Sunday, April 07, 2013

Lucy in the sky with classical music

How then, does one achieve gnosis, that spontaneous awakening which permanently shifts one consciousness? It can come unbidden at any time, through ordinarily normal activities such as listening to a piece of music, seeing a particular landscape at a certain time of day, or experiencing a sudden moment of clarity and silence into which something else makes its presence known.
That passage from Sean Martin’s The Gnostics recommends music as a chemical-free way of raising consciousness levels, and also reflects the recurring theme On An Overgrown Path that classical music should aspire to higher levels instead of regressing to the ordinarily normal. While travelling in the Mahgreb last month I was spontaneously reminded me of the power of great music, and that experience prompted the following notes on recent sonic flirtations with that elusive “something else”. Valentin Silvestrov’s Requiem for Larissa is a permanent fixture on my iPod and has featured in at least one previous post. Listening in Morocco to the fourth movement of the Requiem – which shares a setting of Taras Shevchenko's poetry with Silvestrov’s sublime Silent Songs – invoked, once again, one of those priceless sudden moments of clarity and silence. ECM’s recording of Requiem for Larissa comes with notes by Paul Griffiths, who is one of the few who share the secret of Silvestrov’s path to gnosis. Classical music has always been interpreted in the widest possible sense here and the double CD of Aleppian Sufi Transe from Sheikh Habboush and Ensemble Al Kindi led by Julien Weiss has also been shifting my consciousness. This is not music for the faint-hearted, and it comes without any fusion induced rounding of edges. But, if you are prepared to work at it, this performance by Syrian members of the Sufi Qadiriya brotherhood – seen above – will take you to places that Philip Glass and Steve Reich can only hint at. Sir John Tavener dwells in somewhat less forbidding esoteric realms and his later works distill his wide-ranging esotericism down to something truly approaching gnosis. If you are one of those blocked by Song for Athene I urge you to try Naxos’ CD of Sir John's Lament for Jerusalem in which lurk many presences.

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