, while Hindu music is essentially subjective, reflecting the "inner space" of all living organisms—the within of existence.

The performance of Western music at times includes somewhat awkward glissandos and especially vibratos modifying the rigidity of a note's insularity and pitch-purity, but these musical devices are considered by classical purists as extramusical elements. The vibrato does not belong to the musical score. It refers to an existential situation, the performance; not to the essential character of the music itself which resides in the form, thus in the score, an abstract formula of relationship. The form belongs to the realm of mind in which reason and the logic of development are supreme. The "per-formance" occurs in the "human, all too human" (Nietzsche) world of existence filled with uncertainty, errors, and compromise with the True and the Beautiful. In that existential world personal moods and emotions and sociocultural factors such as finances and politics constantly mar the majestic forms constructed by the composer's mind according to his vision of ideal order and archetypal patterns.

The music resides therefore in the score—in the relation, not in the entities being related. It has its being in the form far more significantly than in the sounds actually heard during a performance. It is a music of mind rather than of life, a music of civilization rather than of culture. If music has experienced unparalleled development in Europe, it is because European culture is stamped with the dynamic character of the process of civilization; its restless dynamism, its constant passion for ever greater, ever more far-reaching complexity. But it is a quantitative, rather than qualitative complexity—a complexity of means and of formal structure, a technological complexity, and beyond a certain level diversity slides into a chaos of unrelatable and therefore meaningless atomized entities.

Our Euro-American culture seems to be fast reaching that level, if it has not already reached it, as avant-garde music and art may suggest. Yet chaos can always be considered also the prenatal state of a yet-to-emerge new manifestation of creative order. What is approaching death longs for the yet-unborn. He who is bound by all too familiar structures, which some deep part of his consciousness knows to be obsolete, semiconsciously aspires to a rebirth of potentiality, and very often yearns to lose his mind-identity in the intoxicating experience of unformed potentiality, the Eternal Virgin, Space. The mind can find all sorts of excuses and rationalizations to justify the yearning and the experience; it may even be lured and fooled by the exciting dream of a conquest of new planets. What it basically wants is to "jump beyond its shadow," as Nietzsche once poetically stated and to surrender its responsibility for actual rebirth to the mirage of exotic transcendence and artificial paradises or illusory nirvanas.

The Dis-Europeanization Process

In the preceding discussion the difference between the actual experiences of hearing Western music and, for instance, the traditional music of India may have been somewhat exaggerated, but the difference between the approaches to music, and particularly to sound, taken by the two cultures can never be too strongly emphasized. Such a difference expresses itself not only in the music itself, but in the quality of the performer's approach to the performance and to the instruments being used. We shall presently see how the performer's approach to certain instruments, when playing a type of music developed during the last hundred years, needs to be changed, if that "new" music is to be adequately performed—and this applies particularly to piano music. This new music demands that the player relate to his or her instrument in a radically different manner than that expected of the performer of classical or neoclassical Euro-American music. The reason for this is that for nearly a century at least some of the composers of the Western world—partially and often following a not too significant kind of motivation—have tried to break through the rationalistic framework of classical tonality and rigorous formalism in a more or less conscious attempt not only to produce new sounds, but to transcend the traditional approach to the hearing of sound.

The first pioneer may have been Erik Satie who in his youth began to sound forth on the piano sequences of "chords of ninths" for the sheer sensual joy of hearing their rich resonance.(1) He undoubtedly influenced the young Claude Debussy who was then frequenting the "soirees" at the home of the poet Mallarmé, where the avant-garde artists and writers of the day (Symbolistes and Décadents) were gathered. Debussy was also deeply impressed by the music played at the Paris World Expositions by small orchestras of Vietnamese and, later, Javanese musicians, and as a result began to use what musicologists call Oriental scales—not quite realizing that scales in the Orient have (or had) quite a different meaning from scales in Europe. Thus began the dis-Europeanization of music which, in a sense Franz Liszt had also attempted within a special frame of reference when using the non-tonal scales of Hungarian gypsies.

