1 Silence & Musicianship
2 Knowledge & Individuation
3 Migrating to the Source
plus two graphic scores:
1 - Silence & Musicianship
Before we can consider music we need to consider silence.
Why interrupt silence?
A body of people sitting together in focused silence can be as re-creational an experience as the finest sound.
In silence exists the potential for all created sound, unmarred by the exigencies of its physical generation. The Japanese call this mushín, a dreamworld of possibilities beyond the duality of physical existence.
Ideas either of imperfection as a stage on the way to perfection, or the rejection of perfection have to be seen in terms of musó, the Buddhist idea of unchanging formlessness behind all phenomena. In this state, mushín, there is neither acceptance nor rejection. Ideas come out of a world that existed before Dualism - or rather, not before or after, but in a world where dualism is irrelevant.
Buddhists [say] that the world of beauty is our home and that we are born with a love for home. To long for beauty, therefore, is the same as to long for home. But home, as we know, is a world of non-dual entirety: everything that has been divided yearns to be reunited; everything has, so to speak, been divided in order to long to be one again. 4
If we are considering the character of music at its most profound then the interruption of silence must be a sacred act fully attuned to the needs of the psyché and bearing in mind the primordial sound and source of all vitality - breath - a word synonymous with spirit and energy in many of the world's profoundest philosophies: pneuma, prana, ruach, chi/ki.
Salvador Rosa self-portrait c1640
Caption translation reads: Be silent, or utter only what is worth more than silence.
In Healing Sounds Jonathan Goldman writes:
The still point between the in-breath and the out-breath [in a musical sense, the impulse of sound] is believed by many to be the time during the cycle of the breath when the human body is ... in resonance with itself. Scientist Itzhak Bentov ... believes that during this time, the body creates a waveform ... in resonance with the energy of the Earth.
Sitting in silence enables us to begin to know the inner symphony that is ourselves ... we truly are a celestial orchestra filled with sound; the heart beat, respiration, circulatory system ... and brain waves all create myriad sounds that we can become aware of through silence. As we begin to tune in to the inner and outer sounds we truly change the way our everyday perception works. 5
So, on an esoteric level, whatever interrupts silence needs to be in tune with the ebb and flow of silence.
A profound question is: what sound is already here before I start to express anything - what energy is actually in the atmosphere of the space where I find myself? Kahlil Gibran's Prophet saw himself as
a harp that the hand of the mighty may touch me, or a flute that his breath may pass through me.
A seeker of silences, [finding] treasure ... that I may dispense with confidence.
This timeless of this vision lies behind many of the enigmatic Zen koâns. Kabir, an Indian mystic of the 16thC AD also expresses it beautifully:
The unstruck drum of Eternity is sounded within me.
The dance of God goes on without hands and feet.
The harp of God is played without fingers, it is heard without ears:
For the universal ear is hirself the hearer.
In calling this See Through Music I hope readers may read between the words to capture a fleeting translucence - like light catching the surface of a lake in whose depths we see the clouds sleeping. If we look for 'reality' in the objective world it will always elude us.
Music is imaginary - excited air: and therefore, being wholly immaterial, is best suited to express the true, quicksilver 'reality' of our emotional lives, not the stodgy reality of physical existence.
The fact that no two people will ever hear exactly the same 'imaginary melody' outlines the central paradox at the heart of any discussion of metaphysics. Is it even possible to construct multi-dimensional arguments about subjective experience?
There is no Archimedean point from which to judge, since the psyché is indistinguishable from its manifestation. 6
In his long-awaited sequel to Zen & The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig suggests a way forward, explaining the paradox of subjective objectivity in terms of a Metaphysics of Qualities (MOQ):
Unlike subject-object metaphysics the MOQ does not insist on a single exclusive truth. If subjects and objects are held to be the ultimate reality then we're permitted only one construction of things - that which corresponds to the 'objective' world - and all other constructions are unreal. But if Quality or excellence (within its own terms) is seen as the ultimate reality then it becomes possible for more than one set of truths to exist. 7
The science of acoustics also provides a metaphor. Discussions about Sound have to be conducted in terms of relativity because no quantification is absolutely valid. Every sound transmission is coloured by the physical characteristics of the sound source, the atmospheric conditions, the physical characteristics of the receptor and, in humans, the psycho-acoustic responses. Moreover the interpretation of all sound proceeds from cultural conditioning.
