Fortunately, a listener needn’t be a mystic to appreciate his music, which possesses a Coltrane-like expansiveness. - JAZZIZ


(Part II) Application of the Elementals in Performance: Air, Water, and Fire

Our first task as a performer is to recognize the Time and Space of the room (discussed in Part I).  This being achieved, we can move toward the more common elements of Air, Water, Fire, and Earth.  Here in Part II we will discuss the elementals Air, Fire, and Water.  Part III in this series of articles will be dedicated solely to the Earth element, and becoming conscious of the physical body.  We will begin with the Air Element.  Air represents the Motion that initiates activity in the Space. It is also the receptacle of the thought process in a room that is being held collectively within a space.  When one looks out at the Air of the room, one is looking at the potential of Motion for the dynamic interplay of the Elementals on a given evening.  The conscious musician will utilize this Motion within the space to start moving the room towards becoming a harmonized environment.  The Air element is both receptive and generative.  It is receptive from the standpoint that it absorbs Fire, Water, or Earth.  Think of this in natural principals:  wind can be warm or cool.  It can be dry or moist.  This is Air in its receptive state in relationship to Fire and Water.  In its generative state it can enhance Fire or disperse it.  It can also be used to push and direct the Waters or Earth.   In this same way the Air element acts in the sphere of mind; it is the motion within the stillness.  It can be helpful to find an action that initiates stillness in the room.  This can be immediately applied by the way in which one engages the audience at the beginning of a night.  We have often heard the phrase “there was an air of anticipation in the room”.  People feel that anticipation, and when one walks in conscious of this, the presence you bring in introducing the group can be used to utilize this quality of stillness in the air.  From there, one’s approach using body, mind, and speech can move the Winds at various rates, or keep the air in stillness, allowing the music to hover and hold anticipation.  When one chooses to move the Wind, then the anticipation is released and directed toward various forms of dynamic activity, whether active or passive.

Our next realm of exploration is the world of the Waters.  Water is often used in various systems of meditation as the symbol of the Great Sea of Consciousness.  It is the Essence of the first substance that connects the consciousness of the collective.  Water can be experienced as the density of a room (as humidity expands the air), and can be used as a unifying element.  It is highly connective in nature, and can be used to unify the consciousness of the room through rhythm, vibration, and resonance.  Water can be a conduit for deeper levels of experience within the collective.  If the density is increased significantly in the room, the air becomes almost visual.  The astral substance between individuals in a collective becomes palpable, and it is easy to see the music moving as a stream through the entirety of the room.  From here, one can increase the intensity of that stream, or allow it to hover indefinitely.  When the Waters are in balance in a space, time can become a non-issue.  A twenty-minute piece is so comfortable that it feels like only a couple of minutes have passed.  African musics are the mastery of the Water element; the mastery of rhythm, and that which unifies the density of the space.  There is a visual grid that opens up when a group is really hitting it, and this opens the potential for a deeper non-verbal experience of the Emotional body transcending the lower thought process.  Balinese music naturally has this quality as well.  One enters into a connection with the Water element through emotion and feeling, rather than intellectualization.  The navel region becomes open, and connects upward into the third eye creating a continuum which resonates in the body.  The music then becomes the conduit of this higher vibrational experience  collectively in the room, as the consciousness moves outward from the performer, and subtly tunes the room similarly.

The use of Fire within musical settings seems to be most prominent here in the West.  In most rhythmically driven musics (anything with a drummer), there is what would seem to be a built in expectation that the music will have a regular use of excitement and intensity.  For this reason, it is probably the most obvious of all of the elementals to see.  Without a doubt, if you describe a musician as lighting a room on fire, anyone will understand what you are saying.  Fire, however, can have many important functions beyond simple excitement when entering a space.  Earlier I spoke of the “unfocused room” where everyone is talking.  Knowing this, how can one apply fire to change the room?  What is the purpose of Fire?  In a meditative application, it can be used to burn off dross and purify a state of being, creating a fresh framework from which to engage.  Fire hisses; resonating a name such as Shiva, or the Shin from the Hebrew alphabet, has a correlation to the production of Fire in the consciousness.  There is a capacity within the use of this sound to clear the resonance of your mind and atmosphere through the induction of a form of white-noise.  In the same way, a musician can start a set with a piece that demands attention through its vitality, immediately gaining the attention of the audience, by burning off the lack of focus.  On this note, recognize that a flame can be delicate or destructive.  Make note of which capacity that it must be applied.  Do you create chaos with the fire or do you create concentration as in Tratak (candle gazing) practice in which the mind is brought to a single point?  Do you burn off the dross of the room, or do you send the crowd running out the door in terror!  Know your context, the space and time of the room, and allow the Fire to work in that dimension constructively, or destructively as is necessary.

copyright SchurgerMusic 2017

Phil Schurger