TOWARDS A NEW
MUSICAL PARADIGM

Christos Hatzis

 

(Last revised: 13 January, 1997)

"After the final no there comes a yes, and on that yes the future of the world depends". -Wallace Stevens.
 


"Toto, I've a feeling we aren't in Kansas anymore". -Dorothy.
 



ABSTRACT

Called to explain the evolution of contemporary music, the author admits that he is unable to do so using exclusively the language of musical analysis. He explores the social, cultural, and spiritual aspects of the last thirty years, attributing the turn from modernism through minimalism and postmodernism to present day musical practices (Tavener, Bryars, Pärt, Gorecki, Kancheli etc.) to a profound change of the role of music, a characteristic of the forthcoming New Age paradigm. Issues that further illuminate this probe include the examination of the identity of the artist of the past as a Creator, as opposed to the artist who would approach the audience (and the Universe) as an equal partner of artistic creation, and the communicative and interactive nature of music. The author initially describes the new paradigm shift from within the field of music composition, but then expands his account to human culture as a whole, arguing that the focus is moving from the product to the process, from the production of masterpieces to the production of masterculture. The antithesis between left and right-brain artistic motives is recognized, as well as the usefulness, as opposed to the truth, of art. Recent phenomena, artistic (such as the turn to relaxation music and similar New Age experimentations) and social (the reluctance of the governments and the public to support the classical arts), are viewed under this analysis as symptomatic of the New Age transformation.
 


1. Background

The need for writing these thoughts has existed for sometime. They have been brewing in my mind for the better part of two decades and have been creatively expressed time and again in my own compositions. What has made it imperative that I express them in writing now, is my newfound role as a teacher at an academic setting which necessitates the verbal communication of ideas, and my relatively recent exposure to the Internet and the inevitable "culture shock" this exposure has caused. It is too early still in my own encounter with this resource to speculate extensively about its nature and its potential, consequently much of the discussion that will follow will concentrate not so much on the Internet as it is today, but on the idea behind the Internet and the reciprocal influence it has on the development of ideas in the arts.

During the past fifteen years, from the time I left the university as a student to the time I returned to it as a teacher, my personal and artistic development took me along a pathway which left the modernist aesthetic behind and led, via postmodernism, to a new musical wonderland. I call it a "wonderland", because up until now at least, it has defied rationalization and categorization. It does not lend itself to analysis, at least not by applying to it the analytical tools we have used in the past: approached in such a manner, the music and the ideas behind it sound simplistic and not worthy of serious consideration. This phenomenon is of course not particular to my work; it is widespread. The work of some of today's most interesting (and puzzling) composers seems to defy scrutiny in the conventional scientific sense, and on those grounds it has been dismissed by many professional musicians, while it is being adored by the general public. To a skeptic, the profound impact that the music of composers like John Tavener, Gavin Bryars, Arvo Pärt, Henryk Gorecki and Giya Kancheli is having to millions of people around the world can be easily explained away as yet another pop phenomenon soon to run its course. Yet, it is becoming increasingly certain that this new way of thinking about composition is here to stay. It is part of a greater revolution in the arts and in society in general, the likes of which we have not seen since the Renaissance or perhaps even earlier.

Few would disagree that today we live in the midst of a great upheaval: social, economic, cultural, ideological. Most of the institutions that saw us through the past two millennia - family, nationhood, government, culture, religion, education, you name it - are now under severe scrutiny. We are standing too close to this upheaval, we are engulfed in it in fact, to accurately estimate its scope and magnitude. Music and art in general are no exceptions in this re-examination. If we look at the music of the past twenty five years for example, I believe we will agree that no significant ideas of the kind we have come to expect periodically in the history of western music have come forth. This is particularly odd, since it is happening at a time when the acceleration of change in other fields of human endeavor has reached lightning speeds, and all the more so since it follows a period of very rapid change within the art music field as well. What happened in the late fifties and early sixties to stop this continuous evolution? What has happened within this field since then to explain this phenomenon of sudden stasis? As we are nearing the next millennium, it is becoming increasingly clear that the answers to these questions no longer lie within the fields of music and art. In fact to be able to answer them at all, we need a new paradigm which will enable us to see the phenomenon of western art and culture as a total and complete phenomenon from without.

It is difficult to describe exactly what this new paradigm is, because it cuts through just about every facet of personal and transpersonal belief and behavior. A great deal has been written about it, however by scholarly and popular writers alike.(1) Its advent is accompanied by a profound, sudden and radical shift in our cultural, social and ideological modes of behavior which is taking place at a startling speed at this very moment. While it manifests suddenly, this change has been gradual, gaining momentum underground for nearly three decades now, or even longer. According to the new paradigm which describes and gives a face to this transformation, the music of our present era is not so much concerned with the internal unfolding and/or development of musical ideas, like in the works of the classical and romantic eras where the composer was the central focus of the information exchange, but with how these musical ideas are perceived. The shift is from the composer to the listener. The medium (the composition) is the incidental result of, and the desire for, the act of communication. It is the act itself and the level at which it happens that is of primary value.

