The Analects of Music Part 7
A Meditation on the Spiritual Dimensions of Music
I am primarily concerned with the psychoactive properties of music. When I play, I must ask myself ‘What does this note mean? How will my audience respond to this melody?’ Let me give an example. You're in the key of C minor, you have seven notes to work with. Then, you play an F# or B natural. Suddenly, you have sent a message and made a change not only in the music, but in the emotional and psychospiritual reaction your audience has to your music. You must do this in a way that conveys meaning, and to guide your audience's reaction to the music in a responsible way.
Lastly, if you broke down into its primordial form all that exists in creation; vegetation growth, crystalline structure, weather patterns, the functions of the human body, DNA sequences, the distance, mass, and velocity of astronomical bodies, etc. etc., you will find it all works exactly the same way that sound and music does. There is no difference. This is why music is so powerful. This is why it is a doorway between worlds.
This is the Kung Fu of Music.
It took me years to understand this. As of this writing, I have only been playing and studying music for a little over half a century. I'm just a beginner and have barely scratched the surface.
And to be brutally honest, if I could make you understand what I'm really trying to do with my music, it'd probably scare you to death.
You must be a master to conjure this at will. For the rest, these moments of transcendence come only by chance; and only when least sought. Seek, and ye shall not find; ask, and ye shall not receive; knock, and it shall not be opened unto you. This is always by Divine Will; easily interpreted by those to whom the Mystery has not been revealed as an accident. It is not a definite quality; it is the aggregate of circumstances. It is useless to mix its ingredients; the experiments in life which have produced it in the past may be repeated endlessly, and with infinite skill and variety. And it’s all a waste of time. The only thing you can do is empty yourself of the nonessential and become a vessel for Divine Light.
Most people do not understand that the miraculous uses of music are available - in varying degrees - to anyone who properly applies him / herself to it, and to the refinement of his / her own spirit. Start with the spirit! Music is a microcosm of Allah's creation: its inner structure is identical in all ways. Music reflects the inner structure of existence itself. It is the focal point between the spirit and the body, between the spiritual and corporeal. Its power is morally neutral; which makes it very dangerous. This power can be used to any end. Innovation and invention in music is necessary; but inventions always describe the inventor - and if the inventor's intention is less than harmonious with reality, the invention will not only describe, but betray its inventor.
What truly happens when humans make music is that the essence of the microcosm is being condensed into a visceral experience: like the fragrances of a garden are distilled into a perfume, or medicine. This condensation of the universe into music places upon the musician a tremendous responsibility. When we make music, we are ambassadors of Divinity and conduits of power. If we fail or refuse to do this, our work is, at worst, dangerous, and at best, worthless.
All music is the result of a vitality, energy, and universal awareness that is translated by us, the musicians, into action. Since each musician is unique, each expression is unique. And if we do not express what is in our hearts, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost to all eternity.
A long time ago I stopped caring about styles and genres. All that matters to me are the psychoactive properties of music. What does it do? What effect does a given piece of music produce? All else is, in the end, superfluous. According to J.S. Bach, the sole purpose of music is the glorification of God and the refreshment and inspiration of the human spirit.
Many people make music for no reason other than financial gain and the attempt at self-idolization. While there is an economic side to music - musicians require the same financial remuneration for our work as anyone else, this is a secondary consideration to the spiritual dimensions of music. They are unaware (or uncaring) that the abuse of music produces terrible disasters; the subtlety of which is difficult to trace to morally inferior / spiritually dead music.
Our task is to keep the channel open as directly and as clearly as possible. It’s not even necessary for us to believe in ourselves or our work. We only have to keep ourselves open and aware of the urges that motivate us to create music.
The difficulty of our existence is that no musician is truly pleased with his or her own work. We cannot ever completely understand what other people value in it. We see only its crudeness and shortcomings. We will never achieve perfection. We will never achieve satisfaction. Our only consistent reward is a Divine dissatisfaction and unrest that compels us to keep moving and makes us more alive and more aware than many others. Everything else is a fleeting pleasure.
