Perception as Essence Series (Music and the Cosmos in Traditional Cultures)
Meditating a symbol can often make other forms arise in the mind and direct the intuition to a well of information in regards to that symbol. It seems that symbols are something of the source from which they sprung: the Collective Unconscious, and thus their information is accessible to all who engage them. Think of a symbol such as AUM from the Hindu tradition. How many individuals have meditated upon this symbol for lifetimes! A symbol is like a book, containing the information that was initially intended, as well as the collective depths that have been explored since its inception. It is a living process. Music too, in this manner, is symbolic, and a living process which potentially provides an experience within it (if you open yourself to it).
Traditional Cultures have long understood this, and this is why music has been so integral to ritual. For example, in the Santeria tradition, each Orisha has a different rhythm that is used in its invocation. After listening to several recordings I began to understand that the Rhythm itself was an aspect of the Orisha, and thus imperative to the experience. The Mahakala ritual in the Tibetan culture has a definite form and intention. These pieces invoke something of a subtle nature that is quite profound if explored. The same could be said for the specificity of Ragas in Indian music. There is a time of day that each is to be played at, because the music resonates with that particular time, and is invocative of the Essence of that Time. These musics consciously take into account how the body’s rhythms play into the musical experience, and are aware that these rhythms change with the time of day and year.
The tempo of the body is in flux, and thus different types of experience can only be facilitated at certain tempos. For instance, I have had the experience of seeing a vast desert landscape under a moon-less, star arrayed sky while playing in E Mixolydian. The tempo I experienced this at was ½ note 60bpm in 4/4 with an implied 12/8 (much simpler to feel than to say!). I initially experienced this, as with anything I have written about here, intuitively, meaning it wasn’t a planned or a Willed action. Once I had experienced this, I regularly went to this similar place of experience when playing the same tune and would explore the experience more deeply as I played. The deeper I took the experience, the more crystalline the air would become in the room and the reaction of the crowd seemed to be stimulated more deeply as well. I tried to get to this same space on another tune that also had an improvisation in E Mixolydian, however, in this instance the tempo was ½ note 149bpm. The experience was entirely different and the desert was not a possibility, nor was the same essence of consciousness that I had experienced of E mixolydian. I am sharing this to point something out. Tempo matters. If you listen to the music for the various Orishas in either the Santeria or Yoruban traditions, you will see that tempo matters. Look also at various ragas in the Hindu tradition, and as pointed out earlier, not only does tempo matter, but also the time of day, and even time of year!
This is a matter of interface of the physical, mental, and etheric bodies, and their proper alignment to allow for a set of circumstances, which may facilitate an experience. This is not to say that the meditative experience only occurs at slower tempos. However, experience would seem to say that one can shift the atmosphere of a room, which in turn provides the possibility for an experience to be more readily facilitated, and tempo, as well as melodic (modal) choice, is critical in that process. Ultimately, the musician cannot dictate another’s experience, but rather, can provide a space for intuitive exploration to open up. This space can be enhanced by the audience taking a proactive approach to the music and engaging in the process as well. The music then becomes a Collective action that is facilitated by the musician and enhanced by the audience. From both going to live shows, and listening to recordings I have found that if a given performance conveys great intensity on a CD, the experience in the room was at least three to four times that. There is no substitute for human interaction for it is through that interaction that we may delve into the depths of what our Collective is. The experience of both the living presence of the act of music, and the collective experience of listening with other individuals is, and always has been of prime importance to all cultures.
As Ravi Shankar said:
“Our tradition teaches us that sound is Nada Brahma. That is, musical sound and the musical experience are steps to the realization of the self. We view music as a kind of spiritual discipline that raises one’s inner being to divine peacefulness and bliss. We are taught that one of the fundamental goals a Hindu works towards in his lifetime is a knowledge of the true meaning of the universe – its unchanging, eternal essence – and this is realized first by a complete knowledge of one’s self and one’s own nature. The highest aim of our music is to reveal the essence of the universe it reflects, and the ragas are among the means by which this essence can be apprehended.
copyright Schurgermusic 2017