Sound Ecology p.1 – Music for a special time
Exploring the concepts of “sustainability” and “ethics” from a musical perspective.
The word sustainability is derived from the Latin “sustinere” (tenere, to hold; sus, up)[…] However, since the 1980s sustainability has been used more in the sense of human sustainability on planet Earth and this has resulted in the most widely quoted definition of sustainability as a part of the concept sustainable development, that of the Brundtland Commission of the United Nations on March 20, 1987: “sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
Ethics, sometimes known as philosophical ethics, ethical theory, moral theory, and moral philosophy, is a branch of philosophy that involves systematizing, defending and recommending concepts of right and wrong conduct, often addressing disputes of moral diversity. […] Philosophical ethics investigates what is the best way for humans to live, and what kinds of actions are right or wrong in particular circumstances.[…]
Ethics seeks to resolve questions dealing with human morality—concepts such as good and evil, right and wrong, virtue and vice, justice and crime.
Richard Paul and Linda Elder of the Foundation for Critical Thinking define ethics as “a set of concepts and principles that guide us in determining what behavior helps or harms sentient creatures”. The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy states that the word ethics is “commonly used interchangeably with “morality”… and sometimes it is used more narrowly to mean the moral principles of a particular tradition, group or individual.” Paul and Elder state that, “most people confuse ethics with behaving in accordance with social conventions, religious beliefs and the law, and don’t treat ethics as a stand-alone concept”.
It is my wish to share some ideas, feelings and insights concerning the role of music (and art in general) in the evolution of human society.
I will do my best to avoid dogmatic statements and to draw conclusions mainly from my own experience and the observation of many years in the music field. I will also refer to the work and research of others where I reckon the source to be reliable and credible.
The only premise to everything that follows is that I believe we are spiritual beings in a human form and therefore spiritual evolution is the basis and cause of our existence.
The theories and ideas about the birth and development of music from an anthropological and philosophical point of view are many.
For some scholars music has no “evolutionary function”, meaning that it doesn’t arise from the necessity to fulfill basic needs like surviving, procreating, etc.
For others it is a mere by-product of the development of language… something like an enjoyable side-effect.
If we think of evolution of life only as a process of biological growth that follows the needs for survival and procreation then of course we consider as “necessary” only those things that serve these purposes on a practical level.
But what if life (or at least human life) is not only about surviving at a basic level? What if it is also about expanding and growing beyond the more tangible physical level of the “animal” life of our bodies? In that case Nature would probably provide us with “tools” to thrive in that sense as well… and art could be one of such tools.
What seems to be the most ancient musical instrument ever found (a flute made out of a femur bone) has been dated some 40.000 years. This discovery has been obviously disputed, but the evidence seems to be in favour of a very early presence of musical knowledge in the Neanderthal age. I say musical “knowledge” and not only music, because the holes on the bones seem to match specific musical intervals. Furthermore it is reasonable to expect that some form of musicality would exist before the creation of musical instruments, in the form of vocalisation and basic percussion.
Why then has music been with us for such a long period of time if it is not something “necessary” to our life?
We need physical strength and specific bodily features to move through the environment, find food and procreate. We need intellect to overcome life challenges like avoiding predators and adapting to climate variations. All this can secure our presence on this planet. From that point on we need something more to proceed along our evolutionary plan when survival is secured. We need to learn to master our creative power, our discernment and our role of guardians of nature. And God knows what else…
In the myths of ancient traditions, music comes from a super-natural dimension, often gifted to mankind by super-natural beings. In many mystical schools music and especially sound are seen as gateways to a higher dimension of consciousness. Because of this and because of the magical role that music has had in my own life, I like to think of it as a sophisticated and powerful tool for the development of subtle, spiritual qualities essential to our existence.
A little background
Since I can remember I have always been fascinated by the world of sounds.
The mysterious power that musical soundscapes have to enchant, bewitch and open gateways for the imaginative mind has always had a strong catch on me.
