Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Classical music is not a safe suburban pastime

'Surrealist research along with alchemic research presents a remarkable unity of purpose. The philosopher's stone is nothing other than a thing, which should be given to man's imagination to take forcible revenge on everything, and after years of taming the spirit and crazy submission, here we go again, attempting finally to free this imagination by the long, huge, reasoned deregulation of the senses' - André Breton Second Manifesto 1930
In his notes for Music for Witches and Alchemists* lutenist Lutz Kirchhof describes how witchcraft used music and dance to stimulate the life-forces in an atmosphere that was congenial but at the same time mysterious and dreamlike; which echoes the founder of surrealism André Breton's view of alchemy as a tool to deregulate the senses. In a 2012 post I wrote about Michael Maier's Occult Art of Fugue and a transcription for lute of one of Maier's Atlanta Fugiens features on Music for Witches and Alchemists. Lutz Kirchhof's thesis is that by modulation and other devices the Renaissance and Baroque composers for lute transformed human consciousness by musical alchemy. Music as an entheogen - a tool for transcendence and revelation - is a theme that recurs On An Overgrown Path, from Aldous Huxley's revelatory hearing of Bach's B-minor Suite for Orchestra, through Hazrat Inayat Khan's teaching that "spirit descends into matter by the law of vibrations" and medical research explaining how music creates euphoria, to Wagner's hypnagogia inspired - "mysterious and dreamlike" - prelude to Das Rheingold and a Jonathan Harvey String Quartet triggering a transcendental "crossing over". Classical music as a tool to deregulate the senses is diametrically opposed to the current positioning of classical music as a safe suburban pastime; which may explain its difficulties in attracting younger audiences. But some alchemists do come with a health warning.

* Sony's CD Music for Witches and Alchemists, which was released in 2000, can be bought from amazon uk, but UK independent record retailers cannot supply it because Sony's UK distribution arm does not stock it. Which does rather confirm my prediction that we are moving towards a new type of forbidden music.

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