MUSIC IN AN AGE OF TRANSITION
and literature in the twentieth century, music has reflected a wide variety of
approaches and styles, making for an eclecticism
virtually unprecedented in the entire history of its evolution. Never before have so many different types of
composer existed simultaneously or contemporaneously in the Western world and
provided the interested public with such a wealth of heterogeneous material
from which to choose. One is confronted
by composers as far apart as Berkeley and Stockhausen, Martinu
and Schoenberg, Elgar and Varèse,
Walton and Cage. That in itself should
be sufficient to excite ambivalence, confusion, and scepticism in anyone's
head, were it not also for the fact that, in addition to the marked differences
between different types of so-called serious composer, one is confronted by the
vast differences which accrue to the domain of jazz, both traditional and
modern, and obliged to confess that much of what passes here, to the average
philistine, for a form of light entertainment is in fact a highly-sophisticated,
progressive music which is entitled to be taken seriously and treated as a
viable alternative to certain other types of serious composition. But in addition to an outpouring of
heterogeneous Western music this century, one is confronted by musical styles
from all other parts of the world - from places as far apart as
Yet we live in an age of transition between two distinct developments in the history of Western evolution, that is to say, between the Christian dualistic and the transcendental post-dualistic. According to Arnold J. Toynbee's historical classifications, the latter has been referred to as the post-modern and corresponds to an era dating from the last two decades of the nineteenth century, when the iconoclastic and prophetic Nietzsche gave voice to the assertion that 'God is dead', thereby proclaiming the end of the Christian era. In theory, such an assertion is doubtless justified, having long been common knowledge among the various intelligentsia of the Western world. In practice, however, we in the West are still officially living under the institutional influence of Christianity and cannot therefore speak of the transcendental, or post-modern, age as officially existing. There are, of course, many aspects of this most recent development in the history of human evolution which are patently manifest in the Western world, not least of all in the arts. But although that virtually goes without saying, the official acknowledgement of a transcendental age has yet to come about. Consequently we have a right to speak of an age of transition, whether this is taken to imply a gradual shift away from dualistic into post-dualistic criteria or, as a possible climax to this gradualism, the subsequent revolutionary overthrow of Western civilization, with particular reference to its Christian and democratic traditions. To speak of a post-modern age as already officially existing would be to overlook the glaring facts of contemporary Western life which point to the contrary!
Granted, then, that we are in transition from one development in the history of Western evolution to another, it becomes less surprising that there are so many different types of composer in existence, or that their compositions reflect a wide variety of styles. The age is not homogeneous but decidedly heterogeneous in its constitution, which is why such unprecedented variety currently exists. However, I am not saying this is a good thing; goodness isn't a word that can be applied here. Rather, it marks a stage of Western evolution, whether or not we approve of the fact.
A tradition in the arts reaches a climax whilst, simultaneously, a new development begins to get under way. Roughly, the twentieth century reflects the transition from acoustic classical music to electronic avant-garde music, from the modern, in Toynbee's terminology, to the post-modern, from the dualistic to the post-dualistic, from egocentricity, in subconscious/superconscious balance, to post-egocentricity, reflecting a superconscious bias. We are tending, all the while, towards a more artificial civilization, a civilization composed of a much greater degree of superconscious bias than is currently the case. The fact, however, of our being in transition means that much of what pertains to the subconscious, and hence to an egocentric viewpoint, still prevails and will doubtless continue to do so for some time to-come. We aren't exactly on the point of dispensing with the large modern orchestra and completely going over to electronics; though the rising costs of maintaining orchestras may well prove a contributory element in their eventual demise. Another element, however, will undoubtedly be our preference for artificial over naturalistic modes of sound reproduction - a preference which is already significantly evident among the general and higher proletariat who, as a rule, prefer electric to acoustic instrumentalists. On the other hand, the Western bourgeoisie and their middle-class or professional equivalents in totalitarian countries are the people primarily responsible for maintaining an interest in acoustic music, as evidenced by bourgeois adherence to the orchestra.