Still a child, I used to spend quite some time listening to music through big headphones on my father’s Hi-Fi system. Retrospectively I can see how my future propensity to work with sounds in detail as a composer, producer and, more recently, in an alchemical way, was already clear, although only in nuce.
From the age of roughly 7 until my 30’s I have listened to a huge amount of music of many kinds.
When I was around 7 – 8 years old, I received a vinyl 45 with two tracks from the original soundtrack of the movie Flash Gordon, by Queen. That was my first mesmerising experience with music! It makes me smile now when I think of how relevant was for me to listen to such music, although not really the most sophisticated…
Nonetheless at that time, obviously unaware of the subtleties of musical arrangement, I experienced an indescribable mind trip made of sounds.
At age 10 I was gifted a cassette tape of the soundtrack from the movie Rocky IV. That album features two synthesiser tracks by Vince di Cola that just blew my mind. I remember listening to those two single tracks over and over again, trying to decode the mysterious elements that were able to affect my mind and body in such a remarkable way. No wonder that, years later, I started my musical career playing keyboards and synthesisers.
Looking closely at my intense passion for music, I can say that most of the time my interest was something like 70% in the sound and 30% in the composition. I was often more fascinated by the way a piece of music “sounded” rather than by the song or tune itself.
As a young, avid listener, I was not at all aware of everything that goes on at the unseen level. I was only focused on enjoying the sensory pleasure and the emotional excitation.
It was only after a period of crisis and change in my life that my awareness expanded enough to allow me to recognise that there is always much more than meets the eye. Not only around the experience of listening to and playing music of course. But because music has always been such a huge aspect of my life, it has been easy for me to use it as a gateway to observe subtle energetic phenomena. Analogically I was able to then transpose my understanding to other areas of life, observing general dynamics and components of the interaction between people.
Now, keeping in mind the tremendous impact that sound has on water, on the human body, mind and emotions… on matter in general, I would like to explore the topic of music from an “ecological” standpoint.
Sustainability and music
My idea of a music that is sustainable is of a music that is produced with pure intention and clear awareness. I wouldn’t go as far as stating that it shouldn’t be made with the intention of profit. I am myself a composer and producer and I consider this a remarkable profession that holds the potential to create enormous influence in society. If used with awareness and purity of intention, it can bring about balance and justice amongst human beings.
The purity of intention that I mean comes from the awareness of the effects that music has on listeners.
I wonder what the drive towards change would be if the study and knowledge of the effects of sound on matter, as well as the linkage between the subtle energetic aspects of music and physiology would be a considerable part of all musical studies.
Let’s imagine a situation in which ideally every “artist” would present their work to the public only after a process of refining.
Art can be a great and powerful tool of introspection, purification and sublimation. If needed, it helps the expression of inner conflicts, issues, traumas in order to process them and transcend them, as the field of art therapy clearly shows.
Placing people in the context of artistic creation, whether with full freedom of expression or with a guided procedure, can be extremely liberating; emotions buried for years can find their way to the surface, long forgotten dreams come alive again… in one word: healing.
This quality of art is priceless and I believe it should be used more and more as a therapeutic tool in a safe, appropriate context, as well as in schools.
In the same imaginary situation when it comes to presenting art to the public, care, awareness and ethical purpose should be leading factors.
Now, whilst the field of “ethics” itself is not an easy one, dealing with the concepts of “good and bad” and the like, sustainability helps us bringing in more neutral ideas. I like the definition quoted above:
“sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
If we think about the life of an individual as an eco-system, and the constant reproduction of cells as generations, we see how we all need a sustainable conduct. What we do, think, feel and experience will have an effect not only on our surroundings, but also (and firstly) upon the “future generations” of our own inner community.
A person could find deep healing in expressing anguish, fear, lust, attachment, anger, etc in a piece of art, but is that same piece of art supposed to transfer those emotions to others?