In the field of painting, the Impressionists (Claude Monet in particular) had already sought to change the manner in which people saw the world of objects. They showed that human eyes do not actually see the real color and form of their surroundings; the eyes perceive what their cultural tradition has more or less decreed that objects—such as trees, houses, roofs, mountains—look like. It is the culture-conditioned mind rather than the eyes that do the seeing. The Impressionists therefore painted objects in different lights, at various times of the day, revealing how the changes in light affected the form which objects were supposed to have. They particularly challenged the concept of chiaroscuro—the dark-and-light syndrome, the use of muddy colors and supposedly black shadows. Optical discoveries in science stimulated their interest in color variations; but their probably unconscious intent was, at a deeper cultural level, to dis-Europeanize painting by freeing the direct visual sensations of the beholder from the constraints of the traditional way of perceiving the reality of the physical world, and thus responding to it emotionally.

Debussy, Ravel, and other composers inspired by them, have been called musical Impressionists; and evidently they have been influenced by the Impressionist painters. But their deeper, though largely unconscious, purpose was, I believe, to free music from its bondage to European tonality and to transcend the intellectualistic approach and the scholastic formulas that rigidly conditioned the musicians' response to sound, any sound. It was a movement of liberation from an increasingly sclerotic culture and its paradigms.

Eventually, after World War I ended, Edward Varése in New York shocked conservative musical circles by proclaiming that "music must sound." We may think of such a statement as a self-evident truth, but the reaction of the music schools to it some fifty-five years ago plainly revealed that to traditional European musicians it was not at all obvious. For a while the neoclassical movement, which paralleled the development of Fascism in politics, triumphed because of a collective fear of Communism and all that seemed to challenge the sociocultural status quo. But World War II and the powerful influence of electronic technology upon music led to a new wave of experimentation with sounds, both by making widely available through phonograph and radios the music of all other cultures—or rather what was left of them—and by introducing the possibility of synthetic sounds through tapes and computers.

These movements of liberation of painting and music from the classical molds of the European past were followed by a similar freeing of the dance from ballet stereotypes, and of the theater from conventional topics and stage presentation; and we have also other kinds of social liberation movements, including the liberation of the human body from clothes which not only bind but forbid the skin to react to the direct influence of air and sunlight, and from the antisexual taboos imposed by Catholic and Puritan Churches. Liberation, however, can easily lead to chaos—for instance, in music, the chaos brought about by the concept of aleatory music and the atomistic juxtaposition of unrelated notes. Chaos must occur whenever there is as yet no deep feeling of some new principle of integration. Cultures fade away into empty meaninglessness; but as they gradually do so the transforming power of civilization asserts itself at the very core of the disintegrative process. It evokes the new, even as it destroys the old. The evoked images may be and in most cases are at first quite vague and pervaded with unrealistic utopianism; yet they have immense, though subtle, potency. In due time they triumph when the collective mind of a creative elite steadies its turbulence and gradually becomes a clear channel for the incorporation of the new vision into coherent forms that bring to the remains of the past a revitalized type of organic order.

In music, the Russian composer, Scriabin, was the first of the great dreamers of a new world of tones through which magical power potentially able to bring the hearers to a state of mystical ecstasy could be released. While his earlier compositions simply prolong the line of musical development initiated by Chopin, in mid-life Scriabin, deeply interested in mysticism and theosophy, became aware of the power of resonance which could be released by certain chord combinations with a gong-like character—chords featuring more particularly the superposition of sounds separated by modified intervals of fourths and producing tones rich with a vibrant inner space. He abandoned the old binding concept of tonality and used such chords as "seeds" out of which various types of melodic, harmonic and even rhythmic growths developed with a quasi-organic character. As the harmonics and beat-tones produced by his complex chords would rise, they would, as it were, polarize a descent of colors and light vibrations. A repeated use of trills and of eerie, swiftly moving and almost insubstantial wisps of sound, perhaps suggesting the motion of wings, became familiar means to achieve the specific psychic results he had in mind.

Scriabin's ideal was to bring to a state of ecstasy the men and women attending and to some extent participating in what we would today call a multimedia ritual that was to last several days. Such a ceremonial performance would revitalize at a higher level the tradition of the ancient Greek Mysteries. Music would be the soul of the ritual, releasing a magical power acting directly upon the electromagnetic fields of the participants. He even used the word, dematerialization, to suggest what in principle the result might be. What he meant undoubtedly was a process of total transcendence of the type of consciousness which our fundamentally materialistic culture has imposed upon us, Westerners.

