Abstract music, myth and Taoism and some ending thoughts on cultural appropriation| entry #2

Its been about 3 weeks since I last wrote anything on this. Well… I had the most fascinating lesson today (edit: two days ago). We segued between Catholicism/christianity… gnostic christianity… patriarchy… because we’d been talking about Debussy and the asiatic influence in his music and the world expo that exposed the sounds of the Gamelan to him, to which my tutor was certain that Debussy wouldn’t have produced the music he did, without the influence of the East. My comment was, ‘right time, right place’, and his reply involved ‘the hand of god’… to which I asked if he believed in god. To which his reply was incredibly interesting… and our conversation slipped away, but the impression left with me was that he didn’t and he did and he leaned towards the former whilst assimilating the latter.

We touched on Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring… and again… its allusion to pre-christianity in Russia… It hadn’t occurred to me that Russia was like old Britain, pagan before christianity took over. More information over at wiki here. My tutor picked out the intervals in the opening melody and said Stravinsky’s aim with the opening melody was to evoke otherness because it was music harkening to pagan ritual meant to depict the sacrifice of the virgin – meaning she dances herself to death, as a way to celebrate? welcome? honour? Spring. Virgin in pre-christian traditions meant a woman powerful unto herself and for some reason I still feel like something is missing here.

His thoughts for me, after asking what I was doing modally in my piece, was to suggest I consider trying out an octatonic scale (diminished scale).

Two tutorials ago, we chatted about myth and one of the challenges he set forth was to bring the journey of departure and return, into my music, and this brought up a conversation on identity and personal/cultural histories. His and surprisingly, mine. Honestly I couldn’t figure out how to do it with the first piece and I liked it the way it was so I went away to think about it and came back with the assumption that he meant departure and return as in the often cited concept of tension and release in composition to which his comment was in short that I wasn’t thinking laterally enough about it, or perhaps just too literally. But it also led me to try and explore the mythologies of my culture, or rather the culture that belonged to my ancestors.

Nevertheless, when I draw on personal experience, I feel as though the myth most recently prominent to my life has been that of Persephone and Hades… but following that thread further back in history to the ancient Sumerians… there is the myth of Inanna entering the Underworld ruled by her sister Ereshkigal to retrieve her husband. These myths seem dualistic and are stories on the surface, yet hide the themes offered in plain sight by Taoism: integration, yin/yang, polarity, interdependence. Taoism encompasses more than what I have articulated but here I am picking out what I see that is similar. I don’t feel like the Way, cited in Taoism, offers integration as much as it is, the integrated whole. And that… the quality of being, is emphasised even when in action…

Well… I’ve definitely taken a left turn somewhere here. So… when I started writing my second piece… I listened to a bunch of Guqin recordings and remembered once upon a time in my childhood that I had wanted to learn one of these and presently discovered that I loved the meditative quality the instrument could bring. That the music could suggest a kind of stillness. But I also loved cultural appropriation when I saw it tastefully done… honestly… the more I get into this discussion… the more I realise, how much of my own youth was dominated by innocent cultural appropriation.

We see it as negative in light of ignorance… but outside of commercial exploitation, I think it suggests a desire to try out and try on different identities… and when cultural borders begin to dissolve… its inevitable this happens. I wonder if there is a link between this identity exploration and the hero’s journey suggested by Joseph Campbell in that many of us engage with the former to some extent during our adolescent years, whether haphazardly, innocently or offensively, because the initiatory quality of the latter has been lost in modern day societies.

Hmm. In any case, in my music journey, other elements are coming to the fore that are more personally important to me… such as an exploration of harmony, than specifically the sounds that belong to my cultural history… perhaps at this point in time, though I am very much enjoying the process of discovery.

On that note, I wrote most of this post listening to lighthearted piano jazz. 😀