Fifth Wednesday Post

Music as a Magical Language

Once again we have a month with five Wednesdays, and by time-honored custom I called on my readers to nominate and vote on their choice of topics for this post. This month, the relationship between occultism and music got the largest number of votes.  It’s an intriguing topic, and one that has attracted a great deal of attention down through the years. It’s going to require a bit of explaining, though, so let’s get going.

Pythagoras, as imagined by an early 20th century occult artist.

We’ll have to start all the way back at the origins of Western occultism. Pythagoras, the first documented figure in the history of the Western occult tradition, taught his students about the occult side of music. The story has it that he was the one who first figured out the link between mathematics and music; more likely than not it was one of the things he picked up when he was studying the lore old Egypt under the tutelage of priests in the temples of the upper Nile valley, but he was certainly the one who launched that knowledge into the Greek world, whence it came by various roundabout ways to us.

You’ll find plenty of comparable material in the great occult syntheses of the Renaissance. The image below on the right has been reprinted fairly often over the last century or so, mostly by people who don’t know what it means. It’s a diagram from one of the occult encyclopedias of Robert Fludd, who assembled most of the lore of Renaissance occultism into gorgeously illustrated books in the first half of the seventeenth century. Those lines and Latin words are meant to suggest that the entire structure of the cosmos is arranged like the frets on a musical instrument, descending the scale from the tuning peg turned by a divine hand to the bridge down there at the bottom, which is the world we inhabit.

The instrument was standard. So, at the time, was the philosophy Fludd mapped onto it. The scientific revolution and the long night of rationalism that followed took care of that.

The instrument is called a monochord.  It’s a single string stretched over a fretboard, a little like a one-string mountain dulcimer, and it was the standard way to learn music theory until modern times.  You took your monochord, a strip of paper, and the usual tools of geometry; you divided the strip at certain intervals, and pressed your finger down at those divisions, and lo and behold, you had a musical scale.  You then did a different construction and ended up with a different scale. Rinse and repeat, and you had a good grasp of the way that notes are extracted from the continuum of sound, and some sense of the subtle variations in tuning that were standard in Western music until the end of the Baroque era.

Our music doesn’t use those subtle variations any more. Late in the eighteeenth century the old scales with their differing values were standardized into the current equal-tempered scale of Western music, which plays every key more or less well enough to pass but gets none of them quite right. There’s a reason for that, and it goes all the way back to the Greek colonial city of Crotona.  That was where Pythagoras lectured to students eager to learn the wisdom of Egypt, for all the world like some newly minted guru at the end of the 1960s sitting in Central Park with a circle of eager hippies sitting around him.

They did a lot of math when they weren’t singing prayers to the rising sun.

It was Pythagoras who introduced to the Western world the idea that numbers expressed the secret code behind reality.  The scientists who act as though nothing is real unless it can be counted or quantified?  All unknowing, they’re channeling the mystic guru of Crotona. His original teachings apparently held that every relationship in the material world could be understood as a relationship between two or more natural numbers. (1, 2, 3, and so on are the natural numbers.)  His musical teachings were an important bit of evidence for that, because the basic intervals of music do in fact work out to ratios between natural numbers:  measured in string lengths or the like, 1 to 2 gives you the octave, 2 to 3 gives you the perfect fifth, and 3 to 4 gives you the perfect fourth.

The trouble creeps in if you try to go up or down this kind of scale very far. No matter which of the old scales you use, if you construct them using a monochord or some equivalent method using geometry, and take it more than a few octaves, the high notes and the low ones will end up clashing with each other. That’s what Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier was about. In his time you had to retune the strings of every keyboard instrument any time you changed key, to avoid the discords between high and low notes. The pieces in The Well-Tempered Clavier allowed you to check your keyboard to make sure it was properly tuned—of course, being Bach, they were also musical masterpieces, but they also had the practical function of avoiding the problems with tempered scales. They only went so far, however; beyond that, no matter what, you’re in trouble.

Johann Sebastian Bach. If you gave him a grocery list he’d probably turn it into a four-part fugue.

It’s one form of a general problem that afflicts all the ancient mathematical sciences—the problem of incommensurability. In an important sense, Pythagoras was wrong: there are ratios, important ones, that can’t be expressed by any ratio between natural numbers at all.  π, the ratio between a circle’s diameter and its circumference, is one of these.  √2, the ratio between the side of a square and its diagonal, is another. In astronomy and astrology (which counted as a single science in Pythagoras’s time), the mismatch between the solar year and the lunar month is another good example;  there’s no way to make the relationship come out exactly. Octaves and fifths, finally, are incommensurable; the mismatch is subtle as long as you stay within a narrow range of a few octaves, but it’s there.

The Pythagoreans figured this out late in the life of their teacher. For a while it was one of their big secrets; several ancient sources claimed that the first initiate who let the secret out was shoved off a ship and drowned in the middle of the Mediterranean as he fled from Crotona. (Yes, my brother Masons, this was the Pythagoreans’ Captain Morgan incident.) Word got out anyway. Eventually—certainly by the Renaissance, probably well before then – the incommensurable ratios in geometry, music, and astronomy turned into ways to talk about the ways that spirit transcends human rationality. That turned tempering schemes into a meditation, as well as an excuse for Bach to create some fine music.

Imagine having to retune at least a few of these strings any time you wanted to change key.

The problem in the eighteenth century is that composers and listeners alike wanted to reach out past the limits of a few octaves, and they wanted music that modulated from key to key in the middle of a single piece of music. They wanted keyboards that went as far to both sides as a musician could reach; they wanted string quartets with violins and cellos playing together, and orchestras with flutes and tubas playing together, all veering from key to key at will. You can’t do that with any of the old scales, because the high keys and the low ones, and the high instruments and the low ones, will end up producing discords; even in the middle, your tempered scale will only work in one key, and then everyone has to retune. So the modern system of equal temperament was invented. It squeezed nearly every note in the octave out of its proper place, so that everything would harmonize more or less.

The entire world of post-Baroque classical music was made possible by that change. The piano, with its 88 keys, its massive steel frame, and its array of strings under high tension, required it; nearly all classical music depends on it; the notes that John Williams used so memorably in the theme of Star Wars, and the rest of the panoply of music that fills our entertainment media, can’t get by without it. Nonetheless, unless you happen to have taken in some early music by performers who use the old tempered scales, there are worlds of music you’ll never experience. As with so much in the modern industrial world, we traded a very wide range of possibilities for a much narrower one that allowed us to go very far in one direction.

Here’s a basic monochord: one string stretched over an unfretted soundbox.

Does this mean that the equal-tempered scale is wrong, and that we all ought to go back to Baroque scales? You can find plenty of people in certain corners of the Western esoteric scene who insist on this. I’d argue that they’re missing the point. To understand things a little better, let’s go back to the monochord.

It’s an educational experience to make or purchase a monochord—I’ve done both—and use it to construct a scale using any of the standard ancient, medieval, or Renaissance methods. Better still, use it to construct several such scales, and use each scale to tune some stringed instrument—one of those little fifteen-stringed lap psalteries that children are taught to play on is as good as anything else. Play some familiar tunes in each of the different tunings, and notice how the flavor of the notes changes. Do this a few times, or more than a few times, and you’ll discover something of great importance that many people never realize:  musical sound is a continuum, which is divided more or less arbitrarily into distinct notes.

One of these is quite adequate for the kind of basic musical exploration I’m suggesting.

If you want to see this realization taken to its logical extreme, listen to some classical Indian music, or any of the other musical traditions around the world where microtonal tunings are used. Classical Indian music has thousands of different tunings, which are called ragas. Each raga has certain melodies that are traditionally played in it; certain ragas are considered appropriate for different moods, times of day, and so on.  It’s the logic of The Well-Tempered Clavier taken further than Bach ever dreamed of taking it.  The results are impressively beautiful, but it’s a beauty that most Westerners have to learn to appreciate.

The same is true of the Asian musical tradition that produced the piece linked here. Turn up the speakers on your computer and get that playing before you read on.

A gagaku ensemble.

That’s a piece of gagaku music. Gagaku—the word can be translated “correct music” or “elegant music”—is the oldest surviving Japanese musical tradition. It was partly borrowed from, and party inspired by, the music of the imperial Chinese court in the Tang dynasty:  say, around 600 AD. To Japanese listeners, it has something like the same archaic ambience that Gregorian chant has to Western ears. To most Western listeners, once those high shrill buzzing reed instruments come in—wait for it—it has something like the ambience of a chorus of dental drills. It doesn’t use our scale, or anything like it; it uses a series of pentatonic modes—that is to say, six notes to the octave rather than eight, variously arranged.

My motive in having you play this isn’t a desire to torture my readers, though some may argue with this claim of mine.  The point to this exercise in unfamiliar music is to get past a certain pervasive bad habit in modern books on the occult dimensions of music: the notion that music—meaning our kind of music, post-eighteenth century Western music using an equally tempered scale—is a “universal language.” It’s not. When it was first introduced to people outside the Western countries, most of them thought it was as bizarre as you probably find gagaku. Many of them are used to it now, for the same reason that you can find someone who speaks English in a really remarkable range of countries all over the world, but there’s nothing inherently universal about our idiosyncratic Western music.

Western music itself has gone through a whole series of convulsions in its history, driving and driven by sharp changes in what counted as music.  The medieval church insisted that the only good music was theirs, and followed strict rules that forbade certain scales from being played—today’s major scale, the one that most people who aren’t musicians think of as the musical scale, was condemned as the modus lascivius or “lustful mode.” Come the Renaissance, the medieval modes got chopped up and replaced by seven planetary modes, in which the Ionian mode (our major scale) was quite sensibly assigned to Venus, and the Aeolian mode (our natural minor scale) was given to the Moon. The odd sad flavor of Appalachian folk music?  That’s because the mountain folk preserved one of the others, the Mixolydian mode, which belongs to Saturn.

Jean Ritchie, the doyenne of 20th century dulcimer players, strumming a mountain tune.

Then five of the modes got cast aside as Renaissance music gave way to Baroque, leaving the Ionian mode to become the major scale and the Aeolian mode to be wrenched out of shape into the harmonic minor: another narrowing of options to allow maximum extension in one direction. Then came equal temperament, a plethora of new musical instruments, and the golden age of classical music soared to its completion in the early twentieth century before it ran hard into the limits of its own creative space. (Every artistic tradition does this sooner or later.)  Afterwards, elements of Western classical music got picked up and reworked for other musical dialects—jazz, for example, was what happened when African-American blues music picked up some of the possibilities of the classical language and started doing astonishing new things with them.

The comparison with language is useful. Languages around the world vary quite a bit in the sounds they use, the way those sounds are assembled into words, and the way those words express meaning when assembled into utterances in speech or on the written page. People who only know one language have no clue just how wildly diverse human languages are. There are languages in which words are divided grammatically between wet and dry; there are languages in which prepositions (in English, these are words like “in” and “over” and “near”) change depending on person and number, like verbs in Spanish. There are languages in which “I go wherever there is dancing” is a single word. There are words in some languages you can’t spell correctly with the English alphabet no matter what, because we don’t have letters for some of the sounds those languages use.

Lovely stuff, but most Westerners have to learn to appreciate it.

Exactly the same sort of diversity is true of music. What passes for “world music” these days has generally had all the sharp corners filed off to make it an easily digestible commodity for bored Americans; if you get outside of that musical ghetto, you’ll find a much more confusing and interesting world. Go listen to some Indonesian gamelan, or some classical Indian music, or some of the Celtic music that hasn’t had its gonads chopped off to make it appeal to the bland middle ground of taste—Breton bagpipe music is a good place to start—or some Middle Eastern or African or—well, the list goes on. There’s an entire world of musical languages out there. None of them are more universal than any other, any more than Hindi is more universal than Spanish or Korean is more universal than Swahili.

All this has to be grasped, in turn, if we’re to make sense of the occult dimensions of music. If you grew up within a culture’s musical tradition, you’ll have emotional and cognitive responses to music composed and performed in that tradition, just as if you grew up speaking a certain language you’ll have emotional and cognitive responses to words and sentences in that language—that’s what gives poetry and fiction their power. If you take the time to learn a musical tradition or a language you didn’t grow up with, you might be able to get to the same level of responsiveness in that music or language, too—though it will take time and practice.

The guy in the left is playing the aulos, the Greek double flute.

Can you use those responses to cause changes in consciousness in accordance with will?  You bet. That’s why soldiers used to march into battle to the music of fife and drum—to young men from Western countries, raised in our musical traditions, the high shrill notes of the fife have a potent effect on the mind and will. (The ancient Greeks also had flute players accompanying them into battle, so this may be one of Western cultures’ inheritances from classical times.) That’s why romantic music is romantic and why rock music has the reputation it has as a means of getting laid. Music is powerful stuff, just as language is.

That’s why, in turn, I know quite a few practitioners of planetary magic who like to play bits from Holst’s The Planets before doing a planetary invocation. Holst was a student of astrology and occultism; he’s known to have studied the work of British astrologer Alan Leo (real name Frederick William Allen) while working on that symphony, and you can tell—each of the planets gets a musical theme that expresses its energy and character extremely well. He knew exactly what he was doing: the Mars section, which is playing on my CD player as I write this, was composed in 5/4 time to catch the planet’s traditional fivefold energy.  I’ve used it myself for magical purposes, with excellent results.

One way of invoking the Moon.

Is it the only option?  Of course not. I don’t happen to know Indian classical music well enough to give examples, but I’d be amazed if there weren’t ragas suitable for every planet and every one of the elemental tattwas into the bargain—and it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if such ragas were used systematically in ritual and spiritual practice. For that matter, it wouldn’t be too hard to work out classic rock numbers for every planet and element—just for starters, how about Fleetwood Mac’s “Rhiannon” for the Moon, and Blue Öyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear The Reaper” for Saturn?  Jazz, folk, C&W, metal? I’ll leave those for serious fans of those genres, but I know of no reason why those couldn’t be used with good effect too.

One way of invoking Saturn.

The point of all of this, as I hope my readers have grasped now, is that there is no one rule that all music must follow to count as magical. There is no one universal language of music; what there is, instead, is a world of different musical languages, any one of which can have magical effects in the most literal sense of that phrase if you use it with that intention. Whatever kind of music inspires and energizes you, it’s a  safe bet that it can inspire and energize your magical ceremonies and occult practices. That’s as true of the Western classical music that I love as it is of any other tradition; it’s also true, by the way, of the older Western music that some traditionalists insist is the only valid music. (It’s not the only valid music, but it’s as valid as any other.) Occultism is a living and growing tradition, not a mummified corpse. Try  including music with your rituals, your meditations, your divinations, your prayers; see what effects you get, and go from there.


  1. Thanks for this great essay. I love the high lonesome sound of mixolydian…

    When Stockhausen was in Japan, hearing Gagaku and seeing Noh Theater pieces was one of the inspirations that lead to his opera cycle Licht.

    The music of Steve Roach and Robert Rich often accompany my own work. I can listen to Reflections in Suspension over and over again without getting bored. IT’s from his album Structures from Silence, that just celebrated its 40th anniversary:

    The late Amelia Cuni was a Swedish singer who trained in western avant-garde styles and Indian classical ( a common fusion). Here exploration of Nada Yoga (sound yoga) on these two albums is very good intro to Indian classical singing, and I find it relaxing and transcendent:

    For those who like jazz, the work of Rufus Harley is interesting if you want to here an out-there combo, as he did jazz music on bagpipe. Scotch and Soul is a fun one:

    I will come up with a planetary & elemental table of songs to share forthwith, but to start with I’ll share this version of Stockhausen’s Tierkreis (Zodiac) cycle, featuring the harpist Helene Breschand.

  2. Think of what might have happened , if before the switch from Baroque music to Western Classical they had invented ” Auto Tune.” Then the software could have corrected those mismatches as the scale stretched out.
    I am of course kidding, but your Wonderful explanation of the history of music does point out to me how in some cases the use of technology like ” autotune” and rhythm correction is really a bit demonic. Humans working these things out for themselves is where are all the creativity and if you will “magic” happens. Using a computer to snap music to rigid intervals seems like a very bad thing in the long term.
    I shudder to think of the outcome if Miles Davis’ epic exploration of modal jazz, ” Kind of Blue” and taken place under the Robot Overlords of Auto Tune.

  3. @jmg regarding the Holst reference. I pulled it up on Spotify, as I had never heard of this. Listening to “Mars, the bringer of war”. Clearly this has been used in our popular culture (star wars at least).

    It is very inspiring and energizing — time to workout!!



