A Second Comment on Perceiving Music

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The present is a follow-up to a previous article on musical perception via a discussion of the nature of music and the unfortunately common misapprehensions and misapplications thereof. This time around, certain liberties will be taken with an esoteric bent in the words that reduces the needs for incomplete systematizations but places a greater burden on the reader. It requires more willingness to consider, exploration of new concepts and angles, and perhaps some meditation. May this lazy, but thoughtful, writing reach such worthy readership willing to indulge the writer’s indications, directions and point of view to reach an understanding through and beyond it. Furthermore, the contents should be taken on their own merit, for by stating this or that there is no presumption of infallibility or unearned status, although the writer has a degree of trust on the changing conceptualizations presented here.


§ The musical experience as a natural unveiling


From an esoteric point of view, the acts of bringing music into being and that of perceiving it and apprehending it are not only complimentary, but in many ways similar. This can only be understood when we see the art of musical composition as a discovery of something that is already in existence in a different plane of perception rather than a forceful and capricious construction of sounds. The difference between the former and the latter lie in the sensorial scope of each, for while the first uses the physical senses as doors that connect to an inner apparatus that derives, rather than associating, images and concepts with the full experience of music along its different dimensions 1, the second limits itself to the sensuality of the impressions while taking a leap of faith towards outwardly imposed (via lyrics, explanations or crude visual aid) abstractions.

To better understand how an artist might discover his own compositions rather than fabricate them, we may return to a discussion of how musical theory comes about and how it should be applied. In lieu of taking theory as an artificial set of rules, we must see it as arising as a posteriori classifications of a cumulative, recorded series of experiences throughout the lives of many composers both great and otherwise. The development of this system of observations was not achieved as an imposing standard at first, but as a series of attempts by generations within a certain group of related cultures (all under the banner of the Western European spirit affected by Christian ideas) to crystallize structures of sounds that gave certain impressions to the most learned and accomplished minds of their time.2

As an artist, the deeper act of composition is a tying together of an inner search for a unitary collection of mental impressions and logical ordering that through the physical laws of sound in nature approach a recreation of the first. The former’s goal is a scene or situation, a being or a force peering behind the foggy veil of night-time consciousness lets through to rational apprehension. This going to and fro depends on the one hand on the artist’s openness to ‘listen’ to the cosmos at its rawest through the depth of his own soul, and on the other hand to his conscious understanding, based on trial and error, of the workings of sound. Here is a three-way discussion in which the artist serves as mere mediator whose worth is decided by the depth of his vision and the quality of the articulation of what has been seen. Thus does music theory itself arise, by exploring the mutability, flexibility and confines of the physical properties of music in trying to reproduce what the human mind grasps, feels and perceives as transcendent.

The listener, on his side, has only one firm anchor: the theoretical body of knowledge on musical construction3, and the depth listener’s own general understanding thereof. The essence of the transcendent that was decanted into the musical work can only be reached insofar as the listener can emulate the bridge through which such transposition happened. That essence was filtered through the being, qualities and talent of the artist. Even though said emulation, moreover, will be of necessity always imperfect, the defining features of a landscape may be discerned by different onlookers even as they stand in different locations and experience something unique. Correctly apprehended, the music itself should be able to produce variations on a transcendent theme, as it were, without any external aid or dogmatizing.

Knowledge of the nature of sound and music that was mentioned before and which would serve as the only sure anchor to begin with for the listener does not mean that theoretical expertise of a standard nature is absolutely necessary, although it would certainly provide a useful tool in the right hands. Understanding of that nature of which we speak can be developed through time and practice by perceiving music as more than just its sensual effect or the abstract elaborations that some may want to tie to that sensation. The way towards proficiency as an artist or a listener is no different than that of other specific skills. It involves a constant self-honesty, a dedication to honing one’s vision and abilities, and an incessant challenging of oneself to further limits determined with judgement. This, the writer presumes, is also the way to a kind of ‘musical adeptship’.


1 A unified totality that includes different angles and ways of following the work. These different ways of exploring, seeing and sensing must ultimately come together under manifested reality.

2 Here we see a great contrast to modernity, where the masses rule, and the chthonic and unconscious spirit of demos takes art to its lowest levels of expression and significance. While perhaps then that judgement was affected by an unbalanced, cloistered and Aphrodistic devotion, the inner heart of the black metal spirit may provide a different pole that regresses in grandeur and expressive power but cuts away pretension and the dangers of the classical Western European tradition that slowly spiraled out of control after Beethoven’s time.

3 This should not be a reason to categorize the elements of the musical experience into the illusory ‘subjective’ and ‘objective’ classifications that allow the blind and the weak to get away with a denial of reality in the former case and an imposition of an abstraction over said reality in the latter case.

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