For centuries Causation has been a real show stopper. In classical science it was supposed that the world always works in terms of absolute certainty, but in modern quantum physics all that is changed. An individual particle is not absolutely committed to one predictable behaviour. In the MOQ, Causation can be replaced by the word Value. Instead of saying 'a magnet causes iron filings to move toward it' you can say 'iron filings value movement toward a magnet'. When you strike Cause from the language and substitute Value you are replacing an empirically meaningless term with a meaningful one. 8
The same thought is expressed in another way by David Bohm, one of the fathers of Quantum Physics. Shortly before his death in 1992 he videotaped an interview in which he comments on two of the features of quantum process which undermine Newtonian causality: "Wave particles are context dependent and 'non-local'." Meaning, "in certain circumstances there are elements which conform despite a wide separation." In this process the act of observing "two separate yet not distinct entities" appears to "an integral part because of the characteristics of non-local interaction."9
By this measure it is not so absurd to say that 'the Universe values observation', meaning that our meta-physical environment is itself an audience drawing from us those expressions of joy, wonder, love and grief which characterise the arts in every culture. In terms of ultimate reality, this also is the 'ground of our being' which we encounter during meditation or other inward exercises. By our 'observation' we are reciprocating those values first given to us.
Similarly, it makes good sense to say 'sound values organisation'. Humans certainly value the organisation of sound and even more, humans are 'valued' by the organisation of sound - in every sense. What musician has not experienced the elation of participating in an excellent performance? This physiological effect surely cannot be accidental to the evolutionary 'design' of sympathetic response in mammalian nervous systems. All musicians are (or should be) aware of difference in psychological effect when a chord is perfectly tuned, or rhythm perfectly synchronised, and of the many infinitely subtle gradations of emotional affect that can be wrought by marginal alterations to established regularity.
We cannot adduce any physical law to support the idea that 'sound values organisation', but if all mammals find 'meaning' in the repetition of sounds then by Pirsig's criterion the statement is as valid as two dimensional logic allows.
These ideas underpin everything I want to say about music and mysticism. For I believe that organised sound ('music') has a role similarly vital to the psychological balance of individuals and of society as sleep. Both bypass the programmed responses of left-brain consciousness, and restore direct communication with the subconscious - and it is in the non-conscious element of our psyché, the void of unknowing, [see part 2] that our powers of wisdom and self-healing lie: (it being part of mankind's role as co-creators with the divine that we ourSelves are the source of all our sickness and also of all our health.)
Apostrophes to the social value and cosmic significance of harmony are found everywhere. From Plato's Timæus at the very dawn of history:
Harmony, whose actions are akin to the processes of the soul, has been given by the muse to those whose intercourse with her is guided by intelligence not the mere pursuit of pleasure ... as an ally against inward discord ... bringing coherence and inner consonance. 11
I think identifying with a sound is meditation. A musical meditation is when you completely become the sound ... We should go in and out of these realms of consciousness completely freely. 12
Music for the ancients meant principally song, for the voice is the unequivocal communicator of volition. And as such song has a crucial role in creating social coherence - consider for instance the emotional function of a national anthem or the socially integrative power of a genuinely popular song.
This is reinforced in Vedic cosmology where, of the body's seven energy centres or chakras, the throat is the focal point of creativity: the power of utterance ideally drawing equally on the adjacent chakras of heart, the central chakra, and mind.
Music then is a vehicle for sharing emotion. Indeed there is no 'point' in music that is not heard - a sentiment to which every composer could ruefully subscribe.
In a recent house move I packed the hi-fi in a low priority carton assuming it would not be needed immediately. In fact it was the first thing my family wanted to unpack - for sound more any other factor creates the ambience or ethos which defines 'home', wholeness and belonging.
