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by Dane Rudhyar

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The Magic of Tone
and the Art of Music
by Dane Rudhyar
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Chapter One
The Age of Purification

These are the times that call upon all men, Eastern or Western, high or low, for purification and rebirth. The stream of the ancient Aryan* wisdom and culture has nearly dried up in the wastes of modern India. The ideals which a Pythagoras, a Plato, a Paracelsus tried to impress upon the young European civilization have been distorted and often befouled. A machine-intoxicated world, lost in peripheric and sensorial activities, has forgotten how to look within at the center, where Ishwara, the Self, abides for ever, where only may be grasped the true intonation of the music of the Heart, the solar tones of the 22 srutis which are the direct revelation of Tone.
      When knowledge decays, when dharma is no longer perceived, civilization becomes rapidly distorted, then disintegrates, and music, which is the clearest mirror of civilization, loses its true intonations, its inner strength of tone, and becomes a mere repetition of formulas and modes which, have lost their vital meaning and no longer rouse in Nature and in man powers and visions, but only please the senses or thrill the intellect. Feats of virtuosity are applauded. The singer, having lost the sense of the real dharma of music, ceases to be satisfied with the performance of tones or melodies which are true, and wants to produce what is original. The saddest page of all time is written in the history of Indian culture, as musicians hypnotized by the false or incomplete knowledge of Europe, a knowledge at any rate leading to an entirely different type of musical expression, bow before the dreadful harmoniums which are cursing the land of the Rishis, which no European musician of the slightest distinction would ever tolerate in his home.
      There is only one great and universal purifier: spiritual knowledge. Sri Krishna proclaimed this one great truth five thousand years ago, and it is true today as ever. Humanity needs spiritual knowledge. Civilization can only be regenerated by spiritual knowledge. No rebirth of music will be possible without it. Spiritual knowledge is Truth, absolute because changeless; it is Satya; and in our present Kali Yuga no purification can take place which is not based on Satya, which is not the individual's or the race's effort toward the new Satya Yuga, or Golden Age, which is to succeed our age of darkness, our age of confusion and decay indeed; but this is also the time of our motherhood when we may carry in our own soul the seeds of the coming era and be purified thereby.
      It is true that during the fall season which is the Kali Yuga of the year, the tree after having donned its yellow robe sheds its leaves which decompose and return to the soil as chemical elements, and the cycle of vegetation is closed; but it is then also that amidst the decay of greens and even of fruits, the seeds of the year to come, of the new cycle of vegetation, are sown. On the surface of the earth seeds and decayed leaves mix; but the seeds which are strong are not touched by decay. They are in Kali, the great Mother-Earth, but not of Kali Yuga. They fecundate the soil, they take from the soil chemicals for growth. Yet they remain what they always are, the vehicles of this or that vegetable species, the instruments through which the Genius of the species or Deva manifests, as the deva of a rag or tone manifests through the vina.
      The seeds are true. They are not often beautiful outwardly, as beauty is understood today; but they are true and changeless. For the seed of this plant this year and the seed of that other plant of last year are truly one, as the sun of this spring and the sun of any other spring are one. The form is unchanged; the vitality is unchanged; the taste is unchanged. The seed falling in the soil during Kali Yuga and the seed germinating in another yuga are the same; that which is now was in the beginning. That which is the beginning and end of all this is true. Jesus said: "I am the alpha and the omega," the first and the last letter. Likewise the music of the racial beginnings and that which is seen as the seed during the last period of the cycle are true music. They are made of tones in which the devas may incarnate; in other words, of tones which are alive with the power of the Spirit because they are true. Hindu music wants to find the seed-tones which it has nearly lost, which it has practically lost as far as the general run of public performances is considered. But it will not find them by asking the West for them; for the West has forgotten for nearly twenty centuries the existence of tones which are living seeds and living souls. Music to the West means something else than what it meant to India in her greatest periods, as we shall see presently; and to confuse the two dharmas or the two paths of Indian and Western music is the worst thing which could happen to Indian musicians, and it has happened already in more ways than one.

