The Creative Voice

A piece originally written in 1997 as a contribution to Raising Voices
(a symposium edited by Adam James for Handsell Press 2001).
This version is as published in Analecta Husserliana 2000

Max Bygraves’ famous catch phrase "I wanna tell you a story" reflects one of the elemental aspects of the human psyche, 1 for more than being an impulse to communicate one’s identity it signifies a universal subconscious urge to excel, to be able to hold other people’s attention, to spell-bind … perhaps even to evade death. This is echoed in a line from the theme song of the tv series Fame "I want them to know my name." At some level each of us wants them to know our names. We want respect – even if it’s only from the person behind the counter in our local convenience store. When we don’t get the attention we feel we deserve we get angry or, if inhibited from expressing anger, we get depressed.

The impulse to communicate depends on an other who is addressed explicitly or invoked implicitly. Someone has to know what we want to tell. Human consciousness is like a spider: its delicate web of personal meanings depends on external points of contact.

By adulthood most of us will have found a balance between our aspirations to communicate and what others respond favourably to. These two factors serve to create around each of us an emotional domain or aura whose reach corresponds to our personality’s capacity to project. 2 Those on whom ‘the blind watchmaker’ has scattered genetic gifts enabling them to communicate their identity through a socially approved art-form have an easy means of expressing this impulse – and the more accessible their skill the more their aura can be extended by the electronic media. However, outside the floodlit arena of public smiles lies a hidden world of seething ambition extending ultimately to air guitarists in a bed-sit illuminated by a naked bulb.

It’s a paradox that while millions strive hopelessly for their ‘15 minutes of fame’ many have found their very success an intolerable burden. Leaving aside the never-ending parade of burnt-out popular icons there are much more puzzling enigmas behind the creative desuetude of (say) Rimbaud, Strindberg, Elgar, Mahler, Salinger, Sibelius, Pinter … just a handful of those who successfully ‘told their story’ yet became dumb at the height of their success. Did they lose their voice? Or did their voice lose them?

What is a ‘creative voice’ 3 and where does its territory overlap a ‘psychotic voice’? Is it something that can be turned on and off at will?

While writing this I read an extended obituary 4 of jazzman Ronnie Scott who was found dead on Christmas Eve 1996. In the preceding days his daughter ‘found it hard to divert Scott from the urgent demands of voices within him. "I’m old," he told her, "I’m nearly 70. I can’t play. What’s the point?"’ Scott had suffered from depression most of his adult life, which had periodically required medical attention, but as the obituarist reminds us he lived and worked in a culture dedicated to spontaneity. Jazz, like any populist culture, is very much based on a transient collective awareness to which the more perplexing transmigrations of the soul -which necessarily involve a degree of withdrawal from any group- are viewed with a superstition bordering on fear.

Coming to terms with the wanted and unwanted aspects of the creative impulse or voice is often a complex process for any creative artist because, while Society may be interested in the end-product, non-creative people react with panic at glimpses into the bottomless incoherence of the intermediate steps (which could include ‘voice hearing’) during which form is imposed on the inchoate. Not only is there no vocabulary supporting the positive attributes of voice hearing, enormous professional danger attaches to admitting experiences of this kind, no matter how benign, since it is likely to lead to being singled out as a weirdo.

Quite apart from the creative voice, another essential ‘voice’ in a musician’s head is ‘the invisible drummer’ – a rock steady sense of the organic heartbeat driving music which must underpin a jazz player’s syncopations. Even more importantly in music where there is no drumbeat, it is the ‘invisible drummer’ who must govern the performer’s judgment in using expressive rubato 5 so that the audiences’ physiological identification with an underlying pulse is maintained.

What Ronnie Scott’s death reveals is that the creative impulse contains both wanted and unwanted elements. He was driven by a wanted impulse (voice) to communicate musically, but when his psychic energy imploded (/became insufficient to drive the extravertory impulse) due to depression, alcohol, old age he was left with only the impulse itself which, like sexual desire in the impotent, became unwanted, tormenting and ultimately psychotic. The invisible drummer had become a demonic drummer.

