Dissonant Harmony, Pleromas
of Sound, and the Principle
of Holistic Resonance
Alternative Approaches to Melody
The concept of pleromas of sounds does not imply a devaluation of melody per se. Neither does the concept of musical space as a continuum of vibrations imply that syntonic melodies should unfold as a perpetual glissando from note to note. It means that (as is the case in a great deal of Oriental music) the manner in which a sound is approached and ended is as important and significant as the exact pitch of the note. Even if the notes of a melody are separated by clear-cut, abrupt passages, the realization that the musical space between them is not empty can give rise to a new sense of tone relationship.
There are two basic ways of defining the nature of a melody. The first is as the temporal expansion of a fundamental unity to which every note of the melody can be referred. If unity means an intellectual and essentially geometric system of organization, the melody is like an arabesque. It fills a musical space defined by quasi-architectural structures (musical forms). Such melodies produce an esthetic effect. This effect, however, usually is produced only when the consciousness of the hearers operates in terms of the culture in which the melody came (as it were) to flower. Music then is inspired by a particular culture's formulation of the ideal of "the Beautiful" an ideal which is inherent in human nature.
The second definition of melody is expressionistic. In its primordial aspect it is magical or sacromagical. In its modern individualistic aspect it is meant to communicate transformative states of consciousness the struggles and passions of individuals who, because they feel isolated and perhaps tragically alienated from their environment, unconsciously or deliberately seek to communicate their plight to potentially responsive people, and in their responses to forget or soothe their loneliness. In their transpersonal aspect beyond individual passions, expressionistic melodies assume a deliberately transformative function, reviving at a higher level of human evolution the magic of ancient chants associated with evocative words.
Because expressionistic music does not mainly fulfill an esthetic functions a function belonging to the stable state when a culture flowers in forms of great beauty that elicit an expectable, appreciative collective response its essential characteristics are dissonances. From a cultural point of view, these may be discords that is, relationships which cannot be integrated within the limits of the culture's psychism. Tone relationships that are discords for the cultural mind are dissonances for the individual in a constant process of transformation.
Strongly expressive melodies, not being sustained by a collective unity or system, have to produce their own support. They have to find their own musical space, and in that space a feeling of belongingness or rootedness. At first they call for nontraditional chords as an integrative, holistic foundation. In many instances a pleroma of sounds represented in a musical score by the notes of a dissonant chord (but actually constituted by their complex interactions) is the seed from which the melody rises through a process analogous with germination. In sequences of sounds the melody releases the inherent quality of the holistically resonant space its specific tone. That tone, in turn, calls for instruments of a specific timbre in order to become adequately actualized as a complex musical entity.
"Tone-color:" A Misinterpretation
The timbre of instruments assumes a great importance in syntonic music, because the actual resonance of a material instrument is the basis of this music. The human voice was undoubtedly the first instrument used, but when vocal tones are first used deliberately by primitive human beings one should not speak of music in a cultural or, even less, esthetic sense. All biological species communicate their essential natures through cries or songs, and so does mankind. Each vowel sound constitutes a particular instrument with its own formant its characteristic area of resonance, its own musical space. The collective psychism of a particular human culture is revealed by its use of vowels and consonants, by the intonation of the language of the people it organizes into a psychic whole, and by the syntax revealing the basic modes of association the culture features.
The speech music of early mankind gradually expanded along cultural lines into vocal-instrumental music, then orchestral music. The development of orchestral music in Europe led to the use of the voice as a mere instrument, while in Asia the instrument-maker and the performer (at least in the beginning) tried to make the instrument sound as expressively as a human voice (Indian vina and saranji, Japanese flute). The growth of the modern orchestra from Beethoven to Stravinsky and Varθse, through Berlioz, Wagner, and Debussy, reveals not only the complexification of the musical material but an increasing concern with how the variety of instrumental sounds are integrated into the resonance of the orchestra as a whole. The technical skill of both instrumentalists and conductors has had to make remarkable progress to meet the demands of composers whose intricate works increasingly rely upon new orchestral combinations and new effects.
The term orchestral color has become current, but no one can justify its use. For centuries European musicians have been concentrating on patterns of intervals, the formal development of themes, and modulation from one tonality to another, thus mainly on abstract factors. The score of a musical work could be transposed into whatever key was most convenient, and whether a flute or a violin played the written melody the music remained "the same." The great game was to be able to recognize a theme or (in serial music) a selected number of notes in all its modified forms and thus to take full cognizance (intellectually, of course) of the composer's skill and the ability of the performer to make the intricate musical structure "clear." This concentration on abstract and formalistic factors made it difficult to create and experience music in terms of the expressive quality of Tone. As a means for psychic communication Tone was reduced to "color" and interpreted as a superficial, sense stimulating or sensual "effect."