European music proper had its source in the great Reformation of the sixth century B.C. initiated by Pythagoras, the Teacher of lonia or Greece, Yavanacharya as India knows him, or Pita Guru as his name really was, the Father of all Western teachers or gurus. With Pythagoras not only European music, but what to our present humanity Western civilization and music represent, begins; European civilization being but the first act of the vast drama of Western civilization which is now being centered in the American continent. This first act, like many first acts, has proven to be really nothing but a transition, a heterogeneous mixture of pseudo-Eastern and pseudo-Western ideals distorted by the Feudal States and an ambitious and political Church. Perversion began when Pythagoras' School at Crotona (Southern Italy) broke down, was destroyed and Pythagoras' teachings became distorted by students who knew very little of them and cared still less about preserving them integrally. Esoteric groups remained and never disappeared entirely from Europe. Platonists, Neoplatonists, Gnostics, the few true Alchemists and Rosicrucians and many other groups of so-called "heretics" lived throughout the centuries, but as more or less secret organizations, hunted down by the Church, burnt alive, defamed up to the present day; while official Europe lived in wars and hatreds, untrue to the spirit of Christianity as Greek culture had been untrue to the Pythagorean spirit.
      The Pythagorean system of music, misunderstood and perverted, blended with Asiatic reminiscences, became the Greek music of classical times. The Gnostic chants and sacred melodies of a Bar Daisan, an Arius, a Mani and many other Spiritual Teachers who were also musicians, were stolen by the Fathers of the Catholic Church and after a few alterations became liturgical hymns and mediaeval plain chant in general. They lost their deeper cosmic significance and became mere melodies, patterns of musical notes, more and more intellectualized as centuries rolled by. In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries a few great musicians, mostly unknown, contemporaries of the equally unknown architects who built the wonderful Gothic cathedrals, began a definite school of polyphony on Pythagorean principles, a school very much misunderstood so far, the main figure of which was Perotin. But polyphony soon took another turn which, though it might have been a necessity then, yet led music toward a ceaselessly greater degree of intellectualization. With European classical music, with the works of Bach, Europeanism in music comes to its culmination, romanticism which followed after Beethoven being a rebellion against Europeanism and in a sense the Kali Yuga of European music, a crisis of birth which has led to the first manifestations of a new Western music, first with the great Russian composer Scriabin, then with a few young American pioneers little known as yet.
      Europeanism in music typified by Bach, by tonalities and the principle of equal temperament, by fugues and counterpoint, by the development of instrumental music and of large orchestras, etc. fulfilled a mission. Though it has been but the intellectual shadow of the spiritual reality which would logically grow out of the true Pythagorean ideals and which, we hope, the future will reveal to us in America, yet it prepared the way for what may come, and great musician souls have composed great works in spite of the limitations and crudity of the materials they had to use. A New Music of the West is going to manifest soon, not in a Europe becoming more and more artificial, spiritually dead and reactionary, but in the New World where a new civilization is slowly being built, unnoticed as yet by the general American people at present stultified by commercialism and concentration on material prosperity and material technical organization.
      But neither musical Europeanism nor even the new efforts in America have any essential message for Indian musicians at the present time. The West ought to concentrate upon the regeneration of Western civilization, and India on the reformation of her own half-forgotten civilization of pre-Christian centuries. Confusion of duties is dangerous. However, the case of a Westerner is different in that he will find that all true spiritual teachers of the West have studied and been initiated into the archaic Aryan wisdom of the Rishis, that therefore as soon as he wishes to go to the source of knowledge directly, he must travel in the spirit, if not in the flesh, to the Mountains wherefrom the Aryan race, of which he is a part, originated: he must go to the Seed, and the Seed is in Asia, not in modern India proper.