Ronnie Scott was a better-than-average saxophonist, but perhaps a source of his depression was that as a club-owner he knew top-rate playing and therefore could not disguise from himself that he was forever excluded from the spotlit circle of those whose superior talent is of genetic origin, in popular parlance ‘God-given’. Altho arguably his greatest talent was keeping Britain’s premier jazz club alive, that obviously didn’t satisfy him. Ironically, had he had the courage to break away from the spotlight he himself had created and explore that darker incoherent side of his personality, given his musical talent he might have succeeded in ‘telling his story’ the way he really wanted; but here he no doubt came up against the behaviour modification of his formative years which must have conditioned his self-perception and extraversion to fear that journey into the lonely dark through which lies the only route to a new identity.

For many artists their life journey and their creative journey are aspects of a central attempt to resolve (/make sense of /render coherent) the discrepancies between their inward creative sense and the external experiences echoed back to them by the responses of others: Van Gogh, Kafka and Charlie Mingus are but three out of thousands for whom the creative voice was both inspiration and curse.

The sun+moon contrast between the worlds of creative endeavour and mental turmoil is reinforced not just by the mental structures society has evolved to express its values (of which more, later) but even by the fact that both are normally discussed in completely different vocabularies. In order to draw these complementary realities into the same framework I have therefore endeavoured to model aspects of the relationship as a visual image.

At the heart of the picture lies ‘average’ experience. While it is the essence of normality is to be unexceptional, any accurate representation must include a certain amount of both extrasensory awareness and creativity, since in fact people can hardly function without them – even if the average person would probably never use either term. (The break in the image is intended to suggest that normal awareness is infinitely greater in extent than the two extremities, which form as-it-were the rear of a circle where east and west meet unseen.)
The idea of ‘being in control’ is an essential aspect of the average citizen’s self-identity or amour propre. But ‘control’ is rarely rhythmical and responsive as it invariably involves suppression of spontaneity, therefore one of the significant disincentives to exploring or enlarging one’s consciousness in either direction is an instinctive fear of loss of control, which is viewed as synonymous with humiliation, and therefore with a diminution of adult status. Yet loss of control, albeit within defined boundaries, is the sine qua non of the creative artist’s life.

Beneath this lies a category of person, sometimes characterised as the ‘lumpen proletariat’, whose consciousness is largely unawakened and who therefore makes little real effort to reach out beyond a very limited sensual awareness.

Above the zone of average experience lies a sector where an individual’s experience progressively serve to differentiate hir from the average. A relationship is to be observed between the level of ‘intrusion’ and the corresponding disruption of ‘normal’ life. Creative artists are frequently every bit as obsessive about their craft and as antisocial in their behaviour as the mentally unstable, however it is my observation that no matter how ‘uncontrolable’ or obsessive their creative impulse becomes it rarely causes anything approaching the distress experienced by psychotic voice hearers because, provided the experience is ‘answered’ by others’ acknowledgement, its externalisation constitutes a successful (ie validated) communication of personal meaning. Accordingly, in the illustration I have indicated a different curve for each.

It’s instructive to reflect that the there is a whole literature connecting ecstatic musicianship to divine inspiration dating back to the enthusiasmos of the Bacchantic rites and the panic caused by the eponymous god’s pipes. Another way to conceive these categories is according to the Vedic idea that every action exhibits one of three qualities – the upward or liberating, the recycling, and the downward or dulling (sattva, rajas and thamas).

Due in part to the fact that psycho-analysis emerged during an age of scientific materialism the Freud/Lacan axis of psychiatry has attempted to extinguish consideration of ‘voices’ as being a normal feature of moral clarity or creative inspiration. In a recent collection of essays, Psychiatry & Religion, one writer notes that 3 classic textbooks of psychiatry ‘either ignore religion or treat of it only under ‘delusion’.' 6 In one sense this could be viewed as a necessary intermediate stage in the West’s evolution of a language describing depth experience without the centuries-old dependence on the morally-weighted vocabulary of organised religion; but an unfortunate side-effect has been that creative and psychotic voices/impulses are nowadays viewed as independent manifestations, whereas I would propose that they are essentially offshoots of the ‘central’ reality of a numinous impulse or voice.

