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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 Four
Descending and Ascending Music

We have studied fundamentals, tones which are like unto seeds, either spiritual or instrumental, solar or earthly seeds. We have to consider now what takes place in the seed, or rather the two series of transformations whereby the seed becomes the fully realized plant, after germination has occurred. Germination is a magnetic process. Under the impact of the solar magnetic waves, heat, will and magical power, the seed begins to resonate. To put it more correctly, as spring, which is the desire of the sun, as the vernal winds, which are its loving breath, stir the earth, as our planet resonates like a vast musical instrument, seed tones begin to germinate everywhere under the magical magnetic fingers of the solar musician.
      These rays of magnetic will striking the earth, the womb of seeds, do not stop at the surface of the soil. They break through the earth crust as lightning, penetrate the seeds, and their urge toward the depths pulls the matter of the seed downward as roots. The root is therefore in a sense the materialization of the fecundative solar ray: its immediate progeny or manifestation. It is crystallized will power, the sustainer of the plant cycle, the first to go forth from the seed, the last to die. Stem and leaves may be cut, destroyed in a hundred ways; but out of the root Life will spring again and again until the cyclic energy locked in the seed is exhausted, the root itself decays and vegetation altogether ends. The root is a tremendously symbolical and mystical reality; and the more one grasps the many meanings of the symbol, the more one will understand the civilization of Aryavarta, and Aryan music, for they are respectively the root civilization and the root music of our present humanity.
      The root is descending energy, the embodiment of the will toward the depths. The deeper the depths reached, the higher will soar the trunks; the more intense the power of the roots, the greater will be the number of flowers, therefore of seeds. The roots grasp the salts of the earth; but remember the words of Jesus to His disciples: "Ye are the salt of the earth." The roots absorb the water of the soil, the earthly sea which is Mariah in the soil rich with mineral salts (not sea salt), Mariah who is not filled with fishes (and therefore not the mother of the Piscean Avatar) but who becomes one with the root; i.e., Maria Magdalena. Christ and Krishna are two aspects of the cosmic Root, represented by the vocal sound, Kri. They are descending energies, the very spiritual Roots of their respective cycles. The first tone of the archaic descending grama was also called Krushta.
      The roots issuing from the seed tones are thus analogical to or symbolized by what a few Western musicians, beginning perhaps with Jean-Philippe Rameau (1725), have called undertones. The actual existence of undertones has been denied by a great many experimenters and theorists however, so that a great mystery reigns concerning the matter, which I believe can probably never be solved except on a philosophical or occult basis.
      Such a solution may not be so difficult to grasp mentally if we consider the undertones, or let us say the Harmonic Series of descending tones, as the very roots of the seed tones. For thus it becomes obvious that as the roots are hidden in the soil, likewise we cannot normally detect undertones by means of our mere physical sense of hearing. But this is only half of the truth, for as we saw already there are spiritual seed tones and instrumental earthly seed tones, animistic and animal resonances, the spiritual Self and the personal self in man. If, then, we consider the tone of the spiritual Self meaning by this really the spiritual Manas, that is the reincarnating Principle in man, truly the seed of the cycles of reincarnation we shall understand at once that as it sends a ray of itself into the soil of our personally human world, such a ray is very similar to a root, or to a group of roots.
      For did we not see that human personalities were of the nature of water? And are not our virtues and good deeds as the earthly salts which the soul at death absorbs unto itself? Is it not often said that adeptship or the spiritual perfection of the soul is the "efflorescence" of the good deeds of many incarnations? And flowers increase with the roots and their power of assimilation. In other words what is called in ancient books the sutratma or Thread soul is the ideal root of the manas-seed, absorbing the water and salts of our earthly natures.
      This root of the manas-seed is, in its grossest form, the volitional nervous system. Volitional, for the descending manas is ichcha or will and Mantrika, the original impulse of the incarnation being either karma or cosmic desire (manifesting universally as heat or light, two aspects of parasakti). The essence of the root is will power. It is the will of the root which sustains the plant during the entire cycle of manifestation.