2. The past

The old paradigm encompasses a musical era the beginning of which dates back to the early days of polyphony and its end coincides, in North America at least, with the New York School of the Fifties (John Cage, Morton Feldman, Christian Wolf and Earl Brown). In the era of the old paradigm, an era stylistically described by a continuous, linear process of melodic, harmonic, rhythmic and formal emancipation, the unsuspecting artist was gradually elevated to a position previously held by the Divine. Our sense of the Godhead was seriously wounded during the Renaissance and all but done away with by the end of the "Enlightenment". Just as the artist became the earthly substitute for God, the art object became the earthly substitute for religion. The work of art became an "analogon" to Creation itself, with the artist posing as its very own God. Composition became an inordinately superhuman and heroic act, consciously so by the time we reached the Romantic era. The individuation process which was the actual psychological undercurrent of this era pitted the individual against the social group in an effort to define that individual as an unmistakable value in the vast, impersonal and mechanical world of Newtonian physics which replaced our older, safer, geocentric view of the universe. From as early as the eighteenth century, Enlightenment and Kantian thought began disputing the verisimilitude between the Weltanschaung, the human "episteme" and the actual world of God. The artist became a metaphor for the possibility of salvation through art, the new priest in a godless era. Attaining this status, however, and the social pressure such status implies, the artist embarked on a trajectory of development that society recognized almost from the outset that it could not follow: it was common belief from the time of Beethoven onwards that the great artist was expected to be understood not by his own, but by future generations. In Culture and Society 1780-1950, (2) Raymond Williams describes the way in which aesthetic theory came in the Romantic period to see the artist as essentially opposed to society, achieving personal expression in the face of a hostile environment and valuing it all the more for this.

This ever deepening chasm between the individual and the social group which gave rise to him reached a crisis point towards the middle of the twentieth century. Not only the distance between the ever developing individual and the amorphous crowd became almost unbridgeable, but the overspecialization that inevitably followed this uncompromising process of individuation within the field of arts and sciences resulted in a Babel of scientific disciplines, languages and vocabularies unknown or unintelligible outside the narrow field of any given specialty. Music and art became pigeonholed in a similar manner, becoming primarily intellectual activities. Their audiences dwindled, their language became more esoteric in meaning (3) and externally complex (4). In this sense they remained true metaphors of the process that gave rise to them in the first place, but in their failure to be meaningful to a critical mass of people, they were not useful metaphors. This is the paradox that the old paradigm produced at its summation. True art was not useful art. Every time this situation was reached before within the old paradigm, the artist took it upon himself to redefine his role by raising the podium of the Artist-God-Hero a bit higher, thus reasserting his freedom against the demands of the group, but also forcing himself at the same time even further into the increasingly left-brain activity we customarily identify as modern art.

The origins of the new paradigm go back a long time, but in the sixties we have its first visible fruits. In many respects minimalism is not the logical next step in the causal chain which led us from Leonin and Perotin to John Cage. From a certain perspective it is not the next chapter in the History of Western Music; it is the beginning of an entirely new book. Similarly the relatively short time span from Arnold Schoenberg to John Cage and his followers was not an anomaly in an otherwise continuous historical process, as some conservative musicologists have suggested in the past. It was the final stage, the state of maximal entropy, of that continuous process of harmonic, melodic, rhythmic and formal emancipation we understand as "western music". Any dynamic system will eventually reach this state when left alone. What ensued after Cage was not just another rejection of the status quo. It was the rethinking of a long historical era which started with the Renaissance and ended towards the middle of this century, the old paradigm.

Postmodernism, a term since adopted as a general description of what followed was in many ways a review, a creative process which sought to understand the past in order to speculate on the future. The mixing of tonality and atonality, the increasing use of quotation, actual or stylistic, and the adoption of a multitude of expressive means which in their totality transcend chronological and geographic categorization are elements that appear in abundance in the compositions of the past twenty five years. In fact, one of the characteristics that really set modernism and postmodernism apart is the latter's acceptance of all our possible pasts and presents, the recognition of the possibilities of being, instead of a mere break with the past, of the seclusionist and egocentric (Westernocentric) cultural practices of the past. Postmodernism after its Derridean deconstructive phase does not intend to establish a political New Order, but to inaugurate the acceptance and integration of a pre-mythic and pre-linguistic state of reality to social life. (5)