The idea of a dynamic or pregnant reality at the heart of consciousness is perhaps a metaphor for the eyes’ continual resampling of external physical reality at 12cps. For what we experience as an ever new yet never new external reality is also the product of an ever new yet never new encounter with internal reality – since as a by-product of our ‘massively parallel’ system of processing cognitive stimuli we are constantly challenged to assess the difference between our preconceptions and the current evidence of our senses.

Just as we perceive kinesis in a series of still images projected at anything over 16cps so, possibly, a similarly pregnant reality might be said to be generated by a kind of ‘moral kinesis’ created by events occurring around us. In other words, as incoming stimuli are filtered through (/interpreted by) not just our proprioception but also our moral apparatus (desires wishes and intentions) causing us to relate incoming moral stimuli to our self-identity and consequently to our perceiving/interpreting the resultant coherences as an inner ‘voice’. 7 In See Through Music I describe this well-spring of creativity as the ‘creatogenous zone’, the fons et origo of inspiration,

    … a zone of experience where we feel in contact with a profound power [which] We can never control tho we may discover how to nurture it.

    Some people experience this alignment of energies in sport, others in artistic or commercial pursuits, or in ways as diverse as cookery, sexuality, parenting &c. Even if many 21stC people no longer think of it as being in any way related to ‘god’ nevertheless this creatogenous zone shares one essential characteristic with those feelings that connect us to ideas of ‘God’ – it never lies. 8

The core text of Western culture, the Bible, is permeated by the idea of the existence of a voice which exists at an archetypal level both in individual subjectivity and in collective experience. The idea of ‘hearing’, being obedient to, ‘the word [voice] of the Lord’ lies at the heart of all religious awareness. Nor is this idea unique to Judæo-Christianity, as I shall show.

Historically one would have to conclude that the psycho-dynamic spark which ignited Judaism was nothing other than the third person singular of the verb To Be – YHVH, He Is. Moses’ perception, in appropriately apocalyptic circumstances, that an objective or archetypal ‘otherness’ [to Freud the id] existed within the imagination, which could be harmonised by the individual and disciplined to enhance hir moral vision, created a cognitive fusion within the collective awareness of an insignificant nomadic tribe which has led to their assuming a seminal role in the worldwide evolution of human affairs.

Because to utter a name was believed to draw into existence the entity named, an absolute prohibition existed on the ‘esoterically correct’ pronunciation of YHVH (Jehovah /Yahweh) since to do so would constitute a spell – and the atomic nature of the forces released by the correctly spelled invocation of the fundamental complex of the personality, the ground of being, was conceived as unleashing a transformatory force of cataclysmic power. Therefore this reality was veiled behind phrases such as ‘the existent one’, ‘the divine tetragrammaton’ (the original four letter word!) and that with which we’re most familiar, ‘the Lord’.

I refered earlier to Vedanta and the idea of an ‘invisible drummer’. The idea of guidance by some inner-yet-independent moral force towards an optimum personal life-rhythm is implicit in the concept of dharma – simultaneously inner guidance, the sense of duty, a path that is followed, but also liberation and destiny – the idea that each individual has an inner dynamic which both propels and draws along an ideal course. 9 In fact this idea is not foreign to English; for it’s encapsulated in the word vocation, a calling.

Within Buddhism, originally a reform movement of Hinduism, dharma is conceived to take the form of stilling the individual ego in order that the underlying cosmic ‘voice’ may be heard, which is imaged as a radiant silence. In merging with that silence/voice the individual achieves nirvana, the paradoxical state of being and nothingness in which the ego is (re)united with the inner voice or conscience.

In such a highly sensitised state the conscious mind is no longer closed off from the subconscious and thus has access to the wealth of experiential knowledge it has retained but to which the conscious mind only has access to as feelings. Achievement of a sense of personal resolution or inner reconciliation is the goal of all religious traditions, and its relevance to our present discussion is that when, by whatever means, all the dimensions of the personality are brought into harmony the creative impulse or voice is found to be perfectly attuned to the maintenance and evolution of this concord. This is the true meaning of sattva, the pursuit of enlightenment or the liberation of the mind from the restraints of physical existence.

