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and the Art of Music
by Dane Rudhyar

Chapter 11

Dissonant Harmony, Pleromas
of Sound, and the Principle
of Holistic Resonance
Part Three

Holistic Resonance

Tone, the fullness of vibratory Space, the pleroma of all experienceable sounds, can also be called holistic resonance, a term which may have a more easily understood, practical significance. The word resonance conveys the feeling of an interpenetration of sound vibrations. But I am using the word in a different sense from the one made famous by Helmholtz. His experiments with resonators have led musicians along the path of analytical (also materialistic) scientific investigation, and this in turn has led them to misunderstand and exaggerate the importance of harmonics and overtones.
      We have already discussed the resonance of natural (the human body, its vocal organs and resonant cavities) and man-made instruments (for instance, a piano or violin). Here the resonance of "musical space" refers to the total resonance of our world of physical matter to the impact of creative power (released by divine or human will or emotions) within the range of vibrations the human ears can hear. This physical world of human experience is not unlike an immense sounding board; and the sounding board of a piano is the best illustration or symbol afforded by Western music, because the seven octaves of the piano symbolize the normal extension of our practically usable musical space.
      Should all the piano keys be struck at once, setting in vibration the nearly two-hundred strings, the sounding board would resonate to the full of its capacity for resonance — thus pushing to its limit the tone clusters devised by Henry Cowell (and to a lesser extent before him by Leo Ornstein and Charles Ives). But such a sound would be a symbol of cosmic chaos rather than order. The concept of cosmos implies ordered differentiation, relatedness, and harmonization through interaction and interpenetration. If no atom were related to any other atom, the sum of these unrelated atoms would indeed be a chaos, for a whole is not a sum of unrelated units.
      Thus a pleroma of sound is not the sum, within a limited musical field (the range of a particular instrument or of an entire orchestra), of all possible sounds unrelated to one another. A pleroma of sound is an all-encompassing organization of sounds produced by the interaction and interpenetration of a multiplicity of relationships, each ensouled by its own tone, all these tones actualizing diverse aspects of the Tone of the whole pleroma.(1)
      In European music from 1600 to 1800 tonality fulfilled (to some extent) the function of a pleroma of sounds: all the notes interrelated by a rigid tonal structure were considered parts of a musical whole, each note or chord contributing to the integrated tone, or resonance, of the piece. But because this tonality resonance of the whole was related in a quasi-paternalistic way to an originating source, the tonic (the father or tribal great ancestor), the Tone of the musical piece resulted from the fact that all the component sounds belonged to the paternalistic field — the musical space — defined by the tonality system and issued from the tonic note, the original seed.
      The pleroma concept basically differs from the tonality concept in the same way that dissonant harmony differs from consonant harmony. Tonality is based (psychologically and philosophically) on the urge to refer the multiplicity of sound-relationships (intervals) to a primordial One the tonic, or in terms of the harmonic series, the fundamental tone. A pleroma of sounds refers to the process of harmonization through which differentiated vibratory entities are made to interact and interpenetrate in order to release a particular aspect of the resonance inherent in the whole of the musical space, its holistic resonance, its Tone.
      In the beginning is the One — the tonic. In the conclusion there is the Whole, the pleroma whose soul quality is Tone. The tonic (or the fundamental of the harmonic series) represents the alpha of musical evolution; the pleroma of sounds, the omega. The sacromagical consciousness of early human beings stressed primordial unity, the monotone endlessly repeated to make sure that the differentiated many would never forget the interrelatedness which they could experience and conceive only in terms of their common descent from the One — biologically the common ancestor and psychically the tribal god. Multi-unity is the end of a cycle of culture, the omega condition of music in and through which the wholeness of the whole can be "heard" as Tone.
      Concentration on the One leads to a devotional attitude and, in music, to the harmonic series as a principle of differentiation of the one fundamental into the many harmonics believed to be issued from this one root tone. On the other hand, concentration upon the wholeness of any whole leads to the realization of Space as fullness of being. Here "being" refers to being-in-relation, for (from this point of view) Space is the total relatedness of every area of Space to every other area. I say "area" rather than "point" because Space is not to be seen as the sum of all individual points (and even less of abstract points) but as a complex of co-penetrating relationships between areas, small or vast.
      One wonders what successive generations of Pythagoras's disciples understood of what their master tried to convey when speaking of his experience of the "music of the spheres," because he spoke to a people whose music was almost entirely monophonic and thus dominated by time and the factor of sequence in time. When the ancients spoke of planetary spheres they referred to concentric spheres surrounding the earth. In Dante's Divine Comedy, God was the center of the several concentric spheres, which became darker and more material as their distances from the sublime core of divine light increased. In either case the vision dealt with universal space. The whole of space was experienced in one moment of illumined consciousness. Might not Pythagoras's experience of the music of the spheres also have referred to the hearing of the simultaneity of the seven cosmic levels of Tone, to an immense septenary cosmic chord? Perhaps the monochord measured only an abstract, linear projection of the postulated radii of these spheres, and with the later intellectualization of the Greek mind (during and after the fifth century B.C.) the linear measurements came to obscure the experience of the resonance of three-dimensional spheres.