The modernist fascination with the product , the thing, is at odds with the free-flowing world of multiple subjectivities and the work of art that acknowledges the point of view of its perceiver and allows for the artistic event to occur anew, every time the box with the cat-in-quantum-flux is opened. The aura of the original work has been lost since the advent of photography (cf. Walter Benjamin: The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction), a condition that has fully developed during the age of digital (re)production and the convergence of (artistic) information into the computerized unit, the byte, which may represent sound, image or text. The focus of art has now shifted to the process of sensing the need for it and conceiving it, realizing and producing it, and appreciating and responding to it. In this sense musical postmodernism is the beginning of a continuous creative decentralization which shifts its focus from the composer to the listener. The gradual replacement of personal statement with quotation (actual or stylistic) was the first evidence of the erosion of the faith the old paradigm had placed on the segregated creative individual, the composer, the creator posing for the Creator. (Taking this process to its logical conclusion, it appears likely that at the height of postmodern culture the composer will meet the same fortune that the Medieval Godhead met during the Enlightenment, that is subordination to the end-user. One cannot help but be reminded of Nietzsche's comment in Gay Science, that God and Man died a common death.) (6)

Postmodernism too, of course, is a transitory phenomenon. It is a novel description of the past, not a prescription for the future, a creative way to understand our present position and an alternative to the more clinical (and perhaps less effective at this point) methods of critical analysis or musicology. Minimalism developed alongside postmodernism, but in music the two movements are not identical. Postmodern discourse started with a deconstructive critique, and, indeed I think of postmodernism as the "index", "footnotes" and "table of contents" in the old paradigm book. What makes it still a viable form of artistic expression is that in providing us with the above it confirms in fact that the old paradigm is finished and ready for publication. Postmodernism confirms that modernism is a phenomenon of the past, no longer a viable artistic language in these days of social and cultural upheaval. (7)

Minimalism is a more difficult phenomenon to explain, partly because the works which are generally described by that term may be similar in content, but very different in intention (and as we have already seen, intention is a major consideration in postmodern art.) It was originally interpreted as a reaction to the complexities and the dead ends of modernism. But its survival for so long after it has accomplished its supposedly intended function gives little credence to this theory. That ultra-simplicity should follow ultra-complexity is of course in keeping with previous historical experience whereby excess in one direction will almost certainly produce equally excessive reaction of the opposite nature. Even as recently as in the late-eighties, I have had friends of mine - diehard modernists, to be sure - tell me that minimalism was simply "a pause, a breather, so that the rest of the world can catch up with the complexities of contemporary music." There has been no indication in the intervening time that this might be the case. In fact, instead of "catching up" with contemporary art the rest of the world is acting fast to relegate this art and all its predecessors to the museum (or, perhaps, to oblivion) with severe funding cuts and decreasing support of every kind.

From the outset, minimalism had a twofold manifestation: as a grassroots movement and as a phenomenon within the academic and intellectual world. The adherents of the former were more interested in composing and performing their music in any available venues (bars, night clubs, school auditoriums in addition to concert halls, etc.) than in building an academic defense of the movement as the modernist school had done in hundreds of polemical treatises. Interested in the political and social nature of art and quite disgusted with the ivory-tower elitism of classical arts, they were consciously pursuing a support base which acknowledged the reality of the consumer driven market, in contrast to the old paradigm arts which relied on the influence which a privileged minority seemed to exert on governments and other political forces to artificially maintain an acceptable level of "high culture". Though similarly motivated, the adherents of the academic brand of minimalism sought to reform the establishment from within. In both cases minimalism was consistent with the tenets of postmodernism in that it acknowledged the necessity for shifting the emphasis from the creator to the receptor. It was the theoretical and experiential confirmation of the end of the reign of the Author and the Critic, as well as the denial of an artistic and critical discourse based on the classic rules of criticism. The author willfully abdicated in favor of the rights of the reader and listener, proving in pure postmodernist terms the impossibility of the wholeness of the work of art. (8) (9)

In yet a different sense minimalism resembled a great deal the pop culture which was "exploding" at the same time and became considerably influential within the pop music field (the pop music of the nineties owes as much to minimalism as it owes to the pop music of the sixties and seventies.) The problem with identifying the philosophical and aesthetic allegiances of minimalism stems from the fact that the term itself has been used to describe diverse cultural pockets which are similar in musical practice, but different in sociopolitical intention. It is also the problem of language, that is the way language quantifies the cultural continuum, creating artificial borderlines in order to identify recognizable gestalts. This discrepancy will be addressed further on.

