Why we must tune in to our inner Spotify
Why do I bristle when my news feeds are inundated with puffs for Simon Rattle and Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla? Why do I switch off when a Radio 3 presenter tells me what my emotional reaction to a piece of music should be? Why is the negative sum of these ostensibly trivial intermediations so great? These questions have puzzled me for some time; but time spent with Heidrun Kimm recently at her studio in the mountains of Crete has provided some answers.
A 2015 post described my experiences of nada yoga - the ancient yoga of sound - under Heidrun's guidance. Heidrun is also a practitioner of Ayurvedic medicine, a therapy which she initiated me into during my recent visit to Crete. Ayurveda is one of the world's oldest holistic ('whole-body') healing systems which focuses on balancing energy flows within the body. These energy flows emanate from the primal energy source known as the kundalini - coiled serpent - at the base of the spine. Ayurvedic yoga releases this hidden strength to empower other energy centres within the body, with the ultimate objective of channeling the energy to the seventh chakra in the skull, thereby opening the door to a higher level of consciousness.
Now please bear with me for just a few more paragraphs before dismissing this post as just more fake science. The Vedic sub-agenda with its chakras and yogis is an optional extra which you do not have to buy. But there are two irrefutable core truths in Ayurvedic medicine which cannot be dismissed. One truth is that all matter is energy, and energy expressed as vibrations is the DNA of music. This is illustrated in the graphic above. And no, this is not a new-agey Buddhist mandala. It shows the vibrations in the music of archmodernist Karlheinz Stockhausen as captured by the German researcher and photographer Alexander Lauterwasser, who coincidentally is the son of Herbert von Karajan's court photographer Siegfried Lauterwasser. Alexander Lauterwasser is a student of the science of cymatics - the study of wave formations. He created the image by transferring the sound waves produced by the music into water, and photographing the results using reflected light. These snapshots of vibrations illuminate the vital path from the musical to the metaphysical. The one below look like a variation on the Stockhausen pattern; but it is, in fact, created by Ravi Shankar's sitar music.
And the awkward but unavoidable link between great music and the ineffable is illustrated by the striking similarity of the two vibration patterns above to the one below, which captures the vibrations of the sacred mantra OM. (All these images and more can be seen in my 2009 post Music and its symbols; the asymetry of Boulez's music provides particular food for thought.).
The second irrefutable truth at the heart of Ayurvedic medicine is that energy can be neither created nor destroyed, but can change form. So if classical music wants a new constituency, it must release the primal latent musical energy within its new audience. That energy cannot be transferred by the machinations of social media algorithms or the effusion of radio presenters. In fact these futile attempts actually cause the inner serpent to coil more tightly in protest - which is why the negative sum of these ostensibly trivial intermediations is so great. Our latent musical energy can only be released by the vital activities of music education, learning to play an instrument, or exposure to great, preferably live, music with minimal intermediation. Music appreciation must be released, it cannot be imposed from outside. The hyper mediation currently being imposed on classical music is an obstacle to tapping the audiences' primal musical energy. Many of the current methods of consuming music such as MP3 files are specifically designed to reduce energy flows in the interest of limiting bandwidth requirements. Which explains why live music sounds better than music recorded using lossy technologies. The graphic below shows the energy spectrum of bell percussion captured in a high resolution recording format - source Channel D.
Below is the same bell percussion after standard 44.1 kHz sampling for digital reproduction. This dramatically shows how digital sampling dramatically reshapes the energy spectrum. (Eagle-eyed readers will spot that much of the lost energy is above 20 kHz, which is the approximate upper limit of human hearing. But there is important but little-known evidence that sound above 20 kHz - ultrasound - affects our perception of music.)
There have been three primary influences on this post. One was my exploration of holistic therapies with Heidrun Kimm on Crete. Another was Markos Madias' book George Seferis: The Strong Wind from the East which examines the influences of Eastern philosophies on contemporary Greek culture in general and Greece's Nobel Laureate poet in particular. The third influence is the music of Ross Daly and Kelly Thoma. Like Heidrun Kimm, Ross and Kelly live on the margin of the great mountain range that runs east/west through Crete. This is a region of palpable creative energy - the mountains were thrown up aeons ago by the collision of the European and African tectonic plates. Crete is equidistant from mainland Europe, Africa, and Asia and the island is a cultural fault line between the cultures of those continents. It was ruled by Iberian Muslims for a century (c820-961CE), and returned to Muslim rule as part of the Ottoman Empire for two centuries, and only became part of Greece in 1913.
This interculturation is reflected in Crete's new modal music. In a 2005 post I described how this new music had evolved from Ross Daly's study of the world’s modal traditions. Over the years the music of Ross and his Labyrinth alumnae has increasingly embraced the modal traditions of the East while retaining its centre of gravity in the music of his adopted island. But in a new double album cut with his life and musical partner Kelly Thoma, Ross breaks free of the pull of Cretan gravity and flies into the orbit of global music.
Global music is very different from commercially tainted world music which Ross Daly views as "an offshoot of the pop music industry with an emphasis on party music". Appropriately the new album is titled Lunar and it takes its title and inspiration from the moon, with tracks paying homage to Hindu deities and mythology, Persian symbolism, a pre-Olympian goddess, Persian folklore, and Turkish mythology. Ross and Kelly's instrument of choice for this essay into global music is the Cretan lyre. Their instruments are a contemporary version of the lyre which Ross has developed with his pupil Stelios Petrakis. This adds eighteen sympathetic (resonating) strings to the three bowed strings, and those resonating strings are transducers for the primal energy that permeates this outstanding new release. Tune in to your inner Spotify via this link or, even better, buy the double CD Lunar from Panos Evdemon's most excellent online Greek Music Shop.
Header image via Ajayan. Lunar was a requested review sample. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.