      Modern acoustics interprets the phenomenon of sound in terms of the linear movements of the ear's timpani and of the vibrating membranes, of loud speakers, but the human being has two ears and can experience the difference between stereophonic and monophonic recordings. The composer Henry Eichheim, who pioneered in promoting the value of Asian music and in using Asian instruments in his orchestration, showed me (some fifty years ago) two very small Tibetan cymbals that were tuned to slightly different pitches. As they were struck against each other an extremely beautiful, vibrant tone was produced, because of the interference of two sound waves of slightly different frequencies. This phenomenon produces "beats," the frequency of the beats being equal to the difference in frequencies of the two tones. Combination tones are also produced when loud tones are sounded together, and these phenomena are used in various ways in some organs.
      Such compound sounds are thought to be subjective, to be a physiological rather than acoustical phenomenon. They are said to result from the "non-linear organization of the inner ear (cochlea)."(2) Such statements, however, deal only with the analytical processes of the modern scientific mentality. These acoustical phenomena in fact reveal the complexity of the experience of tone — of holistic resonance. The most stirring holistic resonances are produced by the great gongs of China, Japan, and Java, by some Tibetan instruments, and by the bells of European cathedrals. Their tones are nonharmonic and nonperiodic. Perhaps more deeply than anything else, they are the concrete, physical manifestations of the souls of the great "universal religions," Buddhism and Christianity. Gongs are made to sound by being struck from the outside, whereas bells are set in vibration by a clapper normally inside of the bell. This may symbolize the difference between Jesus' teaching that the kingdom of heaven is within and the Buddha's denial of a permanent individuality (anatman), the human self being a temporary focus of an all-enveloping, cosmic-spiritual, dynamic wholeness.
      Typical musicians, of course, do not understand the meaning of bells and gongs for their respective cultures, and they are often concerned only with whether or not the bells are properly tuned. Bells used in a modern orchestra are parodies of the great church bells, as they have been deprived of their psychic quality and meaning: the bells of old Europe unified the people in moments of devotion and celebration, in which the collective psychism of the culture and religion was repetitively reinforced and dynamized. These bells also marked the daily rhythm of time — a collectively experienced time before clocks, then watches, came into current and individualized use.
      A resonant piano can be made to produce interpenetrating sequences of gong-like tones by the use of fairly large dissonant chords. The total complex of vibrations, controlled by an effective and sensitive use of the pedal, results (especially in pianos tuned according to the system of temperament) in nonharmonic waves of sound in which the sense of individual notes and tonality is lost. What is gained is the v ability to deal with pleromas of sound and to directly manipulate the potentially all-inclusive Tone of the whole musical space to which human beings can respond.(3) These pleromas of sound have musical meaning in the total resonance they induce in the piano's sounding board — and not only in the ears of a listener but in his or her psyche — far more than in the component notes and their precise frequencies. Such holistic resonances should not be evaluated quantitatively (in numbers of vibrations per second) but according to the quality of the psychic feeling-response they are meant to elicit.
      A music intending to communicate the psychic energy of actual tones could be called syntonic music. It would be based on an experience of tone, unconstrained by the intellectual concepts of the classical tonality system or made difficult by the habits and memories of conditioning or academic training. But large scale communication would be difficult initially, because the necessary psychism is still inchoate. An individualized psychism can communicate effectively only to people or groups open to its particular quality. These individuals and groups have to be free from both the attachment to and revulsion against the musical, tonality-controlled past, for both revulsion and attachment create bondage.
      Tonal relationships are included in the space relationships of syntonic music, but the rules, patterns, and cadences obligatory in a tonality-controlled music hinder the development of a syntonic consciousness. The restrictive patterns and formalism of a music controlled by the tonality-system undoubtedly have served a valid purpose for the European culture and its American and global prolongations. Today, however, as all cultural traditions disintegrate, the use of precisely tuned scales and essentially separate notes having an abstract, intellectual existence on the background of empty space hides a psycho-musical inability to respond to the possibility of allowing the full vibrancy of the whole musical space to inspire (or inspirit) a new consciousness of Tone.