American Indians have been heard to say of an Anglo that he had a "lying voice." Indians love to sit in silence, and when a person breaks the silence and speaks much more is felt by resonating to the tone quality of the voice than by listening to the words the speaker's mind has formed. Similarly, the quality of the tones in a performance communicates a vital message concerning the psyche of the performer, and this message can alter profoundly the communication of what the music was intended to convey. This, of course, is particularly obvious in the case of a pianist who is totally responsible for what the performance communicates provided the particular piano is adequate, which is not always the case.
The issue here is clearly whether by music a performer means a set of relationships between notes which in themselves have no particular sound or a composite evolving whole of actually heard tones having a definite quality. This is not to say that composers of classical European music had no regard for the substantial and concrete nature (the actually heard vibrations) of their intellectually and formalistically constructed music, but that the substantiality of the sounds their musical scores called for has been an element of only secondary importance. The development of the twentieth century orchestra and of complex, highly stimulating orchestrations has been greatly influential in the potential development of a consciousness of Tone. But I believe a basic misunderstanding has been created by the acoustical concept of harmonics, which tries to reduce the timbre of instrumental sources of actually heard sounds the total resonance of the material instrument carried to the surrounding air to a series of measurable components (overtones). What I call Tone cannot be fully measured no more than one can measure or even define the emotional and psychoactive character or intensity of a musical theme or melody.
The capitalized word Tone should be reserved for the musical equivalent of the life power in any vegetable or animal organism. Tone is not "color." Hearing is entirely different from seeing. Our normal sense of hearing deals with the awareness of qualities of life energy with the power of biological impulses, emotional states, and decisions of will. The sense of seeing, on the other hand, is the basis for the development of consciousness. Every form of existence even the whole universe begins in a release of power through Sound, the alpha condition of being. It is consummated in Light, the light of all-encompassing consciousness, the omega of being.
One can imagine, however, having a subliminal experience of a music which would resonate in the omega state of being. One might almost say a "music of consciousness." Not having any word to describe the nature of that Tone, one may feel impelled to speak of it in terms of light and, in the process of reaching such an experience, of tone color, of brilliant or dark sounds. But the term is confusing, for example, when applied to composers such as Debussy and Ravel rather senselessly called Impressionists. The deepest purpose of Impressionism, both in painting and music, was to make people see and hear in a new, natural, and spontaneous way, unconstrained by the traditional prejudices the European culture had forced upon them. The Impressionistic movement was the first attempt at dis-Europeanizing man's responses to physical and psychic reality.
This matter of tone color is important today because some avant garde musicians speak extensively about it and especially because of their increasing use of electronic instruments or other sources of sounds whose quality is usually bereft of vibrancy and holistic resonance. Compensating (consciously or not) for such a paucity of tone quality and vibrancy by extraordinarily lengthy repetitions of short, simple, and often musically nonsignificant sequences of sounds does not, in my opinion, produce meaningful results, except in terms of a quasi-hypnotic state of relaxation and self-indulgent meditative introversion. Yet there undoubtedly are notable exceptions.
Electronic music tends to be applied acoustics rather than music, especially when it is produced by combinations of electronically generated, quantitatively defined vibrations combinations often based on the analytical, scientific concept of the measurable frequencies of fundamental and overtones. "Concrete music" is based on the disintegration of reality and the recombination or synthesizing of the disintegrated fragments. As a protest against the banal, culture-bound approach to reality, especially in the artificiality and tensions of city living, concrete music may be significant in a cathartic sense, but its works often seem like combinations of psychically empty sounds, the emptiness of which is not filled by prolonged repetitions of a quasi-magical nature.
A large portion of humanity in both the East and the West is no longer supported and empowered by the collective psychism of its natal culture. Power has to be built by personal concentration and an interior transformation into the music (or any of the arts) one creates. To fill with Tone sounds that are empty because they are no longer rooted in a vibrant and dynamic cultural matrix, the composer and performer have to pour into them their own individualized psychism; and this means to empower the instruments with a resonant vibrancy that gives them a new life rather than more "color."
This resonant vibrancy of the actual musical and instrumental material can be obtained, most meaningfully and psychoactively, I believe, through the use of dissonant harmonies evoking a fullness of resonance, which can only come through harmonizing differences and even conflicting vibrations. The age of patriarchal tribal homogeneity is gone. Should it return someday it would have to be at a higher level which is impractical and unrealistic today. Vibrancy is indeed the key to the empowerment of sounds by the magic of Tone. But a new kind of magic is now demanded by creative individuals able to live, feel, and think in transpersonal terms as agents of humanity as a whole the magic of syntonic consciousness. The creative Sound that is "in the beginning" and the illumined plenum of Space-consciousness that constitutes the omega state of "the end of time" can blend. And in this blending however tentative and imperfectly realized the birth of a new music and a new age can be, if not concretely actualized, at least heralded. The way of every Christ has to be prepared by a John the Baptist in whom end meets beginning.