3. The present

The same decade that saw the appearance of the first minimalist classics (Terry Riley's In C is generally considered to be the first representative of this genre) also saw a similar profusion of ideas in musical areas outside the scope of the field we generally understand as "serious" music. In fact, in the beginning it was not thought of as music at all. The New Age movement emerging from a background of popular superstition, fortunetellers, and "gurus" of every description, began an uphill battle for legitimacy as an alternative, and increasingly meaningful, way of life. Its greatest strength (and weakness) was that it was diametrically opposed to our left-brain-dominated culture of which modernism, and to an extent postmodernism, were its most recent expression. New Age is first and foremost a social movement: it proposes alternatives to the complexity of modern urban living. It re-introduces Myth as a necessary component of a healthy lifestyle, it proposes awareness as an alternative to progress, opening up instead of thrusting forward at all costs, listening instead of speaking. Flaky as it might have been and may still be in some of its aspects (its right-brain emphasis makes it impossible to scrutinize with the tools we have developed in our left-brain culture), this movement and the spiritual reorientation which it necessitates spread in an unprecedented manner, save perhaps the spread of Christianity in its early years within the Roman Empire (10). And just like the Roman Empire, our culture was not equipped to withstand this infiltration from within. Like early Christianity, New Age is a classless movement and as such it has incredible transformative power. Christianity transformed the Roman Empire and New Age is transforming modern day America and the rest of the industrialized world unlike the French Revolution for example or the Bolshevik in this century which overthrew the previous regimes: the latter two movements adhered to a dualistic view of society and had inevitably confrontational character. New Age does not divide the world in "them" and "us"; it is holistic, not totalitarian. It sees the individual as a microcosm of the whole and therefore attempts to change the world by changing the "I", not the "you" or "them".

In defiance of the old paradigm which was based on pyramid-like hierarchical structures (11) the new paradigm established an alternative means to human interaction: the network. Long before the Internet became accessible to the general public, networks along conventional communication routes were being established in the United States, particularly in California, where this movement originated, and found a hospitable climate for its development. Wired, geographically displaced communities began emerging in the sixties and seventies bonding around a common interest: spiritual re-awakening, alternative lifestyles, nutrition, environmental concerns, you name it. Old right-brain ideas long dismissed by mainstream culture (paganism, the occult) were re-examined and new left-brain myths such as technology were juxtaposed in an attempt to transcend the bloody legacy of our present era which stubbornly focused for two millennia on the irreconcilable differences between opposites.

The technological revolution which created network communication also codified knowledge in computerized structures that operate in a deeply democratic and holistic way, allowing for the convergence of art and knowledge in new ways of communication, and making the limits and the appropriation of information impossible. Authorship and ownership of art and knowledge are attempts of the left brain to explain and organize the world, and in this sense they are no longer possible. If minimalism within mainstream culture was originally conceived, and to a certain extend has remained, a modernist or post-modernist phenomenon (depending on how one looks at it), its New Age counterpart (Terry Riley, La Monte Young, Brian Eno and others) has had from the beginning a new paradigm orientation. (12) The shift from product to process has indirectly influenced our ideas about copyright, "fair use" etc. and has created a serious problem for the defenders of intellectual ownership in their efforts to define the object of that ownership and its increasingly evasive dissemination through the electronic media. New Age is less concerned with owning and more with giving; less with the production of masterpieces and more with the creation of a masterculture, available to, and attainable by, everyone. It is not interested in a special priesthood of artists, but in re-awakening the artist within everyone of its constituents by unlocking the transformative mechanisms which lie dormant within. Even though it is goal oriented, it places emphasis on the transformative process that leads to the attainment of the goal, not the attainment of the goal itself: the journey is far more important than getting there. Individual progress is not measured against some common standard, as in the old paradigm, but by the benefits it imparts to the individual. Consumable things, works of art included, are valued according to their usefulness to the end user, not according to abstract notions of importance formerly in the exclusive custody of "educated" or otherwise privileged members of society.

Acting like spilled liquid which assumes the forms of its immediate environment, New Age music soon diversified its language to address every perceivable need. Categories merged, and borderlines between established categories became blurred. From Philip Glass to Vangelis to Steven Halpern, New Age music addressed different tastes, intellectual pretensions and lifestyles. Its effect on the listener has been subversive, not confrontational. It has been accused by intellectuals of being an instrument of brainwash, creating brain-dead listeners with no discriminating faculty, producing passive consumers susceptible to the marketing designs of the entertainment industry. This exposes the inability of the self-indulging Reason to comprehend what lies beyond its realm, because rationality is in itself a closed system that claims to encompass and govern everything. The mysterium of the New Age work of art is that it has a true and direct effect, which cannot be identified.

The failure of the left brain to acknowledge the creative influence of our right brain and its holistic, pattern making ability, has been from the start the agent that has forced our culture to its present schizophrenic impasse and its split into right-brain and left-brain cultural camps. Thus relaxation music is intellectually suspect, until a musical style recognizable by the left brain as having historical legitimacy - Gregorian chant, for instance - appears to fill the need. Even then the left brain, while it recognizes the style as artistically valid, does not understand its sudden reemergence and cultural implications. "The product of marketing" is most likely the explanation you will hear from most conservatives. But is it just that? Can marketing for example produce a perceived need for something we have no actual need for? There are indications that the opposite may be increasingly the case.