A concept similar to that of dharma is also invoked in a different cultural vocabulary by the Old Testament prophets. Indeed how could the Jews hear ‘the word of the Lord’ if not as an internalised voice or speech? The borderline between the creative and the psychotic affects of the inner voice is beautifully illustrated by this passage where the prophet Jeremiah, in a veritable mid-life crisis, speaks of his utter dejection that his appeals for his fellow countrymen to heed the authentic voice of their national religious identity have failed. 10

    The word of He Is has meant for me insult, derision, all day long. I used to say "I will not think about him, I will not speak his name any more." Then there seemed to be a fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones. The effort to restrain it wearied me. I couldn’t bear it. 11

Surely any creative artist could identify with that compulsion to externalise hir inner senses? It is part of the unique value of the Bible as a referential gamut of the highs and lows of transpersonal experience that ‘failures’ are recorded equal alongside ‘successes’ on a scale which far exceeds the person-centred rationale of 20thC psycho-analytic systems.

It would probably be true to say that the tremendous effect of being even momentarily in tune with this inner power has conditioned the attitudes and culture of every human civilisation, not least in the varying beliefs of how such contact could/should be made. Again, consideration of this question is a topic in its own right which must not be allowed to deflect us from the crux of the issue that in a post-religious world an irruption of this elemental phenomenon within the psyche is extremely alarming to someone who has neither consciously sought numinous experience nor possesses even a rudimentary religious knowledge by which to contextualise it.

Jung carved on the gateway of his lakeside villa at Kusnacht: Adebit sed non adebit Deus aderit – Bidden or unbidden God will be present. This is the heart of my thesis. Just because we can dismiss the word God, doesn’t banish or replace the experiential reality it encapsulates. I have argued elsewhere that by replacing ‘God’ with the phrase ‘my inmost self’ in public prayers and oratory we could recover a layer of meaning that has been almost totally lost to post-Enlightenment thought. The tenour of this writing is that penetration to the heart of (/resolution of) the personality complex is effectively synonymous with, tho not necessarily the same as, encountering an ‘otherness’ within us which corresponds to the experience generally identified with the word God. 12

Furthermore, I am certain that by actively committing ourselves to a path which values us (ie, by which we value ourselves) we are brought progressively towards a one-pointedness where we perceive the essential unity underlying the diversity of the many voices or sub-personalities within us. At some juncture in this process, as the voices begin to harmonise, the ego-centre no longer feels its (our) identity to be threatened and can afford to embrace its siblings without the ‘danger’ of being overwhelmed. (I’m sure that the ‘process’ of Drama, assuming the mask of a different personality in order to explore and resolve what is inconsonant, teaches an important lesson about psychic health. For real developments to occur in a person’s life they must first occur in the (moral) world - of imagination, of make-believe. If the delicate gauze of belief in dramatis personæ is sustained and an audience ‘enchanted’ they are given a mechanism or resource by which they can image the world afresh.)

I’m also convinced that dialoguing with the inner voice (/subconscious) is a way of honouring the evolutionary impulse of our own inner being (/self-identity). Anything that heightens our awareness of our own depths and ambiguities cannot be other than good. In doing it sincerely, and intunefully with the ground of our being, we become co-creators with the evolutionary harmony of the universe and thus open to 'eternal life' at many levels, rather than striving as discordant individualists for validation from the transient appreciation of our contemporaries. For any creative impulse to flower and fruit it must be constantly offered back to its S/source (however conceived) for fertilisation and pruning. Failure to do this can lead to the integrity of our inner rhythm (/truth) being eroded by the pressures of ‘real life’ and thus to the distortion of an essentially-noble impulse (/voice) into a corrupted or psychotic one.

Anything which enhances our self-valuation enhances the upwards or sattvic progress not just of the individual but of all humanity. The image I’m trying to develop is of the rewarding nature of voice hearing when integrated and reciprocated within a morally coherent (ie, intentional) framework. The broad mass of the populace is barely conscious of either creative or psychotic impulses, neither does the broad mass of the populace hear voices. But supposing someone from that broad mass -having no coherent moral framework- were to experience voices then their response could be anticipated as fearful and negative – validating Jung’s observation that ‘the Self often first confronts a person in a hostile manner.’ 13

In my working life as a composer and writer I have become convinced that creative gifts have something essential in common with mediumistic gifts. That is to say, the greatest exponents of either faculty have a clear sense that there is a transpersonal quality to what they are communicating, In Present & Past: Intermediaries & Interpreters Professor Wilfrid Mellers, one of the most perceptive and unorthodox observers of cultural history, comments ‘Independent of human particularities, music is beyond the arbitration of ‘the’ artist: who is simply a medium, a ‘vessel’ for truth. Artists are therefore in essence anonymous …’

Many composers, from Byrd to Birtwistle, have expressly stated that at times they felt themselves merely to be the agent of a composition seeking to come into existence through them rather than a (capital C) Composer. This would certainly be a function of ‘hearing voices’. Mellers refers to this later in the same article in relation to performance.

