Monday, September 17, 2007

Our task as individuals is to seek and reveal the authentic

THE ORIGINS OF INTEGRAL THOUGHT derive principally from the writings and teachings of Sri Aurobindo, the great Hindu mystic philosopher who lived until 1950. Aurobindo conceived of an Integral Yoga that provided for the practical real-world manifestation and realization of spiritual experience. KRIS TINER
RITUAL MUSICS: functional/symbolic-metaphor/mythic/prepersonal (premodern)
ABSTRACT MUSICS: contemplative/signification-meaning/rational/personal (modern)
TRANSPERSONAL MUSICS: integral/intuitive-experiential/spiritual/transpersonal (postmodern)
The ritual musics (folkloric and ceremonial musics) function to solidify group membership and reinforce traditional communal (and often religious) values. Ritual music, art, and dance are not differentiated from the processes of everyday life, and the creative performer has not yet assumed the separate, solitary role of artist. Abstract or contemplative musics place primary importance on the individual creative force, which has been exemplified by the role of the great Western composer as an authoritative, godlike creative figure that emerged from Enlightenment-era humanism of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This heroic archetype persisted well into the popular music of the early twentieth century and was partly responsible for the early success of figures as diverse as Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith, George Gershwin, Hank Williams, Elvis Presley and Bob Marley before it was all but dismantled by the deconstructionist wing of high art, and at the same time gradually drained of any authentic creative value (and hence transformed into a disposable commercial product) by the pop culture industry.
It is important to remember at this point that the thrust of evolution, in the integral view, is to "transcend and include", meaning that while abstract, contemplative music proceeds from ritual music, it does not completely bypass or exclude ritual music, nor does it have to exceed the communal functionality of it. In a given social system abstract and ritual musics may even exist side-by-side and operate in conjunction with each other. As musical praxis extends into the mental-logical dimension it retains aspects of ritual that remain necessary or useful in that new dimension. To be specific, concert music cannot exist without some trace of ritual (particularly the ritual of concert performance), without a mythical framework upon which to construct, interpret, and reinterpret its themes and deify its great composer-heroes, without communal interdependency to make possible the cultural preservation of old works and the ongoing creation of new ones. So it follows that a transpersonal music must be able to differentiate itself but NOT dissociate from the functional identities of both ritual and abstract musics if the overall goal is to transcend and include.
It is also important to note that even though we are dealing with hierarchical organization of holons (or holarchies), it does not necessarily follow that all abstract music is more advanced than all ritual music. Those familiar with Wilber’s writings will understand that he repeatedly emphasizes the point that evolution often proceeds very unevenly, and an individual or a society may be very well advanced in one line of development, and simultaneously very underdeveloped or even pathological in another (Wilber’s common example is the Nazi doctor – one who is very intellectually advanced but morally and ethically stunted).
THE NEXT PHASE of creative music will be initiated by breaking through the old systems and not simply breaking them up; it will be creative, not destructive. I have always felt a particular repulsion to the deconstructionist tendencies in literary criticism, early postmodernism, and various strains of free improvisation in music. Why tear a system apart if you are not willing (or able) to reveal anything beyond the mere failure of that system? Disillusionment alone does not constitute a progressive artistic philosophy, and neither does deconstruction or primitivism. Problems require solutions; failed systems require new kinds of systems. And in order for a new system to be successful, it must transcend and include previous systems (and avoid pathology in its own).
In his Tri-Axium Writings Anthony Braxton speaks of this in terms of "the composite realness of creativity", and indeed his Tri-Centric system is essentially a complex, multi-hierarchical synthesis (or integration) of ritual and ceremonial activity, philosophical abstractions and systemic compositional structures (for an excellent (and recent) overview in Braxton’s own words, Mike Heffley’s Third Millenial Interview is indispensable).
So the challenge now is to adapt the integral view of evolution to a musical point of view. How exactly does a transpersonal music work, being a form of communication that transcends (and includes) symbolic communal function as well as language-based rational/mental perspectives and philosophical concepts? Might this line of inquiry provide a clue as to what is truly meant by the old axiom, "Music is the universal language"?
Here we might take a cue from the visual arts, which in the twentieth century were more immediately successful at escaping the confines of literal representation than music (even though music as an abstract form was the initial inspiration for abstract art vis-à-vis Kandinsky):