The effect of reawakening the faculties of our right brain and becoming aware of an entire spectrum of non rational urges which control our behavior is making us less prone to massive brainwash through advertising. It is also interesting to note that advertising has been more effective in cultures which have placed (or are starting to place) wholesale faith in reason, such as the cultures of our western world and the new emerging non-western industrial societies. Presumably one assumes that Reason, given such predominance in our lives should have made us immune to this kind of assault. Yet the opposite seems to be the case. While on the surface we appear to be in control of our lives and our environment, we actually live in a self-made myth which, in fact, consists of the limitations imposed upon the human existence by the denial of metaphysics, mystical knowledge and transcendental experience (the myth which advertisers manipulate and, through it, us), (13) precisely because we have denied expression to the mythic aspect of ourselves. As we are reawakening to this mythic aspect, we feel (in an increasingly punitive mood, I might add) that our culture, and the people we have trusted it to, have somehow failed us. Never before in our history have government cuts in the cultural sectors been met with such widespread public approval (14). Our days may well be the beginning of the end of intellectual aristocracy, the dawning of a new, truly classless society.

It may be construed from the previous discussion that what I call New Age and what contemporary thinkers call the second phase of postmodernism (following its earlier deconstructionist phase) are one the same thing. While in actual definition and in terms of their place in the larger historical process they may very well be similar or even identical, these two movements differ in one important aspect: postmodernism, as the name implies, is a continuation of the same discourse which classicism, romanticism, modernism and all other "isms" have taken active part in the past. The fact that postmodernism points to the limitations of this discourse and makes a convincing case that the discourse itself may no longer valid or even possible, does not alter the fact that its proper place is within or at the tail-end of this particular discourse which I have described as the old paradigm. Postmodernism is a novel way of interpreting contemporary phenomena and paradoxes. In contrast, New Age is a way of life. Its name implies the beginning of an entirely new era, a truly new beginning which, like all true beginnings, is creative and utterly unconscious of its own identity, therefore impervious to the complexities of postmodern explanations.

New Age is a physically non-violent revolution of spirit naturally following the French and subsequent communist revolutions whose character was clearly and exclusively materialistic. The seeds for both of these kinds of revolutions were sown in the Renaissance. With the advent of the Renaissance, man assumed a central role within the universe. Man's centrality in God's creation was, of course, the cornerstone of the Judeo-Christian tradition since the beginning, but the Middle Ages paid only lip service to this dogma. In this sense the Renaissance was not a secular revolution as it is generally assumed, but the very fruition of Christian eschatology, the first stage of this eschatology, to be sure. Even after Christ's crucifixion, the Medieval Spirit saw man as a creature of sin. His salvation was to be mediated by God's representatives on earth. His communion with the Divine was delegated: it was "communion by proxy". The Renaissance acknowledged a man "in the Image and Likeness of God" for whom transformation, transcendence and, eventually, salvation were not just his obligation, they were his birthright. All the materialist revolutions in the latter part of this millennium, and the present spiritual one, are the result of man's claim to this birthright.

In the Renaissance, as man placed emphasis on his own, self-directed transformative process, he examined in sequence the two aspects of his Divine Inheritance: the Image and the Likeness of God. The period which I previously described as the era of the old paradigm was the period through which the exploration of the Image became the principle preoccupation of man's development and consequently of his artistic expressions. The early Renaissance artists picked up where Greek and Roman classicism left off more than a millennium earlier. It was an extroverted exploration of images, objects and the multiplicity of images and objects. It is understandable why such a process has been perceived as secular in nature. At a deeper level, however, the Renaissance, for all its admiration of classical Greece and Rome, was not a mere repetition of the pre-Christian pagan world. Its internal drive was spiritual, causing paradigm shifts after every failure, arriving finally in our own days at the doorsteps of high spirituality. The process of getting to where we are today, has been a continuous process of trial and error. The scientific method created during and by the Renaissance, led through repeated paradigm shifts to the current paradoxes of modern physics. These paradoxes (the wave/particle duality of mater, the uncertainty principle, the Copenhagen interpretation of subatomic phenomena, to mention but a few) point to the fact that language has reached the limits of its ability to describe a comprehensive model of reality. It ultimately questions our empirical understanding of "what is real". By its inability to formulate a satisfactory description of our physical universe, Physics, traditionally a "hard fact" science, has opened up the doors for metaphysics to provide these missing links. The artistic models of the Renaissance have reached likewise a similar impasse. Man is bravely standing at the brink of a new frontier. He must pass through the seemingly impenetrable wall of the Image and enter the realm of the Likeness. To borrow St. Paul's metaphor from his second epistle to the Corinthians, man must transcend the condition of looking at the Truth "through a glass darkly" and prepare himself for the "face to face" encounter. That is the second phase of his eschatological journey.

While the New Age movement has drawn the curtain for us to get a glimpse of this new frontier of the spirit, the movement itself is not focused enough to take us across the divide. New Age's strength is that it does not have a easily definable face. Therein lies its ability to penetrate even the most slightly perforated social fabric and spread like a virus which can not easily be detected by the defense mechanisms of the status quo. But its liquid nature is also its weakness. Having no specific mandate other than a vague general agreement among its members to follow a path of inner transformation, New Age thinly covers a great deal of ground all the way from the sublime to the ridiculous. In fact it is more like a context within which movements emerge, rather than a movement in itself.