      It is not in India proper if we consider the greater cycle of the present humanity; but if we restrict ourselves to the last five thousand years which, in a sense, mark a new period in human development and can be considered as a complete whole, as the prologue and thesis of this Kali Yuga, then we find that in India lived and taught those Great Beings who are the Souls and Original Impulses of the yuga, and from whom the Truth and Tone of the cycle emanated, as the form and vital energy of the plant emanates from the seed which is a little sun incarnated into the earthly soil, the Spirit in the body. We are speaking here of Sri Krishna, Gautama the Buddha and Sankaracharya. The former died in 3102 B.C., the latter two lived twenty-five centuries later being contemporaries with Pythagoras. Another, great period we find around the close of the fourteenth century which marks the universal Reformation of modern time, in Tibet and India as well as in Europe, shortly after which a new era begins with the discovery or rather rediscovery of America in 1492.
      These cycles and many others less important, constitute the framework of our recent civilization. Civilization cannot be understood without the knowledge of racial cycles and of the basic meaning; and music cannot be understood outside of civilization. The history of music is the history of man and vice versa. Man is the tone-producer and his deeds are utterances; all these life-utterances constitute the individual rag of the individual born out of the rakti of his own heart wherein his own soul dwells in silence, or rather in the unmanifested Tone, the inaudible AUM. So Sri Krishna is portrayed as the flute-player improvising in the many rags and dancing, the dance of life materializing the tones. What the flute symbolizes in the body, all mystics and students of occultism know. It is said also that the first cry of a child gives out the tone of his own being, that it is the first manifested AUM first the inrushing of the whole universe into the lungs as magnetic air stamping upon the child's blood the vibrations of the stars, then the response of the being, the first emotion of selfhood, the first assertion of the "a" in sound, the seed-tone of all human songs.
      In India the seed-tone of this present era was sounded, and Indian musicians must reawaken in themselves the memory of it if they want to be true to their souls as Indians, but still deeper, as individual selves. For thus only can they perform their musicians' dharma; for thus only can they fulfill in the great World Music the part which is theirs by nature and birthright.
      Here truly spiritual knowledge proper as well as musical knowledge is meant. But how can these two be separated in a musician who is true to his or her higher destiny? Have not the great Indian singers of the past been men of great spiritual stature, ascetics and yogis or disciples of great saints? Does not the very term sruti mean divine revelation, the word of the Guru, as well as the very cells of the musical organism? Does it not indicate clearly enough that music is a divine revelation; greater in a sense than that which can be uttered by words, as it may reach beyond words to the very center of the Heart Doctrine? Tones originate in the heart; as the old Chinese ceaselessly repeated; for in the heart of Man is the little sun, the little blue flame of the real sun, Ishwara, that is the swara or tone of the Self: Ich, I.
      Spiritual knowledge alone purifies. It burns the dross of generations; it clarifies the water which traveling far from the mountain source has accumulated so much filth. Indian musicians can come to the source if they only want to know and to dare, because this source is at the center of their heart. They have let the source dry up and now, as they come asking other races for water and knowledge, what they receive is the water which once was pure at the source, but now is corrupted and can no longer quench. Dig deep down where the well spouted with the pick of concentration; study by the power of life still more than by the mere reading of books, the key to which is nearly lost; and the true Incantation of the beginning will be heard which will reopen the world of tones that are living and thus have the power to regenerate living beings.
      Go back to the source. It is the eternal Reality, the changeless Substance. It is never far away, only we shut ourselves from it because we are afraid and because we are weak children of a weakened humanity. We have neither muscles nor spiritual will. How then could we sing? For singing means both muscles and spiritual will, in all the many meanings of the terms. The source of music is the Self, Atma, the Breath-Motion; and what is the substance of music if not sound? Spiritual knowledge for a musician means therefore the knowledge of the Self and the knowledge of sound. Of the latter Western scientists have learned a small, very small chapter which they call the science of acoustics. But curiously enough this science of acoustics which deals with sound cannot even tell what is the nature of sound, as we shall soon see. Sound must be understood in all its aspects, metaphysical as well as physical. It is the Ra-Ho-Rakti of the Egyptians, the Sun-God, phone with the Greek, but also the song of the Sirens who are the Greek Gandharvas revealing to men the secrets of wisdom, the Fohat of Tibetan wisdom, and in a sense Rudra, or Rudh-Ra, the red Power of the incarnating soul and of Cosmic Desire; the twenty-two srutis being related to the eleven Rudras, and to the eleven-year cycle of solar magnetism (sunspots cycle as it is known by Western science).