      This volitional energy of the involutionary manas manifests as the descending Harmonic Series which is characterized in a sense by the number II, which is the number of the cycles of solar magnetism. Manas being the sun of the human system, its rhythm of magnetic emanation is also measured by the same number, which is the number of the Rudras. The eleven Rudras represent the eleven years of the sunspots' cycle, eleven phases of the soul's cycle. Therefore it is the number of the root, of the descending music of will, of the archaic mantrams: therefore the basic number of Hindu-Aryan music, the root music of our humanity. We saw that each Rudra being twofold (red and blue, positive and negative) we get thus the twenty-two srutis, srutis meaning divine revelation, therefore the incarnation of the Deity in words, the Word made flesh by the power of compassion and of will.
      This incarnation of the Self into matter means truly the conquest of matter, or rather the penetration of successive layers of the soil by the root. This operation is exactly reproduced and accurately measured if we take a string stretched over a board and pluck ever-increasing lengths of the string. We get thus a series of descending tones. If we increase our vibratory lengths regularly: say 1 inch, 2 inches, 3 inches, etc., up to 44 inches, we obtain a perfect descending Harmonic Series. Such an instrument of tone measurement known for millennia is usually called from its Greek name, a monochord. The last words of Pythagoras to his disciples are said to have been: Study the Monochord. They are the first words which ought to be said to Indian musicians today. It is only by studying the natural series of tones given by the string, both in their physical and metaphysical meanings and correlations, that Indian musicians will be able to rebuild the archaic Aryan music from within. That is to re-energize by the power of compassionate will and knowledge the ever flowing, yet today nearly dried out, root of music, the eternal Soma juice poured into the cup of libations by the master sacrificer, Arghanath, who stands as the incarnated though mystical Will of Aryavarta, once called Arsha-Varsha,(1) the realm of the libations.
      If then we take our monochord with its movable fret and pluck successively the lengths of string measured by the series of odd numbers from 1 to 43, we get twenty-two sounds which are the original twenty-two srutis. However for practical purposes it is easier to start by plucking 22 inches of string, then 23, 24, 25, 26, etc., up to 44. This gives us the twenty-two srutis in the more recent sense of the term, which however is not really that of musical interval, but of lengths of vibrating string, or in general of units of vibrating matter or substance.
      Before going any further, we must thoroughly understand one of the most important points in music, a point almost completely forgotten today. Music can be based on one or the other of two fundamental elements or conceptions: that of tone or that of interval. A tone means always a certain mass of vibrating substance and can therefore be best characterized by a unit of length of vibrating string, though of course units of length are only symbols of measurement presupposing that the width and tension of the string remain constant. Strictly speaking therefore tones must be measured by units of mass. To a certain mass corresponds a certain lone. A tone is therefore something tangible or rather substantial, the emanation of a portion of substance, of prakriti, however refined or spiritualized the resonating substance may be.
      An interval is on the contrary entirely dissociated from substance in itself. It is an abstract proportion, a relation between two numbers which do not even measure the frequency (number of vibrations per second) of two actual specified sounds, but which can be any numbers at all, i.e., mere algebraic symbols. We shall come back to this in a later chapter, but it must be definitely stated at present that Hindu music is not based on the concept of interval, that the srutis are not units of interval, but tones measured by units of vibrating substance. All ideas to the contrary are merely due to the pernicious influence of Western thought in India, possibly as early as the time of Alexander. This is a capital point, the understanding of which is the first requirement for any musical reformation in India.

The sruti is a tone; as the archaic meaning of the term alone should show, it is a revelation, therefore a new outpouring of the Spirit clothing itself in a "veil of prakriti," a resonance: in other words, a god speaking through a personality (which is a prakritic veil). A sruti is something alive, an entity; and juggling with such and dissecting it in the true fashion of European tone vivisectionists like Helmholtz is absolutely fatal to the true musical revelation. In order to pass from one sruti to the next on the monochord, you have to slide the movable fret, and this very simple and muscular action shows that one does not jump from the one to the other, but that one tone grows into the next, that substance being homogeneous and continuous, its resonances are also organic parts of a whole. True Indian music knows of no musical void between notes which are edges of intervals, because it is the very soul of prakriti, that is everywhere and pervades all space, fecundated by the will and love of purusha that is all-embracing, the Ishwara at the heart of each and all.