New Age is the most recent name we have applied to a phenomenon which is observed at points of great transformation in the history of mankind. It is a phenomenon of widespread social questioning and experimentation, marking by its very existence seminal points in man's development. As I have already implied above, its previous incarnation may have been first century Christianity, Gnosticism in particular. There is ample evidence that the first Christian Church was a loose network of small communities without priesthood or permanent leadership, which combined the teachings of Jesus with those of the Pythagoreans, Plato and various eastern philosophies. Like New Age, Gnosticism was amorphous and liquid, filling every opening, addressing every need at a time when need was great. It spread fast, alarmingly so for the Roman status quo, which soon sought to keep the movement under control. Also like the New Age, it was dangerously porous; it attracted to its ranks gurus, visionaries and/or opportunists who saw the obvious benefit of connecting to such a vast network and manipulating it for their own ends. Inevitably the movement succumbed to the Apostolic Church, a disciplined, pyramidal structure with clearly defined hereditary leadership, creed and code of behavior. The transition from the network to the hierarchy was not smooth and peaceful. The evidence suggests that the first persecutions of Christians were of the Gnostics by the Orthodox, often with the more than willing participation of the Roman authorities. Whatever the means for the obliteration of Gnosticism, it is certain today that, had the Apostolic Church not conclusively established itself when it did, Christianity might not have survived at all. Gnostic Christianity had reached such decline by the time of its demise that it would have dissipated anyway with no help from external agency.

Looking back to the beginning of the first Christian aeon , it is apparent that two millennia ago the world was not ready for Gnosticism. Is it ready today? Can New Age avert a fate similar to that which Gnosticism brought upon itself? Can we maintain a personal, non-institutional relationship with the Divine, and resist the intrusions and temptations which come part and parcel with a non-regulated existence? One may ask of course what does all that have to do with contemporary music. What bearing do remote religious events two thousand years ago, have to the development of an artistic discipline in the late twentieth century. I have partly answered this question already. The full answer (which is first and foremost an answer of faith) is that every facet of human activity nowadays, music and art notwithstanding, can be understood only within a larger context, that is a Divine plan for humankind, however one chooses to define it. I look at the history of the past two millennia and its shifting paradigms as a process of soteriology, leading man constantly forward towards increasing awareness of himself and of his purpose on earth. That New Age should succeed where Gnosticism has failed would be in itself partial proof of this process. But can it succeed?

In trying to answer this question, there is a working model for us to look at: the Internet. The unregulated web of information whose membership has exploded in the past few years to several million users is the perfect model of the New Age movement. It is exciting and frightening at the same time, fraught with possibility and danger. It is the electronic weapon of the Aquarian Conspiracy (15), the first true practical experiment in social anarchy. Ideas of any kind can be published on the Internet and accessed by anyone else without the critical interference of third parties. The document you are reading right now was specifically written for the Internet. It did not have to be submitted to editors of appropriate publications, be reviewed and appraised by experts before it could get to you; therein lies the advantage. That it did not go through this screening process, however, means that you have to be the editor and the appraiser instead. You cannot forfeit this responsibility as you do to a certain degree every time you pick up a publication whose editorial position you know beforehand and are in agreement with. Therein lies the difficulty. (16) The enlightening and the artistic as well as the racist and pornographic are all a few keystrokes away. With the Internet, and the emergent culture that comes with it, we can no longer delegate our taste, caring and responsibility to our representatives in government or to the established institutions which traditionally process and disseminate information as we did for a long period of time in our welfare societies. We have put ourselves in a situation where we must substitute law with Ethic (the real Law), policing with self control, selfishness with generosity. Of course, if neither we, nor our governments rise up to the social and cultural demands of our times, then the New Age experiment is doomed to failure, and that failure could be detrimental to our continuation as an evolving species. A state of material and spiritual inequality will reach such proportions that either a new revolution or a belated Orwellian "1984" scenario will be the only short term alternative. The long term alternative is even more bleak. It is extinction.

4. The future

There are indications that the New Age is transforming and entering a second stage of development. It is coming of age and is learning from the mistakes of Gnosticism. Eventually the movement itself will splinter into various branches and sub-branches, some of which will atrophy and die. It is the more profound, consequential part of this movement that is of interest to us here. The driving force for change does not come from California this time, but from a distant - and unlikely - geographic location, the former Iron Curtain countries. While institutionalized religion in the west has reached a state of decline from which some experts say there may be no recovery, in Eastern Europe the persecuted populace and intellectuals alike had found in religion a focal point, a banner against the rampant materialism of Marxism-Leninism. The Church, forced underground, became the sanctuary of the resistance movement within the USSR and its satellites. The early models for this resistance (idealized western cultural models) have undergone considerable transformations to finally emerge as viable cultural alternatives to the western models from which they originated. In music, for example, eastern minimalism (Henryk Gorecki, Arvo Pärt, John Tavener (17) etc.) presents itself today as a spiritual alternative to the "secular" minimalism of Steve Reich, Philip Glass and Michael Nyman, even though it was originally heavily influenced by the latter.