"The ‘pure’ red of which certain abstractionists speak does not exist, no matter how one shifts its physical contexts. Any red is rooted in blood, glass, wine, hunter’s caps, and a thousand other concrete phenomena. Otherwise we should have no feeling toward red or its relations, and it would be useless as an artistic element." - Robert Motherwell, "Beyond the Aesthetic" (1946)

Motherwell understood that the experience of abstract art (abstract expressionism in this case) was dependent upon an underlying symbolic association. It is unfortunate that the ideal of the artist who creates an experience, not simply an art object, lost so much currency with the early deconstructionist tendencies of postmodernism. Mark Rothko, one of the greatest abstract expressionists, expressed profound joy when people experienced the same emotions viewing his paintings as he had when he painted them. Rothko was conscious of the fact that the art experience involved a mutual self-encounter, and he bitterly resisted the commodification of the "art object" as such.
There is a telling scene in the movie Pollock where Jackson Pollock’s character, played by Ed Harris, is asked about the "meaning" of his paintings. Pollock relates the experience of art to looking at a sunrise, "You don’t ask what it means…" This statement gets to the core of what a transpersonal art should do; it ought to be as simple as looking at a sunrise. We don’t need to see a sign posted to tell us to sit down and enjoy it, or even a program to interpret its meaning for us. The sensitive individual already knows intuitively what to do. Everything that has ever been known about beauty comes into play at that point, as we experience the sunrise as a brand new synthesis of emotional values, symbolic associations, and literal meanings that were in place previous to this experience. We create experience – we improvise at that point, by discovering and forging new connections to our prior experience, our prior knowledge.
We get into an interesting philosophical terrain here. What, for instance, is the difference between reading the word "sunrise" and actually being present for the event? Symbology and semiotics come into play, as there are multiple ways one can perceive the same basic information, albeit with obviously different psychical impact:
SYMBOLIC: pre-rational/pre-language - making or looking at a picture of a sunrise.
SEMIOTIC: rational/language - writing, telling or listening to a story about a sunrise.
INTUITIVE: trans-rational/trans-language - experiencing an actual sunrise.
A transpersonal art, whether it be music, painting, dance, poetry, literature, etc, facilitates an experience that is more like being there – a direct intuitive experience of the thing in itself, beyond (but inclusive of) symbolic association and literal meaning. Such an art challenges people to encounter themselves through creative experience. If the experience of art is reduced to simple intellectualizing and categorizing what is heard or seen, the full potential of creativity has not been revealed and nothing has really been discovered. Old information has not been synthesized with new, and the experience is simply filed away amongst that which is already known. To experience art on a transpersonal level involves the discovery of process and the intuitive construction of meaning, rather than simply decoding a narrative or uncovering the artist’s intent.
TAKE A MUSICAL PERFORMANCE like Blind Willie Johnson’s wordless vocal on "Dark Was the Night" (1927), in which he is able to say so much without literally saying anything. The melody itself is based on an old spiritual tune, but it is sung and played in the manner of the blues, and the result is a jumble of symbolic associations: religious vs. secular, sacred vs. profane, pain vs. deliverance, transcendent vs. worldly. It is a profound expression of extremely complex and conflicted emotion that can take on a myriad of different meanings and interpretations depending on the experience of the listener. In this sense, the abstracted vocal performance functions much more effectively than lyrical or literal storytelling, as it has inspired a multitude of different stories, interpretations, and experiences. Therefore, a transformation occurs whereby the artist’s initial inspiration is converted into new kinds of information – setting off a pattern of creative responses that continues indefinitely beyond the actual artistic act or performance, beyond a single interpreter or audience, and eventually into and beyond the culture at large (and even beyond the solar system in Blind Willie’s case).
An integral interpretation of music must deal with metaphor and meaning in the representation of musical experience, but not to the point of entrapment in a finite world of literal narrative and mental concepts. At the root of any integral theory of music is a close experiential examination of music, involving both the artist’s intent and the audience’s interpretation and how those dimensions continuously expand to inform the dynamic cultural significance and social functionality of a work. This is the Opera aperta of Eco, where the ultimate value of a work lies in its potential to differentiate (but not dissociate!) itself from dogma, from reductionist schools of thought that are limited to certain times and places, and in the case of the greatest art, to become essentially universal.
HERE IS A SYNOPSIS of the creative model that has been engaged in the music that Jason Mears and I have developed with the Empty Cage Quartet. This should demonstrate one example of what an integral creative music might look like (correlations with Wilber’s quadrants are indicated in parentheses). The assumption here is that such a music ought not to be considered simply as an entertainment, but as an actual philosophical proposition in its own right:
1. CULTURAL: style-associations (LL)
2. PERSONAL: expressions of individuality (UL)
3. TECHNICAL: purity of materials (UR)
4. SOCIAL: systemic interrelations of performers (LR)
Where: (1) is represented by an inclusiveness of styles and communicative references that is not for the sake of eclecticism but to reflect a certain transcultural openness – which is to say that for the audience there are many "entry points" to understanding this music in terms of a number of different musical styles, although the total music is not reducible to any one "style" in the traditional sense of genre categorization (or for marketing purposes);
(2) is represented by the possibility of assertion of individual control over the ensemble music by any one member at almost any point in the music, whether in terms of a solo improvisation, the cueing of a composition form, or the introduction of an original composition to the repertoire;
(3) is represented by a post-Cage, post-Coltrane adherence to the idea that a sound is a sound - that any sound can exist autonomously and in fact comprise its own "piece" of music at the same time as it may simultaneously participate in the construction of larger sound combinations (larger pieces) - as in biology where there is a holarchical continuity from atoms to cells to organs to organism;
(4) is represented by a diversity of approaches to the organization of written and improvised material among the musicians in the ensemble, both traditional ("classical" or "jazz") and experimental, based on diverse political, religious, ritualistic, and theoretical systems of social organization.
In such a music, written material usually functions to establish an agreed-upon systemic structure from which emergent zones of expanded group interaction become possible as new connections are established during an improvised performance. Over time these temporary states of spontaneous activity tend to solidify into new sound-structures that indicate holarchical stages of collective awareness. As each new performance builds upon the last, these structures can be analyzed, catalogued and mapped, and the development of an ensemble consciousness can be measured against the decreasing degree of dependence upon the written material.
THE YOGA OF CREATIVE MUSIC involves the integration of soul and system, product and process, prerational body and rational mind, worldly identity with mystical investigation… and the focusing of the resultant energies into manifestations of musical form. Much like Aurobindo’s Integral Yoga, the creative musician pursues a practice that examines the progression of individual consciousness through improvisation as practical meditation, gradually transforming peak experiences into developmental structures, and the overall process is evidenced by composition and performance as the concrete sound-manifestation of psychic and spiritual inquiry.
"It is the artists who guard the spiritual in the modern world." - Robert Motherwell, "The Modern Painter’s World" (1944)
Mysticism has to do with experience, creativity with establishing experience as realization. In this way the artist reveals something hidden behind and beyond mysticism. The art work in this context assumes a spiritual dimension, becomes a spiritual text.
This integral spirit is obvious in the music of Bach, Beethoven, Ives, Stockhausen, Ellington, Sun Ra, Mingus, Braxton, Dylan, Zappa… these figures are not so much innovators as they are integrators, having that rare ability to perceive the breadth of information available to their time period and craft a holistic, profoundly artistic and culturally apposite statement from it. As well or as little known as some of these figures have become, so far this potential is yet to be fully realized on a global scale. There is no reason not to believe that the heights of creativity achieved by the great master artists might someday be universally accessible, as the scientific inventions of Edison, for instance, are now available to us all.
But contemporary art culture praises focus, which may be why we don’t reward our Bachs and our Ellingtons anymore (and possibly why they weren't so rewarded in the first place). The integral-thinking artist is considered unfocused, unable to be pigeonholed or explained in terms of style, or summed up in a tidy feature article or a concisely written grant proposal. The obvious example of this is Braxton, who has completely repositioned literal meaning in his music with the pictorial and systemic titling of his works, and after nearly four decades continues to mystify his critics.
Creativity is evolution, integration, the continuous revealing of the full spectrum of consciousness – the completion of which is the unfolding or involution of spirit in the world. Our task as individuals is to seek and reveal the authentic, and to learn to understand that the only absolute is that which is so completely beyond and within oneself. The task of the creative musician is to chip away at this essential truth, one sound at a time. There are many small revolutions within the one Revelation. Posted by KRIS TINER at 4:31 PM Labels: , ,

1 comment:

  1. I think this essay provides a good insight into what the process of becoming fully human involves.


    Plus this reference provides a critique of the western idol of "creativity"---and much more besides.


    Elsewhere the author points out that transformative Sacred Art of any kind can really only arise within the crucible of a Sacred Culture. And rightly really only be "performed" within that Sacred Space---otherwise it inevitably becomes bastardized into just another ego glamorizing and consoling consumer artifact.