‘With very great music … matters of personal identity may seem to efface historical considerations. John Lill, for instance, seems to believe that, playing Beethoven, he may be ‘possessed’ by the composer’s spirit, and even that discreetly superb Beethovenian Bernard Roberts confessed, when I marvelled at his performance of the Appassionata, that just possibly, very occasionally, it is Beethoven one is hearing.’ 14
Psycho-analytically one might say that when direct conections is made between an individual’s conscious mind and a deep point in hir subconscious –that is, bypassing the normal method where perceptions slow filter up from the subconscious eventually presenting themselves as ‘conclusions’– the exceptional or transcendental character of such an experience is projected onto, or perceived as, originating externally – the experiencer may suppose hirself to have been in direct communication with by a G/god or spirit.

In the literature of clinical psychology a connection is made between voice-hearing & low self esteem. The universal assumption of conventional medicine and, alas (capital P) Psychiatry, is that by suppressing the voice-hearing, usually with a chemical cosh, the patient’s poor self-image will improve.

The recent foundation of international Hearing Voices networks 15 has received widespread publicity, but in fact Professor Marius Romme was not the first clinician to explore this avenue. In two extremely perceptive books published nearly 30 years ago the Canadian clinical psychologist Wilson Van Dusen recounts his experience of paying detailed attention to the ‘voices’ of his patients at Mendocino State Hospital, Ukiah, California from 1964 onwards.

