Myths and Reality
Exploring the historical regulation of music in Euro-Mediterranean and the Islamic world
Darrell Jonsson in Discussion with daevid allen, 5/2007
- Paul Bowles; Composer/Author (The Sheltering Sky)
- Jozef Pacholczyk; Musicologist/Writer (Music and Astronomy in the Muslim World, The Relationship Between the Nawba of Morocco and the Music of the Troubadours and Trouvères)
- Julia Bazni; Performer/Composer/Musicologist (Al-Andalus Ensemble)
- Khaled As'Ad; Performer/Composer/Educator
Although we say scholars and artists, with the exception of Dr. Jozef Pacholczyk (whose decades of dedicated investigation into the music of Kashmir, Turkey, Java, Morocco, makes his insights as essential as they are welcome), others such as Bowles, Allen, Banzi and As'ad bring accomplished mixed careers including; composing, field recording, hosting workshops, musicology and performance.
Transcendence of centuries old European musical taboos in the 20th century.
My first encounter with daevid allen was during the late 70s in Spain, when over an exchange of jazz cassettes he jumped between the discussion of Joseph Jarmon and Anthony Braxton to Antonin Artaud, I was alerted to the fact that Allen was far better read than your average guitar slinging rocker. Since then, getting better familiar with his visionary musical projects such as Gong and University of Errors, not to mention seeing Allen and his floating crews live, I've enjoyed hearing his humorous musical metaphysics, combined with a wide literary and musical bandwidth at work. So it was not a complete surprise in the early 90s to find Allen hosting a series of workshops based on ideas and practices he had gathered while studying the esoteric Mystery school teachings. During sporatic discussions and interviews over the years as well as with this 2007 interview for His Voice, Allen proves himself unique and inspiring among musicians in the capacity to discuss his insightful journey into the-other-business-of-music that is not the "music business".
DJ: The late composer and musical theorist Dane Rudhyar pointed out from the time of Pope Gregory the Great, in the West, the Roman Catholic began to restrict and formalize modes and tonality, in his words they were "able to purge from the early modes all the mystical elements inherited from the Gnostic and Near Eastern traditions." I was curious in your studies of Greek antiquity, or other music inquiries if you had encountered anything that resonates with Runhyar's historic claim?
DA: Around the thirteenth century when the flourishing Cathar/Troubador movement (the Albigensians in the south of France north of Spain) was attacked and forced underground by the papal crusaders to politicize and basically dumb down their mystical teachings of Christianity, an edict was produced by Rome forbidding the use of church music written in the key of Bb. I believe Cathars/Troubadors played the most potent spiritual music of the last 2000 years in that it had a simultaneous ability to evoke both high spiritual & profane sexual love…a potency which remains unequalled today even with the extraordinary developments in music in recent years.
Obviously this was anathema to the church control strategies & had to be destroyed. To quote from Wikibooks' Music Theory on chords : "The diminished seventh was strictly forbidden in early sacred music as it contained the tritone interval; the mathematical halfway point in the octave which allegedly sounded Satanic."
From memory I believe that this key of Bb was considered dangerous because music written in this key was thought to expand consciousness in a mystical direction, something that was forbidden by the Catholic Church as part of their doctrinal enforcements. Although it only lasted for a relatively short period I feel that something was lost at this time that was never recovered.
DJ: Do you see, hear or feel any resonance of such historical restrictions placed on the 'mystical resonance's' of music?
DA: By the 14th century mystical wing of Christianity had gone underground, later filtering down into a number of secret societies such as the Rosicrucians who kept the mystic spirit of Christianity alive until the more permissive 19th Century when a new generation of Mystery School Adepts such as Steiner presented the forbidden teachings in new forms.
Dane Rudhyar in his theory of time cycles believed that in the gradual development of a conscious humanity there are periodic waves of dissidents and revolutionaries such as we have seen in the hippy movement which are subsequently repressed and rejected by reverse waves of reactionaries and conservatives such as we see now.
DJ: Any other comments you may have on what Rudhyar noted, about the early control of the modes?
DA: Aldous Huxley is quoted as saying: "There will be, in the next generation or so, a pharmacological method of making people love their servitude, and introducing dictatorship without tears, so to speak, producing a kind of painless concentration camp for entire societies, so that people will in fact have their liberties taken away from them, but will rather enjoy it, because they will be distracted from any desire to rebel by propaganda or brainwashing, or brainwashing enhanced by pharmacological methods. And this seems to be the final revolution." [Aldous Huxley's lecture to The California Medical School in San Francisco in 1961].
Just as music can bring down the walls of the fortress cities, music is also one of the most potent weapons in population control. Throughout history, much music has been banned for these reasons. It's a very interesting subject.
DJ: You mentioned hippy music. For many young radio listeners in the 60s, the expanded use of tonality in rock that first appeared with tracks like the Byrds "8 Miles High". The Yardbirds "Shapes of Things" seemed to work as conduits of ideas originating in Asian/African sounds. Much of this for those who later became familiar with Coltrane and related artists seemed to be ideas brewing in jazz passed through the rock music of the 60s. Can you give us, for the sake of point of reference a few examples of rock songs or jazz works that either aspire or reach in your opinion the sort of expanded use of tonality that resonated with the sort of metaphyical qualities or potentials Steiner, Gurdieff and others were suggesting?
