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Image copyright 2003 by Michael R. Meyer. Drawing by Dane Rudhyar

An outline and an evocation
by Leyla Raλl


1. The Arts
  A. Poetry
  B. Literature
  C. Music
  D. Painting
2. Astrology
3. Psychology

APPENDIX 1: Selected Poems
APPENDIX 11: Bibliography




There was absolutely no musical (or artistic or literary) precedence for Rudhyar's creativity in his family background — a relatively well-to-do middle class Parisian family. He received early lessons in piano and solfege with distaste, and they soon were stopped due to life-threatening illness. But playing piano, reading orchestral scores, improvising, and composing came naturally to him (perhaps bequeathed by a "predecessor" in relation to the Soul Field). His first experiences of orchestral music fascinated him.
      He intuited that Debussy and his music were representative of the closing ("autumnal") phase of European culture. Out of this intuition came his first book, "Claude Debussy and the Cycle of Musical Civilization," which he wrote at the age of sixteen. A revised version of the first part of it — sans philosophy — was published by Durand, Debussy's publisher, along with Rudhyar's first three piano compositions (1916).
      Music provided the means for Rudhyar to come to America — a performance of an ultramodern type of multimedia presentation (dance, music, light, color, incense), for which Rudhyar had written the orchestral music, was given at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in April 1917. But it was too far ahead of its time to arouse appreciation and understanding, and it was eclipsed by America's entrance into World War I, which was announced the very night the performance was given.
      Rudhyar's music is composed at the piano, unintellectually and without attention to preconceived forms, patterns of development, or rules. It is "essentially the exteriorization of inner experiences and states of consciousness and feelings. It is subjective rather than the development of objective and intellectually analyzable patterns conditioned by our culture."
      Its "only purpose — if one can really speak of 'purpose' in such a context — has been to stir people, to remove emotional and traditional obstacles, vanquish psychic stagnation and set psyches, souls or minds free to be fully, eagerly, intensely themselves, regardless of what parents and society forced them to be."
      Rudhyar stresses that in composing music he is not, like so many other composers past and present, fashioning or contriving musical "objects." For him, music is and should be the exteriorization in tone of an inner life — the flow of life (or in Ira Progoff's sense, the psyche) itself.

In his writings on music, Rudhyar has dealt with, among others, the following themes:

  1. Primordially, Sound (with a capital S) is an inaudible anahatta in Sanskrit, creative, metaphysical force that precipitates (as it were) the divine Idea of a universe into objective material manifestation. It has essentially a "descending" movement to which matter resonates by producing ascending progressions of audible sounds (the harmonic series of fundamental and overtones modified by the timbre or characteristic tone-quality of particular instruments or relating bodies).

  2. Music, on the other hand, is an art: the organization of sounds a particular culture develops. What is acceptable in music therefore varies from culture to culture and from stage to stage in a culture's development.
          "The historical development of music follows and can be understood only in terms of the unfoldment of the human mind, which builds the systems of organization giving stable structures to the sounds the people of any culture need for communicating their collective needs and responses.
          Thus, for Rudhyar, music is a culturally-conditioned language for communication at the psychic level — the level of the culture's collective psychism. Long before Oriental music was acceptable to Western musicians and musicologists — they called it "barbaric noise" — Rudhyar stressed that Oriental music was as valid and serves the same function in Oriental cultures as Western music does in Western cultures.
          The question of whether music can ever be a truly universal language is, for Rudhyar, an open question, depending upon how cultures and minds respond to the new mental vibrations of the all-human process of civilization.

  3. Notes versus Tones: For Rudhyar, the tonality-dominated notes of Western music are abstract entities having musical meaning only in relation to one another; as they can be transposed or played on a variety of instruments without altering their musical meaning, they do not refer to the experience of actual, particular sounds. Moreover, in the West music resides more in the written score than in the actual experience of hearing it. Western musical works are "objects" whose formal structures and developmental patterns are to be appreciated more by the eyes and intellect than by the ears and psyche.

  4. n early tribal societies, on the other hand, tones were used for magical purposes — that is, for the transmission of will and the subjugation of biological energies. Notes and intervals were not "spatialized" by being written down, but were dealt with instinctively and psychically.

  5. In the early magical use of tones, sonic progressions (what we call "scales") were felt to descend (that is, to proceed naturally from high to low pitch). This use of tones by early peoples reflected the "descent" of inaudible Sound in the cosmogenic process. The great evolutionary change in human consciousness that occurred in the sixth and fifth centuries B.C. had its parallel in music in the reversal of musical consciousness: the "natural" way of producing and hearing sound switched from being descending to being ascending. This change probably was implied in and spread by the Pythagorean use of the monochord as a didactic instrument. In using the monochord, Pythagoras was attempting to demonstrate the operation of impersonal, metabiological principles of number and form as the foundation of existence. His teachings and reform in Greece paralleled the activity of his contemporary, Gautama Buddha, in India — and both were manifestations of the release of a new mental vibration spurring the process of individualization.

  6. Western tonality developed on the foundation of the measurement of exact frequencies of sounds and intervals, a written musical notation "spatializing" music, and polyphony — all of which are products of the kind of intellectual mind developing in the West since the sixth century B. C. Polyphony paralleled the acceleration of the process of individualization in European culture: whereas tribal peoples express their psychic unanimity by singing "as of one voice," the members of a society affected by the process of individualization feel moved to express their individual differences in multiple melodic lines. Tonality became necessary to integrate this centrifugal kind of music.

  7. Tonality is the musical equivalent of the autocratic rule of the king (the tonic), his prime minister (the dominant), and a bureaucracy that measures and enforces relationships within the whole. In a pluralistic European culture, the music of which consists of abstract notes, it substitutes for the psychic power of integration what once was inherent in sequences of communicative tones.