In The Natural Depth in Man 16 he concludes

There are two distinct orders of hallucinations [voices]. The lower order appears to be much more common (about 4:1) than the higher order. Many patients only experience the lower order. Some experience both orders, which must be something like being [trapped] between heaven and hell. The lower order has less talent than the patient. The higher order is more gifted than the patient. There are no hallucinations roughly at the patient’s own general level of understanding. Any explanation I could give of this would be mere theorising. The lower order talks a great deal but its vocabulary and range of concepts, ideas and knowledge are less than the patient’s. […] These hallucinations lie, cheat, deceive, pretend, threaten &c. Dealing with them is like dealing with very mean drunks. Nothing pleases them. They see the negative side of everything. […] Their general aim seems to be to take over the patients and live through him as they please.
The higher order is just the opposite. Whereas the lower attacks the patient’s will, the higher order acts out of great respect for the patient’s will. […] The higher order is highly symbolic. It can produce thousands of highly complex symbols, many of which have an ancient historical or mythological base. [Voices] in the higher order are extremely intuitive of either the patient or anyonelse present. […] They tend to be non-verbal and much more internal, feeling related .
Van Dusen describes the experiences of a schizophrenic gas fitter of limited education, whose ‘voice’ had introduced herself to her host as ‘an emanation of the feminine aspect of the divine.’ The man felt himself being undermined by ‘mean critical voices … and she came to cheer him up’. It was Van Dusen’s practice to engage in direct dialog with his client’s voices, and on one occasion in a therapy session the ‘emanation’ suddenly began to describe quite esoteric Buddhist symbolism. Van Dusen was so intrigued he …
went home and studied some obscure part of Greek myths and asked her about it the next time I saw the gas pipe fitter. She not only understood the myth, she saw into its human implications better than I did. When asked, she playfully wrote the Greek alphabet all over the place. The patient couldn’t even recognise the letters, but he could copy hers for me.
Not only did he discover the ‘emanation’ gave the gas fitter extrasensory powers …
She was the most gifted person in the area of religion I’ve ever known. She reflected the seriousness of my query [answering lightly or seriously accordingly]. She knew the depth of my understanding and led gently into very human allusions that reflected a profound understanding of history. […] The patient didn’t understand my conversation with her. He had no religious interests. I remember once his turning in the doorway as he was leaving and asking me to give him a clue as to what she and I had just talked about.
Later the man was transferred to another hospital and the ‘emanation’ ceased to visit him.
There is no doubt in my mind that some patients are shown things of great importance in hallucinations, tho they are not often able to use them. I recall a black, alcoholic burglar [whose voices gave him the] feeling he had to do something for minorities, but instead returned to drinking and more bouts of madness. […] I found patients concealed higher-order experiences. They assumed a psychologist would be more interested in the plentiful sexual elements from the lower order.
Van Dusen noted that higher order hallucinations would often manifest ESP, whereas lower order hallucinations would claim to be able to but rarely could.
Occasionally I could see some relationship between the individual and his hallucinations. Persons who had violated their own conscience seemed to be mercilessly tortured by conscience-like lower order figures. […] Repressed, "good" people were often tormented with sexual fantasies. […] Conversely, some people who had been criminals had spiritually elevated hallucinations from the higher order. One man had religious visions in solitary confinement that many ministers would give their left hand to have.
In patients’ hallucinations Van Dusen would come across ‘real Christ-like figures’ which he learned to distinguish from ‘fake Christs’ since
They often say nothing, yet their radiant presence has an intense effect on the patient. They lead gently with a profound understanding of the patient’s inner potentials. They do good.
Van Dusen recounts how he encouraged a psychotic criminal to become acquainted with a symbol that appeared to him.
As he joined with the sun he went through a series of religious experiences that required temporary seclusion and supervision. He had been a prison tough guy and the numinous religious experience was a bit much for him. He went own a tunnel in the ground until he came to doors holding creatures in hell. He was tempted to open the doors when a powerfully impressive Christ-like figure, all in radiant white, stopped him. Just looking into the figure’s eyes had a profound influence on him. He knew he was understood and loved. He knew this figure was wiser than him. The figure guided him out into the daylight. There he saw a gigantic golden trumpet that signaled he was to become musical. He did. He wrote about 4 songs a day and kept 2 other patients busy writing down the music, since he didn’t know how.
The man was soon well enough to be released from hospital tho Van Dusen comments that he did not think this would be the man’s final encounter with mental illness.
On reading the above section a friend asked ‘why the ‘emanations’ chose to visit the sort of people who did not possess the suitable skills to share the given wisdom for the benefit of others?’ 17 Here is another key point. Such thoughts occur to ‘simple’ people because they haven’t been educated not to have them, or rather, to discount their value when they do! My view is that such experiences do not ‘visit’ us: but that these visionary qualities are an integral part of the psyche which we access under certain circumstances just as a computer can access infinite virtual knowledge by connecting to other computers via the internet.
By exalting linear (masculine) logic and the manipulation of the physical world Western society correspondingly abases those meta-physical aspects of existence which cannot be directly conceptualised in such terms. For several centuries this has led to the down-valuing of ‘feminine’ attributes – no aspect of which is more ‘unmanly’ than attention to an inner voice.
The core problem is that we have a grammar for acts associated with consciousness yet we have little or none for acts connected from the subconscious. The Law, expressing the two-dimensional linearity of Western thought, carries this to an extreme with closely-fought legalistic distinctions between conscious intention (murder) and involuntary action (manslaughter). In my Introduction to Music & Mysticism I expressed it:
Eurocentric culture is normally only willing to allow significance to thoughts or actions proceeding from an exercise of will, volition, and accordingly has tended to ignore whatever proceeds from involuntary states except where it eventually assumes a coherent form. Indeed it might be said that the most highly charged cultural ‘fault line’ in humankind divides those who believe ultimate significance lies within the volitional and those who believe the exact reverse – the distinction in practice defines the Eurocentric view of ‘civilisation’. However if one believes there is a holistic, or multi–dimensional, logic to all experience then a distinction between the volitional and the non–volitional seems artificial. The so–called Freudian slip is symptomatic of the way in which the non–rational governs apparent rationality.