Darkness & Light are not other
«I cannot see the issue of music and mysticism as anything other than the total integration of sensory awareness.» We experience the total integration of sensory awareness as a sensation of 'truth' which transcends words. Truth does not do, it is. (In sanskrit the word sath expresses the dual meaning that truth is and that what is is truth.) And the level of awareness where 'truth' is synonymous with 'being' might be called 'reality'. Therefore I could have said «I cannot see the issue of music and mysticism as anything other than encountering a psychological reality.»
Music today is the quintessence of busi-ness, as we know, but when we come to talk of being, we touch on an area beyond desire, for desire is an expression of incompleteness. To be complete is at once to be full and to be beyond fullness. Perhaps this is what is meant by the Buddhist and Hindu idea of nirvana? When a game is completed it is over, it no longer exists.
Mysticism is not a retreat from reason into mysterious mistiness, it is the encounter with a perennial wisdom which grounds understanding in the heart rather than in the head - l'intelligence du cur. [the wisdom of the heart]
Mysticism is the art of union with Reality. The mystic is the person who has attained that union in greater or less degree; or who aims at and believes in such attainment. 14
True mysticism is a wordless gnosis (knowledge) based not on a verbal conception of creed or faith but on an accretion of personal certainty arising from the adventurous following of the prompting of the inmost self - often characterised as the (holy) spirit, our higher self, &c.
During periods of personal extremity, which are an archetypal component of any inward path, we are brought face to painful face with ourSelf and in that darkness we encounter simultaneously both what is "I" and "not I" within us. At a certain level we become aware that whatever we thought we were looking for outside ourselves is actually within us, and 'whatever is most fully within us is most fully without us'. To some these ideas may be too abstract, too immaterial, others are simply not interested, but this is article addressed to those musicians who wish to penetrate to the heart of matter - beyond the heart of light, which is the destination of revealed religion, beyond even the heart of darkness, which is the objective of those who seek personal power, to what is (sath).
Each individual climbs the mountain by a separate life path. Each starts from a different point. But coming within sight of the summit reveals that the paths were never separate, and even if, due to the duality of physical existence, individual goals may have appeared different, they were in fact a common goal seen from a different perspective. Every person can also recognise the operation of a force of unconditional love that the Christian tradition calls grace, and which, if invoked and practised, spares us some of the rigour of the journey.
Nevertheless, following the inner flame can be tough - that is, it's as tough as we make it, for each of us 'discovers' a reality that conforms to our preconceptions (as the existence of so many varieties of religious belief testifies). The function of earth life is to refine the soul, to purge it of attachment to the heavy emotions that bind it to the earth, thereby enabling it to pass through what one might call a psychic sieving process into increasing light and joy. If we are fortunate we may synchronise this process with the eventual release of the physical body. Fundamentally, this is the teaching of all religions; they differ in method since each represents the cultural archetype of a different side of the mountain.
The impulse to journey from the lush valley floor of undifferentiated social conformity up the mountain of mystical awareness to individuation takes many forms. But as the perspective changes paradoxes appear, and for a time the only reward for resolving one is to be become aware of an even greater enormity - it soon becomes clear how marginal the dividing line between the criminal and the cardinal, the pædagogue and the pædophile.15
But with persistence, as life's crises of perception flare up and subside, awareness of the unity of creation slowly dissolves the duality of language from our thought-forms allowing us to fly free in the knowledge that all existence is an organically fluctuating balance of probabilities, held gyrostable by that energy whom we come to perceive as a distinct, if indescribable, personality - a perfection forever evolving new levels of perfection, drawing all creation onwards in the transmutation of matter into spirit.
The evangelist John expresses it ...
In our own day Pierre Teilhard de Chardin has carried these thoughts further, speaking of
the general 'drift' of matter towards spirit. This movement must have its term: one day the whole divinisable substance of matter will have passed into the souls of men; all the chosen dynamisms will have been recovered: and then our world will be ready for the Parousia. 17
Ebb & Flow
In the meanwhile one of the characteristics of earthly life is conflict. This is an expression of duality, the fact that since objects and even thoughts about objects have physical dimensions they can legitimately be viewed from obverse perspectives. Because of our mental pathology 'cognitive dissonance' of this character threatens the integrity of awareness we are constantly seeking to construct, either collectively or individually.
