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Poets and philosophers have spoken about the universality of music, not simply meaning ‘of the earth,’ but of the cosmos itself. Music of the spheres has indeed been shown by science to be a literal truth. What is much more difficult to measure, however, is the effect of music upon humans. People speak of being ‘moved’ by music, sometimes attesting to physical manifestations as a reaction while listening. Such reactions have been variously described as ‘peak experience,’ ‘numinous’ and transcendent, or at least, as aiding transcendence. Attempts by music psychologists, philosophers, neuroscientists and theologians to explain the effect have contributed to an understanding of it, but cannot predict its occurrence nor measure its intensity, since, by their very nature, both of these aspects are unexpected. Some composers suggest that music inhabits borderlands, lying outside subjective/ objective duality, perhaps even in a place between the human and the divine. At least in the Western tradition, music is relational, almost always mediated by and in performance. Since the elements of musical expression map onto physical aspects of human existence, such as the rhythm of the heartbeat, the exhalation of breath, the sigh and so on, an ‘expressive’ performance, building on the relational elements, can excite or enhance a ‘peak experience’ of music. Nonetheless, despite an understanding of all these elements, the effects of music still resist absolute categorisation. This essay discusses the nature of musical effect by way of reference to various disciplines but contends that none yet explains either the intensity or the unexpectedness of reaction to music.

In: Spirituality: New Reflections on Theory, Praxis and Pedagogy
In: Sufi Institutions

Poets and philosophers have spoken about the universality of music, not simply meaning ‘of the earth,’ but of the cosmos itself. Music of the spheres has indeed been shown by science to be a literal truth. What is much more difficult to measure, however, is the effect of music upon humans. People speak of being ‘moved’ by music, sometimes attesting to physical manifestations as a reaction while listening. Such reactions have been variously described as ‘peak experience,’ ‘numinous’ and transcendent, or at least, as aiding transcendence. Attempts by music psychologists, philosophers, neuroscientists and theologians to explain the effect have contributed to an understanding of it, but cannot predict its occurrence nor measure its intensity, since, by their very nature, both of these aspects are unexpected. Some composers suggest that music inhabits borderlands, lying outside subjective/ objective duality, perhaps even in a place between the human and the divine. At least in the Western tradition, music is relational, almost always mediated by and in performance. Since the elements of musical expression map onto physical aspects of human existence, such as the rhythm of the heartbeat, the exhalation of breath, the sigh and so on, an ‘expressive’ performance, building on the relational elements, can excite or enhance a ‘peak experience’ of music. Nonetheless, despite an understanding of all these elements, the effects of music still resist absolute categorisation. This essay discusses the nature of musical effect by way of reference to various disciplines but contends that none yet explains either the intensity or the unexpectedness of reaction to music.

In: Spirituality: New Reflections on Theory, Praxis and Pedagogy

Wolfgang Rihm, born 1952, was one of a group of young composers in Germany who were identified with the somewhat misleadingly named Neu Einfachkeit (New Simplicity) movement. Although Rihm’s music of the 1970s might not necessarily be perceived as exhibiting ‘new simplicity’ in the semantic sense, it was at that stage still a developing musical language. According to the composer the turning point in his stylistic evolution took place at the start of the new decade, resulting in what he later came to describe as a ‘search for a new means of expression’—more direct and ‘spontaneous’. Commentators tend to point to Rihm’s encounter with the poetry of Antonin Artaud, and in particular Tutuguri from ‘Pour en finir avec le jugement de Dieu’, as the catalyst for this change. In a programme note written while he was still composing the individual works which would eventually make up the Tutuguri cycle Rihm declared ‘on first reading the Artaud text: stream of music, music crash’. The implication is that an internal process rather like stream of consciousness is taking place: instant reaction, instant inspiration. So a new conception of ‘spontaneous’ music occurs. Or does it? To elucidate exactly what the relationship was between Artaud’s words and the music that Rihm conceived turns out to be rather less straightforward than the programme note suggests. Rihm started work on Tutuguri in late 1980 and only finished working on the continuous two hour long version of the work in August 1982. From the sparse sketches he makes for compositions it appears that his original plan was to have nine works based round the poem, each work for a different combination of players, but this intention was never fulfilled.

In: Mad/Bad/Sad: Philosophical, Political, Poetic and Artistic Reflections on the History of Madness