    European consciousness has subjugated and wherever possible annihilated those ‘lesser breeds beyond the law’ who fail to acknowledge the supremacy of a supposedly–rational Cartesian world. One by-product of this has been a history of the systematic rape of our physical and psychological environment. By a process of reductionist logic we have deprived ourselves of any coherent belief system or myth whose over–view might assist us to acknowledge our common humanity, let alone our common eco–system. Nowadays swathes of the arts, which for ‘advanced’ cultures have replaced religion, are similarly visionless, while other areas –mass market music– have been surrendered to Dionysiac ephemerality.

    But as the juggernaut of Eurocentric rationality rolls onward, undaunted by the murderous record of its ‘scientific’ beliefs, the mystical insights of those ‘lesser breeds’ have begun to assume an immense importance – like the genetic root stock of an overbred species. […] In the last 100 years Eurocentric culture has been radically reinvigorated by the discovery of the wisdom traditions and holistic thought–forms of the East and of indigenous peoples. In these quasi–mystical traditions the Cartesian distinction between subject and object falls away, and there is a corresponding diminution of differentiation between creator and recreator, composer and performer.

A tragic side-effect of ‘scientism’ is that we in the West are often programmed to discredit our own spontaneous subjectivity. The medical community in particular is obliged to absorb so much materialistic information that the essential scientia (knowledge) of healing is obscured. As alluded to earlier in connection with Ronnie Scott, in a ‘God’-less society a climate of fear exists about deviation from accepted social norms. People who consider themselves ‘as understanding as anyonelse’ rapidly lose patience with friends who cannot explain or rid themselves of conditions such as depression. Even a very fine mental heath worker confessed her own fear "that spending a lot of time talking with people who hear voices may make me hear them."18

The relevance of this to music and the creative impulse is that unless composers and performers can evolve a generally accepted vocabulary to incorporate such ideas into æsthetics and therefore teaching, art music will continue to drive itself further into the sterile academic desert with which we’re already familiar.

The existence of a vocabulary normalises a set of experiences. In expressing them there is not only reasonable certainty of their being understood there is also the relief that since the condition or dilemma has already been experienced its resolution will also be accessible. This transmutation of collective awareness has made those who cannot understand what is happening extremely uneasy, the ‘Right’ symptomatically responds to such fears by clamping traditional vocabularies in the vain hope of preventing their mutation, but this can no more succeed than King Canute’s stemming the tide.

We are so constantly bombarded with information normalising the pursuit of pleasure in the language of commerce, the sun world, that we have become deafened and blinded to the cool twilit ambiguities of the rich cultural streams which now feed our pluralistic melting pot. What all these traditions tell us is that the moon will enter the lives of all but pinheads, and they give us guidelines about how to walk in the dark, especially during those terrible slow hours just before the dawn – hours which can be turned into the most productive of the whole day if we’re truly in tune with ourselves.

Despite the growing acceptance of minority cultures, the dominant thought-forms of Western public life are still governed by the scientistic (monotheistic, masculine) fallacy that only one answer can be correct. Just as for an individual wrestling with ‘minority voices’ in hir own head, resolution can only occur when that focus of consciousness we call the Ego learns the lessons which the ‘whole’ personality is trying to teach.

    Like two golden birds perched on the selfsame tree:
    Intimate friends, the ego and the Self
    Dwell in the same body. The former eats
    The sweet and sour fruits of the tree of life
    While the latter looks on in detachment.

    As long as we think we are the ego,
    We feel attached and fall into sorrow.
    But realise that you yourSelf are a Lord
    Of life, and you will be freed from sorrow.
    When you realise that you are the Self,
    Supreme source of light, supreme source of love,
    You transcend the duality of life
    And enter into the unitive state.19

Amazing that that should have been written some 4000 years ago! Inspiration /insight /wisdom still speaks with the same ‘voice’ and Music is its witness. Today, as in no other age, we are nourished by the voices of many who were inaudible or invisible to their contemporaries. (This doesn’t mean of course that every minority viewpoint is socially constructive, since often in their own unbalance those striving for attention are echoing back society’s unbalance, their desperation becoming a surrogate for the desperation of others who want to, but cannot, ‘tell their story’.)

Altho young composers are encouraged ‘to find their own voice’ there exists generally a tremendous fear of surrendering to an inner voice – indeed the only time the subject is ever refered to publicly is in connection with psychopathic violence! Ergo, all ‘voices’ are bad; ergo, we’re all bursting with a homicidal mania which will begin to manifest if we start listening to our inner dialog!