Mysticism is about seeking a 'unified field' of awareness that neither includes nor excludes - it simply allows. Understanding begins where Finnegan's Wake ends, with a simple yes as to a lover. Understanding, like love, ends with the word no.
Those committed to the mountain path of individuation, which by no means releases them from collective awareness, begin to become aware of the psychic energy of paradox and are able to tolerate increasing levels of cognitive dissonance as they learn to contextualise it within a larger-scale balance of probabilities. In the Bible, and no doubt in other sacred texts, there are apparently contradictory statements which it is necessary to hold within 'biblical tension' in order to understand the transcendent reality described.
These insights require no scholarship (or how could I have achieved them?) and are freely available to the sincere of heart. The quality of this enlightenment is nowhere better expressed than in the luminous words of the first chapter of John's gospel:
The Word was the true light that enlightens all men; and he was coming into the world ... a light the darkness could not overpower. 18
Elsewhere in this article I suggest where and how current musical values may need to change. These suggestions are rooted in the belief that musical excellence achieved without personal integration is a poisoned chalice. Not only does it fly in the face of authentic 'meaning' in music, that is, at-one-ment with (/decoding the mystery of) the ebb and flow of life's pulse; but also that insincerity in art, as in spirituality, has a corrosive effect on a person's very heart. 'No peace for the wicked' is a saying often used by musicians - rather accurately, I fear, if 'wickedness' is construed in its Hebrew sense of deliberate impercipience of divine lore.
Dismissing from our minds the fact that reference to 'centres of excellence' is invariably a preamble to cuts in public funding, we can extend Pirsig's Metaphysics of Qualities to say that 'music values excellence'. Intention is paramount in music. Whatever a musician's motivation, here considering composer and performer as an entity, it will invariably be transmitted by the music in proportion to hir intensity and skill.
The excellence of a composer is the simplicity with which s/he responds to hir inner promptings just as excellence in mediumship is the imposition of the minimum of filters on whatever is shown to the inward vision. In both cases the medium through which the message comes is an essential and honoured vehicle and hir individuality is integral to its quality and interpretation, but if that medium becomes inflated with hir achievements the ascendant ego will inevitably constrict contact with the subconscious source.
When the constriction of mental control is relaxed the heart itself speaks: and the heart pumps through whatever is in the veins. We can take a view as to whether what emerges is good blood or bad blood, ie socially constructive or destructive, but actually human concepts of morality are irrelevant. Art is, just as birdsong is.
The rose is without why, it flowers because it flowers, it pays no heed to itself, asks not if it is seen.19
Today we are afflicted with individualism to the degree that it has become the norm. The need to assert our individuality only become an issue when the ego fears annihilation. If an individual feels assured of hir role in the scheme of things s/he is free to express the true liberty of interdependence, the psychic mutuality I am describing. Sóetsu Yanagi, a connoisseur who single-handedly preserved much of Japan's historic earthenware, says of the pottery connected with Zen Tea Ceremony
Early Japanese craft workers practised the Buddhist doctrine of tariki, abandonment of self-reliance. As a result a common style emerged which was based on a healthy consensus, free from overtones of wilful artistry; but eventually, in the search for formulas, the freedom of later craftsmen was lost and some adopted the way of jiriki-dó, self-reliance, and so a distortion arose, similar to that found in contemporary western art whose 'free form' is wilful and unfree. In fact it can be said that the pursuit of freedom has led to the prison gates - the prison of self.
There is a further way, the nangyo-dó, the way of hardship, and it is the way artists and others who believe themselves to be possessed of greatness, who want to find it out and make use of it, To do this, they are willing to rely on their own individual strength; but only those of extraordinary calibre, or genius, can complete this arduous trip.