  8. The tonality-system had to be transcended sooner or later, and late Romantic works (for example, the late works of Franz Liszt) pushed the structure to its limits. The process of transcending tonality in music parallels what Rudhyar calls the "deculturalization" and "dis-Europeanization" of Western consciousness.
          Four composers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century were central to this process: Scriabin, by trying to pour a mystical consciousness into old forms and instruments; Satie, by spoofing musical conventions and thereby becoming the precursor of Dadaism and the anarchic type of avant-garde; Stravinsky, by stunning the European aristocracy with the neoprimitivism of his "Rite of Spring," thereby opening the possibility of a renewed sacromagical use of sound (but, frightened by the primal power of what he had released, he sought refuge in retreat — neoclassicism); and Schoenberg, by abandoning tonality altogether (but he replaced it with other rigid intellectual rules that were, for Rudhyar, "like substituting totalitarianism to the divine right of kings" .

  9. Of the various trends of avant-garde music developed since World War I, Rudhyar believes that most are a continuation of the cathartic, catabolic process of deconditioning. But, for him, deconditioning and severance from the past are necessary before any significant rebirth or transformation can occur, and he feels the same way about most trends in contemporary society.
          The current "minimalism" in avant-garde music, especially "meditation music" composed of simple, highly repetitive statements simulating ancient magical practices — having been strongly influenced by its composers' experiences of psychedelic drugs and Oriental philosophies and practices (often highly modified for Western consumption), also represents mainly a deconditioning process.
          Since young composers opposed to the materialism of Western culture have to face the difficult problem of having their works performed by highly paid professional musicians, they often resort to electronic instruments — products of the very technological mentality they decry — the actual tones of which sound, to Rudhyar, hollow and devoid of a human, expressive, or ensouling quality. On the other hand, while the actual tones produced by some composer- musicians working with acoustically resonant instruments (gongs or bells, for example) have this ensouling quality and beauty, the organization of sounds into music lacks cohesion and inspiration and often banalizes the tones used.

  10. For Rudhyar, any truly significant rebirth or transformation in music must integrate within a broader, more inclusive frame of reference and organized consciousness values of both non-Western, sacromagical music and features of the Western mental approach based on proportion and form. Needed for the development of a new musical consciousness and thus a truly new music are:

    • a new sense of musical space paralleling a new philosophical and metaphysical understanding of space: space as fulness of being rather than space as an empty container in which unrelated material entities act and react according to "natural laws";
    • a renewed sense of the sacred in sound;
    • a new sense of "holistic resonance" of actual tones;
    • a new sense of organization in music.

  11. Consonant versus Dissonant Harmony: Since 1925 Rudhyar has spoken "of the difference between consonant and dissonant harmony, a distinction which applies not only to music, but to all types of relationships. I spoke therefore of the Consonant and Dissonant Orders of relationships.
          "While the Consonant Order finds its unifying principle in a unity of origin (the fundamental tone, No. 1), the Dissonant Order experiences unity (or rather, multi-unity) in the cooperative association of equal entities, each with a different character. In terms of social organization, the Consonant Order manifests as the tribal order, spiritually, if not biologically, rooted in a common Great Ancestor who lived in a more or less mythical past; the Dissonant Order refers to the true democratic [or companionate] order in which individuals who are basically different and equal come together in order to work out a common purpose to be fulfilled in the future.
          "A typically consonant, tonal music is ruled by the tonic and the dominant, just as ancient monarchies were ruled by the king and the prime minister . . . Everything in the realm theoretically belonged to the king, and all developments followed a formalistic principle embodying variations on a root unity. The emphasis was on looking back to the original one.
          "The dissonant approach to music, to society, and to human existence in general moves in an opposite direction. Unity is not given, it is to be made in the consciousness of the auditors. Life and music constitute, from this point of view, a problem of integration. One can still speak of a unity of origin in a metaphysical or occult sense, but this dissonant approach is existential in that it deals with what exists now — that is, with separate individuals engaged today in a vast process of a global. harmonization, individuals seeking to organize their differences, so as to reach a state of all-inclusive integration, a state of plenitude."
          Recently, Rudhyar has begun to think about substituting the term "transsonant" for dissonant, to evoke the possibility of a dissonant, highly resonant sound acting as a vehicle through which inspiriting meaning could be transmitted. More than new developments in composition, performance technique, or instruments, however, a transsonant use of sound would depend primarily on the level of consciousness of the composer-performer and the hearers.

  12. While Rudhyar has written orchestral and chamber music, he has composed mainly for the piano, pioneering a technique which he calls "orchestral pianism," in which the total resonance of tone produced is more significant than separate notes and formal articulation. For him, the basic sonic material produced by a piano comes from the "holistic resonance" of its entire sounding board rather than from the separate vibrations of its strings. Moreover, for him, the "physical world of human experience is not unlike an immense sounding board; and the sounding board of a piano is the best illustration or symbol afforded by Western music, because the seven octaves of the symbolize the normal extension of our practically usable musical space."
          For Rudhyar, it is significant that one person at the piano can "directly manipulate the . . . whole musical space to which human beings can respond," and can "fecundate" it with his or her creative will and individualized psychism. This act of fecundation parallels in human experience the descending activity of cosmogenic (inaudible) Sound: the creative will and emotions of the performer impact the keys of the piano, and the resonant material of the piano's sounding board produces audible tone carrying the "message" of the creative intent.

By permission of Leyla Rudhyar Hill
Copyright © 1983 by Leyla Raλl
All Rights Reserved.

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