  4. “[I]t wouldn’t be too hard to work out classic rock numbers for every planet and element—just for starters, how about Fleetwood Mac’s “Rhiannon” for the Moon, and Blue Öyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear The Reaper” for Saturn?” I like those, especially because Blue Öyster Cult’s logo is a stylized version of the symbol for Saturn. That prompts me to suggest “Bicycle” by Queen (sung by Freddie Mercury) for the innermost planet, “Venus” by Shocking Blue and covered by Bananarama for “Earth’s twin,” “Seven Nation Army” by The White Stripes for Mars (Bruno Mars has the right name, but he’s a different genre and his songs don’t have the appropriate martial energy), and either Train’s “Drops of Jupiter” or Earth, Wind, and Fire’s “Jupiter” for the remaining classical planet. Any suggestions for Uranus and Neptune?

  5. Speaking of music., can someone please ask Kim Steele contact me again? I have more books for the JMG lending library.


    Thank you!

  6. I liked the Gagaku music. It created a pleasant bodily reaction in me. Thanks for this post; it joins 5th Wednesday classics like A Few Notes on Reincarnation , Care of the Mind, and The Metaphysics of Sex, in my own mind anyway. Also this is random: I’ve had 2 dreams of Kyrmis in the last month. What’s weird is I read Weird of Hali 2.5 years ago. The Kyrmis in my dreams eat negative psychic energy. You seem to have created a new dream symbol.

  7. There’s a staggering number of possible scales, even without microtones, as explained by ianring, including audio:
    This exploration of scales is based in a musical universe founded on two assumptions:

    Octave Equivalence
    We assume that for the purpose of defining a scale, a pitch is functionally equivalent to another pitch separated by an octave. So it follows that if you’re playing a scale in one octave, if you continue the pattern into the next octave you will play pitches with the same name.

    12 tone equal temperament
    We’re using the 12 tones of an equally-tempered tuning system, as you’d find on a piano. Equal temperament asserts that the perceptual (or functional) relationship between two pitches is the same as the relationship between two other pitches with the same chromatic interval distance. Other tuning systems have the notion of scales, but they’re not being considered in this study.

  8. Quite fascinating, thank you! I have found that some old music from the Celtic or Northern European traditions stirs emotions in me that I didn’t expect, so maybe it’s partially in the DNA, which in my case is mostly Norwegian, Scots and Irish….

  9. Synthase, always a possibility. You can find more on YouTube if you like.

    Justin, I thought this would get a detailed response from you! Planetary music seems to be in the air right now — I scored a copy of the limited edition 2014 reprint of Sun Ra’s Space is the Place, movie, book, and sound track, for an absurdly small price at a thrift store yesterday. Please do come up with, and post, your suggestions for planetary and elemental music.

    Clay, something like that had occurred to me, too…

    Jerry, it’s good solid music!

    Neon, I’d agree with “Bicycle” for Mercury, but I’d put “Green Eyed Lady” by Sugarloaf for Venus and Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” for Mars. Not sure about the others!

    Luke, okay, that’s genuinely weird!

    Gerard, to be precise, there are an infinite number of scales, for the same reason that there are an infinite number of real numbers between 1 and 2.

    Pyrrhus, interesting.

  10. Dear sir, thanks for this, a topic I seem to know, as music is my method, my madness and joy, its tastes and flavors, and its antiquity, oh it’s Orpheus, the drummer for Jason and the Argonauts., blew his flute out of Hades, not many can do that. What can music do? change moods, modes, something fluid all the way back. I am a bouzouki man,my instrument likes to play by itself. I play best by myself, but I have been playing with others, folk, country, modern tunes, noisy inharmonious stuff, but we are all older folk and a lot are beginners. I play with them because I have tinnitus and I am using muscle memory of playing music to gain me relief. I am susceptible to bouts of agony around loud noises at high pitches, it would set off the internal alarm that never goes away. I could not deal with the thought of playing music for ten years because my tinnitus would interfere with my hearing and that would interfere with my playing. To deal with this situation, I slowly began to listen to, and add to my collection of music, which is eclectic, including countryrockfolkbluesoldennewjazzyindustrialsoupfromtheworldclassicaloldtimey and I suppose it is all electronic. I play and listen to music to put my tinnitus as an underlying drone,just a part of the music, and I play music to get in a different space. When I play,at my best, I can improvise themes and phrases without knowing where it goes, riding the sound. My music therapy group, from four to sixteen members would play songs, we go round the circle, each would offer a song, in various stages of competences, I think it takes lots of repetition to slowly get better. I heard us be a lot better than usual only a few times, but the therapeutic value is still there. Unfortunately our host for these excursions,where we came to play, died recently. he played banjo and harp. We all need to find another place or places to play. I listen to classical radio when I drive, or free jazz, both go well with monster truck bass, dodging red light runners. Playing and listening to music has led me to consider folk songs telling us ancient stories from the archetypal regions, you have to invite the Muses inside yourself to be the song, and the Grateful Dead did it well. Bob Dylan ….. I wrote songs since 1972 about a different way of looking at the world, tiny spells. I might set us up out beneath my grandmother cottonwood tree and play if it doesn’t get too hot. For those of us that find music to be a vehicle into a reconnection to nature, to the earth, to the stars, into deep time and now, music works for me, but maybe I’m missing the point.

  11. I dunno JMG. In my humble view with-zero-musical ability, it’s not really music until it’s electrically distorted. I can’t even stand those “unplugged” versions of tunes.

    I suppose that’s another luxury of the fossil fuel age that’s going away….

  12. For the Earth I would nominate the Entire Paul Winter Consort Album, ” Missa Gaia” ( Earth Mass) played live in the Cathedral of St John the Devine. If I had to nominate one song from that album it would be ” The Blue Green Hills of Earth”, title taken of course from the short story by Heinlein.

  13. Wow. Thanks for this column – you just blew me away. I remember the first time that I – as a young adult -encountered anything other than religious or popular music in the major scale. But as a very young child, I had a small phonograph with some vinyl records of classical music like the William Tell Overture, which left me with a lasting taste for sturm und drang and Romantic Era. And love the details on the modes as compared to our scales. And certain pieces always bring tears to my eyes. (And no, Asian music doesn’t do anything for me.)

    This is like a seminar on the guts of music, that I’d joyfully sign up for an entire semester of.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  14. interesting article! thanks… is it possible for you to explain mars 5 fold energy?? here is your quote
    “the Mars section, which is playing on my CD player as I write this, was composed in 5/4 time to catch the planet’s traditional fivefold energy.”

    thanks! james

  15. Who would have thought that rock and roll and Schubert’s songs might have similar effects and uses.

  16. JMG,
    Interesting essay. Regarding songs matched with the planets, this brought to mind “The Age of Aquarius/Let the Sun Shine In” by the 5th Dimension. Which is kind of funny, because when I think of the song, it seems more Piscean/Neptunian – groups singing together in harmony. While Aquarian/Uranian would be more iconoclastic, inventive, individual, right? Maybe jazz is Uranian? Punk rock, I don’t know, London Calling seems Plutonian.
    BTW, I checked Wackypedia for The Age of Aquarius song and they show an advertisement for a performance by 5th Dimension. The ad has an image of the group members over an ephemeris, which doesn’t even correspond to the lyrics, HAH! Anyway, seems standard for the times (60s) – at root, uninformed, foolish, careless.

  17. Thank you very much for this post. My enthusiasm for music returned to me only two weeks ago, so I appreciate the serendipity of you taking the time to write about it. I realize there are more urgent subjects you are applying yourself to, but it would be great to see you write more about the art you love, as you have a very mature sense of beauty.

    On a minor note, I hope things have improved for you. I’ll be very sad if I don’t receive your weekly posts.

  18. There is a similar problem to musical incommensurability in linear vanishing point perspective. Upon investigation, it turns out that there is only one form of perfectly accurate perspective, that projected on a sphere from a centrally located projection point, as with a star globe. All other perspective, notably that on a planar picture surface, is inherently distorted in a mathematically predictable range of distortions. As with the well-tempered system, there are ways of compensating for this, such as the Mercator projection, but they are necessarily imperfect. It would appear that our ways of apprehending the universe and the principles that govern it are limited by our apparatus for perceiving it, and, I suppose, by our minds as well.

  19. John -that was a fine score to get at the thrift store! I have below a short elemental list. I will be blogging these up as a three part series (with planets and zodiacal music to follow).

    A Short List of Elemental Music

    There is classic rock that I enjoy very much, but it’s not really my main musical interest, so in the spirit of dissensus I am going to make an eclectic list of songs for each of the elements. A later list will contain music for the planets, and still another will go further out into the empyrean to share music about the zodiac.

    For the element of Air, Brian Eno’s Music for Airport’s comes to mind. At this point there are many different versions based on his original. I am rather partial to the Bang on a Can version, but there is also one from Psychic Temple the project of Chris Schlarb, a Long Beach jazz guitarist. It’s also nice in that the album also features a Music for Bus Stops. What is great about Music for Airports is the way it allows thoughts to land and take off to many different destinations while listening.

    Henry Flynt’s mixture of hillbilly-cum-rockabilly fiddle music and electronic tanpura drones as played on his revelatory “Purified by the Fire” album long cut takes the listener deep into the burning flames of creativity. This is an exultant combination of the high lonesome sound heard in the hills and hollers of Appalachia, that gets a rock kick when the strings are distorted. Overlaid on top of the Indian sounding drone, the electrified fiddle takes listeners into visionary worlds.

    For the element of Water, I suggest Watermusic by William Basinski. It’s designed to be listened to at low volumes. Listening, it seeps into every available crack and pore. The title appears to be a homage to George Friederic Handel’s Water Music, from 1717. Beyond that, and their evocation of the element of water, they appear to have little in common. This Watermusic is on the tranquil rippling side. He did a reworked version called Watermusic II and is just as elementally essential.

    Some people like to make music with the very stones of the Earth. Among them are Scott Gibbons and he did just that on album for his Lillith project in 1992. Scott got his start in performance with a group called The New Elementals. The sounds on this album are all made just with stones that have been struck, stones that have been smashed, grated even, and includes both granite and clay. The recordings were taken and remixed as raw materials in the studio.

    If we look at the Chinese elements, than the topic of Wood might come up. Many instruments are made from wood of course, but Timber, a cycle of percussion works by Bang on a Can founding member Michael Gordon takes the cake. It is mesmerizing music and I would love to be able to see it performed live someday because he figured out a way of tuning blocks of wood in such a way that when the musicians play them it creates a sense of movement of sound around the room.

    Percussion in particular seems to correspond strongly with the element of Earth. The late industrial musician and legendary percussionist Z’ev explored the properties of metal with his homemade and scavenged drum kits. As a Qabalist and mage, he was also very in tune with the elementals and worked with them deliberately in his music. His piece “Elemental Music” which exists as an early recording from the 80’s and as various performances, captures his connection to the elements. This short filmed performance from Italy shows just how connected he was with his instruments and the elemental metals they came from.

    Songs for the element of Aether are a bit harder to pin down. “Structures from Silence” by Steve Roach comes close. Perhaps its just because this album is one of my all-time ambient favorites, or the fact that I use it for meditation and other practices, or the way the title suggests structures emerge out of something beyond, something silent, something still that gives birth to what we might call spirit. The whole album is like that, with “Reflections in Suspension” being my favorite track.

    Another piece, and one greatly contested over the decades since it was first performed that I would say touches into the element of Aether is 4’33” by John Cage. He taught us to really listen to the sounds going on around us, the sounds within us. John Cage popularized something he got from Indian musician Gita Sarabhai, that the purpose of music is “to sober and quiet the mind making it susceptible to divine influences.” When turn off the music and embrace the silence we might just began to hear our own thoughts and get in touch with the parts of ourselves that are beyond the physical.

  20. One music to rule them all
    one music to find them
    One music to bring the all
    and in the Well-tempered Clavier to bind them…

    Were the rigid musical structures we have in the west an expression of the domination of reason and the pseudo-religion of Progress? I remember one lecture (Oscillations and Waves course) that triumphantly explained how a physicist ‘rescued’ music by fixing A at 440 Hz, using physical instruments to be able to universally tune musical instruments. Yay Science! A few years ago, someone made a comparison of two versions of a piece, one tuned to 440 the other tuned to 435 a while back and the difference was eerie, the argument being that all music did not have to be fixed to a particular frequency and by allowing it to change, could produce different effects on the same musical piece. It was interesting.

    Somewhere on the web, you can probably still find The Signature Series by Paolo Pietropaolo produced originally on CBC about 15 years ago. He explored the character and personalities of the different standard keys, lavishly illustrated with snippets of classical music in that key. It is a good, safe introduction to the vast array of possibilities of music.

    And, I couldn’t help but think of the indignant howls at Jimmi Hendrix shredding “The Star Spangled Banner” on his electric guitar, which playfully strayed very far from the standard canonical notes, yet still remained recognizable and that wowing of notes became the typical garage band style for the 80s electric guitar…

  21. At Neon Vincent #5:
    David Bowie – Space Oddity – Uranus
    Pink Floyd – Comfortably Numb – Neptune
    Bob Dylan – Subterreanean Homesick Blues – Mercury

  22. At this link is the full list of all of the requests for prayer that have recently appeared at and, as well as in the comments of the prayer list posts. Please feel free to add any or all of the requests to your own prayers.

    If I missed anybody, or if you would like to add a prayer request for yourself or anyone who has given you consent (or for whom a relevant person holds power of consent) to the list, please feel free to leave a comment below or at the link above.

    * * *
    This week I would like to bring special attention to the following prayer requests.

    May Jennifer’s mother Nancy G. in SW Missouri is still recovering from various troubles including brain surgery for hydrocephaly; may she be healed, regain her mobility, and be encouraged with loving energy.

    May Erika, who recently lost her partner James and has been dealing with major knee problems (and who senses a connection between the two), be healed in both broken heart and broken knee, and be able to dance in the sun once more.
    May Doug Y of Geauga County, Ohio be supported and healed as he makes his way through the diagnosis and treatment process for prostate cancer.

    May Ms. Krieger’s hometown of Norwalk, Connecticut recover quickly and fully from the gasoline tanker fire that destroyed an overpass and shut down interstate 95 on May 2. May the anger and fire that has made driving in the area so fraught cool down in a way that benefits all beings. May all people, animals, and other beings around the highway, the adjacent river and the harbor be protected and blessed, and may the natural environment improve to the benefit of all. (update)

    May Christina, who passed away on 5/8, experience a peaceful repose; may the minor child she leaves behind be cared for, and the needs of all affected me met; and may her family be comforted in this difficult time.

    May Frank Rudolf Hartman of Altadena California (picture), who is receiving chemotherapy, be completely cured of the lymphoma that is afflicting him, and may he return to full health.

    Tyler A’s wife Monika’s pregnancy is high risk; may Mother and child be blessed with good health and a smooth delivery, and be soothed and healed from their recent pains and discomfort in a manner that supports a positive outcome to the pregnancy.

    May Deathcap’s friend Mike, who has begun a 5 week course of radiation treatment after a nearly fatal surgery for a malignant tumor on his leg, be healed of his cancer and return to full health quickly and as completely as possible.

    May new mother Molly M recover quickly and completely from her recent stroke and the lingering loss of vision and slurred speech that ensued, and may newborn Lela and husband Austin be comforted and strengthened through this difficult time.

    May Just Another Green Rage Monster‘s father, who is dealing with Stage 4 Lymphoma, and mother, who is primary caregiver, be blessed, protected and healed.

    May Kyle’s friend Amanda, who though in her early thirties is undergoing various difficult treatments for brain cancer, make a full recovery; and may her body and spirit heal with grace.

    Lp9’s hometown, East Palestine, Ohio, for the safety and welfare of their people, animals and all living beings in and around East Palestine, and to improve the natural environment there to the benefit of all.

    * * *
    Guidelines for how long prayer requests stay on the list, how to word requests, how to be added to the weekly email list, how to improve the chances of your prayer being answered, and several other common questions and issues, are to be found at the Ecosophia Prayer List FAQ.

    If there are any among you who might wish to join me in a bit of astrological timing, I pray each week for the health of all those with health problems on the list on the astrological hour of the Sun on Sundays, bearing in mind the Sun’s rulerships of heart, brain, and vital energies. If this appeals to you, I invite you to join me.

  23. JMG, if I may follow up on an exchange from the Open Post– apologies for OT–

    Princess Cutekitten, I didn’t hear back from you yet. If you approve of the following prayer wording, I’ll stick your prayer on the list. “Regarding Princess Cutekitten’s recently renewed problems with mortgage servicers causing her difficulties, may the situation resolve in the best way possible.” If you approve, I’ll add it to the list.