Any fool can make music and art that depicts pain. The real master can transform that depiction of pain into a thing of absolute beauty.
A musician should try to shatter boundaries by holding a mirror to reflect the unlimited possibilities of his / her own true potential. The only limitations are your imagination. You must become the master of your own ship.
This is much easier said than done. To do that, you must pay your dues and put in the hours. You will sweat. You get frustrated. You will make mistakes. And every step of the way is filled with traps. Your own ego will attempt to sabotage your process, either through debasement or flattery. But you keep at it until you begin the ascension. There is no way around that. That’s how you steel yourself for the journey. There is no greatness without sacrifice and pain. This is what must be done if you want to shine the light of your soul and reflect the light of Divinity. Ignite passion, lose yourself in the flames, and surrender. This is the fuel to drive you. That’s where you will find your truth. If you really want to get to the essence of anything you do and understand it on a spiritual level, you must become one with it.
I know some of you are not Muslims like me. But allow me to share a teaching from my religion that you will find useful. The Prophet, peace be upon him, said "An hour of thinking is better than 60 years of worship." The lover without the thoughts of his beloved is nothing; and his most sacred hour is spent wallowing within thoughts and memories of his beloved. That Divine Beloved, endowed your corpuscular mind with unique human thoughts to keep you company midst the hapless darknesses of the life of this world. We think about the Gifts of Allah. Yet do not think about the nature of Allah. And as such That Divine Hand crafted your beauty constrained by the Surat of Al-Rahman (Most Benevolent Gift Giver), while pouring most beautiful thoughts deep within the molecular matrix of your Being. You are nothing but an eroding shoreline upon which the billows of That Divine Beloved's thoughts, hour after hour, washed away all that which is not you! Sieving through the thoughts and ancient memories of That Divine Beloved, you find the most precious treasures. We think about the nature of all things, yet do not think about the intimate essence of Allah, since between the seventh heaven to the Kursi (Throne), there is 70,000 Nur - Light, and Hu is above / beyond all that. And as for the essence of thought, throughout the Qur'an, Allah has commanded us to think, In Kurt Goedel's Incompleteness Theorems, we find that it is the hole in every system that produces new systems. As we encounter the theoretical breakdown and realize we have to think again. So while the holes in the systems demonstrate the impossibility of the quest, they also provide new impetus to uncover the infinite undiscovered aspects of Allah and Hu's creation. Perhaps they are also a source of our own creativity.
And Hu has subjected to you, as from Hu, all that is in the heavens and on earth: Behold, in that are Signs indeed for 'Qaum Yatafakkarun' (Collective Perpetual Thinkers). Qur'an 45:13.
Those to whom part of the Mystery has been revealed have one immediate lesson they learn. They must learn silence. They know all too well, from painful outer and inner experience, that humans go insane when too much truth is revealed to them too fast.
Always remember and never forget that the great poet Jalaludeen Rumi (Allah be pleased with him) once said ‘In the rhythms and melodies of music there is a great secret. If I were to reveal it, it would destroy the whole world.’ Music is untranslatable into words, so much so that my words may very well be a complete waste of time. Music directly stimulates and speaks to those parts of our brains where our emotions and our perception of psycho-spiritual experiences are generated. Music is a mathematical, visceral, and psych-spiritual microcosm of the universe as is humanity. It is extraordinarily powerful and at the same time subtle. Most are unaware of its nature and possibilities. Its power is, in its primordial form, morally neutral. Human intention and application make it either beneficial or destructive.
Each human being is an expression of possibility. We are imperfect beings, finite, and not completely real. Yet it is our symbiotic interrelation / interconnectedness, and the fact that we are, in reality, souls / the Spirit breathed into what are essentially glorified primates that ties us to the Eternal. And this gives meaning and value to our art because it is each human expressing their own individual perspective and perception of the Absolute and Eternal. Correctly handled, this is one way in which the Hidden Treasure is known.