      The result of this is that a sruti is not a fixed interval in a grama or rag. It is a fixed length of vibrating string for any grama and we should say for any singer it is in fact the characterizing number of the singer, his individual unit of pitch and therefore it does not mean any definite interval. Three srutis at the beginning of the grama and three srutis at the end constitute two different intervals in the European sense of the term. As a matter of fact, unless we discard entirely any notion of interval Indian music will never be true to its origin and dharma. The singer ought to concentrate on the quality and life power of the tone; the preoccupation of interval accuracy should come second, not first. Intervals are always correct when tones are true and generated from within.
      This question of the generation of tone is absolutely connected with the inner realization of the srutis. A true musician ought to hear the srutis in his own heart: first his own key-note or Krushta, the Christ within; then flowing out of it by spontaneous generation one after the other, the twenty-two srutis. No one who is not able to have such a tone experience, or sruti experience, will ever be an adept singer. To train real singers, therefore, the first essential ought to be a sort of spiritual training. No singer should be taught the mysteries of the true rags or mantrams who has not mastered the life powers of the srutis, who has not become one with them. On this initial sruti experience everything depends; it is the absolute basis of true Indian musicianship. Calculation of intervals and the like is mere waste of time, if not much worse, for the Indian musician. The only outer check he needs to verify his inner sruti sense is a piece of string and a rule divided into 44 units, the string being tuned to his own inner key note. The tambura is merely a help to keep true to this keynote and its primary derivatives. For the man or woman in whom the sruti experience is ever strong and unadulterable there is no need of any outer means. Such a one could be called a Master of the Srutis.
      To this practical mastery of the root substance of music all that is to be added is the knowledge of the various combinations of srutis which constitute gramas, jatis, rags, etc., of their cosmic correlations and inner meanings. This is the task of the philosophical mind; this is what the guru has to teach. But in the real singer the srutis are self-born; born out of will and renunciation, and compassion for mankind. He himself is the Root or the Flower.
      The descending energy after having manifested in the root fills the water and salts of the soil and sends them as sap upward to the flower. The energy of the sap, of manifested growth constitutes a new factor, another aspect of this innermost life power, once in a neutral laya condition in the seed, now released at the call of spring first as the descending energy of the root, and then as the ascending energy of the germ and stalk pushing skyward through the crust of the soil. The deep relationship between these two modes of energy is a fascinating subject of study, but beyond the scope of this elementary work. In a sense they correspond respectively to Will and Knowledge. The trunk and leaves symbolize Knowledge or Wisdom because, among other reasons, their function is to capture the solar energy or pure Wisdom; because also they are the natural food and the one source of heat and fire on our planet.
      The interesting point to grasp, however, is that though the flower is physically speaking a group of modified leaves, yet it has an immediate relation to the root. The descending will in the root transforms itself into the generative force in the flower, The descending Ray of sound issued from the seed-tone after reaching its appointed depth, its own mulachakra or root center, in time rises again as ascending fire to the flower in the center of which the original seed is reconstituted. The cycle is thus completed, a cycle which in its universal meanings and applications constituted the basis of the archaic Mysteries. For instance, it is symbolized in the Promethean myth by the wanderings of the race of lo, its westward (or downward) journey, then its eastward (or upward) return to the seed-land of humanity wherein will be born, at the end of this Kali Yuga, the Kalki Avatar.
