The Magical and the Sacred
All of the preceding is relevant to the evolution of music. During the long ages when mankind lived, felt, and thought animistically, primitive societies were protocultural rather than truly cultural. They used tone-magic but did not develop music. The difference between these two uses of sounds is basic.
A tone is a direct experience, but music is a myth. The experience of tone is magical, in the sense that it establishes a vital mode of communication between living beings. The hearing of natural sounds, animal cries, or the voices of other human beings can make the difference between life and death. The sounds heard convey information, and the knowledge of Names makes possible the use of magical power in the constant struggle for survival and expansion. Tone magic operates in the willful use of imitated sounds, in primitive mantrams, which are essentially series of Names - the Names of cosmic entities or divine beings that rule over different regions or levels of superphysical, "astral" realms. If drumbeats are used, it is to stimulate or destroy life energies, either to heal and repotentialize the warrior and the sick or to frighten away the enemy.
Only with truly cultural organization are single tones organized into specific series, enclosed within what is then made to sound as repetitive tones (usually octave-sounds). Tone organization is cyclic. It operates within definite limits. Tones are organized into gramas just as family huts are organized into villages. The village is a myth in the sense that it is collectively experienced as a form of existence having a definite potency - even if at first that potency may have meant nothing more than collective security in a danger-filled environment. The grama is also a myth. A number of potency-filled tones are organized functionally, giving them a collective character.
A grama is not an abstract system; it is an organized community of tones, each filled with psychic potency. It is sacred. As sound is essentially the creative power of the gods, the grama is related to the creation myth of the culture. Through sound the gods magically communicate their will to the matter of chaos, and matter assumes definite forms. As primitive cults become pervaded with the vitalistic spirit related to the spread of agriculture and cattle raising, the organization of tones also takes on a vitalistic character. The concept of the identity of octave-tones was probably in its original form a mythic expression of the cyclic nature of the life process from one spring/summer to the next. However, two sounds separated by an octave-interval are not the same tone; they are only the same note. Musical cultures give them the same name, obscuring their actual difference. As the same note, they occupy identical places and fulfill identical functions within a cyclic, repetitive series. The important point is that when music is considered an art, a sound defined as a note within a scale has only a musical character and function in relation to other notes, while in vitalistic cultures and in cultures still potently based on vitalistic feeling-responses the grama is an organized community of tones, each of which has its own vital, magical, transformative, creative potency. The whole grama, as it were, backs and sustains the potency of each of its tones.
The grama, being an organism of functional tones, has definite boundaries; every whole is finite. But it is not necessary to think of a tone-organism as extending within an octave - that is, within the mathematical ratio 2: 1. The seemingly instinctive feeling that two sounds separated by an octave are identical may be due to the fact that a man and a woman singing the same tune normally do so an octave apart. They may sing the same tune, but not the same sounds. The sense of the identity of the two sounds at an octave interval may be natural, but nature here may mean only biological nature - a nature in which polarization has a sexual character and life perpetuates itself through the interaction of male and female, generation after generation. A generation becomes the limiting factor in such a process of repetitive, cyclic activity. But at metabiological levels of existence this limiting factor might be a ratio 3:2 (producing the interval called a fifth), or 4:3 (the interval of fourth), or even 3: 1 (a twelfth).
Music is a myth in the sense that it is based on series of repetitive relationships, each series actually constituting a mystery drama not essentially different in nature from the solar myth. The hero in the solar myth has to pass through a series of tests, and these represent the working out of symbolic relationships with monsters, enemies, and elemental forces. Each tone in the archetypal grama can be interpreted as a particular phase in a sacred process of development of consciousness and power from one level to the next. The musical solar hero passes from one sphere to another. As he reaches the end of the transformation - the seventh step, the "leading tone," the Initiation - he is able to hear the "music of the spheres," to re-experience the succession of the challenging tests that nearly destroyed his being as what the Greek culture called a "harmony," but which in terms of the European culture should be called a "soul melody."
Music is a myth in which the actors are tones uttered by the creative-destructive, transformative-regenerative power of the One Life - the sacred Tone of cosmic being, which operates both macrocosmically and microcosmically. The sacred tone differentiates into its basic qualities, each of which potentially assumes an archetypal form interpreted at the level of cultural psychism as a god or goddess. The number of these qualities varies, but the numbers three, five, seven, twelve, and twenty-two apparently have a fundamental meaning and sacred power. Music deals with the relationships among these qualities; the musical equivalent of the dynamic, evolving aspect of these relationships is melody. Tone-magic is primarily concerned with the quality of the tones themselves and with their inherent ability to communicate meaning. When the communication primarily conveys information, tone-magic becomes speech.
Speech is sacred when it conveys information given by the divine being who initiated the community's process of becoming a unified culture-whole by teaching its people how to work, think, and feel in tune with the rhythms of nature or, as in the Christ-myth, who revealed the existence of a superphysical "nature" in which the compulsive and aggressive character of life in the biosphere is replaced by harmonic cooperation and spiritual love. At a later than vitalistic stage of cultural development, speech is sacred when sacred texts are recited. These incorporate the teachings and the events of the divine being's life on earth. The knowledge they transmit is revealed knowledge (sruti in Sanskrit). The life-events form the great myth, the mystery drama, upon which the culture is based. The culture's official speech develops out of the recitation of sacred texts; a more popular speech is derived from what was originally the magical use of vowels and consonants - the communication of everyday information needed for survival through cooperative activity.
The sacred re-enactment of the life-events of the divine being uses gestures and descriptive words charged with emotional power. In time the emotional intensity of the narrated events engenders the exaggeration of vocal inflections, modifying the monotone of the narration. As the intensity and pitch of the monotone is raised in exaltation or lowered in despondency or sorrow, a zone of vibratory frequencies is formed which leads to the conventional (that is, symbolic) definition of three tone-levels. These three tone-levels are possibly the origin of the two traditional tetrachords of the musical system of archaic Greece; each tetrachord encompassed four tone levels, one below, the other above the central monotone, or mesa. The middle tone would be centered around the F-sharp in the Western C-major scale; the descending tetrachord would reach the lower C (F-E-D-C) and the ascending one the higher C (G-A-B-C).
This is not the place to enter the field of the endless discussion concerning the origin and the first manifestation of Greek music. What I have said above does not deal with music as an art form, but with the sacred use of vocal tones. As musical instruments came into increasing use, first as an accompaniment to vocal tones in ritualistic performances of the myths enacted in the Mysteries, then as independent sources of tones and eventually of musical notes, music becomes art. The source of this art is both popular and religious, though the popular usually drew its original musical material from the religious. Religious music, however, is not the same as the sacromagical use of tones. The sacred and the religious are different, although it is difficult to say exactly when one becomes the other. The transition from the sacred to the religious occurs as the result of a change in consciousness, which in turn occurs when the sense of individuality develops and generates the strong, centrifugal social currents associated with industry, the rise of cities, and city-states. Then "great religions" are formed on the ruins of the desecrated (because no longer vitally experienced and believed in) myths and Mysteries. These religions have an essentially noncultural and quasi-universal message, which is needed to bind-back (religere) human beings who have become uprooted and unable to function in large, complex communities increasingly structured by the abstract, rational, and analytical mind - a mind becoming obsessed with quantity instead of quality.
By permission of Leyla Rudhyar Hill
Copyright © 1982; by Dane Rudhyar
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