  24. Thank you!
    Very interesting. A few stray thoughts.

    Another major component of music is rhythm, which would require another article entirely. And then there’s timbre — the difference between say the same rhythm on a wood block and on a taiko drum, or the same notes on a violin and a flute. And then there’s the contrast between singing and hearing.
    Your discussion really points out the way in which music depends on cultural context. An interesting aspect of this occurs in rhythm, especially in connection with language. Rhythm in some languages (eg Anglo-Saxon verse) has a lot to do with accent — percussive beats, so to speak. In other languages, it has to do with quantity — the length of a syllable. This is not a fixed trait — Latin shifts from quantitative meter in classical verse to accentual meter in medieval verse. (Traditional Japanese verse involves quantity, but modern pop music also becomes accentual, especially in Japanese rap.) But it’s very hard to do quantitative verse in English — especially since it’s hard for people to read it *as* qualitative.
    I have heard that music is shaped by the singing voice — so that languages that allow for a lot of melisma (like Italian) tend to have different musical rhythms from those that do not (like German).

    These aren’t simply abstract considerations: they really come to the fore in charms and spells, for example.

    Yeats’ father wrote him some annoyed letters berating him for not using proper scansion in his poems — for overriding the meter of the words with the rhythm he wanted to use. Of course, Yeats was a poet and his father was not. Listening to Yeats reading “The Song of the Old Mother” ( one can hear the difference between formal scansion and his own reading (instead of “their DAY goes OVer in idleness” he reads “THEIR day GOES over in idleness”, for example) — and there’s a play of formal against informal rhythms that adds energy to the lines, something like what happens using complementary colors in painting. Not to mention the esoteric suggestiveness of the poem itself.

    Verse rhythm is a very powerful tool. Those who were exposed to “The Song of Hiawatha” as school children probably remember the infectious quality of the rhythm, and the way it could be hard to avoid using it almost involuntarily even when talking with classmates. (Limericks can have the same effect of organizing speech, but they don’t just keep rolling along.)

    In memorizing ritual texts, drawing out the rhythmic structure of the text, and perhaps finding a tonal structure (if not actual tune) for it, can be very helpful. They don’t need to be employed in ritual itself, as long as they’re in the background, shaping the speaking of the text by the ritualist.


  25. i suppose if we give numbers to planets including moon – we get mars as the 5th large body from the sun… maybe that is the connection of mars to the number 5…. mercury would be 1, venus 2, earth 3, moon 4, mars 5… or it could be the absence of the moon and the starting point as sun.. so sun 1, mercury 2, venus 3, earth 4 and mars 5… it is probably one of these ideas imposed on mars…

  26. A Japanese reader here may tell me that I couldn’t be further from the truth, but I’ll share this. For an entirely American man who has never even had the pleasure of traveling to Japan, I feel an incredibly strong kinship with traditional Japanese culture and aesthetics. (past life?)

    For me, the appreciation of Gagaku music is realizing that, unlike Western music, the silence is as important than the notes, almost more so. Imagine sitting on a silk cushion on an expanse of straw colored tatami mat. The walls are white shoji set in a grid of thin dark wood strips. The room is bare but, against one wall, there is a large silk folding screen painted with an exquisite scene, simple almost to the point of abstraction. In front of you is a shallow alcove, on the floor there a beautiful antique porcelain vase holding an ikebana flower arrangement that is living poetry, and above that is a plain rice paper scroll with a haiku written in black calligraphy. Quite your mind and feel the simplicity. When you listen to the music, take a deep breath and realize that there isn’t a melody as there is in Western music. There are musical phrases and drumbeats written on the silence.

  27. @JMG

    Thank you for this essay, I really enjoyed reading it. I have been trained (albeit at a basic level) since the age of 5 in North Indian classical vocal music by my grandfather, who’s a veteran musicologist – my grandfather (he’s 89 years old) is a direct student of an illustrious student of Pandit Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande, who is to North Indian classical music what Linnaeus is to biology. Yes, you are right in saying that there is indeed a spiritual dimension to Indian classical music – it has traditionally been a temple tradition, which got enthusiastically adopted by monarchs, who were in love with it. There are various styles of vocal music in the North Indian (aka Hindustani) classical tradition such as vilambit khyaal</i? and dhrupad, with the latter being the oldest style of vocal music and having originated from an older form of music called prabandha. In addition to this, certain ragas belong to certain religious schools, with pentatonic ragas like Bhupali and Malkauns being of Shaivite origin.

    Regarding the therapeutic effects of music, yes, the phenomenon is quite real, and there are doctors and psychiatrists in India who have experimented with musico-therapy as a supplement to medicines, and have generally yielded good results. As for ragas being used for ritual, you’re right there too – the second of the four Vedas, i.e. the Sama Veda, is the foundation of Indian classical music; and the Vedas are meant to be sung, not mechanically recited.

    I have only one disagreement with this essay, and it’s a minor one – I think your definition of ragas is not entirely correct. Ragas are a bit more complex than just a tune, each raga has it’s scale, in addition to singing the notes in a particular style so as to give the raga its distinctive identity. There are certain characteristic phrases which distinguish the raga; we call these chalan. I think of the ragas collectively creating an overarching structure akin to that of the Indo-European language family, with each raga having its own scale (alphabet), way of singing the notes (grammar), and characteristic phrases (idioms and proverbs). So when you perform a raga in vocal or instrumental music, you are operating within the framework of the raga while using your creativity in spontaneous improvisation, just the way you adhere to the rules of the English language while writing a novel. But you are spot-on as regards the timings, moods, and even seasons pertaining to specific ragas, as also about ragas being linked to tattvas. Indian tradition has its own theory of emotions called rasa(s), and each raga corresponds to one or the other of the rasas, and these rasas are linked to deities. I’m not sure if the ragas have an astrological side to them, but it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if they do.

    That said, I’ll share some performances, they are video, but you can close you eyes and listen to them, which is actually even better. Here they are:

    1) A performance in the raga Malkauns by the late great Pandit Nikhil Banerjee, who I personally think was easily better than Pandit Ravi Shankar:
    This is best listened to before going to bed.

    2) A performance in raga Bhupali by the late great Vidushi Kishori Amonkar:
    Again, this is a nighttime raga.

    3) An afternoon raga:

  28. Nice job on this, JMG. As a teen I got really attached to a piece by Harry Partch called “Daphne of the Dunes.” It got played on a classical Saturday night request show, and after hearing it I kept requesting it every Saturday until they got really tired of me! I should also mention Frank Zappa as a shameless borrower of classical tunes. For example listen to his “Ask Any Vegetable” after familiarizing yourself with “The Planets” by Holst.

    Because of the OPW lesson I was working on a week or two ago I was looking for meeting points between the mental and astral planes. I thought of “absolute music,” as opposed to “program music,” (which to me is on a lower level). Absolute music, for me, is epitomized by the Six Sonatas for Solo Violin by J.S.Bach.

    Plutonian music? How about “Trust Us” by Captain Beefheart.

  29. Hi JMG,
    Devoted reader, infrequent commenter and one who learns much from the discussions.

    As a longtime maker of and thinker about music, I often get nervous when non-specialists attempt to explain the deeper underlying structures, but this essay covers the ground succinctly, accurately and meaningfully. If music isn’t magical, I don’t know what is. And your emphasis on cultural context is vital. (I happen to love gagaku, Hindustani, Karnatic, etc. though make my living as a jazz musician. Or maybe jazz has made me more open to these traditions. It’s complicated, no?)

    One small error, or perhaps mismatch in terminology: the pentatonic scale has five different notes, as the name implies. It’s the set of five consecutive fifths. You might get a sixth note if you count the “resolution” , i.e., the return to the root, but that’s not a new note (see octave equivalence from #8). Likewise the modes are considered to have seven different notes (in this case 7 consecutive fifths) rather than eight. The pentatonic scale is a wonder. It seems to be universal, and could well be over 35,000 years old. Talk about deep magic.

    Thanks to the commentariat for voting in this topic, and thanks to you for handling it so well. Would not be disappointed if you chose to write more about it.

  30. It occurs to me that if you remove the tuning pegs and add a weigh pan, the monochord can teach a physics lesson on top of music theory. Every homeschooler should have one!

    I actually have one of those lap harps and a pile of plywood scraps, so I see a monocord and some experimentation in my future. Does anyone know if there are a good set of plans floating around?

    Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but wouldn’t the wind-instrument equivalent to the monochord be a slide whistle?

  31. Thanks for this post! I will have more to say later in the week after I have digested your post and the responses up to that point.

    For right now, I loved the gagaku music you linked to, maybe because I love koto music and have listened to it for quite a few years (if I am not mistaken, I heard a koto among the ensemble). I’ve watched and listened to professional koto players at Missouri Botanical Garden’s Japanese Festival. It’s fascinating to watch the player move one of the bridges on the fly to obtain notes that are not available with the bridges set as they were. If mountain dulcimers had movable bridges, I think they would sound a lot like the koto.

  32. Jdmbozouki, that entire comment reads as though you’re rapping it to a fast beat…

    Drhooves, whatever floats your boat. Yes, it’s probably going away.

    Clay, I could see it.

    Patricia M, you’re most welcome!

    James, in traditional occult symbolism the planets have specific numbers: Saturn is 3, Jupiter 4, Mars 5, the Sun 6, Venus 7, Mercury 8, the Moon 9, and the earth 10. (At least in theory they didn’t know about Neptune and Uranus, but those fit very nicely as 1 and 2 respectively.)

    Mary, who could have missed that? Music around the world and throughout time has very often been used as a panty remover.

    Sirustalcelion, thanks for the data point. I didn’t happen to know that.

    Will1000, Age of Aquarius will do very well as a Neptune piece! The lyrics themselves are another good example of Sixties cluelessness — “When the Moon is in the seventh house, and Jupiter aligns with Mars” is just astrobabble and doesn’t predict what follows.

    Dr. T., I’ll give it a listen when I have some time.

    JDiPietro, one of my publishers has asked for a book on the esoteric side of music; I have a lot of research to do first and some other projects to get out of the way, but it’s on the agenda. As for myself, I’m doing better. It’s been a little over three months now since Sara died, and things have gotten easier — as they do.

    Kevin, thanks for this! You’re quite correct, of course, and I hadn’t thought of including that in the list.

    Justin, the amazing thing is that it wasn’t the only one. I also got, for absurdly little, a boxed set with 30 (!) classical cds in it, released by Chandos for their 30th anniversary — I’ve got Arnold Bax’s 4th symphony playing right now, reminding me that I haven’t paid anything like enough attention to the early 20th century British neoclassical scene. Thanks for the eclectic list!

    Renaissance, exactly. Just as you can only shoot a bullet if the walls of the barrel are hard and narrow, Western civilization went as far as it did in its peculiar direction only by embracing a fantastic degree of rigidity. As for “The Star-Spangled Banner,” try playing it in a minor key someday — it’s harrowing. I consider that the theme music for Twilight’s Last Gleaming.

    Quin, thanks for this as always.

    LeGrand, thanks for this also. No question, there’s a lot more that could have been addressed if I wasn’t trying to fit it into a single blog post. With regard to the Hiawatha meter, do you recall Lewis Carroll’s intro to “Hiawatha’s Photographing”? I quote:

    “In an age of imitation, I can claim no special merit for this slight attempt at doing what is known to be so easy. Any fairly practised writer, with the slightest ear for rhythm, could compose, for hours together, in the easy running metre of ‘The Song of Hiawatha.’ Having, then, distinctly stated that I challenge no attention in the following little poem to its merely verbal jingle, I must beg the candid reader to confine his criticism to its treatment of the subject.”

    It’s fun to chant aloud so that the meter comes out…

    B. Tidwell, I’ve read that said about Japanese music by Japanese authors, so I think you’re probably right.

    Viduraawakened, thanks for this, and for the correction! I don’t claim to be expert in the classical music of my culture, much less yours, and so am not surprised to find that I got some details wrong.

    Phutatorius, I’ll look up that Partch piece. Thank you!

    Jeff P, thank you for this! I’ve been studying tuning theory for some years now, and I’m glad it shows. I referenced the sixth note of the pentatonic scale for the same reason the octave is called an octave, even though it has just seven natural notes.

    Tyler, like this?

    As for plans, there are many. Here’s a website that covers it fairly well:

    SLClaire, you’re not hallucinating. The gagaku ensemble includes the gakusō, which is the ancestor of the modern koto and has much the same sound; it has 13 strings. It might be interesting to have a dulcimer maker build a dulcimer with high fixed bridges at the two ends so that movable bridges could put in!

  33. @LeGrand: The relationship between timbre and rhythm is interesting because one can become the other with changing speeds.

    Yes, there are a lot of other directions to be explored, including duration.

    @Llewana: I like your little list!

    @Phutatorius: That’s interesting about absolute music and program music. Kind of like Graham Greene’s distinction between his serious Catholic novels and his entertainments.

  34. @JMG,
    Very much like that! My thought was that loading different weights allow you to vary string tension in a more knowable way than a tuning peg. Not an original thought, evidently. (If I’ve ever had one, I swear it was coincidence.) If those different strings are different gauges, why, he’s got the whole learning experience on one board! “Pitagorus” is going to walk away with a full understanding of stringed instruments, the lucky duck.

    Oh, and for the record, I quite enjoyed the gagaku. I suspect like many in my generation I have been subtly exposed to Japanese musical constructions via Anime and video games without ever realizing it. (A lot of such music is western-inspired, but even the like of Uematsu Nobuo working in a Western mode probably can’t help but be influenced by his own culture. If you don’t know that name, you should check him out. Uematsu’s soundtrack for Final Fantasy VI has been compared to “Michelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel with crayons” by people who know music much better than I.)

  35. It sounds like those CDs were meant for you. It’s been a long time since I listened to Arnold Bax, but I remember exploring some of his tone poems -a classical idiom I like very well.

  36. We still use four main scales in EO liturgical music: diatonic, enharmonic, soft chromatic, and hard chromatic. I *think* I’ve read that there is some correspondence between dorian mode and phrygian mode, and our scales, but can’t quite retrieve it from memory. There’s a good explanation of the intervals for each here:

    Basically, each octave is divided into 72 chora, and different scales have different arrangements of intervals between the notes, measured in chora. When you get a really good chanter in (I don’t qualify!), you can really hear the difference. Equal-tuning does not sound the same because it only has half steps and whole steps. Byzantine tuning has three or four different sized intervals per scale, so it’s got a bit of looseness to it, compared to the sound of western scales. Trying to learn it from a Western background is loads of fun.

  37. Tyler A #34

    Slide whistle gives you the possibility of zeroing in on any pitch in its range from all the way out to all the way in. In that sense it’s like a monochord. But one of the coolest things about the monochord, which happens to be the basis for music worldwide, is that a tightened vibrating string will yield “harmonics”. That is, if you touch the string lightly at whole number divisions (like 1/2, 1/3, 1/4…) while it’s vibrating, you will get new tones. They form what’s called the harmonic series, or overtone series. The first 5 give you the major triad, a fundamental building block of a lot of music.

    The slide whistle doesn’t really do overtones (you can overblow it, but that just gives you one), but the brass instruments are built entirely on the principle. So probably the best wind analog to the monochord is the trombone! You can play any of the infinite pitches along the slide, plus you can switch to different harmonics using your lips and airflow.

  38. JMG thanks so much for this. Another hit of an essay. And when you mentioned Holst, a grinch level grin went up on my face. I blasted the planets on my headphones so much in high school I eventually had to replace the disc. Stravinsky and Bartok would soon follow the same fate.

  39. This is a wonderful post, and not only because music is something I know so very little about, and already there are interesting links to listen to and learn from. It really does help to think of music as a language, which develops a structure constraining its speakers in specific ways, while being only one of many, many ways for structuring communication.

    One thing that I have been ruminating upon, though, is the relationship of music to time.

    There are some sayings that definitely subvert the logical order of things – such as: “It’s handy my name is Scotlyn, because that’s what everyone calls me” or “if you want to have a long, healthy life, choose your parents carefully”… and maybe the following will be a sentence of that nature, but…

    …it strikes me that there must be time, so that music can happen…

    …likewise, there must be both time and space so that music’s little sister, dance, can happen…


  40. I remember that Gurdjieff made some curious claims about music; he said that a grand piano, specially tuned in a manner he doesn’t describe, and played in a sequence of repeated notes, which he doesn’t describe, could raise sores on the human body, or wither plants. A different sequence could then heal the sores and make the plants grow healthy again. The Gurdjieff “movements,” to the extent of my knowledge, were done to the accompaniment of a piano tuned in equal temperament.

