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and the Art of Music
by Dane Rudhyar

Chapter 5

The Spatialization of the Tone-Experience:
Musical Notation and Form
Part One

In primitive societies the transmission of knowledge is effected through the duplication of movements — gestures and vocal sounds. To speak is to move the organs of the body involved in speech. Motion (activity) is always the primordial fact of human existence; the child and pupil learn by imitating gestures and vocal sounds. Words (which originally are the Names of entities), their intonations, and the special manner in which the tone producer passes from one word to another are transmitted orally. At a later stage of cultural development, attempts are made to write down basic elements of the acquired sacromagical knowledge as mnemonic aids. What is written are letters and symbolic forms referring to the names of the entities, gods, or elemental powers being called upon for assistance, and graphic indications of how the voice is to begin and end the intonation of the names, so the power being invoked can more favorably and effectively answer the call.
      These symbolic indications are eventually written on one or both sides of a line (vertical or horizontal); but apparently it was only during the European Middle Ages that three or four, then five, horizontal lines were used to write down a melodic sequence of vocal tones in order to show the relative elevation in pitch of these successive tones. The first use of staves can be traced to around 900 A.D., and the invention of the four-line staff has been attributed to Guido d'Arezzo in the eleventh century. The present five-line staff apparently came later with the development of polyphony.
      When a shaman intoned his magical incantations, when a bard or a celebrant in an ancient cult recited the deeds of culture heroes or the teachings of a divine personage, they acquired their knowledge of the tones, rhythms, and inflections they used through oral transmission, either from father to son, or during long periods of initiatory training. Even when men and women of a tribe sang the monophonic chants they had heard since early childhood, they did so in a spirit of unanimous attunement to the psychic power that bound them into an organic whole. The priests and monks of the early Middle Ages, even though united in their devotion, had diverse origins and varied childhood experiences. As polyphonic music developed and acquired a more profane than religious character, and as the Crusades introduced a variety of new cultural elements, including the appearance of troubadours whose songs were imitated, the transmission of music assumed a more concrete character. The introduction of increasingly important and independent instrumental parts in musical performances stressed further the relation between a series of tones and the series of physical movements required for playing instruments.
      Because the passage from one tone to another was produced by a displacement in space, it was logical to picture it symbolically as the distance between two notes with reference to fixed lines indicating standard levels of pitch. A series of tones which once constituted condensations of energy within a continuum of vibrations occurring in "living time" could now be visualized in space. Living time is time whose cyclic repetition has an occult or spiritual potency or, in the case of primitive folk music associated with dance movements, a mobilizing psychic character.
      The space of a musical score is measurable not only in terms of the distance between little black dots on paper within staves; it is also measured by bars indicating rhythm, speed of performance, and tempo. Music thus became spatialized by being noted down. Tones became depotentialized by becoming abstract notes which have no meaning except in relation to what precedes and follows them in the space of the musical score. And, as I have said, for most trained musicians the score is the music. Once the composer has written the full score of the musical work, his essential task is completed; then begins that of the performer, who has to retranslate space into time and abstract notes into actual tones — or at least revealing or expressive sounds.
      The spatialization of music into a written score is the logical outcome of the introduction of number and measurement into what was once the magical or sacred sounding forth of the qualities of living entities, elemental forces, and gods. But music could have been spatialized in a different manner from the process followed in Europe.
      In order to understand what an alternative process would imply, it is necessary to realize that there are two ways of conceiving space: as an empty container in which separate and independent entities move and are related by electromagnetic and gravitational forces, or as fullness of being in which areas of various degrees of condensation, differentiation, and focalization occur which we perceive as distinct and seemingly separate entities. Euro-American culture has taken the first approach to space. It is to be hoped that a future culture will be able to take the second approach. It would not be a new way of thinking of space, for this was the way space was instinctively or intuitively pictured in the minds of the initiates of ancient times.
      In those times when the feeling-concept was that the One Life entirely filled space, whatever lived in space was believed to be a particular differentiated aspect of this One Life. It was a condensation in space. Today we are beginning to think of matter as condensed energy, and interstellar and intergalactic space as an ocean of energy vibrating at incredibly rapid speed. The classical European Newtonian concept of empty space, or the metaphysical concept of space as an innate idea in the human mind — a primary mode of perception — is being superseded by a realization that space is in fact a plenum of originally undifferentiated energy-substance. Space, in that sense, is the ultimate reality — or rather, one of the two aspects thereof. The other aspect is motion, which implies time as the substratum of change, or (as some philosophers might say) the abstraction of the universal human experience of change.
      The basic issue is, should we think of the motion of separate entities in space, or of rhythmic movements of space producing entities which, though they may appear to be separate, are in fact only differentiated areas of space and temporary condensations of energy? This may seem to be a highly metaphysical issue having very little to do with music or the other arts, but it is actually the most basic issue a culture and its artists (and even the organizers and leaders of the society) have to face.
      There was a time in ancient Greece when the second alternative (entities as rhythmic movements of space) was accepted, at least by a few great thinkers and artists; Pythagoras was perhaps the first. But this type of thinking seems to have soon disappeared. It was rediscovered in terms of art forms by Jay Hambidge, who in 1920 wrote his seminal book, Dynamic Symmetry, and thereafter developed his ideas in a small magazine, The Diagonal. (1) A few American painters, particularly Howard Giles and Emil Bisttram, taught and applied the concepts of dynamic symmetry during the late twenties and early thirties, and I wrote about it in my book, Art as Release of Power. (2)

1. Another book by Jay Hambidge is The Parthenon and Other Greek Temples: Their Dynamic Symmetry (1924). Both books were published by the Yale University Press.  Return

2. Written in 1928, this book has been out of print for a long time and was quite youthful in language and spirit; but some of the main ideas in it are reformulated in a more recent volume, Culture, Crisis and Creativity (Wheaton, Ill.: Quest Books, 1977).  Return

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

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