What Music Evokes

Have you ever wondered: When a piece of music begins, from where does the time of this music come. And how about where this time goes when complete, when the piece is finished? The sense of time in music is always there. Start the piece over again, and there it is. Thus I wonder: Does musical time actually ever end? And if not, how could it ever begin?

This rather curious contemplation is amplified in Roger Scruton's masterful, The Aesthetics of Music (1997. Oxford: Oxford University Press), where he wrote:

... [M]usic presents us with the nature not of space but of time—time lifted from the tangle of causes and presented in all of its mystifying simplicity, as the impossible but necessary condition under which our existance is granted.
Scrunton then summarizes both Plato and Plotinus when he describes time as the "moving image (eikon) of eternity." The same goes for the virtual time of music. In music, we hear the machinations of eternity, captured in little wave pictures of the deeper, more vast sea of timelessness. This is why a conductor, with a baton, holds time, a role completely fundamental to the operations of the musical experience. Time in music is a reduction and concentration of something utterly unqualifable.

Music takes to the edge between time and timelessness, between the relative and absolute worlds. Music takes us to the edge between manifest consciousness and pure consciousness, between the subtle and causal energy bands. Music takes us to that edge, angles with its back to the causal and sings glorious as subtle energy, and sings as radiant magic. It animates that edge.

Music is not life, and life in not music. Art is short for artifice - something created, something artificial. In music, we do not hear time, but we hear animated time as aural metaphor. Or more broadly: music evokes signs, some of which point us towards timelessness. We hear a depiction, one of the closest humans have devised, of the development of awareness of time as it arises in the listening moment—that delicate, intuitive space in the womb that is post-conception and pre-fetus.

Music metaphors a world. And I mean 'metaphor' as a verb. Music metaphors a world, at the rarefied strata of pure time, the pure space in which all of our lives happen. Pure time is the space in which the rhythms of our life occur. Time is the fundamental bed of rhythm. Our rhythmic lives happen in time, not the other way around. Time is the container of rhythm. The edge between time and timelessness is delicate and nuanced to the point of near boredom, yet paradoxically to the point of deep profundity. This precisely is the point of Scrunton's "mystifying simplicity".

People react so strongly to music because, as a nonverbal art, it sings a representation of conscious time. Following Schopenhauer, music sings the deep blueprint of our will-to-live. And when we, in listening to music, do not hear a metaphor for our own life, our own personal will-to-live, then we do not like that music. Music is so deeply subjective that music that doesn't deeply jive is regarded by that person as, quite literally, unfaithful to intuition, unfaithful to who you are. 'Bad' music is bad because it is a poor representation of the fundamental string of your manifest existance.

Music, as time undergirded by the operations of organized tone, revolves as our consciousness revolves. Our deepest resonances are plucked on a string, within the gravitation pull of time. And when there isn't a resonance between music and person, this dissonance is akin your viscious reactions to your deepest enemies. If music echoes our worldviews (the semiotic of music accords with the semiotics of our worldview) then bad music is bad because it is not the world we know and live in. The signs in one don't match with the signs in the other.

Music, as special kind of sound object, is organized as our souls are organized. We hear a sonorous image, as Scruton writes, is "spread out for contemplation like space is spread out for us in the visual field." To my ears, music is the animation of eternal time, and the animation of our contemplative act itself. Music animates our essential drama. And music is a mirror-in-time, but without the reflective surface, and instead with a luminous shine that emanates through our entire being. When we hear music, we touch our deepest self, our original soul, which sits eternal before the music begins and after it ends. Music is Spirit in motion. Music is our Self, in spacious and unlimited harmonic expanse.

Chicago, Illinois
November 2005

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