    A further comment on Capt. Beefheart, whose band departed frequently/constantly from standard pitch, was that either “Trust Us (we love you)” or “Safe as Milk” could be Dr. Fauci’s theme song. They occur back-to-back on his album “Strictly Personal.”

  41. The gagaku music made these little corkscrewing shivers run *up* my spine, starting from the base of my shoulder blades and abruptly ending at that vertebrae bump at the base of the neck. It did it over and over. It felt really weird, not in a pleasant way, but like some sort of energy was trying to release but was blocked from doing so.

    But one of my very favorite classical albums is Sakura, which came out in 1978. Its Jean Pierre Rampal on Western flute, and Lily Laskine on harp. They took traditional Japanese compositions and translated them to the Western method. The result is simply lovely, so relaxing. I listen to it at least weekly. Its on Youtube.

    Funny thing is, I got it completely by accident. Remember the Columbia Record Club? You had to choose what you wanted and get that card back to them by the deadline, or they would send you whatever they wanted. I missed the deadline once, and they sent me Sakura. Which became one of my all time favorites.

  42. @Douglas WOW! I loved that song back in the early 80’s when I first heard it. This stuff is EVERYWHERE!

    thx for sharing 🙂


  43. Delightful essay, JMG – I wasn’t sure how you would approach it, but it was a fun and educational ride!

    I’m glad that you mentioned the Mixolydian mode and the Appalachian folk music. Of course, it is also the mode used by the highland bagpipes — the first musical instrument that I learned (and favourite instrument to this day)! Since Appalachia was largely settled by Scots-Irish, this ‘coincidence’ should be no surprise. Of all the modes, Mixolydian captures the melancholy Celtic soul better than any other.

    As much as I like to listen to, and can very often appreciate at least to some degree, music from various cultures, the one that is just too ‘out there’ to my ears and mind is the traditional Tibetan music (the trio of high reed instrument, blaring bass horns and seemingly random gongs) which simply gives me the giggles. Example here:

    As for music and the planets, Gustav Holst is not the only composer to combine the two. South Indian (classical Carnatic music) composer Muttuswami Dikshitar wrote the Navagraha Kritis (Nine Planet Songs) in the early 19th century. According to legend, the inspiration of this compositional masterpiece was a stomach ache! One of Dikshitar’s disciples, by name Tambiappan, had a persistent stomach ailment which was not cured by any conventional herbal/ayurvedic treatments. Dikshitar looked at Tambiappan’s horoscope and determined that the source of the ailment was an ill-placed Jupiter. So, Dikshitar composed a song in praise of Jupiter as a cure and got his disciples to sing it, together for a week. It worked!

    These songs are long and in Sanskrit. Here is a link to a recording sung by the music teacher of my music teacher – the musicologist Dr. S. Ramanathan (the first song starts at 0:49 seconds): Each song not only has its distinct raga (mode) but also tala (rhythmic cycle) that was appropriate to the particular planet. The songs are always performed in the following order: Sun (Surya Murte), Moon (Chandram Bhaja), Mars (Angarakamasrayami), Mercury (Budhamasrayami), Jupiter (Brihaspathe), Venus (Sri Shukra Bhagavantham), Saturn (Divakara Thanujam), Rahu/North Node (Smaramyaham) and Ketu/South Node (Mahasuram). In my singing days I was fond of singing the latter two songs. Interestingly enough, in both Holst’s and Dikshitar’s suites of planetary compositions, Jupiter is the middle (5th) composition. Coincidence? I think not! Both were serious occultists, after all.

    One last comment if I may: you wrote “What passes for “world music” these days has generally had all the sharp corners filed off to make it an easily digestible commodity for bored Americans.” Oh, man, do I ever agree with you on that! As much as I appreciate the effort intellectually, I don’t listen to music to stimulate my intellect; if it does not touch my heart it’s simply wasting my time! Also, like any other art, part of the beauty of any kind of music lies in the rules which define it. “World music” ends up violating many of the rules of whatever traditions are being thrown together in the blender. It’s like making a milkshake out of spumoni ice cream: believe me, as a former Baskin Robbins ice cream jockey who had direct experience in making such a thing, the result ain’t pretty!

  44. Tyler, he did in fact end up with a good working knowledge of the ancient Greek instruments. As for Uematsu, no, I’m not familiar with him at all. I’ll check him out.

    Zarcayce, I have no idea. Experiment and find out!

    Justin, I think they were. This is my first exposure to Bax — I only recently got my first CDs of music by Cyril Scott (an occultist as well as a composer) and Rutland Boughton (a famous figure in Glastonbury’s pre-festival days), so I was intrigued to find another.

    Methylethyl, fascinating! Those are descended from the ancient Greek modes, which were played in diatonic, enharmonic, and chromatic forms. I’m glad to hear that’s been preserved.

    Maurice, glad to hear it.

    Scotlyn, in Renaissance Pythagoreanism numerology was seen as number in itself, geometry as number in space, music as number in time, and astrology as number in both space and time. So you may be on to something.

    Phutatorius, interesting. I haven’t researched that end of the Fourth Way tradition, so thank you for this.

    Mother B, hmm! Yes, I remember the Columbia Record Club, though the Science Fiction Book Club was more my style back then. I somehow missed Sakura. I’ll have to give it a listen.

    Ron, thanks for this. Among other things, I appreciate knowing that my guess about classical Indian music was right! As for “world music,” bleah. I know people who think that Enya and Riverdance sum up Celtic music, I’m sorry to say.

  45. I always found the standard music scale restrictive and boring, but figured that smarter people invented it so it must make sense. When I tried incorporating sound into my pentagram rituals it always felt like the tuning was off. The notes I vocalized felt brighter and cleaner than the “official” frequencies that I double checked them against. If certain frequencies respond to elements then it would be really difficult to believe that someone would perfectly place them on the procrustean equal temperament scale. Is there a way to find the exact frequency that each element responds to? I gave up the attempt a while ago but now you have rekindled my interest.

  46. For the German-speaking among you who might be interested, there’s a 4-part “audiobook” of Joachim-Ernst Berendt’s “Nada Brahma – Die Welt ist Klang” on You Tube (, which explores today’s theme in some detail. The English edition of the book is also still in print and available as a paperback: “The World Is Sound: Nada Brahma: Music and the Landscape of Consciousness”.

  47. This is a very timely post with the release of your new book!! I am excited to get a copy of “The Nyogthe Variations”
    This might be required reading before starting the series.
    One question, is this book the end of the series?

  48. Unfortunately I seem to have little talent to actually make music and thanks to the combination of having been somewhat lazy during my time at school and absolutely horrible music classes I have only a very rudimentary theoretical background. I like to listen to music, though. What sparked my interest in the theoretical and practical basics of music and sound is teaching physics. With a monochord and two tuning forks each attached to a soundbox, possible with some little attachable weights you can use to slightly de-tune the forks, you can do a lot. With the younger students it’s “just” qualitative – resonance (or non-resonance) between two tuning forks, for example, feeling the vibration of the resonance body and theorizing what “sound” may be, how it propagates, etc. With the older students you can go deeper add a decent bit of mathematics – producing and mathematically describing beat notes, for example. One thing that was really fascinating was to generate a time resolved computer simulation of a guitar string that vibrates with several harmonics at the same time (it is hard to grasp for many students that this is possible and usually happens) and even more nice to test this via string harmonics on a monochord. These are very basic building blocks for both music and physics. At least for physics I can confidently say that they may take you very far and I guess the same is true for music. It’s fascinating (and a bit frustrating), btw, that students are usually not able to manually tune a guitar, even if they are decent players. Quite a few of them don’t even know what they have to listen for…

    And many thanks to everybody who posted links and hints to fine and (sometimes or 😉 ) interesting music. I’m really enjoying it!


  49. I’m trying to think of what planetary correspsondances I can think of with metal. Some are easy– Sabaton is a vary martian (and marital) energy, so virtually anything of theirs fits. Power metal is set in the ‘lustful mode’, so I’d nominate for Venus “Resurrection by Erection” by Powerwolf. Saturn, I might put Metallica– master of puppets or King Nothing. Nightwish has a good ‘lunar’ energy and I’d nominate ‘Walking in the Air’ or (possibly) ‘Sleeping Sun’ for the moon. Mercury is the fleet-footed one, so I’d suggest Dragonforce “Through the Fire and the Flames” but I’m not positive that’s best pick. I’m stuck for Jupiter and the Sun.

    Any metalheads in the commentariot want to help me flesh this out? I’m not Holst, that’s for sure.

  50. This conversation made me think of the jazz, fusion, world music group “Oregon”, from the 70’s and 80’s. The description on wikipedia will give you an idea of why I think they fit right in with this post.
    “Oregon established itself as one of the leading improvisational groups of its day, blending Indian and Western classical music[3] with jazz, folk, space music[4] and avant-garde elements.”
    I have several albums and like some of there stuff, but find some of it disconcerting because of the blending of Western and Classical Indian tonal systems. I think they made a good effort to break free of the Western tuning system, but tragedy cut things short when the leading member of the group died in an auto accident.

  51. JMG, a wonderful blog post! For “Earth” I’d nominate the Japanese composer Himekami’s “Earthflame”: For Mars, definitely Holst’s “The Planets” – I heard that performed live by a full orchestra once and the “Mars” movement was truly terrifying: I kept expecting an invading army to march into the concert hall at any moment. (Holst composed “The Planets” during WWI; perhaps that explains the power of the “Mars” movement.) “Jupiter” from that symphony also seems to capture the essence of that expansive, civic-minded planetary energy. For Venus, I think of a medieval troubadour song performed by Catherine Braslavsky: It’s a song to the Virgin Mary, but to me it also expresses reverence for the sacred feminine.

  52. I am not a musician and probably won’t get around to it this lifetime but I found this post fascinating and will return to it again to learn more.

    I am interested in hearing some non-bland Celtic music that has both testicles intact and accounted for. Hope JMG and others can provide suggestions.

  53. It’s interesting to consider equal temperament as a feature, or metaphor, for the industrial age, but of course it’s more complicated.

    1) it predates the industrial age by centuries. Maybe the same way Pythagoras foreshadowed the scientific use of numbers, equal temperament foreshadowed industrial commodification? (Btw, orchestras are considered by some to be consequences of division of labour and central management.)

    2) except that there are many formulas for equal temperament, and naturally endless arguments about which is best. Also, Bach wrote the Well-tempered klavier, and well-tempered is different from equal tempered (though both allow playing the same keyboard in all keys without retuning).

    3) since the main reason equal temperament exists is to do what Bach did, it’s ironic (I guess) that a properly tuned piano is not equally tempered! The middle octave, or so, is equal, but as you move outward the intervals are “stretched” in order to accommodate both the harmonics of the individual strings and the psycho-acoustic phenomenon of very high notes sounding flat and low ones sharp. And the amount of stretching is somewhat a matter of taste, which is why some professional tuners seem better than others, and why you can’t just use an ordinary guitar tuner to tune a keyboard.

    4) equal temperament is only used when a keyboard is part of the ensemble. A string quartet, for instance, does not use it and will tune on the fly to the most natural frequencies. So, even in our advanced technical era, equal temperament is but a small sliver of actual musical practice.

    Still magical, though. 🙂


    I had a heck of a time digging her name out of memory. She did a lot of work processing stellar radiowaves into the audible range. From what I can see it’s still an area of ongoing research, including transcribing optical ripples in stars to audio.

    Your eyes perceive about one octave. Your ears do rather better at 10 octaves, at least when you’re young. I’ve still got nine left. So you can detect harmonics by ear that you would miss by eye.

    What is the visual equivalent of a chord? Color vision only has two pigments, red-green and blue-yellow. That’s not much to work with compared to the hair cells in the cochlea.

  55. Wonder how expanding the range of polyrhythms (5/11, 7/17, you name it) would mesh with expanding the range of musical scales?

  56. I play two instruments. First I learned the shakuhachi, a Japanese bamboo flute whose traditional music was developed by Zen monks. I also play western classical guitar.

    Playing shakuhachi puts me in a mildly euphoric but calm state where the annoyances and frustrations of the world just bounce off for hours after I finish. Meanwhile, classical guitar puts me in a much more discursive, inquisitive frame of mind.

    Sometimes I’m tempted to try to combine these in some way, but in the end they are just such entirely different modes I think there is no point.

  57. Hi John Michael,

    Without going into too many details, I use the emotional content of a song, in order to get into a particular head-space when writing, and that effects the words, the narrative and the general arrangement. And fortunately titles aren’t subject to copyright. 😉 This past week the haunting harmonies of the band Gomez with their song ‘We haven’t turned around’, inspired the emotional tone of the essay.

    Music is very powerful.



  58. @Ron M 48: Regarding the Tibetan horns, I’m listening to that link right now. I have had few if any indications of any past life memories, but the Tibetan horns are one. About 20 years ago I went to see the Tibetan monks’ traveling road show, in which they come out on stage in their “regalia” with their huge alpine horns. The instant the began blowing those horns I began sobbing uncontrollably. I was surprised and embarrassed by my reaction. This went on for a while. I’ve had few experiences that intense in my 76 years, and (like Proust) I can’t ever quite recapture it. If there’s a Tibetan equivalent of Tea & Madeleines I haven’t found it yet. I have a vinyl LP that was a “reward” for a donation to KQED-FM in San Francisco back in the 1980s when they still broadcast classical music. It features recordings of the fog horns on SF Bay. Not too different from those Tibetan horns.

    Re Justin: My distinction between absolute and program music is due to the fact program music, by its intent, involves associations and emotions outside of the music itself. I think that that involves the astral plane at least, whereas absolute music does not “sully” itself in this way. I am a fan of Graham Greene, too, but I doubt I’ve ever gone beyond his “entertainments.” Maybe I should.

  59. I was making a planetary talisman of Venus, and I think the source called for “wanton” music during the ceremony, so I put on Barry White singing “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love.” It set the mood quite nicely.

  60. To E. Skewis: thanks, I wrote you an email. JMG, you might want to take her comment down so she doesn’t get targeted by spammers.

    Thank you for this enlightening explanation of what is going on with old tunings versus well-tempered. You explained within one elegant essay what my college professors could not manage in the span of four years! Had they been as succinct and knowledgeable as you JMG, I might have stayed for grad school.

    As for planetary/elemental music —
    This track from the Brad Mehldau Trio’s album Ode epitomizes water/Scorpio for me, for some reason it reminds me of a leaf floating fast down a series of rivers and creeks:
    For Uranus, Red Button (Don’t Press the) by Algernon has my vote:
    For the moon/Cancer, Poison Glen by Clannad:

  61. I’d surmise a lot of our obsession with counting in sevens comes from the Greeks, even when it has no correspondence with observable “reality” . How many colours in a rainbow? Well, all the colours of course.
    In a pentatonic scale if you take the note at double the frequency of the open string, you don’t have an octave, you have a sextave, or heptave I suppose, depending on where you like to source your prefixes.
    A Koto player would say “Octave? what are you talking about?”

  62. KVD, in all probability it will depend on what notes you personally resonate to, since the elements are broad general categories of human experience and not specific substances. Why not experiment and work out a system for yourself?

    James, depends on what you mean by “the series.” At the moment I’m not planning on writing any other books in the world of The Weird of Hali, though I learned a long time ago never to say “never.” As for The Nyogtha Variations, I hope you’re aware that that’s the sequel to The Shoggoth Concerto — I’m far from sure it will make much sense unless you read that earlier book.

    Nachtgurke, that last point of yours is important. I’d strongly encourage anyone who plays an instrument to learn how to tune it without one of those wretched digital tuners!

    Tyler, thanks for this!

    Clay, interesting. I’ll give ’em a listen at some point.

    Yavanna, thanks for this. I’ve used several of Holst’s pieces to attune to planetary energies before consecrating talismans, with excellent results.

    Scotty, your best bet is to start with Breton music. You can find a fair amount of it online, and so far it’s evaded the gonad snippers. Here’s one to get you started:

    Jeff P, you’re engaging in handwaving. The equal temperament scale based on the twelfth root of 2, which is the one that nearly everyone means when referring to equal temperament, predates the industrial age only as a theoretical curiosity — unequal temperaments remained standard in the west well into the 18th century. Bach’s temperaments are not equal temperaments. As for piano tuning and string quartets, why, of course — equal temperament is a straitjacket that gets finessed in various ways by anyone who has a trace of musical sensitivity. It remains the anchoring principle by which Western art music was governed until the 20th century collapse of Western art in general.