      In other words We have a triple flow of energy, by understanding which we get a universal vision of all the musics of the world, at least in our present millions of years old humanity: the descending and ascending magnetic energy of the Harmonic Series, i.e., of the Ray incarnating and discarnating itself and the ascending stream of manifested growth which is the result of the combination of two forces, the upward push born in the root and the upward pull created by the suction of the sun. The latter stream corresponds to what is known as the cycles of fifths or fourths, to what has been called the zodiacs of sound. It manifests outwardly in the spiral-like arrangements of the leaves on the stem. In a subsequent chapter we shall study this aspect of sound. On it ought to be based the true music of the West.

Indian music was, and always ought to be by virtue of its own specific dharma, the manifestation of this life pilgrimage of the Ray into and out of matter. It is monadic music, the music of the One. It is the music of the individual self, a music which finds its apex and most essential realization in the single melody of the single singer, singing his songs of disenthrallment throughout the world.
      Disenthrallment indeed in this day of ours. For the race at large is slowly arising out of its jail of matter and aspiring toward its primal stage of pristine purity. The Ray is longing to become again the Color of its origin. The Root is working toward the Flower. Every instrumental fundamental corresponds to a color which is its psychic counterpart; exactly as every human soul has its own Father in Heaven, that is, is a unit in one of the seven great Hierarchies of Dhyan Chohans or Archangels or spiritual Progenitors that are best symbolized by the seven Colors collectively constituting Brahma or the Logos of the Gnostics.
      Because of this upward trend of the race our ears are, at present best attuned to those vibrations or secondary resonances which constitute the many steps of the ascending Path, the Path of Liberation, the ascending Harmonic Series. Overtones are stations on the Path which the ascending Ray of sound illumines, (i.e., sets in sympathetic resonance), as it comes through them during its cycle of return. We hear these sympathetic resonances because racially we are on this same path. We hear but the first overtones because the race is not yet very far gone in its journey. At the time when the race was in its downward, matter-ward cycle, what we would call today undertones were undoubtedly heard in the same manner. Certain musical expressions found in Polynesian races show that such must have been the case. Melodic tones are mentioned as below the fundamental harmony. The descending trend of the ancient grama in India and of the ancient Greek modes is an absolutely proven fact. It corresponds to the involutionary period of the races. The great turning-point in the cycle of our present humanity came about during the time of Gautama the Buddha, the first Sankaracharya, Pythagoras and Confucius, around 600 B.C. For this sense and direction of music, as far as the race was concerned, was then definitely reversed.
      If the foregoing explanation of what overtones really are is properly grasped it will be seen that it reconciles the two main theories concerning their existence: one claiming this existence to be merely subjective, that is to say due to some induced sensation within the ear, the other contending that overtones are secondary vibrations detectable in the vibrating substance itself. It may now be stated, finally and clearly, that overtones are merely stations, signposts, if you will, on the path of the Ray of sonal energy the only real and substantial thing. When the Ray of sound (which is inaudible to us in our present constitution) passes through certain states of development it induces, either in our ears or in the famous Helmholtz resonators, sympathetic vibrations.
      In other words, if the Ray emerges from a fundamental the frequency of which is 100, when the Ray reaches the station 200 it dwells there awhile and illumines it. The glow of sonal energy thereby produced affects any vibrating substance or resonator tuned to this frequency 200; a sympathetic resonance or induced current takes place. We know it as the first overtone. The same occurs station after station, until the Ray has returned home, to its heavenly mansion: the Color. Overtones are the results of cyclic conditions encountered by the Ray of sound on its journey. They are like phases of the moon which in themselves have no special reality but which are the sensorial interpretations of cyclic changes occurring in the lunar-terrestrial system. The moon remains the same whether full or in its crescent-like condition. Similarly the sound Ray does not become this or that overtone. We hear the overtones because the Ray strikes such and such points in its pilgrimage. But the Ray itself is very real indeed. It is the sutratma of sound.
