Dissonant Harmony, Pleromas
of Sound, and the Principle
of Holistic Resonance
Any society or work of art (a musical composition, a painting, a building, a poem, and so on) is a complex whole composed of many parts or units. Whether these units are human beings, musical notes, colored areas, or words does not essentially matter. What matters is the type of organization that makes the units a whole. Two basic types of organization exist. In social organization I have called them the tribal order and the compassionate order. In music they are analogous to what I have called the consonant order and the dissonant order.
The tribal order is founded on biological relationship, descent from a community of common ancestors, and a similarity of environment, culture, religion, and way of life. It is the most natural and most easily defined type of relationship. The source from which the tribal community derives its sense of unity a compulsive, quasi-instinctual feeling-realization is understood to be in the past, and all members of the tribe are psychically dependent upon an ancestral land. They project their unquestioned feeling of unity upon a tribal god to whom they give personal attributes and with whom they are certain they can communicate, mainly through shamans, prophets, oracles, and eventually an institutionalized priesthood.
In music the harmonic series of fundamental and overtones represents the same kind of order. Each octave of the series symbolizes one generation of the people. The One multiplied in tone is like Abraham's seed, whose multiplication in an immense progeny is assured by the tribal god. Octaves of overtones become the basis for the many modes of a consonant and natural music, founded upon the processes of life. Modes manifest in sacromagical tones a kind of consciousness deeply and compulsively rooted in biological activity.
The compassionate order begins with a multiplicity of differentiated individuals and has unity as its goal. This goal is difficult to achieve, and it refers to a future conditions - a condition in the making. The achievement of this condition of unity (really multiunity) requires the development of a strictly human faculty -understanding that emerges out of processes of the mind. Thus, while the compassionate order is founded upon the will to unity unity as a goal to be consciously achieved in understanding it necessitates the activity of the mind.
Mind, however, operates at different ways at different levels of existence. At the biological level, mind is the servant of life. It is the instinctual mind, the function of which is to discover optimum conditions for the preservation and expansion of a biological species. Feelings, emotions, and moods are overtones (as it were) of biology; though eventually these become differentiated and personalized, they can be traced back to their biological roots, even if they should not be entirely reduced to them. These "overtones" operate at the level of the biopsychic mind, which differentiates the personalities of tribesmen from one another but remains the servant of life. It is polarized by the compulsive, repetitive conservation of functional activities intent on perpetuating an original impulse-to-be and on keeping unaltered a prototype, an original form.
The mind operating at the tribal level of organization is therefore oriented to the past. As mind becomes predominantly concerned with solving the problems of transforming and improving the conditions affecting a particular person who feels separate from the community because "special" and having his or her own interests and needs, the mind individualizes. It forgets or loses interest in the collective past of the tribe because it concentrates on solving problems of the personal present. These problems how to save oneself, for example, or how to profit from a particular situation are technical problems, that is, they require the individual invention and application of new techniques. Though the mind thus individualizes further, the satisfaction of biological needs and emotional desires for power and comfort makes living in society essential; but the mind in such a state is primarily, and often exclusively, concerned with self-interest and techniques to satisfy it.
Eventually a new kind of mind begins to operate, the "mind of wholeness." Separative self-centeredness and the social and intellectual techniques used to attain power over external things and people and to obtain physical or emotional comfort turn destructive. The principles that form the basis of the compassionate order begin to polarize the consciousness of individuals who, though weary of crises and tragedies, nevertheless cling to self-interest and the drive for personal and social power.
These principles had been stated, perhaps many times, by illumined personages and enshrined as ideals to worship but not to live by. A time comes when their acceptance as a basis for individual and group activity is a matter of actual survival. The mind transfigured by a new will to unit unity to be won over the centrifugal passions and self-interests of a multiplicity of competitive ego becomes the "mind of wholeness." This mind is illumined by the spiritual realization that the whole is not only greater than the sum of its parts but prior to the individual units it contains. Individuals then realize that rather than being primary entities which life's exigencies have gathered into a social whole they are differentiated aspects of a spiritually pre-existent whole. The whole the society focuses itself upon the individual in answer to a particular need and for a particular purpose. Thus the compassionate order operates wherever a group of individuals, whose minds and psyches have been transformed by such a truly holistic realization, deliberately and irrevocably act, feel, commune, and think as transindividual beings, allowing humanity or at least their community to find in them focalizing agents for the release of its power and purpose.
So defined, the compassionate principle of organization may seem too ideal and utopian to have any relevance to the vast majority of human beings. Nevertheless, this principle operates in some situations today. To illustrate the difference between the tribal and companionate orders, consider two contemporary gatherings: a family gathering around a Christmas tree and a meeting of delegates to the United Nations. The family gathering is what remains of the tribal order in Western society. The human beings moved by the traditional spirit of Christmas speak the same language, share the same racial, cultural, national, and social background and are probably of the same religion. Personal differences, at least for the time, are forgotten in the celebration of an ancient event which once more vitalizes the great myth of the culture that has formed the collective world view of the family group.