    Siliconguy, the visual equivalent of a chord is color harmony. Which colors “go with” which other colors is parallel to which notes “go with” other notes.

    Greg, well, the Mars section of Holst’s The Planets is in 5/4 time, which works very well; next time I listen to some Dave Brubeck I’ll see if any planetary inspirations strike.

    Zachary, how on earth could you play both at the same time, without growing an extra pair of arms?

    Chris, I know the feeling. Important parts of A Voyage to Hyperborea were inspired by Wagner’s early opera Der Fliegende Hollander.

    Weilong, that ought to do it!

    Kimberly, thanks for this. I snipped the address from Elizabeth’s post — simpler than deleting the whole thing.

    David, nah, the Sumerians were just as obsessed with sevens as the Greeks, and millennia earlier.

  63. JMG: I just meant combining them in a recording, or else using loop pedals to, for example, play some shakuhachi, turn that into a loop that repeats, then play guitar on top of that. But ultimately stuff like this is just gimmicky.

  64. Re good Celtic music: I’m fond of a duo called Sileas, two women who each play the Irish harp. They toured in the late 1980s and early 1990s, so I have their music on cassette tape and cd. I don’t know if you can find them online, but if you can, they are worth listening to.

  65. I plunged down the tuning rabbit hole after a comment by the professor in my sophomore physics class, about overtones and scales. I was making 2-d diagrams with fifths and thirds… one of my more amazing mind blowing experiences was discovering the same diagrams in a book by Ernest McClain, The Myth of Invariance. Folks here will surely connect to that book!

    One of my long time projects is algorithmically generated music in a variety of alternative tunings. Here is an explanation of one piece:

  66. As an addendum to my earlier post above, and moving from Germany to France, another interesting author in the bestselling “metaphysics of sound” genre was Alain Danielou, an initiate in both the musical and spiritual dimensions of Indian culture. Some of his music-related writings are accessible on, as is his possibly best-known work, “The Myths and Gods of India” ( The latter is worth reading for its first full chapter alone, “The Theory of Polytheism”, which IMO presents a highly perceptive argument for the value, legitimacy and need for a polytheistic perspective within a broader and ultimately undefinable context, which can be seen to have its parallel in the multiple tonalities of music together with the silence within which and space through which they resound.

  67. I meant to say it seems fitting that a day after the release of this book (with pseudopods) the readers suggest a post about music. Music theory of course is discussed much in the first part of “shoggoth conterto” and therefore I said this blog post should be required reading for that book 🙂

  68. It occurred to me that all this wokeism, cancelation of history stuff is just an attempt to prop up the religion of progress with respect to culture and in the case of todays post, music. It is almost impossible for an impartial observer to listen to the modal improvisation of the songs on Miles Davis’ ” Kind of Blue” or the genius of Coltrane’s ” Giant Steps”, or the Harmonic perfection of The Beach Boys ” Pet Sounds”, and compare it to the latest three chord wonder by Taylor Swift, Beyonce, or Lizzo and come to the conclusion that Western Culture is progressing to a higher place.
    One has to come up with a contrived moral construct to erase these earlier artists so they can still believe that todays popular entertainment is the best ever. If the popular music on the Spotify top 20 is any indication the religion of progress long ago ran out of bunker fuel, and is now banging itself to splinters on the rocks.

  69. The branches of world music are not identical, but they do meet at a trunk — in the deep past, the ancestors of all living humans made a kind of music drumming, hooting, and rattling; between then and the birth of what we today consider music are the tens of thousands of years that featured atonal conchs and lithophones, and things like bullroarers. While the musical languages of today may not be mutually comprehensible, ultimately they are all cousins, members of the same language family.

    I mention this because the music I use ritually is a steady quick drumbeat on a simple drum of stretched hide, sometimes singing along with the overtones and/or employing a shaker. This is a kind of music that the neurologically inclined might identify as brainwave entrainment in theta and also which any human alive six thousand years ago would have found intelligible. No music more modern than this strikes me as powerfully, or helps me ritually as much.

  70. With the relationship between mathematics and music, and thus music and the cosmos, you have explained one of the foundations of how I believe the modern incarnations of the temple technology are explained – the link between quantity and quality at all scales, and resonance between like and like.

  71. Curious about your remark regarding the Sumerians and their obsession with the number 7. I was under the impression that they employed the sexagesimal system although not exclusively since they also incorporated the number 10.

  72. Hey JMG

    On the subject of music, have you by any chance listened to the album Ursula K LeGuin had made to tie in with her amazing compilation of deindustrial sci-fi “Always coming home”? I have listened to it many times, and though much of it is just actors rehearsing poems written in her constructed language Kesh, which honestly remind me of some anthropologist’s recordings of a native American tribe (Probably intentional) there are some acoustic gems within that can be enjoyed purely as music. “Heron dance” and “The Quail song” are to my mind some of the best pieces.

  73. @JMG #37 – I’m glad you found the topic à propos.

    I should have mentioned one important detail. In traditional perspective projection on a planar surface, teachers recommend placing the image within a visual angle subtending no more than 60 degrees diameter, or the image will become distorted.

    But that is false. In reality the entire image is distorted, always. Only a dimensionless point at the exact center of projection (on the picture surface) is undistorted. Distortion radiates from that point and intensifies with distance from it. When painters represent the silhouette of a sphere as a perfect circle, they’re fudging. In mathematical reality, it is always an ellipse (unless it happens to be centered on the aforementioned point). The sixty degrees rule is to suppress the increasingly wild distortions, always and everywhere present, that would otherwise become glaringly obvious.

    I don’t know music theory, but it would not surprise me to learn that a similar rule applies to tuning and pitch. Perhaps the mismatch between octaves and fifths is everywhere present along the continuum, but becomes increasingly perceptible to most people’s ears at its extreme ends. It might be worth looking into.

  74. I would be interested in JMG’s and the commentariat’s thoughts on Scriabin. Conventional discourse often regards him as the classical composer most influenced by the occult.

  75. I don’t see many suggestions for Solar songs so far. I’ll nominate Peter Gabriel’s “Solsbury Hill” (not because of the title, though it fits too).

    And if anyone is looking for a category of present-day Western music that isn’t bound to equal tempered scales and blandly pleasant harmonies, using instruments that can (or in some cases, can only) play bent or wavering notes or dissonant chords (such as the Theremin, the Waterphone, the Mega Marvin, the Apprehension Engine, the Blaster Beam… although the violin is also quite suitable), you’ll find it in ample supply in the soundtracks of the horror genre. Naturally, since what’s not rigidly structured to the conventional standards must be freakish and frightening.

  76. I like the Gagaku music, although I’m not a big Japan culture fan (western otakus seem for me idealizing their love object too much-Japanese pop culture-; and I don’t like the pedantic hipsters who supposedly know a lot about Japanese high culture-I think it’s a pose-).
    Maybe my bizarre and heterodoxial point of view in other things had influenced in my positive appreciation about Gagaku music. Open your mind!
    Thank you for the link, JMG.

  77. Holst’s Jupiter theme is the basis for the Catholic hymn “God Beyond All Praising” which is probably a top 5 hymn choice for any important Catholic Mass, especially weddings. Interestingly, in reference to JMG numbering the planets in occult tradition, Christ is manifested 4 ways in a Catholic Mass: 1) in the lectern and the reading of the Word 2) in the sacrifice of the Eucharist on the alter 3) the priest in vestments acting in the person of Christ 4) in the “body” of Christ which is the congregation.

    Thank you for such an enlightening post this week!!

  78. @JMG,

    I was going to request a post about music, too, so I am glad you wrote it, already.

    I am a relatively proficient amateur player of the classical guitar. Playing recently helped me recover (?) from a burn-out. The link of music to the spiritual realm is evident and worth investigating.

    But while I can execute musical pieces with a partiture, I am not a real musician. My brain draws a blank for many music-related things (examples below). I was wondering what my broken relationship with music says about me at a deeper level.

    For example, I never understood musical theory, and a two-year course in theory and solfege, back in my teenage years, only resulted in much frustration (from my side and the teacher’s). The only thing I remember is that notes are at certain numbered intervals, which sounds both self-evident and irrelevant to me. Apparently, people like to torture themselves with something called scales, but why they might want to go through the suffering, and why there are multiple scales instead of just one, is beyond me. I am as tone-deaf as they come and cannot sing a tune to save my life.

    I would never be able to put different chords in a sequence that sounds reasonably well, except maybe by accident. I read that the Beatles, at the beginning of their career, could not read notes and just played what sounded good. How that is even possible, baffles me. How did they know that it sounded good?

    I cannot write down music when I hear it. The other day, my wife listened to a bad recording of the Concierto de Aranjuez, a piece she had never heard before, and a couple of hours later she sat down at the piano and could play the main theme, just like that. That borders on the unbelievable for me.

    I put many hours into perfecting my execution of a classical piece, but some people can pick up a popular tune from the radio within minutes. It seems to me that such people live on a totally different world, or can use some parts of their brain that I cannot.

    My sense of rhythm is awful. I can pluck the guitar according to the noted rhythm, but I find even the simplest strumming pattern impossible and infuriating. I tried to learn acoustic guitar but could not get past lesson 1: the final exercise requested I listen to “Oh when the saints come marching in” and play it (one single chord!) in the same rhythm as the recording. No idea how to do that in practice: the movement of my right hand had nothing to do with the song. Just show me the damn music sheet!

  79. I would keep Don’t Fear the Reaper, Rhianon, and Iron Man, and allow George Harrison two entries, with My Sweet Lord for Jupiter and Here Comes the Sun for the Sun. Bob Dylan’s song The Jack of Hearts, a rambling story about a thief and gambler, seems to me to perfectly capture the essence of Mercury. But for Venus? There are so many choices, it’s hard to settle on one. But the song “Venus” by Shocking Blue probalby is the best choice, though I’ve personally never liked it.

    More generally– the first astrology class I ever took, the teacher explained the essence of each planet by way of a song and a clip from a movie. That’s always stuck with me, and it’s a method I’ve used ever since when explaining the different languages of magical symbolism. It’s a helpful exercise for students to pick a song which represents each of the four elements– or five, depending on the tradition.

    Something I’ve been wondering about for a long time– Archbishop Fulton Sheen, in one of his broadcasts from the early 1960s, divided music into four types: pedal music, visceral music, cordial music, and capital music. He doesn’t put it this way, but each type is named for the energy center which it influences– pedal music moves the feet to dancing; visceral music, the abdomen, or epithymia; cordial music, the heart or thymos; capital music, the head or nous. Each of these centers corresponds to one of the four elements in an obvious way, which suggests certain clear possibilities for the magical use of music. Oddly enough, Sheen is the only person I’ve heard discuss this fourfold division of music. I wonder if anyone has encountered it anywhere else? It seems straight out of medieval tradition, with the three energy centers in the body the same as those described in the Cosmografia (and the Republic).

  80. Hi JMG,

    Thanks for this really interesting article. I had a little hands-on experience with this last weekend when I DJ’d a Lebanese/Persian wedding. About half the crowd were extended family of the bride and groom, and the other half their Canadian friends – a mix of backgrounds, but mainly white would probably be accurate. This meant trying to bridge music that was quite different, and whose moods do not correspond. The easiest way to describe it is to say the L/P music is rhythmically far more complex and considerably faster, grounded in a type of emotion I wouldn’t quite have words for, but I felt a sort of mood of awe that merged happiness and some sadness together. Standard wedding fare is more just straight ahead, simple 4/4 80s disco inspired drums, happy melodies and considerably slower tempos.

    Not mentioned in your post, but the thing that was most striking, and amusing, to me, was watching all of the family guests, both the Lebanese and Persian ones, clapping easily along to the rhythms of this music, even just little kids that were there, compared to the other guests. There was one part of the ceremony where the audience claps along in celebration to a song, and you could see that nobody (myself included) could keep time properly unless explicitly watching somebody from this culture and matching their timing.

    I am a big fan of music from other countries, I guess because of some sort of dim appreciation of what you’ve brought to the surface here – that it just sounds a bit unusual to my ears, and evokes different feelings and perspectives. I would say that these other forms are quite familiar to me now, but still not “normal” in that I register them the same way I do more out there jazz or progressive rock or some other types of more experimental music, I recognize them, and think I get them, but they aren’t a natural thing, which makes me think a bit about the limitations and preferences of what I was raised in.

    Directly to the point of your post, I did use some of this world music I happened across when I was younger (I was big on borrowing CDs from the library and taping them) as a way of deliberately changing my conscious state, particularly the shehnai music of Ustad Bismallah Khan, and the music and chanting of Tibetan monks. I was convinced back then that I could affect my perception of time this way, entering into a very unique mental state, and I used to burn incense sticks and “collect and release” the smoke in a jar to play with the clouds, studying the flow of them, to assist in this (this was all done absolutely sober I should say!). I always wondered, when I started to learn more about magic and ritual from your writing, if I had stumbled onto something, or perhaps intuited something I had learned in a previous life.

    I feel like the contemplation of the smoke left me with a lifelong appreciation for how you can see the flow of nature in things, and in the environment (both on the large and small scale – for whatever reason I tend to find it most striking in debris that you find in gutters, particularly in the spring after the snow thaws). In the last few years I came across the Chinese concept of Li which seems to relate very strongly with this, having to do something with the way order and distortion occurs in natural patterns. I would hazard a guess that Li refers to the visible traces the movement of Qi can leave in and on the physical world. If that is true, I guess I came to understand a bit of the latter by coming to appreciate the former. Nowadays I connect this abstract appreciation with the writings of Schopenhauer and Whitehead (and yourself!) and think it more or less forms my basic read on reality.

    Thanks a lot again for this, and the same to the people who voted for it!

  81. @JMG and in reference to your reply to Siliconguy about color and sound,

    Next to be musically-challenged as explained before, combining colors is also beyond me. I envy those who can dress appropriately and can furnish their home with style. I can do neither and my living room looks like a pawn shop; I look like someone who works for a pawn shop.

    I can never remember or even notice what clothes other people wear; I understand people buy clothes based on esthetics but I am not exactly sure of what it means to like a piece of cloth. Clothing shops terrify me and give me panic attacks. I only shop there out of necessity, and go for cheap and standard, possibly close to the entrance door so I can get out quickly.

    Marie Kondo’s approach to only keep clothes that “spark joy” is completely lost on me. No clothes spark joy AFAIAC.

    Is that a normal condition on a scale from fashionista to, well, me, or does it have some metaphysical meaning?

  82. Over thirty years ago when I was a Peace Corps and Volunteer in the new Republic of Estonia, and a somewhat newbie astrologer, I had the great experience of sharing copious amounts of vodka along with via broken language skills, to discuss music and astrology with Urmas Sisask. At the time he was quite unknown and resident in a small agricultural village. I’d encourage anyone interested to hear the work he subsequently published. God rest his soul.

  83. @Walt F #71: That’s a good point about horror movies! I do have a pet peeve with the stereotypical use of a pipe organ to indicate that something unnatural or untoward is going on. The organ is the queen of instruments – an organ can express a huge variety of sentiments, though it certainly doesn’t qualify to induce dancing or coupling. An organ can express the Jovian sentiment of expansive, serene, magnanimous festivity better than any other instrument. It can express deep, meditative concentration; it is very suitable for improvisation; it can even be playful. One of my favorite musical scenes is the transition from a staid, soporific to an inspired performance of organ and voices in the climax scene of the movie Vaya con dios:

    It is true, though, that the effects of music depend on the listener, they aren’t absolute. My dear wife is not receptive to the organ at all and finds it entirely suitable for horror movie soundtracks!

    @all: I am surprised nobody has mentioned yet the planetary invocations in That Hideous Strength! I lost my copy, so can’t quote right now, but I think they all involve music to some degree, together with speech or dancing, depending on the planet.

  84. @Leo #76: Why wouldn’t people have been singing ever since we have throats? It is entirely impossible to know the scales and harmonies that Cromagnons, Neanderthals and even earlier humans used. We do know that contemporary pygmies improvise incredibly complicated polytonal arrangements.

    Somebody once suggested that humans started singing (without words, like singers still sometimes do) before they started talking. That doesn’t strike me as implausible. I think that singing and story-telling came before what we consider more straightforward uses of our voices.

    From personal experience, even though I don’t have a great singing voice, I know the powerful effect of polyphonic singing on the mind(s) of the singers. When everything comes together, it affects the audience, too, but first of all the singers themselves.