Was it Art for Art's sake that led the Tea Masters to choose those beautiful utensils from the merely decorative? By no means. The beauty they detected was not lofty and unapproachable but interwoven with the actualities of life.20
In saying someone is inspired we are saying they're in tune with a deeper self so that the music emerges unfiltered by inhibition. You may construe the nature of this deeper self in your own vocabulary, but if musical training is designed to do anything other than facilitate simplicity it is far worse than useless.
The 20thC has seen an enormous leap forward in collective ability to recognise 'truth' in the form of personal authenticity but it doesn't know what to do with it. (I write this a day after James Kelman's controversial award of the Booker Prize with How Late It Was, How Late and the nexus of contradictions such an unvarnished work of art has exposed in the interface between a bourgeois society and the world of individual creativity.)
In all advanced capitalist economies (the laughably-named 'free' world) there is an enormous explosion of musical styles and a ferment of enthusiasm for musical exploration, but most of it is waste energy discharged into the night sky. For musicians this search must include a full meta-physical knowledge of how all created matter is vibration and their role in exciting and being sensitive to vibrations. Truly to appreciate music and gain the nourishment it offers we need to be practised at listening with the third ear - to be able to bypass the conscious mind with its myriad schemes and questions and to drift into a meditative, heightened state (similar to the influence of drugs but totally different in quality) where you lock onto the energy of the music and be guided to wherever it takes you.
The issue is the degree to which musicians allow themselves to become mediums rather than controllers - a sentiment much at odds with the bravura style perceived as the foundation of a career at the turn of the 21stC. To follow the inner spirit of music requires a wide open consciousness, a psychic state not far removed from the receptivity of a medium. In that condition the psyché is very vulnerable to shock, which can be genuinely traumatic. Therefore the wide open listener requires that music refrain from cheap tricks and abrupt discontinuities, for in a truly rudderless state the mind is afloat on a lotus ocean and like a large ship cannot turn as quickly as a mind planted on terra firma. The behaviour of performers between pieces is crucial to maintaining a focused atmosphere, and how they open and close pieces immediately reveals their level of awareness.
Towards the end of this life the veteran cubist Georges Braque said
I have made a great discovery: I no longer believe in anything. Objects don't exist for me except in so far as a state of rapport exists between them or between them and myself. When one attains this harmony one reaches a sort of intellectual non-existence - what I can only describe as a state of peace - which makes everything possible and right. Life becomes a perpetual revelation. That is true poetry. 21
That is true mysticism, that is 'reality', that is being.
4 back 20 back Soetsu Yanagi The Unknown Craftsman. 1953 p.Kodansha Int UK 1972
5 back Jonathan Goldman, Healing Sounds, Element 1992. Itzhak Bentov, Stalking the Wild Pendulum, Bantam US 1977
6 back CG Jung, Psychology & Religion, Yale Press US 1938
7 back Robert Pirsig, Lila, Viking 1992
9 back An Interview with David Bohm, Mystic Fire Video, US 1994.
11 back Timæus, Plato, 47c/d
12 back Stockhausen, Conversations with the Composer, Jonathan Cott, Picador 1974
14 back Practical Mysticism, Evelyn Underhill, UK 1915
15 back In greek pædophile merely means child lover. The terrifying proximity of such feelings emerged in the life of the Gloucester multiple murderer Fred West - a man who, it appears, was capable simultaneously of great love and abominable savagery to children.
16 John 4.24 (Jerusalem Bible)
17 back Le Milieu Divin, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, trans B Wall, Collins UK 1960.
*Teilhard de Chardin believed that in its finally transmuted form matter, especially humanity, will realise the Biblical prophecies of reaching its stature of full godhead in physical form - a view which synchronises with Buddhism.
18 back John 1.9 & 1.5 (Jerusalem Bible) In Qabbalistic terms the Word -the logos or creative principle- is synonymous with semen. It means a thought-form having potent capabilities. Different translations variously render overpower as grasp or apprehend.
19 back The Cherubic Wanderer, Johannes Scheffler, aka Angelus Silesius (1624-1677)
21 Georges Braque, J Richardson, Penguin UK 1959 quoted in Tucker Dreaming with Open Eyes