Professor Burke listened in silence to the Shostakovich symphony he was playing on his stereo before asking me, as if in need of reassurance: "Do you listen to much orchestral music yourself these days, Justin?"
"Yes," I replied, glad of an opportunity to speak again. "Although I tend to listen to as much Modern Jazz in the evenings - always using headphones instead of speakers."
Professor Burke looked puzzled. "Why is that?" he asked.
"Partly because the acoustics in my room aren't the most suitable for musical appreciation, but also because I believe that using headphones constitutes a superior way of listening to music."
The professor looked even more puzzled. "How did you reach that belief?" he wanted to know.
"By bearing in mind the distinction between appearance and essence," I straightaway replied. "The object of evolutionary progress, so far as I'm concerned, is to extend the sphere of essence at the expense of appearance, and this applies as much to the evolution of music and its appreciation as to anything else. By using headphones, music is brought closer to one's head, one even gets the impression that it's actually playing in one's head, which, though a delusion, is nevertheless conducive to the progress of musical appreciation, as essence would seem to have triumphed over appearance."
The professor's puzzlement appeared to have reached a veritable climax by now. "How d'you distinguish between them?" he demanded.
"Well, essence pertains to the spirit and is therefore an internal phenomenon, whereas appearance pertains to the senses and is accordingly external," I replied. "Music played through headphones approximates to essence by seeming to be internalized, whereas music played, by contrast, through speakers comes at one from outside the self and can therefore be equated with appearance. Now my contention is that it's better to listen to music which seems to come from inside one's head than to music which is distinct from one, and precisely because its evolution and appreciation presuppose, in advancing, greater degrees of interiorization. The apparent stems from the solar roots of the Universe, in complete contrast to that which aspires, as essence, to the future consummation of evolving life. Thus as we approximate more and more to the latter, it's logical that headphones should supersede speakers as the appropriate means through which to cultivate ends, which is to say, listen to music."
Professor Burke appeared to have grasped the gist of my brief exposition and now looked slightly less puzzled than before. I had almost convinced him, he admitted, although he made it clear to me that his personal preference for speakers was unlikely to be undermined in consequence! He was far too set in his ways for that! "And do you prefer orchestral music to Modern Jazz?" he asked, having decided to continue the conversation along similar lines.
"Frankly, it depends on the type of orchestral music or Modern Jazz in question, as well as on my mood, so I cannot claim to be entirely consistent in my musical preferences," I confessed. "But I know that I have too much culture, in a manner of speaking, to be greatly given to the prospect of only listening to Modern Jazz. Even after long confinement in the metropolis, which I know to be basically hostile to my environmental needs, I haven't become completely proletarianized or, for that matter, Afro-Americanized. Yet I couldn't resign myself to orchestral music alone, for I'm essentially too ambivalent, by nature and circumstances, to be capable of an exclusive preference. A somewhat 'Steppenwolfian' predicament, if you know anything about Harry Haller."
The professor smiled guardedly. "Not very much," he confessed. "Although I've read a little Hermann Hesse. What particularly intrigues me about what you've just said is the implication that Modern Jazz is somehow proletarian, whereas orchestral music, even when Soviet, is not. Can you justify that?"
"I think I can," was my fairly self-confident response. "The chief distinction at issue lies in whether the music is naturalistic, and therefore acoustic, or artificial, and therefore electric. Clearly, an orchestra should be described as naturalistic, whilst a typical modern-jazz group, being electric, can only be comparatively artificial. That, as I say, is the chief distinction."
"But surely Shostakovich's symphonies are proletarian even though acoustic?" Professor Burke objected.
I resolutely shook my head. "Shostakovich's symphonies are no more proletarian than the orchestral works of any other composer," I retorted. "And for the simple reason that they're comparatively naturalistic, not artificial, and thereby pertain to a bourgeois stage of evolution."
"The Soviets would surely have objected to that opinion," the professor countered in no uncertain terms.
"Maybe," I conceded. "But, there again, the leaders of Soviet Russia had little option but to pass orchestral music off as proletarian, since they lived in what purported to be a proletarian state. Yet the fact nevertheless remains that serious music which is not electric but acoustic is fundamentally naturalistic, and by implication bourgeois, whether or not it's called proletarian."
"Even with an anti-formalist, and hence programmatic, bias?" the professor queried, still evidently unconvinced.