The great Mystère Scriabin had envisioned could not be realized. World War I began, and soon after Scriabin died of a cancer of the lips; strangely enough, Debussy died nearly at the same time of rectal cancer. Scriabin was well aware of the impossibility of producing what he had conceived and before his death he wrote to an eminent Theosophist, B. P. Wadia, that Mystère would have to be performed in India because only there would the spiritual ambiance be adequate for the achievement of the purpose he had in view. Before him, Richard Wagner, at a more strictly sociocultural and religious, rather than mystical, level, had envisoned "music-dramas" through which the fundamental symbols at the root of the Germanic collective consciousness, which has been basic in the development of European culture, would be powerfully reemphasized (The Ring of the Nibelungen), and later in Parsifal, the deepest symbols of Christianity would be reformulated.

Wagner's music-dramas today are commercialized and senselessly advertised as "operas," showing how little his purpose has been understood since Bayreuth ceased to be the place of pilgrimage it was before World War I. The Wagnerian music-drama represents the end-product or seed consummation of the European culture-whole—its symbolized omega state in which, ideally at least, all the arts developed in that culture were meant to come to a condition of synthesis. Scriabin's conception of his unrealized Mystère leads us a step further. As the cycle closes—whether at the cultural or at the strictly personal level—completion should be followed by transfiguration, religious reunification by metamorphosis and "dematerialization."

Any significant art-expression is magical in the broad sense that it implies the production of a form through which some power is released which aims to satisfy a need. But the character of that need changes as the culture develops; and in the lower type of art this need tends to be almost exclusively personal and egocentric—the need for recognition, fame, money, power—rather than collective. In many instances both the personal and the collective needs play their part in the creative process, the collective impulse and purpose operating through an egocentric artist unconscious of the true motivation, as well as of the ultimate effects produced by his creations. Church music of the medieval period satisfied the need to build a psychic aura of quasi-hypnotic devotional tranquility within the precincts of the church and the monastery. Later on, Church music came to serve a need for the shows of pomp and impressive power, and as the Courts of kings and princes centralized the cultural activity of the period, music fulfilled also the function of providing distraction to bored courtiers, or of enhancing the majesty of a king's entrance.

The Romantic music of the 19th century was essentially directed to the new bourgeois class and the remains of the old aristocracy, providing them not only with entertainment but, by proxy, with strong emotional experiences they were otherwise unable to have in their narrow "bourgeoisified" and materialistic lives. And today music beamed by all kinds of radio and television sources is asked to fill the boredom of doctor's waiting rooms, assembly lines in factories, long automobile drives, and the psychological emptiness of homes or even of the minds of students. The concept of "music therapy" is also becoming widely accepted, but when applied in mental hospitals or clinics it is usually limited to the playing of soothing or inspiring music of a cultural type. The magical power of tones is not as yet understood, or only rarely so; but, as used in mantrams it increasingly intrigues or fascinates many young people who, for various psychological reasons, are attracted to Oriental gurus and occult-magical practices. These, however, often unwillingly and unconsciously lead the unwary youth to absorption in the "astral" and psychic remains of the sects or groups having used them in the past.

The deepest need which music could fill today would be to help human beings to transcend both the realm of our Euro-American culture and that of physical materiality. What modern physics is attempting to accomplish (the dematerialization of matter and the transformation of the taken-for-granted concepts of our classical science), music also could do, at the level of etheric-psychic vibrations, for the purpose of breaking down emotional and psychological crystallizations and the tyranny of an ego solely concerned with its own security, bodily comfort, and personal happiness. It is to such an end that a music of what I long ago called "dissonant harmony" can be used—a music based on the complex resonance of chords releasing the power of transformation emerging from the dynamic interaction of sounds freed from the straitjacket of tonality and bondage to the formalistic patterns of our classical European culture.

Because the piano can be used as a characteristic source of such a music, and because it can be directly and spontaneously handled by an individual person, it has been for many decades the most significant musical instrument available for the transformation of our musical sense. Unfortunately the deeper significance of what the modern piano, since the days of Erard and Steinway some 150 years ago, offers to musicians as a potential agency for cultural and personal transformation is still not understood. By discussing the meaning of the potentialities inherent in the piano and its use in terms of "dissonant harmony" and of the magic power of tones operating according to the companionate order of relationship, we may now be able to throw new light not only on some 20th century music, especially since Scriabin, but on the way the piano should be used by the performer of such music in order to release the potency of the sound-space it encompasses.

