What is music? And how can it reveal something of the ontological dynamics of existence?
Music, like language, is common to all human beings and for some, it is an essential part of what it means to be a human being. But why? what is so special about music? And, equally so, what can we learn from thinking about music?
Is music just ‘decoration’? Something that belongs to the decorative arts? Or is it a serious art form, coming to life in dialogue with philosophy?
Music is a dynamic temporal structure (rooted in repetitive patterns and complex evolving harmonic relations). This is explicit in the rhythmic music of Nik Bartsch. Musical structures only exists in a flow. If the flow ceases so does the music. The structures – the musical patterns or forms – you are listening to, also mutate, distort and shift over time, giving us something like a narrative. All music seems to share these two properties: structure and narrative. In the classical tradition we have forms of the fugue, the canon and, critically, the sonata (still one of the best images of a dialectic I can think of).
Let us say that ‘truth’ is like a seed buried deep in the fabric of the world. Under the right conditions it will emerge, it will flower and appear in the manifesting surfaces and forms of the phenomenal. Music creates a set of conditions. Think of these conditions as a dynamic scaffold, constructed over an infinite abyss (cf Meister Eckhart). If the listener is tuned in to the music then they sense this flow, moving both upwards and inwards through the musical scaffold.
That is my contention. And it is a fragile contention. It requires thinking Swedenborg with music but it also links Bartsch to the dynamic of Qawwali music, an ecstatic spiritual form which explicitly enacts this upward and inward movement through the scaffolding of the music.
Nik, I suspect, senses this in music. He calls his music “Ritual Groove Music” or “Zen-Funk’.