"Even then," I assured him, "since the anti-formalist line only resulted in the bitter pill of bourgeois music being coated, as it were, in a thin layer of proletarian sugar, which usually took the form of a programmatic musical commentary on some Soviet achievement and/or a verbal dedication to it. Hence Shostakovich's October 1917 symphony, which you're now playing. A quite remarkable work by any standards, but not a genuinely proletarian one! For proletarian music, properly so-considered, is distinguishable from bourgeois music by being electric, as already remarked. I have yet, however, to mention two other important distinctions which should be borne in mind when we endeavour to ascertain the class status of any given type of music. The first is that proletarian music reflects a materialistic contraction over bourgeois music by utilizing a group or band of, usually, between three and six musicians. Compared with the two hundred or more players in a modern orchestra, this is a significant distinction which represents a degree of evolutionary progress that should not be underestimated! For the contraction of the material side of the world, in whatever context, is the antithetical corollary of the expansion of its spiritual side. In the case of the development from orchestras to groups, we are witnessing a sort of convergence from the Many to the One or, rather, the Few, with the numerous instruments and instrumental combinations of the former being superseded by the comparatively few instruments and instrumental combinations of the latter. However, while the material side contracts, the spiritual side expands through utilization, by the jazz group, of instruments which produce an artificial as opposed to a naturalistic sound, and consequently result in a more transcendent music which aspires, in a manner of speaking, towards the divine flowering of evolution, rather than stems from the diabolic natural roots of life. The spiritual also expands in a second way - namely, through the emphasis jazz musicians generally place on essence rather than appearance in the retention, through memory, of the music they're playing, instead of reliance on a printed score. This is the other important distinction between bourgeois and proletarian music. For the bourgeois musician, be he a member of an orchestra or of a chamber ensemble, is dependent on music scores, which means that he is partly tied to appearances. The proletarian musician, by contrast, memorizes his music, and so approximates it to essence, which reflects a superior development in the gradual interiorization of music, as required by evolutionary progress. There is, however, an exception where bourgeois musicians are concerned, and that is the concerto soloist, who normally memorizes his part whether he be a pianist, a violinist, an organist, a cellist, or whatever. Thus he is distinguishable from the rest of the musicians with whom he is performing not only by dint of his greater part, but also by dint of his commitment to essence rather than to appearance. The fact that he plays his concerto part on an acoustic instrument, on the other hand, keeps him tied to the naturalistic, and hence to the realm of bourgeois music."
Professor Burke gave me the impression of being grudgingly impressed by what I had just said, and ventured to inquire whether, in that case, jazz musicians who played acoustic instruments were not fundamentally bourgeois, too?
"In a sense, I suppose they generally are," I replied, following a brief reflective pause, "because the use of, say, an acoustic as opposed to an electric guitar would tie the musician in question to the naturalistic in pretty much the same way that a concerto performer was tied to it, and so preclude his producing a truly transcendent sound. In Modern Jazz, however, the emphasis is on electric guitars, as on electric keyboards, so regular use of an acoustic instrument tends to be the exception to the rule. Most jazz guitarists retain a distinct bias for the electric, which is only to be expected, considering that Jazz is essentially a proletarian music and therefore calls, appropriately, for electric instruments. And it usually transpires that the finest guitarists are the most consistently transcendental, because exclusively, or almost exclusively, electric. Those who regress to acoustic instruments simply produce an inferior sound - naturalistic as opposed to artificial."
The professor's face suddenly reflected a degree of acquired enlightenment at this point, and he briefly shook his head, as if to say: 'Well, I never!' Then he asked: "So what of those modern composers like Stockhausen, Boulez, Bedford, and Kagel, who make use of electronic means in the production of their so-called avant-garde music - are they proletarian, too?"
I could tell by his sceptical tone-of-voice that he rather doubted it, but I was fairly convinced to the contrary and answered: "It would depend on whether or not their music was exclusively electronic, since an avant-garde musician who was exclusively dedicated to atonal electronics would, in my view, amount to a proletarian composer. Yet there doesn't seem to be all that many such musicians in action in this rather transitional age. For even Stockhausen, who until his recent demise was one of the world's most radical composers, also uses traditional means, including orchestras and scores. Consequently most avant-garde composers tend to be bourgeois/proletarian rather than genuinely proletarian in their musical integrity. Some, like Stockhausen, will be more artificial than naturalistic, because more electronic and atonal than acoustic and tonal, whereas others, like Tippett, will be more naturalistic than artificial, because more acoustic and tonal than electronic and atonal."
"To the best of my knowledge Michael Tippett's music isn't electronic at all, Justin," the professor corrected.
