How could the soul not take flight

 BS: Staying with global cultural influences, in 1966 you set a poem by the Sufi saint and mystic, Mawlānā Rumi. 'How could the soul not take flight' is inspired by the ecstatic vision of Sufism, and that’s far removed from the contemplative Christian text you set fifteen years earlier in your 'Passion and Resurrection'. Can music cause spiritual elevation? And taking the discussion further, into the esoteric realm – and in fact I think you touched on this, when you were talking about Rudolf Steiner – can music transform matter?

JH: Yes, let’s, first of all, look at spiritual elevation – I think I’ve always believed that, even in 'Passion and Resurrection', the resurrection music is for me a new sort of music that I wrote, which is not bass dominated, it’s sort of centred around the middle and it floats from the middle, either side of this middle structure. And that for me represents the change of the world, at the time of the Resurrection, and the elevation there, the release from gravity, of Christ rising. So I think that’s been there all along, with my Sufi settings and many things – a release into a world of ecstasy – this is what music does. And the question of whether music can transform matter is a very big question. We all know about the soprano shattering the wine glass. It’s all vibrations, I mean music and the world, everything is oscillation.
Energy is oscillation, largely. And when we say we are stirred by a piece of music, we’re excited, we are moved, and so on, we’re talking as if we are like a tuning fork which has been struck by some music, and it’s continued to vibrate for some time, and then it stops vibrating and you’re no longer moved by that experience – it may last a few minutes or a few hours or a few weeks. It depends on the intensity of the striking. So music is always putting us into vibration. I was talking to a neurologist who’s done very interesting, hyper-sophisticated brain scans, for people listening to music, and she has published results showing how the neurons affected vibrate in precisely the rhythm of the music being played. And if the tempo of the music being played to the subject changes, so does the neuron visibly change its firing tempo - this probably proves what we sense intuitively.
But your question, ‘can music transform matter?’ – when we look at that computer screen and see this in the form of the matter of the brain being transformed by the music, it’s rather moving, and rather important I think. And the whole cultue of music, probably from the very beginnings, has been founded on vibrating together, in a community, to a drum beat. We all begin to dance, we all begin to sing, in unison. This unison of a community of people has been profoundly important for the human identity. The identity of tribes and nations and groups. So at many many levels one can find music transforming the brain, and I think the material world.
That extract is from my 2010 radio interview with Jonathan Harvey. The subject of quantum entanglement - the permeable membrane between the observer and the observed that allows music to transform matter and matter to transform music - has recurred here over the years. My early expositions met with incredulity and even hostility, with one reader commenting "You've finally reached a level of twaddle that prompts me to stop reading your blog". But recent posts such as 'The Tao of acoustics' have met with a much more positive reaction. In that 2010 interview Jonathan made his famous observation that classical music should drop its silly conventions. Those silly conventions extend far beyond the all too familiar targets of concert etiquette to the fashionable convention of treating classical music as just another entertainment product. Music can transform the brain, it can transform lives, and it can cause spiritual elevation; so we should stop selling it short. Nobel Laureate quantum physicist and bongo player extraordinaire Richard Feynman described in an accidental quatrain worthy of Rumi how everything is oscillation :
You can't say A is made of B
or vice versa
All mass is interaction
Posted in memory of Jonathan Harvey whose soul took flight on December 4th 2012.

Jonathan Harvey's eclectic personal mysticism embraced Christianity, Sufism and Tibetan Buddhism. Quantum mechanics' assertion that all mass is interaction provides scientific confirmation of the Buddhist doctrine of dependent co-arising, and the accompanying photos were taken by me a few days ago at the Enlightenment Stupa in Benalmádena, Andalucia. This is the largest Stupa in the West, and was built by the members of the Karma Kagyu Lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. The Benalmádena Stupa is filled with sacred objects including a clay relief attributed to the Tibetan saint Milarepa; these emanate a spiritual energy field that radiates from the Stupa which overlooks the Mediterranean from a high bluff. If even the less abstruse of Richard Feynman's legendary lectures on physics are beyond you - as they are for me - James Gleick's biography Genius: Richard Feynman and Modern Physics is recommended. No review samples involved, and any copyrighted material is included for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.


Philip Amos said…
I remember that hostile comment, Bob. And I remember Richard Feynman saying, "I don't KNOW anything", which the hostile reader would I'm sure also have considered twaddle, but no quantum physicist and no epistemologist in the Idealist or Transcendental Realist schools would.

It was surely notable that, when most universities in the U.S. had amateur orchestras composed of faculty and students, most of the faculty members who participated were scientists, and most of those physicists. Mathematicians were also common in the ranks. I recalled this when I decided that my decidedly unscientific mind should try to get to grips with the current views of both cosmological and quantum physicists, a continuing endeavour. I read only books by eminent physicists in these fields, and they seem to have knack for making these subjects accessible without, and this is crucial, writing down. You just have be prepared to read slowly, very, and for your mind to be boggled -- but, then, I read recently a physicist who said that he and his colleagues are frequently boggled by their own conclusions. Oh, yes, and don't bother unless you can keep your mind OPEN! And open to just about anything.

Though I was in various ways aware of the connections, I was nevertheless a trifle taken aback when I found that, in the very first book I read, it was full of metaphors grounded in classical music. That absorbed, and with Physics and Mathematics overlapping mightily, it did not so much surprise that most of the musical references were to Bach. And music has continued to figure large in many books since that first. Such reading will give one mightily to think about the relations between music and the nature of the universe, and of matter in particular, to remember that we are just other bits of matter, and thus to the questions of how music can transform brains, lives, and lead to spiritual elevation. I'll just add that Feynman was also one of the first of a number of physicists to point to the similarities between the findings of physicists from Einstein on and Buddhist writings on matter, the universe, and the nature of reality. Hostile reader's sad problem was that he lacked that open mind crucial to learning -- a predominating problem these days, and one to be found as much in 'seats of learning' as anywhere else.

Recent popular posts

A tale of two new audiences

Whatever happened to the long tail of composers?

The Berlin Philharmonic's darkest hour

Why new audiences are deaf to classical music

Audiences need permission to like unfamiliar music

You are looking at the future of classical music journalism

A Philippa Schuyler moment

If you only buy thirty-four CDs this year - buy these .....

Nada Brahma - Sound is God

I read the fake news today, oh boy