  85. Cobo, I did indeed. I said that if I ever decided I was tired of having anybody read my blog, I’d devote a multipart series to Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen and the “fifth Ring opera,” Parsifal, exploring them as a mythic expression of Western society’s trajectory and future — which, btw, Wagner intended them to be, as shown in his letters and writings. That would also involve a deep dive into the legends he used as raw material, into Wagner’s life and far from admirable personality, and into the almost completely forgotten world of ideas that inspired him. I’m not quite sure I’m tired of having readers yet, but I’ll consider this at some point.

    Zachary, okay, gotcha. I’m sufficiently Luddite in my tendencies that that didn’t occur to me.

    Jim, I certainly connected to it. Thanks for this!

    PBRR, I’ve read some Danielou, though I haven’t really plunged into his thinking to any depth. It’s something I want to make time for.

    James, so noted!

    Clay, no argument there. The most significant shift across the board in modern arts — all of them, including music — is the loss of technical competence. Musicians fifty years ago, and painters a hundred years ago, could do things that their modern epigones quite simply can’t do, because they’re not good enough — and nearly all the babble from critics over that time has been a set of excuses for the technical incompetence of the currently fashionable figures in each and every field.

    Leo, that’s an assumption, nothing more. We literally have no idea what was going on in the world of music even as little as ten thousand years ago. “Drumming, hooting, and rattling”? That’s simply our current fantasy about what music was like before the invention of writing, and it’s ultimately founded on the usual patronizing, dismissive attitudes our culture embraces toward its past. If you find that kind of music moving, great — go ye forth and make that music — but please open your mind to the possibility that ten or twenty or a hundred thousand years ago, there were subtle, complex, sophisticated musical cultures in various parts of the world. The history of our species is not the straight line from the caves to the stars that our modern mythologies claim!

    Peter, that’s certainly possible. I wonder if that equation was drawn in ancient times, and the old priests and priestesses had a qualitative conception of “tuning” temples.

    BlueMoose, they used sexagesimal arithmetic but 7 was a crucial number in their religious and philosophical lives, at least in part because that’s how many planets (including sun and moon) they could see.

    J.L.Mc12, a long time ago, yes. The resemblance was quite deliberate, of course, since Le Guin was Alfred Kroeber’s daughter and grew up with him routinely recording Native American stories and chants!

    Kevin, thanks for the expansion on this. So it’s like the avoidance of very high and low notes together in non-equally tempered music — stay away from the extremes and the distortions aren’t so easy to notice.

    Moserian, I haven’t really developed an opinion on him yet; I haven’t taken the time to listen to his work in any kind of systematic way. I’ll consider it.

    Walt, thanks for this.

    Chuaqin, of course it’s a pose, but that’s one of the ways a culture absorbs new influences — it spawns a generation of posers, who provide a bridge between the outside influence and the culture at home.

    Nick, well, in medieval astrology Jupiter was the ruler of the church and of religious matters generally…

    Disc_writes, I have no idea what that says about you, other than that you may have a different learning style than most other people.

    Steve, I haven’t encountered that division of music, no, but it’s very reminiscent of a certain bit of symbolism from Freemasonry — all the weirder since Sheen was a Catholic and thus forbidden by his church from becoming a Mason!

    Johnny, thank you for this! White folks are notoriously bad at rhythm, probably because we don’t get exposed to enough music-making in childhood. Thank you for the story of your explorations of Li — fascinating.

    Disc_writes, here again, I have no idea. It strikes me as odd, but no odder than some of my neurological quirks (for example, the fact that I’m the equivalent of tone-deaf to dance).

    Michael, I’ll look him up.

    Aldarion, the summoning of Viritrilbia brought merriment and wordplay that Lewis compared to music, and the summoning of Glund brought music and dance; the other passages don’t mention music. (I just looked it up.) But Holst would make a good soundtrack to the scene.

  86. @JMG re: “The theme for Twilight’s Last Gleaming” – which minor key? I’m imagining it now in the Appalachian High Lonesome Myxolydian.

  87. P.S. “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” has been rendered in a minor key for the lament for a badly wounded veteran, “Johnnie, I hardly knew you,” a guaranteed tearjerker just to think of it.

    @ Ron M: I was wondering about that, since the mention of the Appalachian sound suddenly brought “The Flowers of the Forest” to mind. Another that gave me the same reaction.

    @JMG – I never got the connection to “The Flying Dutchman,” but yes, of course. The Miskatonic is a ghost ship in all but name. And “tone-deaf to dance…” You, too?

  88. Great essay. Western music’s expansion into uniform octaves both high and low definitely tracks well with the Faustian vision of infinite horizons. Not a surprise that the only cultures who retain technical mastery of performance within these forms are the Russians and East Asians, who are no doubt going through their own pedomorphosis and taking the best of the dying Faustian tradition with them.

    Worth noting, there are still relics of the pre-baroque system of dis (or perhaps un) tempered scales embedded in the modern symphony/concert band – specifically, in the instruments themselves. Take the trumpet for example. While it is no doubt a feat of 19th century design and engineering, even the best trumpets have a core range, in which they are in tune with themselves. Above or below that, you need to use your tuning slides and ear to truly stay in key, each of which requires hard work and practice to master (and is of course not really taught in your typical high school music program). Figuring this out marked a major leap in my musical development – it wasn’t until I had been out of a formal music program for years and had began “jamming” with friends in their garage that I began to understand the trumpet as an extension voice rather than a machine/synthesizer.

  89. To David S (#66),

    I’d surmise a lot of our obsession with counting in sevens comes from the Greeks, even when it has no correspondence with observable “reality” . How many colours in a rainbow? Well, all the colours of course.

    I agree with you here, if you are referring to Newton’s (and perhaps others’) assignation of seven colors to the rainbow, which I always thought was contrived and just plain stupid — what the Hell is “indigo” but just blue? But there is in fact a physical reality to what I and others perceive as the SIX colors of the rainbow (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet), as the human eye has three different photon receptors in the cone cells of our eyes, which are sensitive to three different photonic wavelength spectra, giving rise to our perception of the three primary colors (red, yellow, blue) and the three intermediate colors (orange, green, violet).

    But actually, one can argue that there is fundamentally and objectively no such thing as “color”, as our perception of color is a function and a product of the interaction of the chemistry of our eyes, combined with the interpretation of the signals thus derived by our brains. Shrimp have seven different photoreceptors, so presumably they would see a rainbow of 14 distinctly different colors! And it is of course well known that dogs and cats, among other animals, see a lesser number of colors than humans do.

    To John Michael Greer (post #93),

    Johnny, thank you for this! White folks are notoriously bad at rhythm, probably because we don’t get exposed to enough music-making in childhood.

    I found this highly amusing, and it immediately put me in mind of the classic scene in Steve Martin’s movie “The Idiot”, when as an adopted white boy in a large black family, he finally (as an adult) manages to pick up on the concept of rhythm.

  90. Patricia M, I think of it in standard melodic minor — that is to say, Aeolian tweaked to fit within the major/minor straitjacket. As for Der Fliegende Hollander,, the dead men aboard the Miskatonic are partly inspired by that, of course, though they’re also heavily influenced by Lovecraft. But my entire novel has that Wagner opera as a musical inspiration all through it. Play the overture — there’s quite a good recording here — and you’ll probably catch the themes I assigned to various parts of the story, from the northern-oceans theme that opens the overture to the theme of redemption through love that closes it.

    Christopher, oh, granted — music is what it is, and the efforts to wrench the physics of musical sound out of shape to fit the mature Western musical idiom can only go so far. My late wife played the violin and viola, and we used to talk about the difference between the mathematically correct scales you get in theory (in which, for example, A sharp and B flat are the same note) and the reality of playing (in which they’re subtly different, or the music doesn’t work). I’ve come to think that this makes a first-rate metaphor for the entire project of Western industrial society — the extraordinary artificiality of the world that we’ve created, propped up by a vast number of subtle compromises with reality that people go out of their way not to notice.

    Alan, funny. The thing is, the joke works because it’s true — cultures where most people grow up making music by hand, and dancing a lot, inculcate a much stronger sense of rhythm than cultures where people grow up thinking of music as something that other people play and you just listen, and dancing is limited to certain formal occasions. We’ll outgrow that eventually.

  91. >cultures where most people grow up making music by hand, and dancing a lot, inculcate a much stronger sense of rhythm than cultures where people grow up thinking of music as something that other people play and you just listen, and dancing is limited to certain formal occasions. We’ll outgrow that eventually.

    Should I tell him about Electronic Dance Music (EDM)? Where they don’t make music by hand but they do dance a lot.

  92. JMG,
    Regarding the number 7 and the Sumerians. you are correct. This requires a deep dive.

  93. With time, some assumptions have been exploded, but some have held up and are backed now by other things, for instance genetics and archaeology. A particularly amusing example is how the old myths about an invasion from the north turned out to be all true, after decades of academics insisting this couldn’t have happened. So yes, atonal singing (as we observe in birds) may very well have preceded language, but in our lineage it’s newer than thumbs. English already has a perfectly good word for atonal singing. It’s ‘hooting’ — owls do it, and it’s lovely.

    Regarding genetics, Dr. Erich Jarvis I believe is the most famous and articulate researcher on the topic. Humans are, by some limited but known markers, more like birds than we are like chimpanzees, and the genetic record speaks to this.

    Regarding archaeology, we have the conches, bone flutes, lithophones in question. While of course there may have been contemporaneous advanced forms of music that left no trances, the examples we have are best described as ‘atonal’.

    The fact that some shallow moderns make facile use of archaeology and paleogenetics to assume that we are going straight from the caves to the stars does not imply I intend any such shallow or insulting views of the past. I only try, wherever possible, to fit what limited evidences we have into a larger context, and mean no disrespect to present company or the civilizations of the past.

  94. Please correct spelling in my post. The composer’s name should be spelled Urmas Sisask.

  95. JMG, Just thought I‘d warn you ahead of time: If you really want to get rid of all your readers, you‘ll have to come up with something other than the Wagner series. Wagner never did it for me, but I‘d love to read about all the background stuff… 😉


  96. This post and its comment section seem like a good place for picking up some listening suggestions for the future. 🙂

    Not long ago, I’ve read about Ogyu Sorai, an original and influential Japanese Confucian thinker of the Edo period. He was preoccupied with restoring the original of Confucianism, rid of its later intellectual accretions (from what you might call China’s Age of Reason, I suppose?). He also went to get pains to reconstruct ancient Chinese music and instruments, with some success. (If I understand correctly, he played a key part in a gagaku revival.) Obviously, that was not an incidental interest but a key part of his Confucian project. Correcting music and restoring the teachings of the Sages were inseparable in his mind. He once wrote that “Latter-day Confucians have failed to realize that the Sages’ teachings consist exclusively of ritual and music, which is why their interpretations are incorrect.” I thought that was a striking way of putting it. Considering Confucius’ own interest in music, though, he probably would not have disagreed. I suppose this notion of reforming people and society through music is another example of its use as a magical language?

  97. I really don’t think it’s handwaving. One can use the abstraction of equal temperament to make a point about industrial civilization, but that’s no reason not to consider the reality of actual music making where equal temperament exists only in the sense that perfect geometric figures exist, i.e., not in the physical world. The 12th root of 2 measurement (100 cents) exists in approximately one octave in the middle of the piano. The rest of the range is way more complicated and often quite subjective. That’s just physical reality. The mathematics is an abstraction, and you are generally wary of abstraction, so I’m not exactly getting your objection. I don’t see why the metaphor needs to extend beyond its actual truth.

    Of course, as you imply, real musicians tune to what they hear around them in real time. Most of us wouldn’t know a tuning system if it hit us in the proverbial head. If you’re singing or playing an instrument that can tune on the fly (all instruments except keyboards, harps and mallet percussion) you tune to the instruments that can’t. It’s really that simple.

    Anyway, my intention wasn’t to deny the validity or value of the metaphor; a writer is always entitled to go for it, and a reader is equally entitled to contemplate it to see how far it works. Just thought it would be interesting to add some additional info to get at the richness and complexity of even the smallest part of our musical world. Music has been at the core of my life for more than a half century now, and I feel no closer to “getting it” than I did as a fanatical teenager. There are moments, to be sure, and that’s what we live for, but as far as comprehending it, well, not gonna happen. It’s an infinite game, no? The idea is just to keep playing (literally and figuratively).

  98. I think we lost something when we moved from well temperament to equal temperament. With a well tempered scale each key has it’s own character, it’s own atmosphere.

    A melody in F major will sound different than the same melody in D major, for example. One will be quite a bit more energetic and ‘happy’ than the other, and that is very useful when writing music. Wiith equal temperament that difference is gone.

    Not saying that we should return to the old days, as equal temperament certainly has it’s use, but I would like to see more people being aware of the option of using something else.


  99. Thank you for this! A bit synchronicity with me getting to see with my eyes how autotune is used to destroy the human voice.: This after noticing it with my ears, just did not know why a lot of pop music sounds so lifeless. Now I know how they make it so.
    To me it is clear as day that music and human voice holds some deep mystery. It has to do with harmonic resonance. I need to figure out a way to put into words what I know. Human body is an instrument that picks up the resonances it hears&feels. The resonances are like food, either making you grow and thrive or make you sick.
    As to Wagner operas: Tannheuser was a deep experience for me -we, as a culture, are so much like Tannheuser, truly stuck in Venusberg, too drunk to notice the opportunity for something real is receding.
    And what language is it where one word is enough for expressing I’ll go wherever there is dancing? Sounds like my kind of place.

  100. Re: Moserian #82:

    I can’t comment on Scriabin’s occult influences, but I really like his ‘Le Poème de l’extase’. The energy in that piece is incredible!


  101. Quite advanced flutes go back at least 40,000 years. Whistles go back 50,000 years.

    Rhythm is much older, probably starting with speech itself. Much of it is hard-wired into humans.
    And likely not just us. The bird ID program correct classified the downy woodpecker going only off its drumming frequency. Whether it was signaling “My Territory here” or “Lonesome woodpecker looking for hookup” I couldn’t tell. Presumably the woodpeckers can sort it out.

  102. Phutatorius (#63): fascinating! I too, love those Tibetan horns (though not as intensely as you) as well as each of the other instruments, individually, in the Tibetan ensemble. It’s just all three together brings back memories of Grade 7 band practice before the teacher wields his baton. But I do know what you mean in terms of intense, almost inexplicable, emotional reactions. I had that same reaction the first time I heard/saw the bagpipes as a wee boy (and it still hits me to this day) and the sight of a Spitfire airplane (especially in flight). I cannot but weep.

  103. What you have described above, independently, is the same description as how Dr Ibrahim Karim, who picked up the French radiesthesia tradition in the 1970s, describes it in his teaching on Biogeometry (what I think is the closest thing to a living temple tech in the west). The key as he describes it, using universal harmonics, is that qualities exist at all scales, just like an octave or a note. They repeat themselves, and can be measured with subtle skills and equipment. Monochords, and something like Robert Fludd’s diagram are used as teaching tools. That problem of incommensurables isn’t actually described or taught as such, instead large and small scales are dealt with through the concept of resonance, or as I see it, fractal resonance.

    Dr Karim says most of the ancient ratios have been lost. The Golden ratio remained, but it alone isn’t enough unless it’s handled in certain ways. There were once hundreds of sequences – dare I say – Words, that produced effects. Some new sequences have apparently been created.

    There’s also the universal harmonics of Hans Keyser, which, whilst I haven’t got into it much yet, explains this all in incredible detail. If you read it, it has an uncanny resemblance to the Glass Bead Game. I looked into it and discovered that Keyser and Hesse were good friends. It’s that old central European current again.

    So to see this pop up on my favourite internet blog suggests that a few things are aligning, and for the better.

  104. Peter Wilson #111: the German wikipedia article on Hans Kaiser suggests that this excerpt from the Glasperlenspiel was referring to him:
    „Ein Schweizer Musikgelehrter, zugleich fanatischer Liebhaber der Mathematik, gab dem Spiel eine neue Wendung und damit die Möglichkeit zur höchsten Entfaltung. Der bürgerliche Name dieses großen Mannes ist nicht mehr zu ermitteln, seine Zeit kannte den Kultus der Person auf den geistigen Gebieten schon nicht mehr, in der Geschichte lebt er als Lusor (auch: Joculator) Basiliensis fort.“
    Google translate: “A Swiss music scholar, who was also a fanatical lover of mathematics, gave the game a new twist and thus the opportunity for its highest development. The civil name of this great man can no longer be determined; his time no longer knew the cult of the person in the intellectual fields; in history he lives on as Lusor (also: Joculator) Basiliensis.”