The Piano as Microcosm of Musical Space

A grand piano keyboard should theoretically encompass seven octaves, thus eighty-four keys. Most of the keys—some white, some black—are connected with three strings which, when the loud pedal is pressed, set each other and the entire sounding board in vibration. Powerful resonances can be aroused in the sounding board which acts as one single vibrating sound-space, one unified field of sound encompassing practically all the normally useable sounds in music. A piano thus is a microcosm of tones. If the field of sonal activity refers to what in India is called akasha, then a piano potentially constitutes a unified "akashic" field. The whole space of music exists in it in a condensed form. This form, however, is unfortunately defined by a specific structure dividing the wholeness of that sound-space into some eighty-four equal sections (semitones) bounded by the piano keys. Nevertheless the sounds produced by striking, touching, caressing the keys are not entirely isolated because they can be made to participate in the complex resonance of the whole sounding board. One can think of them and indeed experience them as modes of vibrations and centers of activity interpenetrating in a higher dimension of the sound-space. The composer-pianist pressing the keys can act somewhat as does a sculptor when he deals with the clay which he shapes into forms he has visualized in his imagination, or forms which spontaneously and quasi-magically arise at the touch of this fingers. Symbolically speaking, the pianist can freely mold the vibratory substance of the sound-space. The entire continuous and potentially unified substance of the whole space can become "alive" under his fecundating touch; in his mind he deals with the one sounding-board—the wholeness of it—rather than with the separate strings and keys. The sound-space he sets vibrating is a fullness of vibration because, while the strings and keys are separate entities in merely physical terms, they nevertheless should be used as means to induce the release of a power which can spread through the whole seven-octave space of the piano. That space can be felt and experienced as a microcosm of universal Space. The structure of that microcosm, with its eighty-four or more divisions, can become a magical formula, which when uttered by the composer-pianist may produce transformative results in the psyche and etheric field of those who are able to respond to his will to transformation—his magician's will.

It is quite obvious that pianists today do not approach the playing of their instruments in such a manner. They are taught to consider the piano as a percussive instrument, to deal with each note separately, to develop finger dexterity and play as fast and as clearly as possible.

Technical virtuosity is sought, and it often ends in mechanical performances so objective that they can be identically repeated, concert after concert. Such an approach does befit most classical music and those nineteenth century compositions which sought to dazzle the bourgeois public with virtuosity and showmanship; and this tradition is still strongly adhered to. Piano teaching in colleges is indeed a training in musical mummification, perpetuating the bondage to a materialistic and unimaginative image of the piano. This image reflects an equally conservative and culture-bound approach to music.

In order to play the piano in a way allowing for the magical arousal of living tones out of the resonant field of the sound-space, the pianist has to meet his instrument, not only as a sculptor handles his virgin clay, but as a lover touches and sets vibrating his beloved. A truly biological-muscular and psychic relationship has to be established between the entire body of the pianist and the piano, a magical love relationship. But this love cannot be magical—it cannot be vibrant and spontaneous—if the selection of piano keys touched by the fingers is rigidly determined by the Puritanism of 17th and 18th century tonality—by the constant fear of playing wrong notes and disobeying traditional regulations concerning the way fingers should be held while playing, and notes clearly separated from each other as if they did not belong to one enveloping whole—the "auric field" of resonance surrounding the sounding board. This vibrant musical space should be considered as real and potentially as magically effective as the electromagnetic field which, we now know, exists around every living organism.

At a time when the Euro-American culture-whole is far into its "autumnal" season, piano magic—the magic attuned to the most basic psychospiritual need of human beings belonging to such a culture—will tend to assume the character of catharsis. It is most naturally the magic inherent in the dramatic conflicts, crucial problems, and tragic decisions so often found in the lives of contemporary individuals. But it is through such experiences that an individualized human being, controlled by ego patterns, is sooner or later able to free himself or herself from ancestral sociocultural stereotypes and accept the possibility of radical inner transformation. The individual has to deal with the confused and often tumultuous inner space of his own being. The basic issue is: will he be able to solve the tensions and, through conflicts, reach the complex harmony of the companionate order? Will he be able to become in his own inner being a chord of multidirectional energies whose resonance will call down the subliminal metapsychic light that can illumine this inner space of consciousness, upon which the power and grandeur of a greater Whole can then become focused for effective and truly magical action?