I use the term "eastern minimalism" reluctantly, because I think this music is a newer and deeper manifestation of the new paradigm, whereas minimalism is one of its original, limited expressions. I call this new manifestation "deeper" because it consciously or unconsciously acknowledges the existence of a psychological or metaphysical process, be it "the succession of aeons" or "the divine plan for humankind". It constitutes a deeper realization of these processes in that the music of most of these composers has one unifying characteristic, that is its religious function: it is not merely secular music on a religious theme (as I have heard once John Tavener describe Mozart's religious works), but works of art the importance of which is connected with and subdued to something greater with direct metaphysical extensions, something the New Age phenomenon can also be seen as a part of, from the religious point of view. Secular (or academic) minimalism has no such level of reference. However, inasmuch the divine plan and its reflection on the progress of art is taken as a level of reference, minimalism was the secular shut-off, the ascetic preparation that led to the prayer and mystical art of the "eastern minimalists". This breed of art combines the width of inquiry of New Age with the depth and teleology of Christianity. By Christianity here I mean the personal, profound and mystical communion with the Divine not the institutions which sheltered this movement in its underground phase. The Church as a worldly organization is ill-equipped to follow the spiritual explosion that it is taking place in Eastern Europe or anywhere else in the world, for that matter. In that sense, this new spiritual awakening is not intrinsically different from the New Age movement of the sixties. The difference is in the social pressures that have generated it. The music of the "eastern minimalists" or "the New Paradigm" composers has come out of social, economic and personal deprivation and as such is a powerful, profound expression of the human condition and aspiration, unlike anything that has come out of the relatively complacent west.

New Age thus redefined promises to play a new role in a new society. Its tremendous, and previously unexpected, impact in the marketplace shows that there is now a critical mass of individuals in the population that has been influenced to some degree by the explosive changes of the last few decades, ready to embrace the new paradigm within mainstream culture. The effects of such a widespread embrace can only be guessed at and no doubt will form the core of much speculation in the near future. One thing seems to be certain. The fundamental thinking, inspiration and aspiration which creates the truly new music of this decade is neither Medieval nor Renaissance in nature; it is Millennial. After almost a century of art which was principally preoccupied with its own death, the new paradigm is unveiling a light at the end of the tunnel. And what a bright light that is!
 


