THE CHANNEL OF CULTURE
I am interested in everything before you as a channel revealing light from beyond itself. The things which we know with our cultural minds, and which we normally seek in music, are here recognised as openings toward a much broader reality. Just as the window has fixed limits yet reveals a limitless light from beyond its borders, so too do our limited cultural channels in music reveal partials of a limitless Sound.
In the realm of appearances, this Sound is never fully in view, since any impression we have of it will be unavoidably bound by the limits of whichever medium we receive it through. Such is the incompleteness of Sound's appearance to us. Although, in itself, Sound is infinite and non-particular, we may approach it only through the window of particularity. This selective veiling of Sound's infinitude that enables particular sounds to appear and be perceived, makes hearing a mysterious activity in which Sound is revealed to us and concealed from us at the same time.
Given this, I suggest the window through which we view Sound demands both our reverence and our caution. At the same time as it provides a vital point of access to something otherwise inaccessible, it also perpetrates an illusion of wholeness, with which we are in danger of becoming content, forgetful of the fact that there is more outside the border it traces, more yet to reveal.
It is due to such contentedness that we find Sound stagnating in our created categories of culture, which may be understood as attempts to secure the appearance of Sound. Instrumentation, style, fixed scalic systems and the like, cannot conceptually be dispraised, since they are some of the very "tools" through which Sound's appearance is made possible. As we have come, however, to view such "tools" as entities in their own right, we have become closed to what it is they reveal. Sound has become trapped within their enclosure, and we in turn have become trapped into thinking Sound is limited, and even defined by these tools themselves.
One may well wonder how the ancient mystics could possibly have believed in the power of Sound to induce ecstasy. Indeed, the idea today may even seem laughable. But perhaps we are no longer even listening to Sound. Perhaps by allowing its tools--its media--to occupy our sole listening attention, Sound has in fact disappeared from the equation of music, leaving only the human categories once imposed upon its former presence. Like a window with its elaborate curtains drawn, perhaps culture has come to block rather than open our access to the broader world.
Ecstasy literally means "outside oneself", loss of control. Cultural construction, conversely, is a process that requires we draw things into ourselves, and gain control. Indeed it is our "taking in" of Sound in order to "use" it that results in its appearance as a purely cultural entity. The path to ecstasy is one of shedding this appearance. For as long as Sound is humanly contained, "outside oneself" remains a destination it simply cannot take us to.
The feeble replacement of ecstasy has of course come in the form of the "climax of design". This is the pale shadow of ecstasy we experience on account of our "tools" of sonic organisation. Here, it is the composer's sequential arrangement of certain sounds which effects a brief simulation of the ecstatic state. Ironically, it is only by listening for such climaxes of design that we remain distracted from the inherent climax in all sounds. So enthralled have we become with this human creation, that we fail to see its redundancy. All sounds carry the potential for ecstasy, since through all sounds pervades Sound itself. But under the obtrusive veil of cultural design, this potential remains hidden.
It is precisely as a means of uncovering this potential that Music of Transparent Means embraces vastness of time. Without vastness of time, our focus upon Sound remains trapped on the level of its cultural particularity - the human conditions of its presentation. But given vastness of time, this layer of particularity fades, revealing the channel of culture as a vital opening in which Sound is invited to speak.
It is also in this spirit that Music of Transparent Means embraces unobtrusiveness of cultural means. All music must undoubtedly engage with particular channels of cultural presentation, but in keeping these channels as singular, as motionless, and as unobtrusive as possible, our usual focus upon their particularity is rendered completely unsustainable.
Invoked then is a kind of "disappearance of culture", where we find ourselves face to face with Sound unadorned. Like the wineglass, culture reveals itself to be transparent, and our focus is left with no other option than to move beyond it. Submitting to this focus will of course be met initially with fierce inner resistance, but providing we are willing to overcome this resistance, we will see the channel of culture transformed from a closed entity to a place in which divine light is revealed.
© ALEX CARPENTER, 2002