In order to fully grasp the potential meaning of the piano as a microcosm of musical space and as a catalyst to inner psychic and mental transformation, it may be valuable to compare it to the great gongs built in Asiatic countries, particularly in Java, China, and Japan. Such gongs, at the deepest level, should be understood as symbols of the principle of organization exemplified by the Buddhist Sangha (the Brotherhood of monks) and in general by similar religious or occult groups which can be considered psychically integrated societies consecrated to a common purpose of spiritual transformation. When gently set in vibration a gong produces a tone of deep resonance, but this main tone results from the integration of a vast number of subtones, which, depending on the shape of the gong, may be more or less isolated and given relative independence. A Javanese gong with a bulging ventral knob produces a more homogenous tone than other types of gongs without such a centralizing feature; but by gently striking various parts of the instrument many subtones can still be heard. Unanimity of spirit prevails in the Brotherhood, yet individuality is still retained by its component parts.(2)

In the piano, the individuality of each note of the keyboard is far more pronounced than in a single gong, yet if large chords are struck, integrating the sounds produced by the strings of properly distanced keys, and the pedal is pressed allowing for total sounding board resonance, the gong-tone effect is obtained. That tone can be altered in a multitude of ways, not only by striking other keys in ever-changing melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic combinations, but according to the pianist's touch and phrasing. The piano becomes then, if handled in a truly "magical" manner and not as a pretext for finger-dexterity, a collection of gongs and even a miniaturized symphonic orchestra. Many timbres (or qualities of sound) can be produced by a pianist able to relate to the keyboard (and in a sense, to the entire piano) in ways as varied as a lover can relate to the beloved's body. What I have called orchestral pianism then replaces the dreary type of classical or neoclassical pianism—especially the German kind usually taught in American universities—in which mechanized fingers are made to uniformly strike insensitized keys as distinctly, separately, and rapidly as is humanly possible.

I repeat that such an insensitive and technique-oriented type of pianism may be effective when dealing with classical eighteenth century music whose origin was dance music; with the bravoura pieces of Romantic composers-virtuoso intent on "epater le bourgeois" (i.e. on stunning a bored bourgeois audience): and also with the physicality and crudity of many twentieth century composers of the neoclassical type. It is muscular, physical, virtuoso pianism. It has no magically psychic and transformative power; it may rouse hysterical applause or shouts because it appeals to primitive bioenergetic instincts, stifled today by the rigid behavior patterns of factory, office work, and long periods of car driving. Such a kind of pianism is totally out of place, not only in performing Scriabin's (and my own) or even Debussy's piano works; it is out of place whenever music can be regarded as a kind of nonrationalistic speech, in which tones replace words and seek either to convey a message or to release a magical transformative impact. Such music should be clearly differentiated from the kind that originally and essentially represents the complexified outgrowth of dance music, which is the case in much of our classical music.

A mechanistic pianism mirrors a mechanized society of pseudo-individuals living a spiritually isolated, alienated, and quasi-autistic existence senselessly prolonged by a symptom-removing rather than truly healing (i.e. making whole) type of medicine. But is it art's function only to reflect the vulgarization and decomposition of the values and symbols of a slowly decaying culture-whole? Is it not rather to inspire, stimulate, arouse, and impregnate our confused, yet so often expectant and at least partially ready, new generations with an eagerness to give up the role of decaying leaves and assume that of seed pregnant with a living futurity?

Today, in order to compensate for the formalism and automatism of traditional performance, and for a rigid subservience to musical scores lining up notes like starved human beings in a breadline, the value of improvisation and the concept of aleatory music have been stressed. The composer of such music only suggests to the performers what they might play, providing them with a variety of alternatives or even a merely conceptual scenario. John Cage throws the sticks used in the oracular technique of the Chinese I Ching to determine what the new note of a melody shall be. Randomness is the keyword of the musical avant-garde. What these composers do not seem to realize is that while autumnal leaves may decay randomly when struck by cold winds, seeds embody the principle of bare functional necessity, every cell being so definitely arranged that the functions of the future life-processes can operate within a minimum of effective and truly magical inner space.

From an esthetic point of view, every part of an art-form, under the control of the artist displaying his formative power, should concur in producing an esthetic experience of order and, as the architect and philosopher, Claude Bragdon, significantly wrote of "beautiful necessity." But from the point of view of many of the socially and emotionally disenchanted and intellectualistic producers of avant-garde art—and before them of the Dadaists and Surrealists and other "ists"—art seems rather to serve the purpose of arousing the intellectual curiosity of a more or less blasé public or, by shocking the more conservative molds of feeling-thinking. The magically oriented artist seeks instead to fecundate open minds by projecting into them a vision and power of transformation, even if this means at first inducing a crisis in consciousness ploughing under old roots and the decaying remains of a once majestic culture.