      Where is this spiritual knowledge of sound, this ancient Guhya Vidya, one of the aspects of the Atma Vidya, or science of the Self? The science of sacred mantrams is undoubtedly preserved in some sanctuaries, but the science of music which is the evolutionary aspect of the great Vedic science of invocations, where is it to be found? The Gandharva Veda and the Gandhara Grama are lost; but is not also the rag Dipak lost? The science of descending music and of the incarnation of the soul is forgotten, as also that of ascending music, the music which is Fire, ceaselessly rising forgotten or rather deported out of the reach of materialistic and selfish generations who do not even understand why certain rags must be sung at certain hours or seasons, and who would likely play with fire in a powder factory. Thus the need for purification based upon knowledge, through which only a still deeper knowledge may come together with the power to utter tones which are seeds and to improvise upon modes or rags which are the true images of the cyclic changes in Nature as in man, and not mere moods.

What is the way to knowledge? Study and meditation; first the study of laws, then the meditation on that which moves according to laws, and on the Mover of all things.
      Because the ancient Hindus gave names to all forces of Nature and represented them, or rather the Spirit manifesting through them, as divine personages, masculine or feminine, the modern musician is more or less afraid or ashamed of believing what the supposedly wise Westerners have scorned as fairy tales. He cannot go beyond the allegorical garb to the law which it reveals, and he has no other way save either to depend on handed down knowledge accepted on faith but neither criticized nor philosophically understood, or else to swing to the cult of European material gods and read the ancient texts in the light of a Europeanized intellect. While the latter may be able to think in terms of laws, yet those laws are not universal, because they rest merely on sense experience or intellectual speculation, because they posit as an evident fact a false unity of musical substance and knowledge, a unity rooted in the fallacies or at best half-truths of Europeanism. What Europe understands as sound is merely the shadow or material shell of the true Sound, of the Aryan Vach. It is godless, soulless and toneless sound, as European feudal society was, and still is, merely a form, a body without a soul.
      It is true that since a century or two very fine experiments have been made in Europe concerning the production of the physical vibrations of sound. But while a few phenomena have been studied, the interpretations proposed have been mostly inadequate, not to say naive; and some of the best acousticians in America today admit the fact. Helmholtz, sadly worshipped by several Hindu writers on music, analyzed fundamentals, overtones and the like, but does he really explain satisfactorily the production of overtones? Not in the least. How can laws then be deduced from an unknown something!
      But if the Hindu musician would go to his archaic records of Aryan wisdom, study with a de-Europeanized mind what is said of sound, of the Soma sacrifice, of the nadis, of the various kinds of breaths, of the various conditions of Vach even if these subjects seemed too forbidding; if he would ponder upon the meaning of the srutis, of the three gramas, descending and ascending; if he would try to understand the old mythological tales about gods and devas, especially those related to music and the Gandharvas; if he would only study the root-meaning of musical Sanskrit terms and thus get a glimpse of the mysteries hidden in the names of the elements of music then the real and universal laws of music would be revealed to him, and thus the very laws of cosmic evolution.
      It is not that the author of this small and very limited work claims to have any extensive knowledge of the above-mentioned subjects. A European by birth, American by self-adoption, he has but gleaned a few ideas and truths here and there; but these have already been such an inspiration, not only to his creative work as a composer, but to the work of life itself, that he feels most certain that, for those who by birth, education and temperament are so near the archaic doctrines, the harvest which would follow such a philosophical and scientific study would be immeasurable. It would open the gates of Sound within and would release vital powers which, if offered upon the altar of racial and musical rebirth, would really mean a new life.