      The important point to realize is that overtones and undertones do not co-exist in a single moment of perception. The Ray does not at the same time go matterward and Spiritward. So that it is true to say that undertones in a sense do not exist. There are only overtones; but either descending or ascending overtones according as sonal energy is polarized one way or the other. Undertones during an evolutionary or ascending cycle are really subjective failures; They might be symbolized by the gravitational pull of the earth against which the stem must fight to grow sunward. How is this gravitational pull overcome? By the force of the roots and the suction of the sun. This illustration, incomplete as it is, shows that though the roots are growing along the line of the gravitational attraction, yet they are the very power thanks to which gravitation is overcome in the plant. Gravitation for the human soul can be represented in a sense by the Powers of Evil, which perverted religions falsely call Asuras or Lucifers. The Asuras are the root powers of the involutionary period. They went down into matter, into the Pit or Patala, but as the roots and sustained of the cycle to come. The Powers of Darkness of our day are on the contrary the opposing forces of evolution, they are the opposite of the upward push of the stem; thus the inverted zodiacs of sound.

Descending music, root music is essentially music of will, therefore magical music. It is the music of mantrams, Vedic music, symbolized by the Gandhara grama, the grama or brotherhood of the Asuras, Rudras and other deities representing the same cosmic process in one or the other of its aspects, viz., the descent of Spirit into matter. Narayana is the descending Ray of sound itself. Narada is the personalized center of the Ray and therefore the chief of the Rudras in their human sense. Nara means Man, or the emanation of the night (NaRa), Man being the symbol of Darkness which is the unmanifested Spirit. The descending Ray is Narayana (or the vehicle of Nara) because it represents the will arid endurance of Man, sustainer of the Cycle just as the root, which dwells in the darkness of the soil, is the sustainer and energizer of the plant.
      The science of tone incarnation constitutes the mantra shastra which was apparently the subject matter of the Gandharva Veda. It is forgotten by the race, as it goes deeper into matter, and the secrets of Cyclic Will are lost, the personal will being triumphant; as the true Agnihotris of old disappear, at least from the view of most men, and priests and organized religion thrive on the decaying body of Satya; as Truth becomes the many sectarian creeds. Likewise the knowledge of the Gandhara grama vanishes from the race; the descending trend of musical progression and the names of some of the tones being all that remains of the music of the Gandharvas in the paradise of Indra, in a real sense Ind-Ra, the emanation and creative power of ancient India.
      But cycles succeed cycles and at the birth of every new cycle of importance the Gandharva tones are heard again. Some descendants of the Agnihotris intone again the descending incantation of the Root, which becomes manifest anew in the world of man, though unrecognized by nearly all men. Or let us say rather that the old and cyclic Aryan Root becomes revitalized by the magnetism of the vernal spiritual Sun, and sap begins to flow upward again into leaves reaching toward the new Flower and the new Fruit where the power of the Root and the power of the Leaf unite for the gestation of the Seed-processes. All which have their analogies in music, the future music of the end of this great cycle being destined to be born of the union of the two complementary poles of music, the root music of India and the leaf music of America (foreshadowed by the best European music).
      But the root music must be made alive again, exoterically, that is, in its ascending flow toward the Flower. Esoterically, it never died, for in the hidden world of man a higher root is being constituted for a new kalpa. But the race at large is very little concerned with this. It is reaching toward the end of its present cycle, and therefore ascending. We compared sonal energy to the sap. It is so in a general allegorical sense, for the sap is the vehicle of the hidden magnetic power of growth. As there is a continual circulation of the sap, so the flow of the rags (not to be confused with the gramas) is upward and downward, rohi and arohi. The melodic flow is similar to the flow of the sap, and rags are species of melodic flow, or melodic cycles; whereas the gramas represent the general disposition of magnetic centers. Both gramas and rags are, however, portions or species of the Harmonic Series of overtones; therefore every tone in gramas and rags is related to the fundamental of the Series; such a relation being an absolute characterization of the music of the Self or, as we have called it, monadic music.