The Performer's Function

In music the creative-transformative-artist faces the problem of performance. Music has not only to be "formed" but "per-formed." What then is the task of the performer, and what should be his or her relationship to the composer?

Contrary to the opinion prevailing in avant-garde circles, I do not believe that the performer should act as a co-creator with the composer, except in some special cases and for brief periods during which the form, as part of its planned enfoldment should open up to the possibility (always present in life) of relatively unstructured sudden revelations. As a "per-former," the pianist should act "through" a form; but this action should be attuned to the spirit that created the form, so that both the form-creator and the performer become co-agents for the transcendent source of the creative process whose purpose is to stir, inspire, and transform the hearers. Neither the "former" nor the performer should work merely for self-expression or ego-glorification. Instead they should strive after a vibrant and effective realization of the super-personal purpose moving their inner beings. The performer's allegiance is not to the person who created the form, but to that which sought actualization through the creator-composer of the musical score in order to meet a collective human need.

As already stated, human needs greatly differ according to the historical phase of the sociocultural evolution in which they seek answers through the several arts, and also according to the level of consciousness of the class of people to which the art-form is more particularly addressed. There is need today for the type of personalized and hero-worshipping excitement in which a bewildered and uncontrolled teen-age youth revels. There is need for jazz and songs of social protest, and sentimental popular ballads to fill radio time and relieve the boredom of middle class routine. There is need for orchestras which, as musical museums, preserve the hoary products of the cultural past and reluctantly add to the repertoire of "serious music." But it is to be hoped that the need for a music of living tones vibrant with magical, cathartic and metamorphic power will develop and grow among individuals ready to accept the now quite evident fact that they live in a transitional period pregnant with futurity.

All that our schools and music conservatories have sought to hammer into the minds of expectant and undiscriminating young students as fundamentals of music are only fundamentals of our Euro-American music; and this, mostly in terms of the last five centuries of our culture. What we call musical form is only the form which sequences of notes take in terms of the outer space. In that space they move according to rigid rules deriving from a type of order which radiates from the autocratic rule of king "Tonic" bolstered up by his Prime Minister, the "Dominant" (the note sounding a fifth above the tonic). Tonality is theoretically a system of law and order based on natural intonation, that is, on the already mentioned Harmonic Series of fundamental tone and overtones. But this system, like that on which modern nations jealous of their sovereign rights, and ego-controlled individuals base their feelings, thoughts and behavior, is exclusivistic. It has developed along intellectually rigid lines and at the service of a ruling class that once pivoted around a personalized central authority, but has become an all-powerful oligarchy of business and finance lacking even the glamour of religious sanction.(3)

Of course, tonal music is easy to listen to. Today it satisfies a vulgarized esthetic sense providing mass-produced satisfaction and a release of tension to persons whose nerves are battered by the conflicts of home, business, and politics. When at the close of World War II young French men and women, unemployed and nearly starving, gathered in discotheques and stifling basements to worshipfully listen to Bach, they did so because they needed the psychic and mental reassurance that ours is still fundamentally an ordered universe, whose forms are unfolding serenely along secure lines revealing the presence of Reason; and Bach's music gave them such a reassurance. This need for esthetic rationalism during an emotionally chaotic period was so crucial that it overcame the violent feeling which German conquest had created in France—a rather striking instance of how deeply music can affect the group-mentality of a generation. This also reveals how a cultural product, created at a particular time to fill a definite sociocultural function, at some later time may serve a very different and at least outwardly unrelated purpose.

Form has power. It has power over the human mind whose eminent domain is what Kabalists call "The World of Formation." But the mind, in one of its higher aspects, can also give form to the process of transformation. This is the paradox of mind: consciously or not the mind will seek to destroy what it has produced as soon as the need of any existential unit of life-species has radically changed; and the change occurs because the vast planetary or cosmic cycles to which these units belong have reached a phase that call for a biological, sociocultural, or personal mutation. Then the old forms crumble. For a while, they may retain outer formal characteristics which during the period of transition are still relevant; but the inner space within the forms has to vibrate to new rhythms induced by the creative acts and/or magical utterances of relatively few individuals. Through these inwardly consecrated individuals whose minds have become translucent lenses bringing to a sharp focus the release of power required for the start of a new phase of the planetary process of civilization, the culture-engendering images and symbols of the New Age take form. Around them the disintegrated and meaning-deprived remains of old cultures gather. The cycle of the new culture-whole has started.