Nowadays self expression through artistic means is accessible to the vast majority of people. Basic non-professional equipment and tools are relatively affordable, thus a “piece of art” is something that almost everyone can produce and present in a pretty easy way. You can buy a guitar for 50 euros or less, teach yourself and, if you are artistically talented enough, you can be performing very quickly. You can buy very cheap non-professional painting material; you can make videos and upload them on Youtube; you can learn every form of art in one of the thousands existing art schools… in fact everyone is encouraged to do so in the spirit of “letting it all out”, encouraged to emulate those who have done that before.
Of course the point here is not artistic education, for there is no doubt that nothing like the fine arts can elevate human spirit to a higher state of consciousness.
At the same time I am aware that the role of the artist could be (or should be?) to share uplifting contents/vibrations that inspire others towards awareness, compassion and fraternity; to create an art that somehow resembles and embodies the principles of life-affirming energy.
In the case of music, I am not talking here about a particular genre as opposed to others, but rather about “intention”. Intention is a key element in healing processes of all kinds and it might not be obvious to everyone that the intention of artists is “imprinted” or “embedded” in their artistic creation.
Art is at the same time influenced by and influencing society. It is a mutual process.
One thing that we learn from ecology is that no action should be made without considering it’s consequences on the environment.
Especially consequences in the future.
What if we applied the same principles to the field of art?
By the way it is not clear to me why usually people speak of music and art… I use here the word “art” to include all the possible artistic expressions.
So… what if we applied the same principles to art? What if we asked simple questions like “is this useful to others as it is to me?”, “is this my personal healing journey that I need to keep for myself?”, “is this going to contribute to the elevation of society?”
As boring, trite and maybe even stern as it may sound it could be a powerful key in these delicate times of change.
Food for the soul
Let’s compare art to food for a moment. After all art is often defined as “food for the soul”.
Basic human needs like eating or sex have their original function in natural amounts. But they can also be overdone for the enjoyment of the pleasure they provide. And this can be true for music as well.
People often eat toxic and poisonous food just for the pleasure of the moment. The immediate fulfillment of senses becomes more important than the long term consequence on one’s health. But the price to pay, although often not in the present moment, is sooner or later paid in terms of health issues. Lack of awareness of the ingredients in processed foods, for instance, is often a cause of ill health.
Lack of awareness of the “ingredients” of a piece of art can be just as detrimental.
If we accept that the primary function of food is to nourish the physical body with those specific elements that Nature creates for our growth and sustenance, then this question spontaneously arises: “why are we so often drawn to food that does not contain those elements?”
That is because we develop emotional attachment to the sensations that certain foods elicit in our bodies, regardless of the lack of nutrients or even of the toxicity of the ingredients.
Art can be alluring to the emotional body just as food is. And it changes the chemistry at the physical level in the same way, creating the anchor in the body for emotional cravings.
It has been scientifically proved that music influences the activity in the brain and has an impact on the neural activity.
If the primary function of food is nourishment, what it music’s primary function?
The answer could be… nourishment.
Can a piece of art be toxic?
Yes, in my opinion. And also according to my experience.
For instance, if an “artist” creates a piece of art with the sole intention of showing off, that piece of art will most probably address issues concerning the ego in all those who will get in touch with it. That could manifest as adoration for the artist (disempowerment) or inflating of the ego (false empowerment – desire to imitate).
This is not necessarily “wrong” in itself the same way that let’s say white refined sugar is not. That white sugar is toxic for most people is a piece of information available to us and everyone can choose what to do with it.
If a piece of art is created out of a deep connection with one’s higher self it will trigger the same in the receiver, whom will experience states of clarity and empowerment.
If a piece of music is embedded with a deep feeling of anger, the listener will experience the anger. This could even be beneficial, at first, if the listener is repressing anger, because the music will create a connection with something that needs to be brought to the surface. The music will elicit a cathartic effect in the brain, a sort of virtual experience of the releasing of anger. But a further exposure to the same music (brought about by the cravings and attachment of the emotional body) can result in excessive tension, neural overload and aggressive or self-destructive behaviour.