      In syntonic music, because the fullness of the entire humanly experienceable musical space is the fundamental reality, any sound can be used as part of a sequence (melody) or simultaneity (chord) of sounds. But this does not mean the absence of selection in the composition of a particular work of music intended to communicate a particular state or fulfill a particular personal or collective function and purpose. What is selected is from the whole musical space, and that wholeness remains potentially involved in the resonance of the total work. The process of selection is an open process.
      This approach to composing music essentially does away with the rules of harmony taught in schools. Chords with complex names and meant to reveal or maintain tonality become simply sound-simultaneities, or more or less complex modes of vibration of the musical space. Dissonant chords need not be resolved into consonance. Sound simultaneities may not be susceptible of being transposed or of being sounded in a different register without their tone quality being radically altered. Absolute pitch, however, need not refer to a definite number of vibrations per second wherever, whenever, by whom, or for whom the music is performed. It may be absolute only in relation to the actual instrument (natural or man-made) producing the sound, and even to the time and environment of the performance.
      Many or most of the chords called dissonant in Western musical theory can generate, when their component sounds are properly spaced, a far more powerful resonance than so-called perfect consonances, because of the phenomena of beats and combination tones. Such chords are more than the sum of their parts. The sounds said to be subjective belong to the realm of psychism. They defy intellectual, quantitative analysis. A holistic resonance differs from a chord of intellectually analyzed musical notes somewhat as a synthetic medical substance made by isolating definable chemical hormones differs from the direct extract from a whole endocrine gland — a chemical effect differs from a biological effect, even though the difference may escape scientific analysis. The difference cannot be reduced to numbers because the natural combination of the substances produced by the whole endocrine gland has greater life-sustaining power than the sum of these substances considered separately, even if biochemists could isolate them all, which usually they cannot.(4) Similarly, a memorable musical theme or leitmotif has an emotional-psychic power not explainable by listing and adding up its intervals or the frequencies of its notes. The theme's power can be understood only in terms of the psychic resonance evoked in the musical space by the interplay and interpenetration of the several sounds in combination.
      The basic factor is the combination of sounds acting dynamically upon the musical consciousness of the hearers, and this combination potentially affects the whole music space directly or indirectly resonating to it. The resonance is immediate if the sounds are simultaneous or it may be expanded in time if the sounds are in sequence (a Melody). A chord is a sudden release of power; a melody is a process of release. When human beings acted as a unified tribe — as a chording of consonant units within a stable whole — the tribal chord of being (the culture and its psychism) was so basic that individually improvised melodies could arise from it. In classical Europe, tonality being the unquestioned reality of music, melodies could flow, rather aimlessly but spontaneously, for the sheer pleasure of making endless variations (musical arabesques) on the major or minor tonality pattern issued from the perfect chord and its permutations. We are, however, no longer living in such a cultural situation. Individuals stand at least relatively alone, insulated by their egos. The trend toward the formation of small groups of musicians, improvising together perhaps in an attempt to interpenetrate musically as well as psychically, is characteristic of the urge to be able to feel as a whole and thus to reach a state of harmonization.
      In syntonic music the notes of Western music, no longer basically held by the root power of tonality, are drawn into holistic group formations. Instead of emerging from a One (a tonic), they seek the interpenetrative condition of dissonant chords — pleromas of sounds. These are limited in content; each has its own principle of organization, which determines the tone of the pleroma. All these tones ideally commune in the vast Tone of the all-encompassing pleroma of the musical space experienceable by human ears; but actually each of the particularized and limited pleromas has its own character, and its holistic emanation (tone) is meant by the composer (consciously or not) to fulfill a particular need. The need may be personal, social, or cultural, or it may be transpersonal — the need for the psychic transformation of the composer or the listeners in a concert-hall or ritualized situation.

1. Similarly a nation is not actually an aggregation of unrelated individuals, but instead an organization of social classes and groups. Considered as voters the individuals are abstract units susceptible of being added, thus producing a sum. But the success of national polls reveals that the beliefs and reactions of these theoretical individuals mainly depend on the class or group to which they belong. Each class or group represents one particular aspect of the national whole.  Return

2. See the entry on combination tone in Apel, Harvard Dictionary of Music.  Return

3. For a more detailed account of my approach to this "orchestral pianism," see my book, Culture, Crisis and Creativity (Wheaton, Ill.: Quest Books, 1977), chapter 7.  Return

4. The synthesized, isolated and particularly "active" chemicals may be extremely powerful, but theirs is an unbalanced and often violent kind of power which may have dangerous after-effects. European doctors quite a few years ago spoke of American medicine, so often based on the use of such synthetic products, as "heroic medicine" — excellent no doubt on the battlefield.  Return

By permission of Leyla Rudhyar Hill
Copyright © 1982; by Dane Rudhyar
All Rights Reserved.

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