It has often been said that the People are closer to God. What, exactly, does this mean? Or, rather, how can it be interpreted in a truly contemporary sense? It can be interpreted, I believe, by reference to my Gnostic/Manichean Weltanshauung, in which evolution proceeds from A - Z, as it were, in accordance with an aspiration towards a supreme level of being, otherwise more conventionally regarded as the Supreme Being. Evolution begins in the Manifold, as manifested by the diabolic stars, and aspires, through man, towards the One, as will be manifested in the Holy Ghost. One might speak, echoing Teilhard de Chardin, that great Catholic theologian and man of science, of a convergence to the Omega Point, a convergence from the Devil to God. Provided one doesn't fall into the trap of his theology, but rejects all belief in an already-existing Omega Point composed, as it were, of the transcendent spirit of the Risen Christ, as derived from Gospel accounts of the Resurrection, one will be in a position to adopt a logical, long-term view concerning this convergence to omega, which is compatible with an aspiration towards the creation of supreme being, and therefore with a contemporary atheism. To treat the Resurrection of Christ at face-value, as a literal fact, on the other hand, would be to fall into an anthropomorphic stance relative to the Christian myth, rather than to take a stance compatible with a scientific transcendentalism, such as the age increasingly requires. When it is understood that evolution proceeds from A - Z, one won't ascribe supernatural significance to a simple carpenter who lived two-thousand years ago and had no access to an advanced technology - in other words, to a technology which, by supplanting the natural body with an artificial support-and-sustain system for the brain, would ultimately make transcendence possible. On the contrary, one will endorse the contemporary view that attainment to the transcendental Beyond is dependent on our will and ability to create it in due course, in accordance with civilized progress.
Thus the Supreme Being will be regarded as the furthermost development of which ascending life is capable, and therefore as the culmination of evolution in the distant future. For supreme beingfulness can only be the outcome of evolution, not its initiator! To conceive of the Supreme Being, or supreme level of being, having created the lowest of the low, the most agonized doing of the stars, is simply madness. Evolution doesn't begin at the end but works forwards, ever so slowly and painfully while the going is particularly tough, as it must be the more we live under nature's dominion. Our goal, however, is the supernatural, or that which lies above and beyond nature and is accordingly the most artificial of outcomes to life. It is in this sense of consummate artificiality that the 'super' of Nietzsche's superman should be understood, not in any muscular sense of brute strength. For musclemen are, by and large, a thing of the past - certainly so far as any serious claim to true superiority is concerned!
Given these aspects of my revolutionary philosophy, it should be apparent that when we say that the People are closer to God than, for example, the aristocracy or the bourgeoisie, we are implying a greater approximation on their part not only to Oneness, to the ultimate spiritual unity which the Supreme Being would signify, but also to a more artificial state-of-affairs which can be presumed to exist to a greater extent among them than among their historical class enemies and/or commercial exploiters. Traditionally, the view that the People are closer to God was of course associated with their comparative poverty in relation to the wealth and materialistic opulence of the ruling classes. As transcendent spirit, God is if not at the furthest possible remove from wealthy property-owning men, then certainly at a sufficiently far remove from them to grant credence to the theory that the poor are closer. To some extent, this theory still holds true; for even in this day and age the People aren't, generally speaking, wealthy property-owning individuals, but tenanted rent-payers. They may be materially better off, on the whole, than their less-fortunate predecessors, but they are still far from wealthy! However, progress does not require that the People become wealthy in due course; for that would simply lead to a spiritual regression on their part. On the contrary, it requires that they become ever more spiritual and therefore less under the influence of materialism and sensuality. This will doubtless eventually be put into effect through the assistance of technology. But, in the short term, it requires the assistance of socialism in order to ensure moderate means for all in equalitarianism, as opposed to the perpetuation or resurrection of extremities in elitism.
Returning to the contemporary light thrown by my philosophy on the relationship of the People to God, one can posit a closer approximation on their part to the projected Oneness of our hypothetical supreme level of being on the basis of the fact that they generally live in closer proximity to one another in bed-sitters, flats, terraced houses, etc., rather than distant from one another in detached houses, country houses, mansions, etc., like the bourgeoisie and aristocracy generally do. This is far from saying, of course, that such a cramped arrangement isn't at times a form of hell on earth for most of those who are obliged to experience it; but simply to point out that the enforcement of such a cramped context of living gives rise to a closer approximation to the future Beyond (of ultimate spiritual unity) than does the prevalence, in middle-class suburbs, of detached housing, which necessarily reflects individualistic separateness. The People, then, are obliged to live closer to the envisaged climax of evolution than the bourgeoisie. Whether this gives rise to pleasure or pain is fundamentally irrelevant.