At the United Nations, however, there are individuals of different races, cultures, nationalities, and religions, who have reached individual status by different paths, and who probably have nothing in common except their common humanity and the will to survive under the critical international situations that have made it imperative for them to meet, discuss, and try to agree. They may dream of a unified mankind, for they know what separateness can lead to, but the actualization of the dream demands constant effort, unceasing vigilance, and faith in a future of which they may be only the architects, not the actual builders. Unity here is in the future. It has to be made before it can be enjoyed. If achieved it has to be "unity in diversity," multi-unity. It can only be achieved through the harmonization of differences which does not mean the reduction of differences to a unity.
Harmony is misunderstood if it is given the same meaning as unity. Its Greek root (harmos) refers to the process of joining together objects previously having a separate existence. Joining boards of wood which had been cut from the same tree so that the patterns made by the grain of the wood match might be called a harmonizing process, but if so it refers to a consonant type of harmony. The process tries to reconstitutes a primordial, biological unity. On the other hand, fashioning a crown for the consecration of a king by integrating gold, silver, and precious stones according to an image of symbolic splendor is to produce a dissonant harmony of materials selected for the power, beauty, and sacred significance of their combination.
To produce a consonant harmony one has to retrace the nature of the materials being used to their common source. In music, the perfect chord of the C-major tonality, C, E, G, is a consonant harmony, because the compound notes are harmonics of a lower fundamental C. If this fundamental C has a frequency of 100, the three notes of the perfect chord will have frequencies of 400, 500 and 600. A dissonant harmony is very different. What integrates its components is the realization by a human consciousness faced with it that it is a whole having been endowed with a unifying meaning and purpose.
A tree is of course, a complex whole, but it is a whole issued from a single seed an original unity. Every part of the tree can be traced back to this physical seed. There is no physical seed to which the materials of a sacred crown can be traced. The crown emerged from a human mind that imagined its form and constituents as significant symbols for a particular situation of special importance. A tree operates according to the processes of nature. The creative artist, who gives concrete substance to what he or she imagined operates according to the needs of the culture or the desires of his or her individual personality.
In somewhat oversimplified terms, then, there is a music of life and a music of the symbol-creating mind. This mind is not the discursive, argumentative, and analytical mind the intellect but the mind of wholeness. It is no longer the servant of life processes, which in human beings are psychic as well as biological, but the agent of the will to wholeness. This will is the manifestation of spirit as the principle of unity in operation. Matter, on the other hand, operates according to the principle of multiplicity (and divisibility). In its most basic sense, mind is the harmonizer of spirit and matter; but as a power of harmonization it ultimately serves the purpose of unity, even though it expresses this purpose in the multiple terms of matter.
At a particular stage of human evolution, mind nevertheless becomes fascinated with investigating the quasi-infinite possibilities of formulating what the senses perceive. It tends to become lost in the labyrinths of the divisibility of the materials it investigates. The more names the mind finds to pin down and classify the mirages of a desert world filled with quintillions of grains of sand it calls atoms, the more lost it becomes. Eventually, a bounteous rain transforms this desert into a field of growing lives, and the mind begins to see the world as a "universe," a one-ward reality, wholeness in the making. What sees is the mind of wholeness. It forever harmonizes dissonances into the immense chord of a space at long last experienced as a plenum of vibratory energy. Space, in its most abstract and most essential reality, is vibrancy. It is SOUND.
When the mind becomes lost in multiplicity, however, it clings to the remembrance of the original feeling of unity. Every universe, every organized system of life, begins in a unitary release of energy. The psychic space of a newborn child vibrates in a simple, pure tone, the AUM tone of its being, still undifferentiated from the mother tone out of which, yet within which, it was born. As a collective psychic entity, every culture indeed humanity as a planetary organism has its own AUM tone; and early in the development of a culture-whole this single, pure tone is subconsciously felt or "heard." It is the mother tone that vibrates through the culture's psychomental space, and the members of the culture resonate to it at whatever level they function.
Distraught minds seek rest by trying to reattune themselves to this tone; but even though the tone may be reexperienced in its singleness and vibrancy, the. experience means a return to the womb to a limited, defined space from which emergence once was necessary. Can a weary sunset-consciousness return to the buoyancy of the dawn that was and thereby hope to begin a new day? So to believe is the great illusion of tired minds afraid of letting go of the feeling of being "I." The only way to a new dawn is to accept the mysterious darkness of consciousness mystics call the night of the soul. Only this acceptance can bring to the mind the great dream of the night or perhaps the subliminal experience of space as a sky illumined by countless stars countless yet all moving as a majestic whole. Out of such experiences a new dawn may come, vibrant with a new creative tone, the AUM of a new day.
By permission of Leyla Rudhyar Hill
Copyright © 1982; by Dane Rudhyar
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