But inside a composer’s head, who is the performer and who is the listener?

    The unstruck drum of Eternity is sounded within me.
    The dance of God goes on without hands and feet.
    The harp of God is played without fingers, it is heard without ears:
    For the universal ear is hirself the hearer.20

A curious and timeless link exists between the mysticism of Kabir and the philosophy of Jacques Derrida who spoke in a lecture in 1975 of "The voice of truth which hears itself talking stark naked." 21

Are there then any clues about how best to address our own ‘native genius’, this inner Self? So long as a composer is imprisoned in duality, that is, if s/he has thoughts of making money, advancing a career, attracting acclaim, hir work is likely to be rajasic in quality, that is recycling for it seeks validation by ‘hooking’ listeners, rather than liberating them, sattva.

In Testimony Shostakovich remarked that after his experiences of the Stalin years he no longer trusted anyone who sought so much as to chair a committee. This, I believe, exactly sums up the essential precondition for responding to inner voice, we must want and expect nothing in terms of reward or acknowledgement, for …

    The art of creativity that the unconscious demands from consciousness [is …] that work be done for its own sake even if the world is never to see the finished product.22

When I had a commercial career I pummeled my subconscious mercilessly to make it come up with saleable merchandise: now I (try to) make my Ego the servant of my Self and allow it to dictate my creative decisions. In practice I find this means maintaining a responsive attitude to what occurs to me in dreams and meditations and working as much with what is shadowy and uncertain as with what is concise and expressible.

Music depends more on silence than on any other external factor, for it’s not in the bravado of the trumpets or the tempest of amplification that we hear the authentic voice of the creator: it’s in the silence afterwards that we become aware of what is really being said, and of all that needs to be said.

    ‘On cessation of the sense of doing, all anxieties cease …’
    Who does not want to be free from anxieties? But we do not want to be free from being the doer – and anxiety is the shadow of the doer. A person who thinks "I am doing this," cannot save hirself from anxiety.

    Whether God is or is not, if you can leave aside your doer in favour of God -even if he may not be- it begins to have an effect on you: you become anxiety free. [… If you say] "I am just an instrument and am like a leaf – moving when moved, not moving when not moved, winning or losing when made to win or lose. I am nowhere in it." This [has] a two-fold effect. When you are not the doer, then there arises no reason to worry about anything. Then defeat is accepted as well as victory. When victory is none of your doing, it does not create an ego; and since defeat is also none of your doing, it does not give you sleepless nights.

    If one drops the doer without believing in God, one has to deepen hir witnessing very much. Whatsoever is happening, just remain a watcher – whether it is day or it is night, whether it is happiness or unhappiness, whether it is defeat or victory. You [are] no longer … the centre of doing, you become the centre of seeing, witnessing, knowing.23

The implication of this for a composer I take to be that ego consciousness should endeavour to be a witness to this inner ‘Self’, responding as a scribe rather than a director. Indeed, even if one discounts the extreme example of Mozart allegedly composing his 25th Symphony while writing out the score of the 24th it’s clear from remarks and writings that this has indeed been the process of many leading composers.

Perhaps these ideas may best be summed up:

  • If you need to say something it is your need people will hear not your ‘words’:
  • a person who strives to be heard drowns hir own voice:
  • only those who have no need to speak have something lasting to say:
  • balance isn’t possible until both sound and silence have come to assume equal importance:
  • unbalance rarely creates a durable artistic archetype (work of art):
  • in fullness of heart lies not only the true source of inspiration but also the evolutionary potential of life itself.

This circumambulation of the subject(s) has necessarily been long since its object has been to suggest that the diverse experiences mentioned should in fact be considered under a single heading rather than in the discrete vocabularies presently used. Ironically, that was formerly the case when Religion provided a generally-credited model for human experience. I do not suggest that it’s either possible or desirable to return to that status quo, but I do suggest that the Western psychological scientiæ cannot be said to justify their description, or their existence, until they reach the depth of wisdom notable in the precise language in which the Vedas and other writings delineate humanity’s perennial search for psychic wholeness.

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