      But the purification must be threefold, of mind, soul and body. Hindu music must be purified of everything which came from Western invaders, even since the time of Alexander. It must be mentally pure from all the accretions and deposits of the mediaeval period with its incoherent emotionalism. It must free itself from European trends of thought and special attitudes to music. The European sense of music is most valuable at least in part. But it is valuable only for Westerners at present. We say "sense of music," because, that is what is at stake. The crude fallacy of trying to see major scales in Hindu rags, though amazingly widespread, is not so dangerous as the subtle insidious turn of mind which seems manifest among a certain class of Hindu musicians; and which creates a distrust of the ancient Aryan doctrines and a more or less conscious feeling that modern European methods must be followed if real musical knowledge is to be found, that the basic classical concepts of musical note, interval, mode, melody have something absolutely true, true for India as well as for the West.
      This is not so. Classical European music is merely European and nothing else. It stands or falls with European ideals and civilization. The very foundations and substance of Hindu music are absolutely different from those of European music. There is practically not one principle of European music which could be transferred to Hindu music without poisoning it. There is, as we shall see later, an absolute of music, the law of sound, which is universally true. Pythagoras taught it, as undoubtedly the Hindu Rishis did. But Europe has perverted this law, if not altogether forgotten it. A few Europeans, like Kathleen Schlesinger, whose work when finished and completed will be invaluable to Hindu musicians, are reaching toward this musical absolute, toward that which is at the root of the true music of the West (of which European music as a Whole was but the shadow) and of the true music of the East-West and East being taken here as the two abstract poles of human civilization. But these are solitary exceptions, rebels against the false doctrines of Europe, now becoming worse than ever in the sphere of music under the leadership of the new generation of reactionaries, which today are dominating European music, as the neo-feudalistic system of fascism is pervading the sphere of European politics under one name or another.

Let us free Hindu music from the poison of European intellectualism; but this must mean to free also the soul of the musician from the fear of being true to the past of Aryavarta, from the petty emotions of success and applause and from commercialism. Reinstate the singer in his or her dignity as the arouser of spiritual forces. Thereafter bodily purification will follow and the discarding of all harmoniums which are like cancerous growths in the body of Hindu, music. These harmoniums are truly symbolic. In Europe or America, instruments of the type which is found in India are seen practically nowhere save at cheap out-of-door religious meetings, especially those of the Salvation Army, an amazing product of the Anglo-Saxon race, and in motion picture studios for the sake of convenience. Yet European merchants are finding pleasure and wealth in dumping these vile products into India, as they have dumped alcohol into all countries to which they brought the blessings of so-called "civilization."
      The important point however is not that French or German traders discovered such a sad way of making money, but that Indian musicians have been blind, or rather deaf enough mentally if not sensorially to tolerate such an invasion; that they have so completely lost the deeper sense of music, of the magic of sound and rags, as to welcome the hideous and false intonations of harmoniums. Verily the need for purification is from within, not from without. Karma works in mysterious ways. Who knows how far Hindu musicians were responsible many centuries ago for the perversion of Greek Pythagorean music or of any other stream of music then moving westward. And now the boomerang comes back to him who projected it first. The impure seed of long ago brings its long delayed fruit. The spiritual failures of the past are neutralized by the degenerescence of today. The reformation therefore must needs first be complete purification.
      There is only one true purifier: spiritual knowledge. The reformation must therefore be a reformation by knowledge; but not the knowledge of recipes given by somebody to someone else, not even that which is based on merely repeating accurately what one has heard without knowing the why or the wherefore of the utterances or of the song. What the Indian musician needs today more than anything else is the knowledge of the fundamentals of Tone and Sound, of the true science of sound and the true philosophy of music. This will in time lead to the knowledge of the instrument: the human body in relation to the deeper aspects of tone production, if to the study of the laws of matter or substance is added the concentration upon the Spirit, upon Ishwara dwelling in the human heart, the fountainhead of all human tones.

* Editor's Note: This was written in 1926, before the word "Aryan" was abused in the 1930s and 1940s. The word "Aryan" is of ancient origin. It is used here in reference to ancient Indian tradition, especially that of north India ("Aryavarta"). The call for purification Rudhyar is addressing here has to do remedying the negative aspects of western influence upon of Indian culture introduced during British colonialization.

By permission of Leyla Rudhyar Hill
Copyright © 1979 by Dane Rudhyar
All Rights Reserved.

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