6 May 2007

'The Sound is God'. Transcendental Style in Music

One of the more remarkable evolutions in Western (popular) music is its renewed attention for sound. Western (popular) music has traditionally been focused on rhythm, melody, and lyrics. In this sense, popular music seems to be deeply anti-transcendental. It’s strategy is one of identification: through melody and lyrics (mainly) it tries to arouse those emotions, for which the listener is in some way already looking (consciously or more unconsciously). Pop music is narratively structured, and creates a parallel symbolic world, which closely resembles the life-world of the listener (of course, it can look more exuberant, wealthy…). It’s a streamlined world which focuses explicitly on the whole set of basic emotions. It tell us a story about broken relationships, the joy of drinking, falling in love… No problem with this, but as such we remain with pop music fully within a flat immanence. Moreover, through its narrative structure the medium does not even seem to be fit for discovering a certain depth or transcendence within immanence. So, what would then be a transcendental style in pop music? Definitely not making it religious. Religious pop music (like Christian rock) remains locked within the same logic of identification. It tells us a story of conversion, of consolation, of hope… and tricks us into the artificial world of particular ecclesial agenda. Here, there is no depth to be found.
For a transcendental style, one will have to use the medium of pop against itself. It’s still hard for me to figure out what this precisely should be, but I believe some evolutions might give us a hint. Through a peculiar attention for sound, texture and repetition for example contemporary western artists are trying to overcome the traditional linear approach. By delving into the notes itself, by exploring the spaces between notes and by relinquishing (to a certain extent) the narrative structure, they open up a domain beneath the song. They try to explore a domain of what we can call ‘transdescens’, a form of transcendence within, or maybe better underneath the immanent sphere of the symbolic.

Added you find a raga by Pandit Pran Nath (picture above), a renowned Indian vocal master who was (as a teacher of La Monte Young and Terry Riley) of major influence in the world of Western minimalism. In the other file, Ravi Shankar shortly comments on the spirituality of music.

Six Organs of Admittance is a solo project of Ben Chasney, an American guitarist who is deeply influenced by John Fahey, but also by Indian and Japanese folk. ‘Dance among the waiting’ is from his album ‘Dust & Chimes’ (2000, Holy Mountain) and Maria from his nameless debut LP (1998, Holy Mountain).

Richard Youngs is an eclectic Scottish folk musician, known for his many collaborations and use of very diverse instruments and styles, from raga to noise and pop. ‘Sky is upon you’ is taken from ‘River Through Howling Sky’ (2004, Jagjaguwar).

Fursaxa is the solo project of Tara Burke, a singer and multu-instrumentalist from native-American origins. ‘Lunaria enters the blue lodge’ is the second song from her recent album ‘Alone in the dark wood’ (2006, ATP records).

Ravi Shankar - introductory comment: the Sound is God (mp3)


Baninto 33 said...

This text includes some of the things i've always said about music, specially about religious music that never gets really trascendental, i'll add your blog to my favorites

Anonymous said...

I think its hard and frustrating to find music that is transcendental. I rarely come across music that I would put in the transcendental category but i bought this the other day from a friend of a friend and i would put it in the transcendental category: http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/BrantHooks

I really enjoyed the claims in the text as well

- Steven

lee torchia said...

Hello Tom,
Wow. . . a certain depth or (of?) transcendence within immanence. This describes Pandit Pran Nath's singing and his everyday "being". The first time I sat at his feet for a lesson, the rest of the world disappeared, and only the tambura and the vibrations of his call and my response existed, plus as la monte would say, there were the overtones.

He spoke little, and one was silent around him, for he seemed to be always bringing the Divine into ordinary existence in the most humble way. A simple walk at his side, was a lesson. There was no entourage, except during performances and occasions when his disciples La Monte, Marian, Terry, Allaudin, Shabda, Karunamayee, etc. would visit. A humble life manifesting an ocean of sound with reverence for the Divine in every breath, every movement, every glance.

Thank you for your post.
lee torchia

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