"No, but then his orchestral music often has a degree of atonality which places it in a kind of transitional, semi-essential context, albeit one firmly rooted in the apparent. His Concerto for Orchestra is a case in point, being typically bourgeois/proletarian in its mixed tonalities and atonalities. But, fundamentally, Tippett is musically conservative and therefore he doesn't depart from dualistic or bourgeois precedent to any radical extent, scarcely at all in a majority of his works. At best, he could hold his own with a number of moderate Continental composers, like Honegger and Martinu, but he wouldn't wish to emulate composers like Stockhausen or Kagel who, in any case, appertain to a more advanced transitional, i.e. bourgeois/proletarian, civilization. Only, as a rule, from countries like Germany, Italy, and the United States does one get the most radical musical experiments, since they're in the front rank of contemporary civilization, having superseded Britain and France on the dualistic level. A majority of British composers are musically rather conservative, producing, like Walton, neo-romantic or neo-classical or some other more traditional type of bourgeois music. Of course, from a conservative point-of-view their music is often excellent, as anyone who has listened to Walton's or Berkeley's or Rubbra's more tuneful works will doubtless agree. But if it is one thing to bring a given tradition to a head, it's quite another to forge a completely new orientation, and this, as a rule, the British are reluctant to do!"
"Not surprisingly, Justin," opined Professor Burke, allowing himself the brief luxury of a passing smile, "since British civilization is rather more static and reactionary, these days, than dynamic and revolutionary."
I nodded affirmatively. "Whereas the German and American civilizations are still capable of some musical progress," was my due comment. "However, there are limits to the degree of musical progress they can evolve, limits which in part stem from the transitional nature of such civilizations and in part from the instrumental resources, some of which are rather crude, to hand. I do not anticipate a consistently full-blown transcendental approach to music before the official beginnings of post-dualistic civilization become manifest in the world."
"And presumably such an approach to music would be both electronic and atonal," the professor suggested.
"Indeed," I replied. "With a corresponding materialistic reduction of instruments to a bare minimum and total elimination of scores in the interests of greater interiorization, as required by the preponderance of essence over appearance in proletarian music - which will mostly be listened to through the medium of headphones."
"And what of Modern Jazz - how will that develop?" an ever-curious Professor Burke wanted to know.
"It will probably become increasingly atonal and electronic, thus tending to become indistinguishable from the best proletarian music or, rather, to evolve into the latter," I boldly speculated. "For Modern Jazz is fundamentally a secular rather than a religious music, a kind of musical equivalent to Socialist Realism or Modern Realism, whereas the best electronic music tends to reflect a religious bias ... commensurate with its atonality, which places it in a position equivalent to abstract or transcendental art, as developed, in the past, by painters like Mondrian and Kandinsky, but, in the present, by light or technological artists like Kepes and Peine. A paradox really, in that quite a lot of Modern Jazz is concerned, at least intermittently, with transcendent values - as mainly signified by meditation."
"Which, presumably, indicates that it's evolving towards musical transcendentalism?" the professor solemnly conjectured.
"Yes, but from a tonal rather than an atonal base, and thus in an apparent rather than an essential context," I contended. "After all, tonality in music is equivalent to representation in painting or to narration in literature, and is therefore aligned with the apparent, which is why, despite its transcendental pretensions, I described Modern Jazz as Social Realist. The bulk of it is certainly tonal, and consequently exists on a lower, i.e. popular, evolutionary level than the atonal. Eventually Modern Jazz will cease to exist, as people gravitate from the apparent to the essential in accordance with the demands of evolutionary progress on the post-dualistic level. Everything secular will be transcended in the wholly religious music of the future, just as Socialist Realism will be eclipsed by the relevant types of transcendental art, as appropriate to a full-blown post-dualistic civilization. From being concrete, or partly concrete, everything will become abstract, pursuing the path of maximum essence, even though a wholly essential art is unobtainable through apparent means. Headphones may, for instance, give one the impression that the music is taking place inside one's head, but such an impression still falls short of reality, and must inevitably remain so. Only with the ensuing post-human millennium will art become completely interiorized. But by then - possibly some 2-3 centuries hence - all forms of musical and pictorial creation will have been superseded by the synthetically-induced artificial visionary experience of the Superman. In the meantime, however, we will require music as before, since we'll still be men and thus dependent on the senses, including the sense of hearing, for our aesthetic appreciation. However, once we completely transcend the senses, as brains artificially supported and sustained, we'll also transcend the fine arts. But throughout the duration of the next and final human civilization, we can do no better than to spiritualize them to a greater extent ... using apparent means."
The professor coughed slightly and admitted, with a brief shrug of his shoulders, that I may well be right.