  105. Other Owen, see my comment about “certain formal occasions.” By “formal” I don’t mean dressed up in suit and tie, you know.

    BlueMoose, a very deep dive indeed.

    Leo, the fact that some instruments exist doesn’t mean that we know what was played on them, and the fact that doubtless some ancient people at some times liked atonal music doesn’t mean that it’s reasonable to characterize all prehistoric music, or even a large minority of it, in this way. I should do a post one of these days on the weird way that prehistory has been flattened out in the modern imagination, as though it’s all one thing — there he is, Primitive Man, sitting on a lionskin with a feather war bonnet and a didjeridoo! — instead of the wild diversity of unique human experiments that it must have been.

    Michael, duly corrected.

    Milkyway, okay, it’ll have one reader. So noted! 😉

    Daniil, in a certain sense, yes. There’s a pervasive notion in certain philosophical circles across Eurasia — you find it in Pythagorean writings, for example — that if you can only force people to play the right music, they will behave according to your ideas of propriety. That was what was behind the medieval church’s campaign against the modus lascivius, for example. It’s one of many forms of coercive Utopianism in the broad Eurasian tradition; at least it doesn’t have a high body count, unlike some of the others.

    Jeff P, so? I’ve already addressed that repeatedly. The abstract framework that constrains musical thought and practice — or used to, until Western art music sank into rigor mortis — still makes a difference, and not merely as metaphor.

    BK, and that’s an important part of the point that Jeff P., just above, doesn’t seem to get. As I noted in the essay, I’m not calling for equal temperament to be abolished or anything like that — just noting the way that it embraced a much narrower range of possibilities in order to go very, very far along that one line.

    Kristiina, that’s an excellent point, and one of the many ways that technological crutches wreck what they’re supposed to help. (I think of autotune as the musical equivalent of AI-written prose.) “I go wherever there is dancing” is a single word in quite a few Native American languages — Takelma, which is still spoken by a few people in southwest Oregon, is one of them. A great many Native American languages use prefixes and suffixes where other languages use separate words, so that the verb “to dance” becomes the root of dozens of words like that.

    Siliconguy, exactly. Those 40,000-year-old flutes could have been used to play any number of kinds of music.

    Peter, Karim’s work is very much on my get-to list. This is fascinating. As for Keyser and Hesse, well, Das Glasperlenspiel is packed to the gills with in-jokes and references to Hesse’s friends and intellectual influences, so that’s not surprising.

  106. This might require a separate post (or perhaps a revisit of an older post?) but wondering if there are any good occult studies/musings on Schopenhauer’s claim that music is as close to a pure a representation of the Will as we can get. This is a topic that has always fascinated me not least because I, pretty much alone among my siblings, inherited my father’s ear for music (if not his finger dexterity on the guitar), which also seems to track with a knack for foreign languages (or at least near-foreign). That is to say, recognition requires cognition and what resonates, literally and figuratively, with some isn’t really picked up by others at all (or worse, causes extreme discomfort).

  107. James Cousins says: When Scriabine was a very young man, already noted as a composer and pianist, he went to Brussels, and there, among the younger group of artists in various mediums, he met Jean Delville. The two were attracted to one another. Scriabine noticed something in Delville that he himself lacked: Scriabine was groping towards some kind of comprehension of life. He asked Delville, in the same room where we heard the story, what was behind his attitude to life, and how he, the questioner, could reach a similar attitude. Delville produced two large volumes and put them before Scriabine. “Read these – and then set them to music,” he said. Scriabine read the books – The Secret Doctrine. He went on fire with their revelation. The result was his immortal masterpiece, “Prometheus.”


  108. It’s always fun to explain to students-I am a cellist-that in fact an E in C major is a slightly different pitch than an E in F major, and a greatly different pitch than an E in E major. Everyone tries to push back, how can a note be not the same as another note with the same name? But then they either grasp it by hearing it or intellectually, depending on how good their hearing is, and their musicality takes a leap upwards.
    For myself, I cannot imagine tuning a piano by ear: an autoharp is disasterous enough. I can only tune in a key, not the vaguely out of key that is equal tempered tuning.

    Also “Johann Sebastian Bach. If you gave him a grocery list he’d probably turn it into a four-part fugue.” I laughed to tears.

    For a pop song, rock I guess, I think Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now might be Jupiter. It feels kind of like Holst’s Jupiter to me.

    Playing Holsts’ Planets is an experience to be highly desired and cherished, for any fellow orchestral musicians, and I suspect listening to a live performance is equally desireable for the rest of you.

  109. @JMG – no, I didn’t notice that – wow, that is subtle – and would love to be able to listen to the opera again. Alas, even with hearing aids and a direct hearing loop, that’s a tall order these days. At least with anything filtered through electronics, like a recording. But I’ll reread Voyage with my ears opened again.

  110. Yes, I can only advocate for manual tuning. That would probably also reduce those nasty dissonances between different instruments that I have to hear from time to time in my working environment, simply because the musicians are trained to listen for them…

    But reading this much about music and listening to what’s linked here reminds me of one other thing – the kind of music that’s more and more becoming my favourite is silence, possibly filled with natural sounds like birds and wind. A few years back I used to hear and enjoy music every day, but that has decreased to maybe an hour every two weeks or even less. It’s not that I don’t like music anymore. Thinking about it, I guess it’s the magical part – causing a change in consciousness – that I don’t want or don’t need at the moment.

    Completely off-topic – I was too late to close the hen-house and the fox has been there before me. 🙁 Not the first time that this has happened. In general, such things happen and while there are dead chicken, a few fox pubs enjoy a thorough meal and thrive. The economic damage is marginal, too, and one hen is already breading on I don’t know how many eggs. But on the other hand we are responsible for these birds and are the only protection they have against predators. The incidence was completely avoidable had I been 15 min earlier which I should have. I hope that one day we finally manage to continuously muster the discipline and oversight that we should.


  111. @Aldarion
    Re: what music does to the singers: exactly!
    That has been one of the curious discoveries of middle age, for me. I have never been a singer, and still dislike singing in public. I got drafted to the psalterion because nobody else could read music that year. But I’ve stuck with it, not because performance has become any more enjoyable– it hasn’t– but because of what the music does to me, and because without the commitment of having to show up and know the music for services, I’m too lazy to learn it on my own. Plus, if you chant alone, you can only do the melody, there’s nobody to do the ison, and it’s incomplete. You have to have at least two chanters for the complete…. I don’t know the word. I’m still not a musician. Resonance?

    There is an ongoing negotiation, in the Orthodox church inside the US, about the music. The Greek tones (which are also used in the arab churches) are the only ones I’m properly familiar with, the Russians have their own. Related, but more western-sounding. The thing is, with more and more born-in-American Orthodox, who did not grow up hearing the Byzantine tunings… it is hard to teach them to Americans– they are difficult for us to hear properly, and reproducing them is even harder. So a lot of the church music out of sheer necessity gets ‘translated’ into western tuning, for better or worse. You lose a lot of the (hard to describe!) effect of the tones, when you squeeze them into western pitch intervals. But we don’t have enough chanters who can *do* Byzantine tuning. I’d love to see a massive effort put right now into liturgical music education, to make sure we don’t lose that. There have been efforts to find our own uniquely American tunings, but… eh, I don’t think we’re there yet. The resulting music doesn’t do the same things that the original tunings do. I’m confident we’ll resolve it eventually, but nothing happens quickly in the church, so… maybe in another 300 years we’ll have worked it out.

  112. Another researcher-writer in these realms is Joscelyn Godwin. See, for example, his book Harmonies of Heaven and Earth. His book The Theosophical Enlightenment isn’t about music, but was a total riot for me, introducing me to characters like Andrew Jackson Davis (I was living in Poughkeepsie when I read the book!), Paschal Beverly Randolph, and Anna Kingsford.

  113. For something completely different, give a listen to The HU.
    Yes, The Hu Band. They do Mongolian Folk Metal. No kidding. As one commentor to their videos wrote:
    “A people who train eagles to hunt wolves are intrinsically metal.”
    Some of the videos can be a bit, well, martial. One video of ‘The Wolf Totem’ was actually quite a big production. The message seems to be “don’t come at us with bad intent, but if you do, we will obliterate you.”
    Anyway, if you’ve been searching for some ‘world music’ featuring traditional Mongolian instruments (electrified!), combined with some guitar/bass/drums for thumping rhythm, search no more! Oh, throw in some Mongolian throat singing for good measure 😉
    So, “let knees be knelt, and heads be bowed” to the Great Chinggis Khaan!
    (actually one of their mellower tunes)

  114. I think anyone who ever says music is a universal language should be locked in a room with access to a universal musical library, and told they can only get out when they can find a song that will appeal to two randomly chosen people: one a die hard metal-head and the other a classical aficionado, and which both will interpret roughly the same way.

    Also, if you do go on the Wagner series you suggested could get rid of us, I’m sorry to say you’d have at least two readers, as I think that sounds fascinating as well. 😉

  115. I have put together a blog post with a bit of revision of Music of the Five Elements over here:
    It has images and the pieces embeded within the page for ease of listening, if anyone is interested.

    I am still thinking on what the songs for the planets will be… I haven’t got a full list yet, but for Mercury I would choose Telstar by The Tornadoes (produced by the legendary Joe Meek -who predicted Buddy Holly’s death using tarot, btw…).

  116. Count me among those who are not exactly fans of Wagner but would certainly love to hear about the ideas that went into his Ring cycle!

  117. JMG – thank you for your wonderful essay.

    I’m not sure why or how, but – thankfully – I have been exposed to various musical genres (western and non-western) over many decades. Classical, jazz, bluegrass, traditional, pop, Middle-Eastern, folk music from various parts of the world, etc. Two musicians that come to mind are Hamza El Din (Nubian Egyptian oud player & composer; 1929-2006) and Connor Chee (Navajo, contemporary, classically trained pianist & composer inspired by Navajo chants/music).

  118. @Nachtgurke
    “But reading this much about music and listening to what’s linked here reminds me of one other thing – the kind of music that’s more and more becoming my favourite is silence, possibly filled with natural sounds like birds and wind. ”

    I am at the same point in my life. I was a musician in a band for years, loved all kinds of music. But now it seems somehow intensely emotional. A lot of music seems loud to me, even aggressive in a way I used to deal with no problem. But now I almost feel like I’m being manipulated ….

    I also keep chickens, and I think I know exactly what you’re saying on that score…

  119. Christopher, I wish! The old grouch of Frankfurt had a significant impact on occultism but I’ve encountered very few occultists who are aware of that, or admit it, and fewer still who’ve tried to explore his ideas with an eye toward occult philosophy.

    Moserian, good heavens. I know about Delville by way of reading about the symbolist movement in the visual arts, but didn’t know that about Scriabin. Thank you for this!

    BoysMom, that awareness of notes as variable points on a continuum is exactly what work with a monochord, or any fretless instrument, is meant to communicate. I wonder if it would be possible to get people learning music theory with monochords again.

    Patricia M, not all my fiction has that kind of musical background, but some novels do. I’m glad you get it.

    Nachtgurke, just now I’m listening to a lot of music, as an antidote to uncomfortable silences; doubtless that will change in due time. But I get your point.

    Jim, he’s well worth reading.

    Sgage, a meme sums up my impression of Mongolians:

    Taylor, funny. I’ll add your name to the very short list of people interested in the Wagner posts. Keep in mind that it would probably take me four to six months of twice-monthly posts to geek out adequately on the subject. 😉

    Justin, thanks for this and so noted.

    Aldarion, okay, three people on the list.

    Patricia T, I envy you that. I’m still filling in an inadequate musical education at this point.

  120. @JMG,

    That’s about my impression of the Mongolians, too. I wish I had a way to post photos – I have in my archives an incredible picture of a Mongolian hunter riding out with his enormous Golden Eagle on his arm! Very serious business…

  121. Hi John Michael,

    Just wanted to chime in and add another layer of complexity to your threatened ‘multipart series to Wagner’s…’. I note that it’s the not so hidden ace up your sleeve, but Dude, for an even stronger message, make sure you write the essay in German. Just sayin! 😉

    Please indulge me a second as you may have missed this off topic item (blink and you’ll miss it). Our friends across the Tasman Sea, New Zealand, yesterday announced the axing of 4,000 public service jobs and promised a smaller government. New Zealand budget day sees huge protests across the country, but was there any cost-of-living relief? If I may make an observation, all strategies (i.e. the massive debt binge) have limited life spans and are subject to diminishing returns. They’ve got one fifth the population we do here in Australia (the state I live in is bigger), and I believe you guys in the US have fifteen times the population that we do, so what is going on over there is an enormous downsizing of the government. I suspect that, is a preview of the future.

    Honestly, every day I’m reminded more an more of the lead up to the recession of the 1990’s, not to mention the debacle of 2008.



  122. @JMG

    Consider me another one who would be not only interested, but enthusiastically interested in a set of posts on Wagner and his music as you’ve pitched the idea.

    > Keep in mind that it would probably take me four to six months of twice-monthly posts to geek out adequately on the subject.

    That reads much more like a promise than a threat to me! 😉

    Even more on topic, I’d like to bring up a few other nominally-fixed-string instruments which have not only flexible and non-Western tuning but also the ability to, while being played, intentionally adjust the individual pitches of each note:

    All in one set are the 21-stringed Chinese guzheng (or zheng) – the ancestor to the 13-stringed koto by some accounts – and the related but possibly independently invented Korean Gayageum with 12 strings of silk, not metal. All of these can be independently retuned to various scales as the bridges are movable (and the string tension is controllable using tuning pegs), but in addition, the bridge divides the string and the left-hand end of the string falling behind the bridge to the tailpiece is modulated by the player to produce various pitch changes ranging from subtle modulation of the note to full vibrato or even exaggerated bending effects.

    Another instrument to consider is the qanun (variously kanun/kanoon), an instrument similar to a hammered dulcimer but also providing for various tunings including Arabic quarter-tone, but interestingly there are a set of levers which permit the instrument’s tuning to be modified on the fly by small amounts (rapidly, on a per-note basis), which permit again a level of microtonal adjustment by the player to the needs of the music. It is widely played across a range of cultures spanning geography from Iraq through Turkey and down into West Africa, from what I understand.

    Having heard each of these instruments (save the koto) recently in live performances (which were absolutely superb), I can attest that they are eminently expressive instruments which in the hands of a skillful player produce truly beautiful and even impressive music, as moving as any of that in the West.

  123. By some strange coincidence, the 3rd chapter of Dornseiff’s The Alphabet in Mysticism and Magic, which I have just opened to view (slightly ahead of plans – I’ve been doing one chapter each 1st of the month) on my Dreamwidth blog is titled: The Letters along with the Numbers and Musical Notes — Pythagorean. see

    It includes this quotation which may be of interest:
    Isidor, de harmonia Migne PL 83, 987: “A terre usque ad firmamentum musica mensuratur. Ad cuius exemplar nostra inventa affirmatur. In terra namque H [thus [E]: Γ], in Luna A, in Mercurio B, in Venere C, in Sole D, in Marte E, in Jove F, in Saturno G ponitur; profecto mensura musicae artis invenitur” [Music is measured from earth to firmament. To whose model our findings are affirmed. For H [thus [E]: Γ] is placed on Earth, A on the Moon, B on Mercury, C on Venus, D on the Sun, E on Mars, F on Jupiter, G on Saturn; surely the measure of the art of music is found] (cited by Kopp, Palaeographia critica III (1829) § 253 p. 302, cf. Arevalos’ note to the Stelle Isidoriana cap. 86, 3, Migne Pl 81, 629 Nikomach. έγχ. 6 p. 87 f. Jan; Boeth. de mus. I p. 20 and 27. O. Fleischer, Memnon 7 (1913) p. 13).

  124. I’m not a musician. I’ve never studied it beyond music class in elementary school. And that was just singing. No instruments.

    I listen to music all the time. And I have no idea how songs are written. Where on earth does melody come from? To me it’s magic, not just from the perspective of its creation, but also its performance which looks like an impossibly precise gymnastic routine requiring miraculous feats of physical dexterity, plus near impossible levels of cooperation between musicians to get timing of notes and beats accurate to within miniscule fractions of a second.

    As to its effect on listeners, well, the concerts I went to as a young feller looked more like tribal frenzies. I’m not an opera fan but I do listen in small doses. Anyway, there was a singer on a TV program who said after he did a piece from Turandot, that when he’s singing he is flying and for a while the audience flies with him.