The Principle of Consistency in Composite Wholes
Students of music are taught rules of composition, but there is really only one ruling principle in any creative activity: consistency. Consistency manifests as an assured and quasi-organic rhythm of unfoldment, a sustained process of formation or transformation.
In the last chapter of his excellent book, The Tao of Physics
, Fritjof Capra speaks of the recently formulated interpretation of what human beings perceive as matter, the "bootstrap" hypothesis of the Berkeley physicist Geoffrey Chew. According to this bootstrap philosophy, "the universe is seen as a dynamic web of interrelated events. None of the properties of any part of this web is fundamental; they all follow from the properties of the other parts and the overall consistency of their mutual interrelations determines the structure of the entire web." In other words, "nature cannot be reduced to fundamental entities, such as elementary particles or fundamental fields. It has to be understood entirely through its self-consistency."(1
While it is impossible to detail here how such a theory of reality can be related to the wholeness of musical space and the principle of the interpenetration of sonic vibrations within holistic resonances based on dissonant harmony, the implications of such a view necessarily affect all fields of human activity, music included. Capra mentions Joseph Needham's study of the essential concepts of the Taoist philosophy in China and quotes him as saying that "the harmonic cooperation of all beings arose, not from the orders of a superior authority external to themselves, but from the fact that they were all parts of a hierarchy of wholes forming a cosmic pattern, and what they obeyed were the internal dictates of their own nature
[italics mine] . . . The Chinese did not even have a word corresponding to the classical Western idea of a law of nature."(2
) Capra further states that in the most recently developed kind of physics "self-consistency is the essence of all laws of nature" and that "in a universe which is an inseparable whole and where all forms are fluid and ever-changing there is no room for any fixed fundamental entity."
This "fluid and ever-changing" world is the world of music music freed from the intellectual and formalistic constraints of the classical theory of tonality which, significantly, became set during the century in which the concepts of Newton and Descartes crystallized the modern scientific attitude at least until Einstein, Dirac, and Heisenberg. The solid atoms which for Newtonian physics constituted the foundation of matter and the indestructible monads Leibnitz postulated during the same period correspond in their abstractness to the precise musical notes of classical European music moving according to definite rules within the rigidly defined yet essentially empty space of a musical score. The score features musical staves with set lines establishing equally set intervals; equally unyielding bars establish strong and weak beats dominated by the metronomic time of simple rhythms. Even the melodies have to last a set number of bars.
Music has indeed been straight-jacketed, but human beings who were developing a centrifugal kind of individualism (or at least emotional personalism) and reaching toward the ideal of laissez-faire
democracy needed an externally and rationalistically controlled musical order to maintain psychic integration. They were afraid of the spontaneity and creative freedom of spirit, and they have not proven able to live without external constraints, once (as is happening today) the constraints have broken down.
The reaction to the absence of constraints passes as simplicity and is an attempt to return to a magical repetitiveness, yet with an underlying confusion as well as a sophisticated craving for a freedom which is neither magical nor sacred, and to which most persons are not able to give a self-consistent meaning. To realize such a meaning, a person has to be established (or stabilized) in his or her own identity; but this identity should not be thought of, even at a postulated "spiritual" level, as an insulated and self-sufficient being. Identity should be understood as the wholeness of a self-consistent process from germinating seed (alpha state) to consummating seed (omega state) a wholeness which itself is a component of a still greater whole, humanity.
Thus a musical work should have an identity, but an identity that is neither static nor predetermined by a traditional form existing in a realm of quasi-absolute value. The work's hearer should be allowed the feeling-experience of discovering the seed unity of the music within the multiplicity of sounds. But this is possible only if the hearer lets the tone of the wholeness of the musical whole resonate in his or her consciousness and feeling-nature. This seed tone may be a vertical organization of definite notes a complex chord whose components are allowed to interact and interpenetrate as do the many components of a great Asian gong or it may only be implied in the musical process, to be revealed perhaps only in moments of focalized meaning and intensity of psychic communication.
This process must have internal consistency; it should be meant (subconsciously often more than consciously) to fulfill a need. Spirit always operates in function of the fulfillment of a need. It operates in order to re-equilibrate (to make again whole and dynamic, that is, full of tone) what had become repairably disintegrated and psychically distraught by pulls and pressures it found itself incapable of repelling or assimilating. In music the latter are discords. To transmute discords into harmonic dissonances is the eternal way of the creative and transformative spirit; and such a spirit is needed in music now more than at any other time.
