Article on Music


Lawrence Ball dedicated to Ron Wildego and Cecil Collins

“Why the Big Bang (ie how did it happen or originate)” is to me the same question as “What is music” and both have an answer that comes from communion with and participating in mystery; perhaps life itself is a communion with mystery. Perhaps this is a clue as to how to live completely beyond the level of information.

I feel strongly that the universe is a spiritual spectrum. An infinitely long ‘keyboard’ of frequencies with solid matter as the bottom note. (The upper keyboard has no top note). The Universe is an infinite piano. In different Eastern spiritual traditions one finds this idea with different clothes on, basically that there is a sandwich of energies of different frequencies co-existing in all parts of physical space corresponding, from baser to finer: physical, life force, emotional, mental, intuitive, spiritual and so on to higher planes where there are no discursive terms agreed on. One finds the same idea in Jacob’s vision of a ladder of angels, stretching from heaven to earth.

Clarity in musical expression is equivalent to letting higher and finer levels of energy express and speak and generally refresh the human and worldly sphere.

Humanity, seen as evolving souls, (rather than the often currently understood “evolving commercial and predatory beings”), are gradually learning to embrace and integrate broader spans of levels of reality, to apply finer levels to baser levels.

A transition is occuring from dry academia, from the 60s particularly, towards a more lighthearted, joyful use of the mind. This is reflected to a degree in a reappearance of tonality in new music, where there is a more detached relationship between composer and composition, a less head-identified focus, and a more overt relation between contemporary and ancient music.

Music as evocation of energy, using the medium of air waves, is potentially active and expressive on all levels of reality.

Silence “physically” is better seen as stillness in the physical strings of the Infinite Piano, such as to allow resonances and music in higher octaves to distill, calm and restore. This is also the principle of meditation.

Improvisation (and in some ways composition) can be seen as communion with the beyond-physical frequencies of the Infinite Piano so as to integrate super-physical spontaneous music with physical sound. This is also four dimensional because it communes with and flourishes from its deeper source as it unfolds, unlike a recording, or less so, a performed score. Becoming at one with the music. Performer and audience alike.

Tonality, like solar systems and galaxies, has a centre, even if the centre moves away and returns back again. Galaxies each have at their centre an object which is categorised (perhaps clumsily) as a black hole (this is usually thought of as the death phase of a large star) – whatever it is, it is at root beyond time and space, like the origin of the universe, and perhaps that is also the role of a keynote, a transcendent ordering principle.

Much avant garde music of the 20th century strikes me as having a over-localised identity problem. The “mental frequencies” of life’s keyboard are taken as the ‘ultimate’ and expression there is over-complex, and the emotional level rages and roars. The higher frequencies have no chance to speak and to give the fulsome expansive qualities that really nutrify the human being. This music has been useful to deglamourise the projections of precious and over-sweet attitudes to the experience of serious music which audiences had begun to (and still do) bring to performances. Just as raging or catharsis in gestalt therapy can be useful to air painful and buried experience and trauma. It also, as a developmental phase, was necessary to confront the shadow side of our collective human nature, which is necessary to do in order to understand any kind of relationship properly. Whether intimate, close friendship or working relationship, as individuals or as larger units, from families to working groups to countries.

Music, I feel, is now moving into the possibility of neither ignoring, nor over-emphasising the darker side of expression. We are aware enough of darkness in society through both the popular media and the arts. We more now need to know how to break through it. Ours and others. Into a sane, responsible and expressive light. That needs a sense of what the late artist Cecil Collins called ‘the rising sun’. A less naive and wiser joy. A much fuller sense of the meaning of harmony.

© Lawrence Ball Freshford 2000