Why one-size-fits-all does not work for classical music

Benjamin Britten's celebrated 'Holy Triangle' divides music neatly into composer, performer, and listener. But music is not the composer, not the performer and not the listener. So just what is music? Great music works its magic by changing our consciousness. This experience of transcendence can make us happy, sad, relaxed, positive, empowered etc etc. These changes in neurological consciousness occur when our brain parses minute electrical impulses generated by our ears and eyes. But what consciousness is, and how it works, is one of the great mysteries that science has so far failed to solve. Which is problematic, because consciousness determines our understanding of reality, and shapes our perception not only of the music we hear, but also of the world we live in.

Two conflicting traditional views of how consciousness shapes reality predominate. In the West the Cartesian-Newtonian paradigm of material realism is the product of scientific rationalisation. Material realism holds that nothing exists other than matter and force; with consciousness being a beneficial result of the realignment of neurons in the brain. Conversely, in the East monistic idealism holds that, to quote the Indian quantum physicist Amit Goswami, the world of matter, and the world of mental phenomena such as thought, are determined by consciousness. This means consciousness is the only reality. At this point readers may be asking, what has this to do with music? But please stay with me a little longer if you dare. Because understanding consciousness and how it shapes our perception of reality is the first step to answering the question 'What is music?'

Both material realism and monistic idealism are based on long-standing thinking, and recently more rigorous but still speculative theories on the nature of consciousness have emerged. It is surely no coincidence that one of the most respected new theories on the nature of consciousness comes from a celebrated musician. Ervin László (b.1932) is a Hungarian philosopher and systems scientist. An accomplished classical pianist, he started playing at concerts at the age of nine and studied at the Liszt Ferenc Academy of Music in Budapest. At the end of the war he moved to America and was awarded U.S. citizenship. He made several recordings for RCA including the Sibelius disc seen in the accompanying graphics. However his attention switched to science and in 1970 he was awarded a PhD in philosophy and human sciences by the Sorbonne. He went on to become a leading advocate of the theory of quantum consciousness. In 1993 he founded the Club of Budapest as a catalyst for the transformation to a sustainable world. For this work Ervin László was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 and 2005.

Quantum consciousness is a group of hypothesis on the fringes of accepted science suggesting that Cartesian-Newtonian mechanics cannot explain consciousness. Instead quantum consciousness proposes that entanglement, superposition, and other recently identified quantum dynamics are integral to the brain's working and could explain consciousness. Ervin László explains this eloquently in his book '3rd Millenium'*:

The evidence that surfaces, surprising as it may be, indicates that our brain is not limited to the neural processes that go on within our cranium - it is a wide-band receiver and high-powered processor of information. The information it receives originates not only in our own body, but comes from all over the world. The brain's ten billion neurons, with 10,000 connections each, constitute the most complex system of electronic organization in the known universe. This system, which operates at the edge of chaos, receives and transforms information from our own body, as well as the electro-magnetic, acoustic, and other wave fields in our environment. It also receives and decodes information from more subtle fields, including the vacuum's zero-point holofield. Potentially, our brain connects us with the wide reaches of the cosmos.
Composer, performer and listener as discrete monolithic entities, interconnected but neatly socially distanced at the apexes of a triangle as proposed by Britten, is the dogma that has ruled classical music for decades. But the hypothesis that consciousness - the mechanism for appreciating music - is the product of quantum entanglement and superposition operating at the edge of chaos questions the credibility of this prevailing dogma. Today a one-size-fits-all strategy is slavishly adhered to by the classical industry. This means one style of repertoire - preferably Mahler - under the baton of one category of conductor - celebrity - is targeted at one audience - young and wired - in one type of concert hall - acoustically perfect. In contrast quantum consciousness proposes that the audience for music is highly granular, because entanglement and superposition processes are unique to each listener.

Classical music's traditional mindset assumes a simple one way flow of music from composer to performer and on to listener. But good musicians will contradict this, saying they can 'feel' the audience. A good example of a musician 'feeling' their audience comes in this anecdote from the great Sufi musician and teacher Hazrat Inayat Khan:

You will be amused to hear of a musician who was once invited to play the veena. The musician came and was welcomed. He uncovered his instrument; then he looked here and there, and found some discomfort, some discord, so he covered his veena, saluted, and left. Those present felt disappointed and begged him to play, but his answer was 'No matter what you give me, I do not feel like playing'.
Quantum consciousness determined by the interference of diverse energy fields - quantum entanglement - is, arguably, the mechanism whereby the musician 'feels' the audience. It also means reality is constantly changing. Which in turn undermines the dualist judgements imposed on art music - perfect concert halls, definitive performances, masterworks, virtuoso musicians etc etc. It also questions the consensual reality that underpins the tastemaker culture of social media, and hints at why digital sound devoid of chaotic sonic entanglement sounds inferior to analogue sound. Even more fundamentally quantum consciousness exposes the danger of ignoring crucial social and technicology changes by locking classical music into museums of consciousness. Because if music is a product of quantum consciousness, it is outside time and therefore cannot be frozen as a museum exhibit.

This post is arcane, even by On An Overgrown Path's standards. So, in our culture of 'If it ain't Mirga, don't read it', I doubt if many readers will have persevered to this final paragraph. Those who remain may dismiss quantum consciousness as just more fuzzy speculation. But classical music is a fuzzy art: there is no rational explanation why Stradivarius violins are so superior or why Beethoven's music sounds sublime. This post is simply a plea for the window on the plausible and possible to be opened a little wider. Which is important, as Ervin László explains:

As mystics, prophets, and people of insight and sensitivity intuited through the ages, our brain is an integral part of the universe, and our mind is a potentially open window on it. It is up to us to throw open that window, to the full extent of our remarkable, but hitherto largely unexploited, physical and mental capacities.

* Ervin László has written more than seventy-five books. His autobiography 'Simply Genius!: And Other Tales From My Life, An Informal Autobiography' provides a useful overview. There are some recent videos of László as pianist on YouTube.

A heads up for James Oroc's 'The New Psychedelic Revolution: The Genesis of the Visionary Age' which influenced this article. New Overgrown Path posts are available via RSS/email by entering your email address in the right-hand sidebar. Any copyrighted material is included for critical analysis, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).


If you don't know of his work, Rupert Sheldrake says lots of interesting things about consciousness and brain and how much modern science seems to be missing the mark on some very crucial things. I halfway expected his name to crop up in this post.

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