Ben Duncan presents philosophies on the effects of music.
Devised by poet and occultist Aliester Crowley in the early years of this century, this hideous word, when spoken in appropriately bombastic and sepulchral tones acts as a reminder of the ability of organised sound and music to exert influences beyond the mechanistic and physical, and accordingly the theme of this article is that music is much more than the sum of its constituent sounds. To quote John Newsham (ex-Hillage Band) and partner, Tony Andrews (together, designers of the widely acclaimed Turbosound Rock speaker systems), "Musicians should think about the medium they're using instead of just the notes they sling into it; sound isn't merely energy content at frequency — there are other qualities in it that are not necessarily measurable by scientific methods."
Along with musicians such as Robert Fripp and Steve Hillage, I believe Rock to be potentially the most potent force in terms of its ability to raise human consciousness, convey the spiritual message of the "New Age" and change people's attitudes for the better. Naturally, this set of positive characteristics attracts an equal and opposite burden in the shape of money, politics and debauchery. Few 20th century artistic endeavours have been so passionately regarded, so blatently misunderstood or maligned, as Rock music. In particular, it has suffered the cranky secular views of religious and political zealots, yet ironically, this paranoia in itself suggests that they are at least subconciously aware of the music's awesome power to change people's beliefs and attitudes to a more tolerant, enlightened wavelength.
Meanwhile, the news media unfailingly distort the rationale of the music, displacing its spiritual axis and amplifying its negative and trivial aspects out of due proportion. So let's walk briefly into this vague and largely undocumented territory, going way beyond the surface ethos of politics, money and stage dramatics.
We can look at music as a dance of vital energies — William Blake's 'Arabesque of rhythms', as an interplay of yin and yang, the sum of the dance being zero, only the dance never stops, like life itself. This concept of music as a mirror of our own consciousness aligns with the occasional and fleeting experience, held by most readers, of the ability of good music to radically alter our consciousness in a manner no less powerful than meditation, hallucinogens, sensory-deprivation or ritual magic.
Although it's convenient to assume that musicians make music, it's probably more correct to think of them "drawing music out the air". Rock musicians, as a genre then, can be viewed as magicians, being adept in the invocation, control and transmission of psychic, or, if you prefer, higher energies. In the parlance of Steve Hillage and Robert Fripp, the musician conducts a powerful current which can bring enlightenment and enrapture, but which is apt to cause damage to the musician if he lacks the ability to control and balance it. The danger of unbalance to reckless, unprincipled or purely unlucky musicians is very real: initially, it breeds cynicism and egotism, and then descends via debauchery to fuseblowing tactics such as insanity and death. A handful of musicians may be regarded as having gone a step further, and as Shamans, projected themselves beyond the logos of human experience to bring music from 'The absolute elsewhere' or 'The place from where the music comes'; as a result of these endeavours, Jim Morrison and Hendrix, the latter especially, are posthumously acknowledged as absolute masters of Rock.
Regrettably, our Western understanding and appreciation of higher energies is not only scanty and fettered by minefields of scepticism, but is also confused by a mixture of vague labels culled ad-lib from occidental and Eastern sources of knowledge alike. At the same time, even if we could pin down the energies, it would be unwise to identify their relationship to the music too closely, because Rock music, lying beyond mechanistic and classical knowledge is damaged by analysis and limited by labels. A helpful analogy at this point is an impressionist painting. Although impressionistic art can exude vitality so great that it's easy with practice to 'step into' and feel a part of the scene portrayed, if one adopts an analytic 'mode of seeing', the painting just falls apart, appearing to the unimaginative eye as a mass of meaningless paint blobs. In a sense then, the crude texture of Rock Music attains similar vitality which can easily be destroyed by listening in the wrong fashion: specifically listening to sound rather than letting music flow spontaneously through the mind and body.
So, in metaphysical terms, we can best limit our exploration to sketching out two opposing energies, these balancing to form a third. Of course, this model shouldn't be regarded dogmatically, but rather as a useful tool to aid the perception of the multidimensional and synchronistic energy interactions between musician, audience, source of inspiration and the sound equipment which comprise the whole picture. (By synchronistic, I mean to suggest relationships beyond our cause and effect perception of forwards flowing time and three-dimensional space). The first energy is sensual, sexual and therefore polar (in Fripp's euphemism, "coming from The area below the navel...") being variously termed feminine, spacious or yin, whilst its male complement is known as yang, Kundalini, dragon-current or Orgone energy (after psychologist Wilhelm Reich). The second energy is spiritual, and is commonly identified as light, spark or spirit, whilst the third, resulting from the harmonious coalescence of the two probably lies beyond words, but is well within the experience of many readers, being manifest as the fleeting wave of enrapture or bliss flowing through audience and musicians alike at the best concerts.
Of course, imbalance is much more prevalent. The new generation of HM is particularly infamous for generating enormous quantities of "orgone" or "masculine" sexual energy which is perceived by sensitive members of the audience as an unpleasantly "heavy vibe". However, if you dig out your long forgotten Led Zeppellin I album, it's clear that the balance of sexual energies was much more harmonious in the original heavy metal. Indeed, the metaphysical state of the music is reflected quite clearly here in physical terms: Listen for the 120Hz and 3kHz regions, where the sound is hard, aggressive, sharp and masculine. Then look for the softer, more spacious and feminine bass sound in Led Zep 1, alongside the harder sounds. A good balance of these polar components also occurs in a lot of Dub Reggae, Funk and New Wave material, but it's inadvisable to assume that metaphysical characteristics in music are more than spuriously connected by predominance of certain frequency regions, though it is notable that Hendrix is unique in that his music seems at times to make almost equal use of the whole audible spectrum. As for spiritual components, these aren't normally aurally perceptible, though the "magic chords" of Hendrix, Santana, Hillage, the Isleys and Robin Trower approach audibility. Rather, these energies are manifest as a movement of one's attitudes from within.
Our knowledge of psychoacoustics is vague and piecemeal, particularly in the domains of phase and time, and as regards the subjective effects of plane wavefronts, ultrasonics, infrasonics, distortion and extreme sound pressure levels. Yet musicians make daily use of these manipulations, the "Aphex" aural exciter and the "Turbo" Rock PA speakers being prime examples of equipment which is only vaguely understood, and yet used to good effect to enhance the higher energy content of music without perceptible or meaningful physical effects resulting in reflection. And most readers will have experienced the bizarre distortions of space and time that can result from listening to very loud music, either live or recorded. Typically, peak SPL's in the 120 to 145dB(A) range exert considerable control over the "space" generated by the music, whilst the most powerful music can be perceived (rather than seen) as a violent movement of silver light, slaying out of speaker stacks in three dimensions, or as a kaleidoscope of "pumping" and pulsating coloured light dancing around the room. Moreover, this kinaesthesia can be experienced by people who are perfectly sober and have no previous experience of these effects through other means. The sensation of floating and of music coming from within one's own head is also common. This topic leads us on naturally to a survey of synchronicity and psychotronics, indeed to the fringes of science, where our everyday casual perception of reality breaks down, time flows sideways and the fragile nature of electron currents in sound equipment becomes apparent. But these are merely offered as thought-provoking regions until space permits again. In the meanwhile, listen to Steve Hillage — he knows!
Feature by Ben Duncan
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