A PRELUDE TO MUSIC
John Lambert Harman
In those early pristine, prehistoric years when we first roamed the Earth – washed in its waters and fed of its lands – our senses were ripe and raw, and constantly exposed to a wild, ever-changing environment. The world was the sea and vast landscapes of grey, green, sand, rock and wetness, miraculously dotted with life. It was a world of untamed, unnamed animals, and where Nature flexed her muscles, spewing up green upon green onto dirty earth.
The world kept pace with an eternal rhythm engine given to it by the stars, and its planets in close proximity. This rhythm spread like wild fire, crackling and sputtering through Nature and the changing seasons; through the trees, the wild life, the wind and the rain. It created the astral pulse of life, seeping deeply into everything, marking everything born under the sun.
Our world had Fate exhaustingly dodging floods, fires and colossal rocks from outer space; protecting the fragility of fledgeling life, Fate was on our side but her adversaries were of biblical proportions — monstrously massive. As the world was being shaped with brutal stroke from without and within, Fate truced with the unknown, reluctantly agreeing to accept large losses once in a while. This presented us with the outlook of a possible glorious life.
Those silky sweet songs that we sing on occasion, with heightened reverence, where yet to be written – songs that attempted to encapsulate an essence of being human in a vast universe we could never comprehend on a human level. So for now, “Morning Has Broken” was the violence of day ricocheting down a valley of hot, red lava: “Silent Night” was the beginnings of a storm furiously gathering sea, cloud and air into an invisible fist, only to pound the edges of land, then drive further inward.
Nevertheless, in our world, there were moments of serenity and visual ecstasy, such as Nature’s floral decadency against the splendour of a blood-red sunset, or at such times as when the mind contemplated the fight of a bird. At night there were moments of incomprehension as the stars, flurried across the wall of heaven, seemed to take to roaming, in slow, celestial, procession.
The smell of the Earth was the smell of bleakness and abundance; it was the smell of soil, flowing rivers, the living and the rotting, with nonchalant winds fanning and mingling it all. While chastised at the whim of Nature, yet receiving benevolence enough to survive, we clung this Earth for comfort: some tribes would set up shelter close to the throb of an ocean; others would choose to snuggle up to the rivers that reticulated the land like silvery veins cutting through mud, stone and forest; others still, would seek out the higher ground, caves in a mountain.
This was a world far removed from tarred roads, and today’s dense cities glowing with electricity; it was a world far from cigarette butts and bubblegum by the bus-stop shelter; far from a “Happy birthday to you” or a boisterous “Knees up, mother Brown”. This was a world far removed from all of this, and far from the safety of a ‘plastic’ designer-home. With fear and awe, we drunk in the wonders of this untamed, unnamed world.
In those early, pristine years we were surround by sounds: the seismic groans and movements of the Earth, twisting, gorging out deep valleys; insects buzzing and clicking in an open plain; a song bird weaving with an invisible sonorous thread; the screeches of an animal savagely being ripped apart, eaten alive; thunder rumbling through the uncertainty of a volatile heaven as lightning lit up the tops of magnificent mountains. Whether in the hazy, azure ripples of daylight or under a night sky alashed with stars, all around us was sound.
We chose to imitate these sounds, and then to enrich imitation with our own human stuff: with dreaming, evocation and the meaning of the inexplicable lights in the night sky. For our early instruments we used the voice, the bone- flute, the stick and the drum. This was the birth of that industry, Music – a most ancient art of humankind.
And with humankind there was the need to teach and learn, to explore and record, to adapt and improve. Thus, started our blind, fanatical obsession with the naming of things. Like our lives depended on it, we created and clung to books full of the names we bestowed upon objects, organisms and people. In these books, with cogency — and at times with much arrogance, and even greater error — we listed references, made connections and devised meanings: why this was that, why that was this.
All life was now being subjugated under knowledge. For to name a thing was to know a thing, and to know a thing was to control, predict, manage and be safe. Names allowed us to be and create, for without our names, we were dumb creatures spinning aimlessly in a universe without meanings.
Our books stained our brains with the atomic litter of words, leaving us fat and bloated with ‘semantic charge’; leaving us contaminated with the idea of a reality and an ideal; leaving us pristine, no more. Our books laboured us with the task of keeping knowledge buoyant, through and above the centuries of change and unrest: through wars, dire plagues, and through our peaceful moments.
We kept knowledge alive, and covetously hoarded it — hoarding it like a philosophical miser bathing in a minuscule tub in an attempt to save on the waters of wisdom. Nevertheless, in our hoarding, things and sensibilities got lost to time, through lack of use and our changing values: you could say that we are now oblivious to the sound of the Earth in colossal spin, making its way in its patch of universe; we can no longer taste the thunder in the waters of a lake that braced its impact the night before; we are now senseless to the smell of rain blithely riding the belly of a cloud, skimming treetop and mountain, before down pour.
However. New sensibilities, new possibilities for living into have arisen, such as Art and the art of being creative. Through art, the experience of an emotion we were now able to layout as an abstraction. Through art, the experience of the senses we were now able to codified. Art (but above all, the mystical whispers of great spiritual beings) softened and rounded the brittle edges of a hard, volatile world. Art forced us to dream with our eyes open.
But was the birth of music rooted in an evolutionary necessity to imitate the sounds of our environment? Isn't this a far too simplistic summing up for an art form that marvels the mind and lightens the heart, touching us deeply on many levels?
Maybe music arose from a social, collective need, or through some kind of spiritual calling. Music could have its origins in visuality combined with movement and repetition — things we would associate with dance. Or music could just as well be us performing a hidden, as yet undiscovered biological function of the brain. Maybe the birth of music arose from none, some, or all of these things combined.
Whatever its roots, whatever its sentient breading ground, music has taken on a prominent role in many areas of society: in industry, in religion, in social life and in education. Music’s evolutionary process has swept along with it a colourful array of musicians, composers, instrument makers and teachers; those who have added their ‘chink’ to its development.
Music’s tenacious durability and overwhelming proliferation across all tribes of the world, has created a reverberating buzz in the scientific community: a community that can now delve deep into the brain looking for answers; clicking on computer mechanism; scanning, probing for meanings and justifications for music’s existence; digging deep in the hope of shedding light on the many beneficiary properties music is say to possess.
Indeed, music, the arts, creativity can be seen as drivers of peripheral ontological phenomena: possible keys or gateways to a deeper understanding of life, human potential and why we exist as rational, sensing beings. Today, big companies are eagerly investing in creativity as a saviour, in the hope that the investment will take them beyond their post-prehistoric ways of thinking.
And so in music, with its rich and variegated past, we are dealing with a powerful art form.
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© JOHN LAMBERT HARMAN