DA: It's probably more accurate to say that many of us aspired to resonate with these potentials but as practitioners it is difficult to assess its successful application without skilled esoteric disinterested observers. Many of us had a vague mystical calling to this end but there were few who worked consciously and precisely.
My first public experiment in pulling together diverse spiritual movements (networking) was a concert named after the comet Kohoutek held at London's LYCEUM THEATRE in the Strand. I enveigled Virgin into printing a hundred silver tickets two of which I posted to all of the English esoteric spiritual groups I could find. Some minor power play amongst the onlookers & some curious psychic phenomena was reported on stage but generally the event was not significantly more spiritual by the audience sprinkled with the many faces of the magus. Cross system co-operation was yet to come.
The most interesting work on numerology/sacred geometry in GONG was done on the YOU album. With tracks: MASTER BUILDER, THE ISLE OF EVERYWHERE the time signatures and chordal progressions were organized to connect with & empower the inner structure of the GONG POWER SYMBOL which is itself powered by its visible demonstration of the resolution of pi (22 over 7)…impossible to achieve by mathematics. Both Arthur Brown and Robert Fripp studied Gurdjieff and in particular worked with Gurdjieff pupil: J.G.BENNETT.
To quote from Alex Burn's article, "Paradise Regained: King Crimson and Robert Fripp""During the Red recording sessions, (1973/74) Fripp encountered the psychological/cosmological teachings of the Greco-Armenian magus George Gurdjieff (who also influenced the recording artist Kate Bush). Crimson's perpetual instability and his own doubts about his high aims had created a charged atmosphere, Fripp was reading a book by Gurdjieff's pupil John Bennett, which posed the question Is There 'Life' on Earth?. Fripp reacted to its multiple implications. It was a transformative experience that led a now ego-less Fripp to virtually erase himself from the industry. He took a ten-month sabbatical at Sherbourne House, an "esoteric school" founded by Bennett. The harsh conditions of the school and practical philosophy he learnt about 'waking up' led to Fripp re-evaluating his goals and equipped him with the tools needed for his next stage of growth as an artist.
The Gurdjieff exercise of "self remembering" (a form of active meditation where the individual retains awareness of their inner, subjective thoughts and feelings whilst focusing attention on the objective world) were a focal point of Fripp's first solo effort, Exposure (1979), which featured a host of musicians including Daryl Hall, Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins. Fripp later downplayed Gurdjieff's influence on his work, after a hostile music press was baffled by his philosophical commentaries."
DJ: Much of your music with Gong and elsewhere seems drenched in these sort of potentialities, yet do you feel your musical explorations for musical metaphysical potentials are limited such things as… audio compression?
DA: Tonal compression can suffocate the living sound.
DJ: By marketing?
DA: Unrealistic claims can mislead & disillusion the listener.
DJ: By limitations of the standard rock venue or length of performance?
DA: We all seek some ideal form of open temple & ritual.
DJ: By other technological or economical factors?
DA: An excellent sound system such as we had in Amsterdam for the Unconvention last year will hugely expand the listening/spiritual experience. Thus the economic factor of affordability can hugely influence the experience.
DJ: By any other factors…?
DA: The biggest limitation is still the reluctance amongst musicians to go for the highest goal with 100‰ devotion.
DJ: Looking through Bowles essays on his musical explorations of North Africa he noted that when some of the Sufi and Pagan forms of musical ritual were prohibited generally it just meant they continued in one form or another in the 'underground'. Would you say your study into the Greek Mystery schools is an inquiry and journey into a centuries old "underground" cultural phenomena?
DA: My Mystery School initiations & experiences were sourced primarily from Tibet. The Mystery School is an ancient and until recently, secret teaching tradition that deals with the origin of spiritual understanding -- teachings coming from the essential skeleton structure behind all religion. It has always been passed by personal one-to-one oral teachings but it can be dangerous knowledge unless the student has first proved their inner strength though a system of initiations. It has remained underground so long because a little of this knowledge in the wrong hands could be catastrophic. Now it is universally available and I have my fingers crossed. We are currently running Self Initiation Workshops in the UK through our GAS website.
DJ: Which of your current music projects, (CDs or collaborations) do you feel work more towards the expanded use of tone, that you have been reaching for, and working with through out your musical path?
DA: In the early eighties I suffered performance burnout & returned to Australia to refresh my creative curiosity. I felt that progressive rock had gotten too complicated and my search for simplicity led me naturally back to the mantra OM. While meditating on OM with all its efficient simplicity & power it came to me to compose twelve single note compositions to be used as aids to focus & concentration. The seven minute versions of the seven major scale drones were composed in 1985 & used experimentally with breath therapy as aids to meditation in Self Initiation Workshops with considerable success. The "Seven Drones" were eventually released on CD by Voiceprint Records UK in 1989 & progressed through three pressings before being retired from the catalogue.
It has now been digitally re-mastered & is being released again by GAS as a CD and as downloads from planetgong.co.uk. The seven drones were also performed live by an all-star Gong guitarists lineup of eight glissando guitarists at the Gong:Unconvention at the Milky Way club in Amsterdam in November 2006. This DVD is soon to be released as a six-camera shoot spectacularly mixed by Harry Williamson for UK's Voiceprint label as 'The Glissando Orchestra/The Seven Initiations of Zero'. These are seven single note glissando guitar based compositions -- each seven minutes in length -- each based on a different note of the C major scale, consciously created to focus the mind and release the intuition. The original seven drones from 1985 have been digitally re-mastered & are now available as CD or by download from GAS.