The other aspect of the People being closer to God has to do, as already intimated, with the artificial and its relationship to the supernatural. The average bourgeois lives, you will recall, in a suburban context of complacency in a partly natural environment. He isn't cut off from nature in an urban context, like the proletariat, but is free to cultivate his garden and take pleasure in the gardens belonging to his neighbours, as well, of course, as in the areas - sometimes quite extensive - of public land accessible to him. He wouldn't greatly relish the prospect of having to live in an area of the nearest big city where there was very little verdure, but is only content in the semi-rural/semi-urban setting which is suburbia. By contrast, the proletariat do not, in their bed-sitters, flats, terraced houses, etc., have regular access to all that much land, but are confined to a largely artificial environment. This is another reason why they are closer to God than the bourgeoisie; for the Supreme Being would be the most artificial and supernatural of all existences, having nothing whatsoever to do with nature. Now the People are less under nature's sway. Consequently, they are more susceptible to the artificial, as fostered by the anti-natural essence of an urban environment, and so aspire, whether consciously or unconsciously, towards the Supreme Being, in accordance with evolutionary pressures. Of course, they aren't highly artificial at this juncture in time; for evolution still has a long way to go before it attains, through man, to a supernatural climax. But they are certainly in the requisite environmental context for the furtherance of evolutionary progress in due course. They portend a continuous development.
So what, you may wonder, does all this have to do with music, the subject with which we began our essay? The answer to this is frankly that it has a lot to do with music. For only by grasping the significance of urbanization in relation to the artificial ... can one begin to understand the revolutionary break with the past which the rise of electric music, of one type or another, signifies, and why it is therefore plausible for me to contend that electric music, or music dependent on electricity, signifies a superior development to acoustic music, and is, by dint of its greater artificiality, closer to God. Paradoxically, one is forced to admit that the leading jazz or rock guitarists' wailing electric sounds, so dear to the People, are a step nearer to God than the acoustic sounds so dear to the bourgeoisie, which necessarily reflect a more natural state-of-affairs. The electric sounds, by contrast, reflect a higher stage of civilization.
When one understands that nature stems from the diabolical solar roots of the Universe, one will hardly be surprised by the fact that the use of natural means won't make for a particularly close approximation to the Divine. On the contrary, one will see only too clearly that wood, ivory, sheep's gut, horsehair, etc., no matter how well-shaped or refined upon in the process of transformation, partly or entirely, into a musical instrument, inevitably preclude the achievement of a truly transcendental potential in sound, and thereby restrict music to the relatively humble level of a semi-artificial achievement. The instruments - violins, cellos, pianos, organs, etc. - may be beautifully made, but they won't be able to escape the influence of their materials, which stem from nature. Only through the development of synthetic materials, coupled to the assistance of electricity, can one hope to create music with a truly transcendental potential, a music which reflects the influence not of nature but of civilization in a more artificial mode, and is thus closer to the supremely transcendent climax of evolution in the supernatural. Only by replacing wood with such man-made materials as plastic, plexiglas, fibreglass, perspex, steel, etc., is one likely to achieve a significant musical aspiration towards the transcendental Beyond, an aspiration powered, so to speak, by the man-made miracle of electricity. The musicians who perform on synthetic instruments would stand at a higher level of evolution than those who don't, creating sounds which could only be described as more civilized, i.e. indicative of a greater degree of artificiality. Such musicians would be in the best possible instrumental position to create a spiritual rather than a sensual music, a transcendental rather than a mundane sound. And, of course, we have witnessed, with our music-prone ears, plenty of highly-talented musicians, including Frank Zappa, John McLaughlin, Jean-Luc Ponty, Chick Corea, Jan Hammer, and Carlos Santana, who have created such music, such a sound in recent decades, to the greater glory of the age. They have created this music not, as a rule, through naturalistic means, but through electric guitars, violins, and keyboards. Some musicians, including Herbie Hancock and Patrick Moraz, have even taken to putting their voice through a synthesizer and thereby transmuted it, rendering it less natural to the artificially-inclined ears of their musical admirers. Who is to say that this doesn't result in a more civilized order of singing than purely natural singing? Clearly, the use of artificial means must have some bearing on the quality or status of the sound being produced. It isn't simply a question of volume, but also of timbre, tone, resonance. And where volume and its relation to size is concerned, one might note that the convergence from the Manifold to the One, from the Devil to God, is aptly illustrated by the preference of electric musicians for small groups rather than large orchestral-type ensembles. If there is a reflection of diabolic influence on life about a large orchestra, then there is certainly something divine about the handful of musicians in a group whose concerted and finely-integrated electronic sound signifies a greater approximation to ultimate Oneness. The People, clearly, are closer to God!