Music in Transformation:
and the Deconditioning Process
As it reaches the end of its cycle of existence as an organized whole, every culture experiences a process of disintegration. This process takes different forms in different culture-wholes. It is taking a particularly complex form in Western culture because of the dynamic, pluralistic, divisive, and transformative character of the Western mind, which is constantly driven by the urge to transform itself and its environment. The unparalleled scientific and technological achievements of the Western world have radically altered the sociocultural structures developed in Europe and actualized in more extreme form in the U.S. These alterations can be interpreted either as the causes of an accelerated process of sociocultural disintegration, or as a necessary prelude to a global organization integrating all human beings.
A process of disintegration is also at work in the music of the second half of the twentieth century; and it, too, may be a necessary phase of deconditioning, of learning to approach music radically differently and to hear sounds in a different way. Such a process may require profoundly revealing intercultural contacts and the ability to experience reality in new ways perhaps through the use of psychedelic drugs or non-European methods of self-transformation.
Whatever one sees as the cause or purpose of this process, the fact is that the musical culture formed during and after the Crusades with the development of polyphony and precise visual notation, and which flourished from the eighteenth to the late nineteenth century, has been swept from its foundations. Its basic structure the tonality system and all its by-products has been uprooted, fragmented, and deprived of its essential character; and the collective psychism that gave a soul to the complex forms music took in Europe and America has lost its vitality, consistency, and much of its spiritual meaning. What once was a culturally significant music has been popularized through phonograph records and radio and television broadcasts of concert performances; and vulgarization follows popularization. The ubiquitous presence of a musical atmosphere in business and medical offices, factories, airplanes, and at home when people gather for a party or youngsters do their homework, vapidly sentimentalizes melodies that once were deeply moving the musical correlate of the wholesale drugging of the collective consciousness. This takes place not only in our chaotic and violent modern cities, but also in the homes of country people, who once lived simple lives attuned to the rhythm of nature and seasonal activities people for whom silence once was the basis of their inner development.
To understand and to give an objective formulation to the meaning of the disarray and disintegration all cultures of the world, it is essential to realize that culture is, by its very nature, an aristocratic process. During each phase of its development, a particular class or type of human being stands for what is "best" (aristos) for the fulfillment of what the phase requires. The true aristocrat is not an individual but a representative, an agent, of the culture. The best at one time may refer to physical strength, endurance, and a blend of physical power and conniving mind; at another time, to an intellectual and organizational ability to establish and maintain stabilizing religious and sociocultural institutions. At still other times, a superior trading instinct coupled with a craving for material possessions and sociopolitical power mark "the best" people of society, the bourgeoisie of wealth and the capitalist.
The function of the creative artist the composer in music is to glorify and affiliate himself or herself with whatever social class at the time is the best, the aristocracy. A time comes, however, when this aristocracy can no longer operate significantly as a group of representatives or agents of the culture. The cohesive power of the symbols, myths, and institutions that had given the society its cultural structure and solidity is no longer functionally operative. The integral collective psychism of the culture becomes fragmented. A process of individualization is at work. At first it operates within the aristocracy, without robbing the individualizing person of his or her function as an organic unit within the social group. Sooner or later, individuals free themselves not only from binding attachment to the tradition of the group but from the feeling of being representative of the culture and agents for its perpetuation, even in a modified, modernized form.
This is the process of deculturalization, and in the case of individuals of the Western world, dis-Europeanization or dis-Westernization. Eventually, it reaches a stage at which individuals feel the need to be and act not merely in freedom from the cultural foundation and the collective psychism of the society or class but against them. Marxist proletarians or intellectuals of the American New Left may take a definitely "anti-Art" attitude and deny any validity to what they condemn as a manifestation or glorification of the bourgeois mentality. Other artists painters, novelists, dramatists, composers on the other hand, use art to give voice to the aspirations, suffering, and needs of "the people," serving the masses as earlier artists had served the church, the nobility, or the wealthy bourgeois and capitalists. Thus at least some academically trained composers devote their energy and talent to composing proletarian music, music to arouse the; people to political action, or at least to develop in them a new collective psychism the feeling of belonging to a global community of workers.
The more individualistic or spiritually-inclined artists, however, usually consider themselves unaffiliated with any social class and essentially unrelated to collective patterns. Such artists today usually seek to express their own psychological experiences or states. The basic motives for self-expression through music nevertheless vary with the temperament, conditions of birth, and early experiences of the would be composers; with the educational institutions they were able or willing to attend; and with their opportunities to participate in group-experiences, travel to Asia, and hear their musical works performed, to test the actual results of their intuitions or intellectual theories.
Three categories of music may be singled out of a great diversity of trends in present-day music. The most prolific and most performed is popular music, which can be subdivided into folk music a music associated with living in small, perhaps remote communities close to the land and a wide spectrum of "city music," whose most well known and typical forms are jazz, rock 'n' roll, and songs of social protest. The latter have been extraordinary effective in arousing the rebellious youths of many countries and giving them a feeling of collective unity and participation in a world wide process of social and psychological transformation. In the past popular music has strongly influenced certain aspects of the second category of music.
This second category is the so-called "mainstream music" of the Western world, concert-hall music even though concert performances before live audiences may be replaced by performances in recording studios, in order to reach an audience more scattered, less class conscious, less fashion oriented, and less wealthy than the audience that attends expensive concerts. This music is heavily weighted in favor of "the repertoire" the works of "great masters" of the distant or recent past.. But it also is being profoundly transformed by composers reacting to the pressure of sociocultural and psychic changes, moved either by their personal desire to exhibit originality or technical skill or by superpersonal forces for collective renewal.
The third category is avant-garde music a term which includes a great variety of trends. To examine all the diverse manifestations of avant-garde music is impossible here, and it may be too early to see what will develop out of them. Nevertheless some characteristic features exist, and a discussion of them and their implications follows. Afterward I will indicate which contributions of the mainstream composers have, in my opinion, a special relevance to a possible "music of the future."
By permission of Leyla Rudhyar Hill
Copyright © 1982; by Dane Rudhyar
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