1. Such a sequence of chords is found in the music Satie composed for some symbolic drama written by Peladan, who professed to be a "magus" along Rosicrucian lines. Satie's Prelude pour le Fils des Çcoiles (Prelude for the Son of the Stars) which I had orchestrated was performed by the Pierre Mondeux orchestra in a festival of "Mètachorie" — an abstract symbolical form of dance performed in a thick atmosphere of colored light and burning incense and following the recital of a poem, given in New York at the Metropolitan Opera in April, 1917. This was Satie's pseudo-mystical period, years before he began to write pieces with spoofy titles. I had met him early in 1914.   Return

2. In our Christian-European culture-whole the great bells of cathedrals, and even those of village churches, performed a function in many ways similar to that of Asiatic gongs. In China these gongs often had the shape of a heavy and deep bronze bowl, the tone being produced mainly by striking the rim of the bowl with a thick wooden stick covered with leather. Such a hollow shape resembles somewhat that of our church-bells, but it is inverted, as the bell hangs from its bottom, and the sound is produced by a metal clapper hanging inside the bell and striking its interior surface when the bell as a whole is rather violently moved. It is usually moved by a man pulling, from below, heavy ropes attached to the top of the bell. Thus the gong is static in physical space, while the bell releases its tones when in a dynamic state. This is a significant and symbolic contrast, because our Western culture represents a dynamic of transition between two fundamental levels of consciousness: the biological (local and tribal), and the metabiological (global and universalistic). It is this dynamic character which Spengler symbolized as the Faustian type of human being.   Return

3. While the problems related to the ambiguous relationship between the classical concept of tonality (especially after the adoption of the equal temperament system of tuning musical instruments) and the Harmonic Series of fundamental and overtones are too technical to be discussed at length in this book, a few basic points can be stated. These may clarify some points mentioned in this chapter. The whole issue is ambiguous because it can be looked at from various points of view, if one attempts to correlate the acoustical facts with principles referring to the development of culture and civilization, to sociopolitical patterns of organization, and even to what we may surmise of the order prevailing in biological and cosmic processes of unfoldment of creative impulses.

The first point to consider is the difference between arithmetic and geometric progressions, because it has played a most basic role in the formation of musical series, at least since the sixth century B.C. and the days of Pythagoras. The prototype of all arithmetic series is the sequence of whole numbers starting with number 1. An arithmetic series is produced when number 1 adds itself repeatedly to itself. Thus the series 1, 2, 3, 4, etc. can be written 1, 1+1, 2+1, 3+1, 4+ 1, etc. On the other hand a geometric series is a progression of equal ratios or proportions and, in music, of intervals. The interval of fifth represents the ratio 3/2; thus a series of fifth (3/2 + 3/2 + 3/2, etc.) is a geometric progression.

These two types of series are extremely significant when philosophically and metaphysically interpreted, and in the past I have given much time to such an interpretation, my last attempt being The Magic of Tone and The Art of Music (1982; now free online). What is called in music the principle of Natural Intonation is derived from the Harmonic Series of fundamental and overtones; it was particularly stressed by a great, but unfortunately almost forgotten, English musicologist, Kathleen Schlesinger, who made deep studies of Egyptian and archaic flutes and other instruments. She believed that all archaic music was based on that principle. Theoretically, Western Tonality in the beginning was also based upon "natural" intervals, but when the system of equal temperament came into widespread use in the early eighteenth century, partly because of Bach's sponsorship, tonality lost its "natural" character.

Equal temperament is essentially a compromise between the natural intonation principle exemplified by the arithmetic series of fundamental and overtones, and the principle of geometric progression manifesting in music as series of equal intervals, particularly of fifths (for instance the interval C to G in our Western scale). In the Harmonic Series there is a community of origin, the fundamental; but no two intervals created by its successive overtones are ever equal. It is a totally hierarchical system. It seemingly refers to the manner in which an original creative impulse spreads into space, then to the differentiation of the one primordial energy into an increasing number of secondary, tertiary, quaternary, etc., modes of cosmic and organismic manifestation. The original differentiation refers to the mysterious process whereby 1 becomes 2 before the appearance of a universe. Existence implies a dualism of principles (Yin and Yang in Chinese philosophy, Shiva and Shakti in India) and thus polarity; thus the manifested existential universe begins only when the 2 appears. In the Harmonic Series the relationship 2 to 1 is the first octave interval.