A Vision of Cosmic Possibilities for Music
The dissonantly integral and holistically resonant music of the future can hardly be imagined at this precarious moment of human history. If mankind should have to return to simpler, less technologically complex forms of living, yet with a new sense of "universal brotherhood," integrated groups of human beings centralized by a common purpose may feel again the need for singing together in physical unison, while great gong-like instruments halo their chants with the vibrancy of the musical space these unified voices psychically evoke. If, on the other hand, modern civilization, once it is restabilized and assuaged, is able to produce musical instruments of which our present-day electronic devices will seem but naive and primitive forerunners, then a music of space-fullness a music of truly cosmic pleromas of sounds may emerge. I have dreamt of such an instrument and wrote about it in my novel Return from No Return
(1953), placing it on a distant planet in the constellation Sagittarius. I named this sacred instrument Cosmophonon, "a field of forces surrounded by myriads of glowing crystals of many shapes and colors." A quotation from my book may evoke the possibility of the super-sacromagical use of such an instrument.
The Cosmophonic field becomes alive with vibration, as Vashista moves a few delicate levers which tremble like fingers. With his left arm he holds the girl, who also trembles. Within Vashista's head a crystal-like organ of extraordinary potency also begins to vibrate. It is indeed as if the cosmic vibrations passed through it, for purification and filtering. He alone alas! is now able to perform this function. As the vibration reaches a high pitch, Vashista touches one of thousands of small knobs and an extraordinary tone fills the hall. Each knob is tuned to the fundamental tone of a star. And the first tone released is that of Vru, which provides the carrier-wave to the realm of the stars, to the immensities of the cosmic mind-force.
Tzema-Tse's body quivers as the majestic tone booms through her whole being. Something suddenly opens like a tropical flower struck by the rising sun. Vashista feels the opening, and a great excitement seizes him, for he knows now that, in the being whom he holds very close, a door has opened into the mind-space, the space of the stars. What could it mean, if not that in that space there must already dwell, asleep perhaps, an immortal form of being, an eternal "I"? No one, of the Asuan people, has ever experienced such a sudden opening of the inner door so young. Even he, Vashista, had to reach advanced maturity before, through the perfect equalization of all psychic energies and all vibrations in his organism, a moment came when the clear crystal of his conscious-mind dissolved itself to reveal the mysterious Form of Immortality his starry Self. She must be, indeed, the expected jewel!
Vashista touches other knobs. Magnificent tones superimpose themselves over Vru's basic vibration, in a constantly shifting, modulating chorus. His finger touches the knob that releases the very high vibration of Svaha, the companion star. Then, Tzema-Tse's body jerks uncontrollably as if seized by a convulsion. Vashista holds her tightly; looks at her eyes which stare at him, immensely magnified. A picture. Yes, he sees a Form which the eyes mirror, a wonderful Form of pure light. Tzema-Tse suddenly closes her eyes, sobbing. An unknown sound passes through her lips. The old Servant of Vru seems to hear . "Zahar . . . Zahar . . . " Is it a name?
The instrument has been stilled. Tzema-Tse is still shaking softly. Vashista leads her out of the Cosmophonic field, now quiescent.(3)
This is, of course, a dream which has its place in a story of transcendence and love within the field of the planetary destiny of the human race. Yet an instrument such as the Cosmophonon is not impossible if conditions on earth allow for the development of human beings able to serve as channels for the focused release of the cosmic and transformative power generated by the interplay of polarized transphysical energies, for the focusing agent will probably always be a human being whose consciousness and power has become focused at a transpersonal level of the mind. The sound of music is a revelation of the realm of psychism; and the level of intensity and expression of music is the dynamic reflection of the level of the psychism of especially sensitive and open human beings.
Music does not reside in musical notes themselves. It is released through the vibrancy and tone of material instruments that resonate to the impact of the psyche, individual or collective, of human beings. Music is psychic communication. If there is a profound meaning in what the inspired scientist, Donald Hatch Andrews, states in his book, The Symphony of Life
) that "the universe is more like music than like matter" it is because the universe is a whole constituted by an incredibly complex network of communication that relates everything to everything else.
The secret of such an ubiquitous and all-encompassing communication is the interpenetration of all forms of existence at the level of cosmic psychism the anima mundi of medieval occultists, the "world soul." At that level every center of being resonates to every other, merged in an all-inclusive Harmony. Yet because every center of consciousness still mysteriously retains its identity its singularity of process and vibration, its spiritual tone this Harmony is a dissonant harmony, an unceasing victory over the centrifugal pull of multiplicity. It is divine love forever triumphing over indifference as well as integrating differences into music the true music of the spheres.
Boulder, Colo.: Shambhala Publications, 1975, pp. 285-86. Return
. Ibid, p. 289 Return
Palo Alto, Cal.: The Seed Center, (1973) pp. 134-35. Return
. Lee's Summit, Mo.: Unity Books, 1966. Return
By permission of Leyla Rudhyar Hill
Copyright © 1982; by Dane Rudhyar
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