Posted in 2011 The Gnovis Blog | Tagged igor stravinsky, musicophilia, oliver sacks, rhythm, rite of spring
I was awake for all the darkness. For all the dreams, the snores, the creaking bed frames.
I was awake for the sleepy shuffles to light switches.
I was awake for the clanging of dishes, and cracking of eggs.
I was awake for all the alarms, ringing and chirping at dawn.
I was awake for all the shuffling papers and blowdrying hair.
I was awake for the door slammed shut and the engine running.
I am awake in the silence again.
It has been a long time since I let myself be moved. Crumpled to-do lists crawl over my countertop, clues of a regimented, stale—albeit productive—but far too planned existence. Sometimes we’re just dying for a disaster, aren’t we? These slight internal eruptions disrupting the deadening calm are seen in nature as well as the nation. We have been unnerved and unhoused. And what makes a people pulsate—shimmer with lust and might, frustration and migration? Who sets that rhythm in motion?
Plato wrote 2500 years ago, “music is the movement of sound to reach the soul for the education of its virtue.” For centuries people have pondered what it is about sound touching our eardrums that has the power to move one to tears or to laughter or to love or to rage—and all the physical and emotional expressions of this movement. Is there a link between emotional responses to music or expressions through music and how we move through life? These clean white lines and sterilizing white pills silence–balancing checkbooks and behavior. But if there’s anything we know about the individual it’s that (s)he is unpredictable—it may be the one thing that you can’t program or medicate.
In a publication about music as a cultural practice, William Fitzgerald uses secondary data analysis to look into what music is and the effects that it has on people. Fitzgerald is primarily concerned with Western classical music and the effect of the concert culture that emerged in the 17th and 18th century. His most salient point is his focus on the reaction and participation of the audience. During the ceremony of live music the question of music “floats just below our consciousness as we entertain memories of earlier ritual communities and apprehensions of new ones. But to articulate the question in this context is to muddy the innocent surface of the ritual and to disturb the innocent attunement of its community. It is hardly surprising that the question often provokes hostility” (Fitzgerald, 130-131). He suggests here that when a new sound strikes us, we are compelled to question all of our past assumptions.
To further depict the mind’s reaction to new rhythm and sound, Fitzgerald uses the famous example of Stravinsky’s premiere of the Rite of Spring and the riot that erupted before the premiere was even finished. He shows in this example “how easily and appropriately the ritual of the concert can acquire the emotional excitement of sacrifice. Stravinsky’s audience, subjected to an onslaught of dissonance and rhythmic violence, is challenged to recuperate this as a musical experience with the help of the sacrificial model: the audience must feel itself to be directing and taking the part of, rather than suffering, this violence” (Fitzgerald, 131).
The suggestion he makes is that we absorb the sound with all of its rhythms and dissonance; we meld them to our person and respond in unpredictable outbursts. A cursory reading of Oliver Sack’s Musicophilia shows his suggestion that it is the rhythm that is particularly human—it is the rhythm that we all have inside of us. Sacks, in his studies of the therapeutic power of music on Parkinson’s patients, found that “music seemed to liberate them from their Parkinsonism. What was essential for them was rhythm. It is a uniquely human propensity to respond with movement to a beat.”
We always come back to the rhythm.