The octave is, yet is not quite, an interval. The two notes marking its boundaries are given the same name, for instance C; they may be called C1 and C2, but in some nonrational or superrational way, they are considered to be the some note, though obviously they do not refer to only one sound, but actually to two, each with a particular pitch. The octave relationship is then not a true relationship or we might say that it is a relationship of identity; but strictly speaking we should not refer to relationship between two entities which are identical.

The first octave of the Harmonic Series symbolizes the precosmic relationship of the creative Principle (the Creator) to the creative energy it released. That energy then operates as the cosmogenetic power actualizing itself in level after level of substantial manifestation. The first level of cosmic actualization is reached in the second octave of the Harmonic Series—let us say by the interval between C2 and C3, if C1 is the fundamental. Within that interval the second overtone, G, occurs. It corresponds to number 3 in the arithmetic series of whole numbers; and the relationship 3 to 2—thus of C2 to the G above--is the interval of fifth. The following interval, G to C3, is the fourth. A fifth plus a fourth (3/2 + 4/3) equals an octave (2/1).

This second octave of the Harmonic Series contains therefore two unequal intervals, the fifth and the fourth; it can be said to symbolize the noumenal world, or the realm from which the most essential cosmic Archetypes emerge. Duality then becomes a cosmic fact. When conceived as the relationship between 1 and 2—between the Creator and His creative energy—it is only a superexistential metacosmic principle.

If we understand this we can get a basic idea of the relationship between the musical space of seven octaves and that encompassed by a series of twelve fifths. The seven octaves are levels of activity; the series of twelve fifths symbolizes the archetypal process of functional organization which gives form to a cosmic whole.

The series of fifths produces the twelve notes of our chromatic scale (C,G, D, A, E, B, F sharp, C sharp, G sharp, D sharp, A sharp, E sharp—which on the piano keyboard is F). The thirteenth note produced by such a series would be a B sharp; it concludes this series of twelve equal intervals of fifths, because its frequency (vibrations per second) is nearly the same as that of a C seven octaves above the C that started the series of the twelve fifths. Twelve fifths are greater by a small interval, called the Pythagorean comma (about one-eighth of a whole tone) than the span of seven octaves, and the seven octaves define a complete cycle of existential manifestation operating at seven levels of activity.

These series of octaves and of fifths constitute a cyclic or "cyclocosmic" whole. The types of activity symbolized by the two series exist in the cosmos and indeed in all living organisms, but they cannot be exactly equated. The cycle of twelve fifths, when seen in relation to that of seven octaves, is not a closed cycle. At all levels of existence, trying to integrate the two series is a difficult problem or organization; we might call it the problem of reconciling the need for a hierarchy of command and the equally meaningful demand of every participating unit within the organized whole for a fundamental equality—thus aristocracy and democracy.

This problem takes a complex technical aspect in music, and our equal temperament system of tuning is the solution adopted by European musicians. Chinese musicians and (possibly before them) Pythagoras approached the problem in somewhat different ways. Our classical solution consists in clipping from each fifth-interval one-twelfth of a comma, so that after the operation twelve thus "castrated" fifths exactly equal seven octaves. Equality thus lost to hierarchy; and at the same time the whole principle of natural intonation became adulterated. Only the octave notes retained their truly natural quality.

This compromise was necessary because of the gradual complexification of music during the seventeenth century and the Baroque period (a strange name, this "baroque," for originally the meaning of this French word was "queerly formed and extravagant"). The increasing use of "modulation" from one tonality to another, and an ever greater dependence upon rigid keyboard instruments were mainly responsible for the need to develop the equal temperament system of tuning; but these factors too have a profound significance and reflect the system of values which developed after and even during, the Renaissance. These values and the cultural transformation they introduced had in turn been conditioned by the dogmatism of the Catholic medieval mind and the Aristotelian rationalism of the Scholastic philosophers.

Twentieth century composers are most eager to break away from what the concept of musical classicism produced; but in so doing they but too often react as emotionally to the past as Renaissance individuals, who had fallen in love with most incompletely understood and sadly intellectualized Greek theories, reacted against medievalism. The two types of series (arithmetic and geometric) and their musical embodiments, the seven octaves of a Harmonic Series of fundamental and overtones and the cycles of twelve fifths, should have their places in music, just as the "organic order" and the "companionate order" are today indispensable factors in a wholesome social organization. Here again we are dealing with the relationship between culture and civilization—between "life" and "mind."   Return

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