  1. The scientific notion of the paradigm was first introduced by Thomas Kuhn in his landmark 1962 book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (University of Chicago Press). For a single source of information on many of the ideas discussed in this paper, see Marilyn Ferguson's book, The Aquarian Conspiracy: Personal and Social Transformation in the 1980s. (J. P. Tarcher, Inc. Los Angeles, 1980. Distributed by St. Martin's Press, New York.)
  2. Raymond Williams, Culture and Society 1780-1950, Harmondsworth, Penguin 1961, pg. 48-64.
  3. Inasmuch as meaning arises from a system of information exchange between a sender and a receiver, music that has no listeners has consequently no meaning. Furthermore, for meaning to arise, a protocol for decoding the information at the reception end must be available either through cultural conditioning or through a conscious process of "learning the code". However, in pieces of total serialism like Boulez's Structures II, or total aleatory like Cage's Music of Changes, meaning cannot not arise as information in time (the code cannot be learned), but semiotically (what does "serializing" or "randomizing" mean in music or, metaphorically, in the larger context?)
  4. Complexity in serialism is an external phenomenon resulting from the relative lack of deep structure. Iteration is a considerably simpler structural principle than the system of multiple hierarchies of tension and resolution which exists in common practice tonal music.
  5. This was the great achievement of deconstruction, which is basically the deconstruction of the Pretense of Rational Civilization, as shown, for instance in Derrida's first works (ex. Speech and Phenomena, where he analyzes the work of Edmund Husserl, the founder of contemporary phenomenology, and argues that meanings that are fully present to consciousness are, in principle, impossible). The process will always continue: "A work can become modern only if it is first postmodern. Postmodernism thus understood is not modernism at its end but in the nascent state, and this state is constant." (Jean-François Lyotard: The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1984.)
  6. "We know now that a text is not a line of words releasing a single 'theological' meaning (the 'message' of the Author-God) but a multi-dimensional space in which a variety of writings, none of them original, blend and clash. The text is a tissue of quotations drawn from the innumerable centres of culture… Once the Author is removed, the claim to decipher a text becomes quite futile. To give a text an Author is to impose a limit on that text, to furnish it with a final signified, to close the writing… Classic criticism has never paid any attention to the reader; for it, the writer is the only person in the literature. We are now beginning to let ourselves be fooled no longer by the arrogant antiphrastical recriminations of good society in favor of the very thing it sets aside, ignores, smothers, or destroys; we know that to give writing its future, it is necessary to overthrow the myth: the birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the Author." (Roland Barthes, Image-Music-Text, Fontana, London, 1977; first published Paris, 1968.)
  7. Of course, inasmuch postmodernism encompasses all the artistic languages of the past, it also encompasses modernism. In that sense modernism is a viable language, a small piece of a larger mosaic, but not an exclusively viable language for the present as it is still claimed by its adherents.
  8. Minimalism in fact reveals the postmodernist fascination with the reflexive process itself and the limitations of the presentation of what Enlightenment itself (as exposed in the two Critiques of Immanuel Kant) did not ever hope to express and thought of as too ideal to be touched: Romantic and modernist art, based on the impossibility of integration with "what is out there" remained conceited by claiming an internal unity and wholeness. Postmodernity, instead of building on the acceptance of the unpresentable, the Kantian sublime, it reaches out to it, breaking the pretense of art-as-nature and acknowledging its constructive elements. It is no surprise that truly contemporary art eludes the analysis which is deeply rooted in the modernist principles that claim an objective point of view: "The postmodern would be that which, in the modern, puts forward the unpresentable in presentation itself; that which denies itself the solace of good forms, the consensus of a taste which would make it possible to share collectively the nostalgia for the unattainable; that which searches for new presentations, not in order to enjoy them but in order to impart a stronger sense of the unpresentable. A postmodern artist or writer is in the position of a philosopher: the text he writes, the work he produces are not in principle governed by preestablished rules, and they cannot be judged according to a determining judgment, by applying familiar categories to the text or to the work. Those rules and categories are what the work of art itself is looking for. The artist and the writer then are working without rules of what will have been done. Hence the fact that work and text have the character of an event. Hence also they have always come too late for the author, or, what amounts to the same thing, their realization (mise en oeuvre) always begins too soon. Postmodern would have to be understood according to the paradox of the future (post) anterior (modo)." (Jean-François Lyotard: The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1984, pg. 81.)
  9. However, minimalism can also be considered to be a "pure" product of modernism, an artistic trend which was conceived on a theoretical and intellectual plane. According to Heidegger's writings, the notion of theory in modern philosophy comes directly from the notion of modern science and, therefore, maintains that truth is to be exhibited in propositions that assert causal relations, that these linguistics chains of argument directly or indirectly mirror and explain the world (Martin Heidegger, Metaphysical Foundations of Logic).
  10. Interestingly enough these two movements, Christianity and New Age, stand at the doorway of two successive aeons, the term Carl Jung uses to describe large eras of psychological development lasting two millennia and having discernible symbolic and archetypal characteristics. (See: Carl G. Jung: Aion, Bollingen, New York, 1959).
  11. With the exception of its final stage (maximal entropy) where the structures became iterative and/or random.
  12. I have already indicated that the difference between the two branches is not in the music itself but in the intention, or better yet, the function of the music. Seen from a larger perspective intention and function may in fact defer. The point can be argued that the "postmodern" minimalism of Steve Reich and Philip Glass is so in intention only, but its function evaluated from the effect of their music on the user base is New Age, inasmuch it works unintentionally as a catalyst for the promulgation of New Age ideas and lifestyles.
  13. As demonstrated by semioticians like Roland Barthes in his analysis of the advertising photograph - Mythologies, Paris Editions du Seuil 1957 - and analyzed by theorists like Louis Althusser in Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses, in Lenin and Philosophy and other essays, New Left Books, London 1971).
  14. While this phenomenon in itself shows that fundamental changes in our culture are on the way, the "punitive" enthusiasm which informs much of government policy and public response these days may have a detrimental effect on our culture, however one defines it. Permissiveness changed to severity overnight does not allow for a transformation process to take place within the cultural sector. We must find ways to ensure that at least some of the publicly funded R&D in Art finds its way into mainstream culture. Important cultural experiments of the past twenty years have not yet reached a critical mass of public support which will ensure their further survival if funding is completely and indiscriminately eliminated. While natural selection is the operating principle in human evolution, sometimes the price it exacts is nearly as high as its benefits.
  15. Marilyn Ferguson: The Aquarian Conspiracy (ibid.)
  16. [The present version of this document was reviewed for publication by the MikroPolyphonie on-line periodical and edited accordingly by the author.]
  17. Even though born and raised in Britain, John Tavener, a convert to orthodoxy, properly belongs to this group of eastern minimalists. His thematics and his quests are directly derived from the religious tradition, music, and theology of the Orthodox Church. After his conversion in 1977 he only composes religious music.

Acknowledgments:

I am particularly indebted to Andreas Andreopoulos for his invaluable assistance and editorial contributions and to Joseph Giovinazzo and the reviewers of MikroPolyphonie for their equally important editorial suggestions.

Christos Hatzis.



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