The Pre-Packaged Symphony

In the current issue of The Hudson Review* Gavin Plumley contributes a penetrating critique of Philip Glass' Ninth Symphony. The title The Pre-Packaged Symphony sets the tone and Gavin concludes that Glass "now surrounds his set musical phrases with nominal symphonic packaging". A recent post here touched on 'music of the mind' - a fantasy sound created by record companies to make ethnic music palatable to Western audiences. But are there other forms of music of the mind? When classical music tastemakers queue to praise modish composers are they hearing a music of the mind embellished by their own preconceptions? Gavin Plumley describes the digital download release format of Glass' Ninth Symphony as "an ingenious piece of PR" - can the preconceptions that trigger music of the mind be virally created?

Does the conclusion reached by the creator of the 'obedience experiments' Stanley Milgram apply to classical music? - "'A substantial proportion of people do what they are told to do, irrespective of the content of the act and without limitation, so long as they perceive that the command comes from a legitimate authority..." Is "ingenious PR" and viral marketing now a "legitimate authority"? Was the Armenian/Russian esoteric G.I. Gurdjieff right when he taught that we spend most of our time in a form of semi-sleep, during which we remain wrapped in our own blanket of subjective fantasy? Is classical music too focussed on winning audiences by supplying a soundtrack for that semi-sleep?

Instead of inducing semi-sleep, should classical music be learning from Gurdjieff's 'work'** and waking audiences and helping them develop "mental muscles" which release their true potential as listeners? Was Colin Wilson right when he wrote "Man is not small, he is just bloody lazy"? Is the way forward to supply what Gurdjieff described as "shocks to awaken sleeping humanity" rather than reprising "set musical phrases"? Do we need more composers pushing the creative envelope? Is dumbing up classical music's next big thing?

* Gavin Plumley's article on Philip Glass' Ninth Symphony is only available to subscribers to The Hudson Review, but read more about it at Entartete Musik.

** G.I. Gurdjieff's deliberately opaque writing style is a barrier to grasping his important ideas. For those who, like me, still have to finish All and Everything Beelzebub’s Tales To His Grandson the little and affordable volume seen above, Introduction to The Gurdjieff Work by Jacob Needleman, is a valuable introduction, while Colin Wilson's section on Gurdjieff in The Occult is also useful. Those who dismiss Gurdjieff as a charlatan should read Peter Brook on him. The Man Who Shocked the World: The Life and Legacy of Stanley Milgram by Thomas Blass is also recommended.

Also on Facebook and Twitter. A review copy of Gavin Plumley's article was supplied at my request. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk


Great post, as it triggers lots of thoughts. One of which is that the state of the listener is as important to transmission as the music and the music making.

In a great post on "flow" here:

one point made is that, "One of the conditions of the flow state is a balance between the challenge of a task and one’s skill in carrying it out."

Maybe "music of the mind" is more about being hip than being challenged, which would make it more apt to become viral.

Was reminded that either Gurdjieff or Ouspensky made fun of the chew a 100 times fad, saying basically that if you don't challenge the stomach, what's it going to do when you really need it, say in old age.

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