Trusting and opening
Whenever a description of the function, effect, quality or “magic” of music is attempted, one of the most recurrent definition is that “music transmits emotions”.
The skill or talent of a performer is then valued accordingly to their ability to convey emotional nuances; to find their way, as I would put it, to the resonating areas in the emotional and psychic bodies of the listeners.
So basically what composers, producers and performers do is to use their skills to interact with or even manipulate the emotional bodies of the listeners, aptly creating resonances with the emotional states that they choose to express.
The degree of awareness, honesty and responsibility involved in this process is of course highly variable…
When we like an artist we basically trust them and allow them to interplay with our energetic bodies.
This is possible because of the modern configuration of a separate level between performers and listeners. In ancient traditions and indigenous cultures this separation is not as obvious as it is for us “civilised” people.
In those culture there is often no separation for example between singing and daily life and, even more importantly, no separation between people who are “entitled” to sing or dance and people who are not.
Our modern culture has given birth to the concept of artistic performance. To be eligible for such a role, one must have specific skills and experience that meet the established standard.
The Performer is then put on a stage, and the receiver in the audience.
This inevitably creates (may it be only at a subconscious level) a sense of inferiority in all those who sit in the audience to passively receive. And even more in those who don’t have (or think they don’t have) the necessary level of skill required to be on that stage.
Furthermore we need to consider that the artist is usually someone gifted with a natural sensitivity and openness to the astral worlds. Being so open at that level without a developed ability to discern and recognise what kind of energies are encountered can result in all sorts of invasive infiltration.
I’d like to repeat:
when we like an artist we basically trust them and allow them (and the astral energies they are connected to) to interplay with our energetic bodies.
Let’s go back to the food example.
People are becoming more and more critical towards food producers. We are trusting them less and less and we want to be sure of what we are putting into our bodies. And we do so by checking ingredients, searching for information and studies on the effects of all kinds of substances and so on.
It can be a good idea to start doing so with artists as well.
Music for a special time
With all that said, the artists’ contribution to the shaping of society becomes clear. They have a role that involves great responsibility.
Hundreds of composers and performers all around the world are answering the call for a music that sustains the process of our growth as human kind.
A new music for this special time.
Purity of intention, devotion to Mother Nature, the aspiration to bridge Heaven and Earth are typical characteristics of what is normally defined as “New Age Music” (and New Age as a movement in general).
This term may sound cheap due to the commercial over-exploitation of the awakening process that is currently happening on this planet. This exploitation serves the double purpose of profit and of diverting the awakening consciousness in the safe area of a defined label, where people can identify (and possibly get stuck) with a concept.
We might or we might not need new definitions… but that is also a game of the mind.
“New age” might recall the taste of soft synthesizer music roughly mixed with the sound of chirping birds, sea waves and dolphins… but of course it is much more than that and it is not about a specific genre. Rather it has to do with the state of mind and the level of awareness of the artists.
That is indeed what we, as artists, instill in our artistic creation.
Of that we are responsible and in that lies the key to the birth of a new era of sacredness in the arts, that will then become nourishment (as it has always been) for further growth of our souls.
Sources and suggested readings:
Hans Jenny – Cymatics, a study of wave phenomena and vibration (book)
Hans Jenny – Cymatics, bringing matter to life with sound (video)
Masaru Emoto – The message from water
Jonathan Goldman – Healing sounds
Roberto Laneri – La voce dell’arcobaleno (The rainbow voice)
Joscelyn Godwin– Mystery of the seven vowels
Randall McClellan – The healing forces of music
Marius Schneider – Primitive music
Russill Paul – The yoga of sound
Paul Devereux – Stone age soundtracks – The acoustic archeology of ancient times
Daniel J. Levitin – This is your brain in music