      If modern musicians in India know nothing of the archaic Gandhara grama, which had already become a mystery many centuries ago, it is to be wondered whether they know fully the meaning and true character of the Sa-grama and Ma-grama. I do not feel in a position to discuss the problem at present, but I wish to point out that here is a problem, the solution of which might bring about very definite practical results. I believe especially that the Ma-grama is an ascending replica of the Gandhara grama; that the two ascending gramas are really complementary, as the Bhakti and the Gnana margas are complementary, devotion and knowledge, the aspiration of the Root and the call of the Sun seed.
      It seems that most, if not all, rags are born out of the Sagrama. They are the musical manifestation of the great bhakti movement of mediaeval India. Possibly they originated in their classical condition in South India, the center of Sankaracharya's great Reformation which degenerated into the later bhakti movement. Some traditions of the Sringeri matha are interesting to study in this respect. As the first period of the matha ends after 800 years we may surmise that degeneration had set in. Musically speaking we know of the great musician-singers of the South, the Adiyars and Alvars, who spread their ecstatic songs throughout India. Later, in the North, we know of the Sufi movement manifesting very essentially through music and influencing Hindu culture. Then the Vaishnavite reformation.
      In all these mediaeval and later movements the element of bhakti is preponderant. But is it not possible that before these the Ma-grama was the basis of another type of music, more occult? It is even possible that the Reformation of the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries attempted to bring back some of the true knowledge perverted by the mediaeval emotionalism and frenzy. It may be that a Tan-Sen did use melodic progressions which were based on the old pre-mediaeval foundation, that for instance the famous Rag Dipak was the symbol of the lost music, the music of the true alchemical Fire which regenerates but which may also kill. The allegory of how the singer sang it at the request of the Mogul emperor and was burnt by it even while plunged into the Ganges, seems quite transparent, if one knows the occult meaning of the Ganges in the human body.
      It is also characteristic to find that the second aspect of Vach is designated by the term, Madhyama. The Madhyama grama is thus shown as the path of the rising fire of the soul purified from matter, the path which symbolizes occult knowledge. But there can be no Ma-grama if there has not been a descending Gagrama to open the trail. The two are as one, and their key-notes are truly Ma, which is the root sound of Nature, the Fa of the Western world. Is it not also interesting to find that the true Chaldean name of Orpheus (who was Arjuna) is Urfa, the primordial Fa? Urfa-Arjuna, discipline of Sri Krishna, Sankaracharya, the great expounder of the Bhagavad-Gita; Ma-grama, Sa-grama all so many mysteries which may be unveiled some day, as the new era of Hindu music really begins.
      At any rate what we can easily grasp is the existence of two great streams of music, both manifesting along the path of the Harmonic Series, that is in arithmetical progression (n, 2n, 3n, 4n, etc.) together symbolizing the complete pilgrimage of the soul or monad from Spirit down into matter, from matter up to Spirit, i.e., to the Color of the sound. The path of descent and the path of ascent are one. The latter neutralizes the former and so cosmic equilibrium beyond duration is never changed. In the path of the descending Harmonic Series we see the Ray of sound conquering more and more units of matter, enlarging its universe by reaching to ceaselessly deeper abysses. In the ascending cycle we see it freeing itself from matter and simultaneously from time. Its vibrations increase until at the limit it becomes master of the Eternal Now, which is infinite duration conquered. Increasing units of vibrating substance represented by lengths of string on one hand; on the other hand, increasing frequencies or speed. Modern man is conquering speed, but not as Patanjali bids us to conquer the knowledge of infinitesimally small Units of duration or moments. The Western man conquers time but finds all his moments soul emptied. It is because of the lack of knowledge of the true Path of life, because of the lack of the understanding of cycles.
      The Cycle is one as it manifests into myriads and myriads of small or vast cycles. Its rhythm is one. Its name is one. To Nature as a whole, it is the Harmonic Series. In India we find the one becomes the two. By understanding the meaning of these two gramas, of their relationship, Indian musicians will participate in the great reawakening of the Root of archaic Aryavarta, and will drink at the fount of a new Soma juice flowing onward and upward, transfiguring with the spiritual realization of Tone, of Nada the Voice of Silence.

1. Cf. H. P. Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine, II:437.  Return

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