    As to the tribal thing, about 25 years ago I visited a company office a few hours flight time away. My colleagues there took the occasion for an excuse for a night out. One of them, a good-looking female in her mid-thirties (corporate legal counsel) told me she would pick me up from my hotel. One of the other gals whispered to me, just wait to see how she dresses.

    Anyway, right at 8 pm I hear a knock. I open the door and what I beheld was the woman in question dressed in what I would describe as Goth apparel, long black dress, black lipstick, black eye-shadow, long black gloves etc etc. I wish I could have seen the expression on my face. As for her, she looked at me entirely deadpan, as if this should be the most normal thing.

    Well-respected company lawyer by day, and this Goth-thing by night. The music of your misspent youth stays inside your head.

  125. Sgage, that’s another fine example of Mongolian cool. I found one online:

    Chris, my German isn’t that good, or I’d consider it. I’m glad to hear that the New Zealanders are starting to do the necessary thing; I hope it catches on.

    V.O.G., so noted. A lot of non-Western musical instruments have that kind of flexibility built into them.

    Kerry, thanks for this. Your timing is good! The quotation is from Isidore of Seville, one of the best of the late Roman encyclopedists and also, iirc, the patron saint of the internet — I’ll have to pick up a copy of his works one of these days.

    Smith, you might seriously consider learning a simple instrument one of these days. It’s easier than it looks.

  126. @disc_writes You might wish to research aphantasia, and in particular how the same phenomenon can affect all the other senses beyond sight. I have no functioning minds eye, nor minds taste, smell or touch. And most relevant to this post, I have _no minds ear_. None, nothing. No noise inside my head that isn’t a sound coming through my physical ears. I strongly suspect you may be similar, and if the mere idea of having sound in your head is odd to you then you certainly do.

    It took me several decades to work out that this was the case, and why so many people could do things with memory and recall around visuals, sound and taste that I simply cannot do. For the longest time I thought that others had Harry Potter levels of magical abilities – it was that foreign to me.

    On the musical side of things that too seemed like some sort of fantasy magic, and attempting to figure out why by asking for help just got me blank stares. Nobody realised that I wasn’t on step 1 in their learning world, for me there were no steps at all as others implicitly understood them.

    There is one exception, and that is the methods of Neil Moore and his Simply Music method of learning musicality. If you have access to a piano, there is a short free online course at that you might find interesting. Having completed the introduction, I still cannot learn music in any other method than pure muscle memory strictly following written scores, similar to how you describe.

    But it somehow did give me an appreciation of what musicality is, and how others are able to develop that. And I can now improvise spontaneously on the piano a few simple sequences that sound pleasing (to both myself and others). I still don’t know _how_ I can do that, but I can. I still cannot repeat or learn what I do however.

  127. I listen to, and enjpy Early music, ever since, decades ago, I heard Ars Antiqua de Paris perform. Is this why that Japanese “correct music” is pleasing to my ear? Is it that simple? Language forms have cross-cultural affinities – music, also?

    Here is a language tree you might appreciate:
    Note how some forms are rare, and unlikely; some common. No doubt due to universalities of the human creature. Have you found this true of the music as well?

    Also: If you are correct that music is language, that you use to speak to the powers of the world: Who are they? What have they told you about themselves? How do ypu know they are virtuous, and/or mean you well?

  128. @sirustalcelion #17– I had/am having a very interesting reaction to the Akira/Noh piece… I am tapping my fingers along with it– and following the rhythm perfectly. It’s no kind of Western rock drumming rhythm either.

    Another data point that makes me think I was Japanese in a previous life.

    I’m at 10:00. The singer’s getting pretty passionate.

  129. As a professional sound engineer, this one is close to my heart. I have always loved just intonation, and generally music that allows for microtonality such as human voices or fretless string instruments. I have built myself an electronic instrument that uses no set steps (think electronic cello, sort of) and it is an absolute joy to play, especially together with singers.
    I do feel that one of the great missed opportunities of electronic instruments is the possibility of large arrangements with complex harmony, that can still use just intonation. Retuning the entire ensemble in an instant is trivial with digitally based synths. For analog synths it’s a bit more involved but still perfectly f feasable. There are commercially available synths that do this, but it never caught on in the mainstream. Understandably so, even if we can overcome the technical hurdles of just intonation that does nothing to smooth over the added musical complexety that arrises when a note that used to just be one note can suddenly be hundreds of different frequencies depending on where our root is.
    I have experienced some truly breathtaking musical arrangements with electronic synthesis, but I’m sad to say that these are the golden needles in a haystack of shoddy, cookie-cutter blandness. I guess “missed opportunity” sums up my feeling around a lot of tech, and perhaps music in particular. If I can turn a few “could-have-been” into “being” I will considder myself a successful engineer.

  130. JMG wrote:
    “Just noting the way that [equal temperament] embraced a much narrower range of possibilities in order to go very, very far along that one line.”

    Come to think of it, I read somewhere (don’t remember where, sorry) that the only music that actually *needs* equal temperament is the atonal / 12-tone stuff. If that’s true, then it’s quite weird that we put all other music into the same straitjacket.

    The church of progress strikes again?


  131. In my mind’s eye, I think of music as something that was meant for a musician and dancer to interact one on one, through their respective interplay. I have a feeling that what passes for music in the modern era is just theater, with music being used as an excuse to see the circus (and buy the conveniently placed panem, while you are at it.)

    My favorite music is whatever genre I hear from parts of the xenoblade chronicles(1) soundtrack. For whatever reasoning I have extreme difficulty hearing/understanding the words in song verse (lyrics), so I appreciate music without vocals, or music where the vocals are drowned/soothed out by the instruments.

    For my least favorite (besides elevator/call-wait music):
    Rap music, because every time I listen to it, via a ‘annoying sound polluter’ (this is what rock salt and shotguns were made for..), it seems to change the ‘click’ rate at which my mind absorbs information, especially when that snare-like sound that goes off in the rap music to keep the beat going, almost like my mind is being changed in terms of consciousness. Combine that with the obvious subliminal messaging that is rapped out, and you get the CIA’s version of musical hell. Whenever I think of the negative elements of African-american culture, I remind myself of the corporations that spread a certain lifestyle with rap. On the flip side, finding out that all-white communities listen to rap music, remains one of the greatest culture shocks of my life. As long as the marketing exists, the perversion continues, and who knows where it may end.

    Perspective of a musician from a musical-have not:
    It seems to me that a excellent musician needs the right combination of confidence, patience, and creative mindset to experiment and recombine unlike articles, in order to come up with new music, as well as the business-like observational skills to know what works, and what does not with a audience. It seems to me that music is a skill which has to develop in conjunction with other activities, or other mental processes, not out of obsession or by external needs/desire. One of those things where you do it for yourself, refine your practice, and end up finding out you can make a career from it, purely by accident.

    The people who are masters at comedy and music have my respect, because they see something that I do not, they live in a different world, parallel to my own observable experience. I do not think that necessarily makes them smart, but it does give them a awareness of experience that most people do not have, or never end up developing properly.

    I am sure one of the great mysteries humanity will uncover is how musical geniuses develop into what they are through the brain. Or maybe we already have, I do not keep up with these developments.

  132. When I was a kid, I could never imagine what sort of instrument was playing in the Seinfeld’s show opening theme music. Bit disappointed it was just a slap bass. My child like imagination was hoping it was something like a fantastical string instrument hidden inside the hollowed bones of a whale or elephant, combined with a wind tunnel, to create an echo. In retrospect, I can make fun of myself for thinking that the slap bass was some exotic oriental instrument that was adapted from ancient Africa.

    Moral story: Children x Seinfeld = crazy conclusions on life.

    Anyway, here is a entertaining video on that theme song:

  133. Hey JMG

    You are right, that probably was her intention.

    on the subject of sources for odd music, Ran Prieur often posts about odd music he finds on his blog, since searching for strange music is something of a hobby for him.
    Another source would probably be videos of people playing new musical instruments that have only recently been invented, of which the rules for playing are still uncertain and therefore ripe for exploration. I think I may have mentioned it previously, one new instrument I am intrigued by is the Yaybahar, invented by Gorkem sem. It is a large device consisting of a 1 or 2 string violin connected by long metal springs to 2 shallow drums of different sizes. It produces an odd synthesizer-like sound. The Daxophone is another intriguing device, essentially a wooden “Tongue” clamped to a stand and amplifier and played with a violin-bow. It can produce many sounds, even some that sound like speech. I like to think that they and other unique instruments make it through the descent.

    And on the slightly related topic of language, there is a youtuber called “Nativlang” who makes lovely videos about linguistics, such as going into the details of the weird way Mayan languages talk about time. He has recently been doing something unique, which is produce a video series on his study into animal linguistics in order to discover if some species’ method of communication may possess some type of grammar, calling such hypothetical animals “Grammanimals”. Unusually, he has included a google doc that summarises the material in his videos, which I shall link here.

  134. Greetings all
    On Wagner posts. Sounds intriguing. Please add my name to your list. I would not be surprised if you get a noticable interest in such posts.

  135. Fascinating, and fascinating how different cultures develop. One thing about western music is that it is the only music tradition that developed complex harmony. The reason being that the west developed the means to write music down. It’s easy to teach, down the generations, complex rhythms and complex melodies, but virtually impossible to preserve harmonies without written notation. This has led to western music being comparatively simple in rhythmic and melodic terms (although Stravinsky did try to stretch it a bit 🙂 ), while exploring harmony more fully (simple melody being further “encouraged” by diatonic, well tempered scales). And this is why music from other cultures, to western ears, can have melodies that sound “out of tune”, and have rhythms that simply sound chaotic. We don’t have the learning to appreciate them… a little listening, reading and thought can expand one’s musical horizons.

    Another interesting limitation is that, until recently, for your average listener (even classical music listeners) there was no music worth listening to before about 1700 (I can remember my school music teachers turning up their noses at early works we had to study for exams). University was a revelation, all that medieval and renaissance music!

    We also, certainly in the western tradition, only have music going back 1,000 years, whereas in literature, art, crafts, and architecture, our knowledge reaches back far longer. Most western people would recognise the Mona Lisa or the pyramids of Egypt, how many would recognise a piece by Machaut, or even know who he was!

    Another (perhaps completely unrelated) difference that springs to mind is in architecture, the west well and truly conquered height (Cologne Cathedral, St Paul’s Cathedral, most of New York), whereas other cultures expressed grandeur in other ways, as a visit to the breathtaking temple complex at Angkor in Cambodia reveals.

  136. @ Phutatorius,

    Perhaps you are aware of this, but Gurdjieff worked on music compositions with one of his followers which are performed still and recordings are available. The Brilliant Classics label, which produces quite interesting classical CDs focusing on more obscure composers, and exhaustive “complete works” box sets by bigger names (as an aside just looking at their monolithic 170 CD Mozart: Complete Edition box set ought to humble anyone) has a box set that has performances of all of this Gurdjieff/De Hartmann music that runs at a little over 7 hours for cheaper than the earlier CDs were. It’s available to listen to on youtube, as I think they do with all of their releases:


  137. Hi again and thanks JMG!

    I have always operated under the idea that anything other people like is in theory “likeable” by me, and perhaps I am just missing the key that opens it up personally. So if I don’t happen to enjoy something I maybe just haven’t encountered that key yet. The process of coming to appreciate a new form I find really exciting.

    I just had this fairly recently when I happened to be out at a club where some people started line dancing when a pop country song got played. I had seen videos of it before, and thought it was just something that was neat but not particularly engaging, but had never been exposed to it in person, which suddenly opened it up. All these people are dancing in unity so they become some sort of super organism completely in sync and totally given over to something bigger than themselves. Maybe it was extra fun because I was such a newbie that what they were doing was unpredictable to me but obviously not to them, and it was in a space where some people were engaging in it, but not everyone. Anyway, it opened up the possibility of “getting” something that was closed to me previously.

    Something I had been meaning to recommend to you for a while (assuming you hadn’t read it), that seems appropriate this week, is Bryan Magee’s book “The Philosophy of Schopenhauer” which is quite good, and features some interesting discussion on his affect on Wagner and Tolstoy and how his work moved them – I remember the Wagner part being quite involved. With Tolstoy he came to Schopenhauer after he wrote “War & Peace” (I happened to be reading “The World as Will and Representation” at the same time as that novel and was convinced the two were expressing a similar thing – something apparently Tolstoy himself felt when he discovered old Arthur S himself. Magee also wrote another book I picked up but haven’t yet read that delves even deeper into Wagner called “The Tristan Chord: Wagner and Philosophy”. I haven’t quite discovered the key for me with Wagner, my tastes still tend to run more towards Baroque and Early music, but I remain open to the possibility.


  138. John Michael Greer, thank you for the education!

    Modus lascivius or “lustful mode” speaks volumes about my life and I hadn’t known of it prior to your essay.

    One warm day, many years ago, I was driving up the New Jersey turnpike and came across ‘Evening Raga’ on the radio. It was the most zen driving I have ever known on that crazy stretch of road. I still joke about it to my wife. Not sure she enjoyed it half as much as I did but she still remembers it.

    I was dead tired yesterday, and the magic that music has always worked on me, brought me back to life. For those who appreciate Northern soul…

    Been listening to this on repeat, especially in light of our dark times.

    The highlight of my spring was bringing my turntable to my daughter’s preschool and playing rare and deep soul for a bunch of three year olds. My wife thought they would be too young to appreciate it. They looked like they had fun to me which brings me to my one question, which planet does ‘soul’ music speak to? I have to wonder who I have been invoking all these years.

  139. @Christopher Richard #114 & JMG, re: Schopenhauer

    I’ll quote something I’m using in my research into the work of Joseph Matthias Hauer appropriate to this discussion.

    “Hauer’s references to Goethe’s scientific writing -likely under the influence of Rudolf Steiner’s interpretations- and to Chinese philosophy throughout his theoretical work also suggest Hauer was influenced by the various esoteric and occult movements that flourished in Vienna since the late nineteenth century. His argument in favor of the spiritual nature of the twelve tones is a good example. Hauer points out that the twelve equal-tempered notes do not arise naturally in nature (and here he follow’s Goethe’s argument that the entire color spectrum does not exist in nature). The equal-tempered twelve tones are instead the result of a ‘spiritualization’ of what nature provides- a way of rising above the coarse material of the physical realm into the perfect realm of the spiritual. One perceives this more-spiritual twelve-tone music through ‘intuitive hearing’ -extending Arthur Schopenhauer’s musical aesthetics by way of Steiner’s esoteric reading of Goethean science, one ‘hears into’ the realm of the spiritual.”–John Covach, essay on Hauer in Music of the Twentieth-Century Avant-Garde, edited by Larry Sitsky.

  140. JMG,

    What an interesting post. It reminded me of how back when I worked as a selesman in a camping supply store, we sometimes had a buyer who would want to buy a pair of hiking shoes, but after finding a pair they liked – and expressing a will to buy them – the sale would drug on because of otherwise legitimate questions that wouldn’t affect the buy, or other things like that. In sales, transitioning from making an offer to closing the deal can prove challenging, especially when one is on the other side of the store where the shoes are, and you want the client in front of the register, it comes with the territory.

    One time a coworker of mine was in this situation, while I was at the register with nothing to do, so as a joke I put on a Hebrew song who’s lyrics tell of how shoes need to be bought quickly, it’s a well known folk song in Israel.

    The song was just playing in the background, but very soon after it started playing, both parties got up from the trying shoes on area, came to the register and closed the deal. I got to use the same trick a couple of times afterwards, always with those results.

  141. @Johnny on Gurdjieff. It’s been a couple of decades since I took an active interest in fourth way stuff. But back in the day it was quite a different matter. I was a bit shocked to hear, fairly recently, one of the Gurdjieff/Dehartman compositions actually get played on a classical music station.

    Back to temperaments. There has been little discussion of vibrato thus far: well, vibrato hides a “multitude of sins,” as they say. The only keyboard instrument that can do vibrato is the clavichord (where it’s called “bebung” if memory serves), but with the violin family instruments; wheeeeeeee!

  142. Codex, I like it! I appreciate that the artist gave a little bit of foliage to Cornish — too many people outside Cornwall insist it’s a dead language, but as Cornish speakers like to say, it was never dead, just feeling poorly for a while. As for speaking to “the powers of the world,” that’s not what high magic is about, and never has been. I really do need to do that post on the current fad for evocation of spirits and what’s wrong with it, don’t I?

    Falk, thank you for this. Do you happen to know if there’s anybody who makes a digital piano, or some other relatively straightforward keyboard instrument, that can play just intonation or some of the other old tuning systems without requiring too much technical knowledge from the user? That would be helpful.

    BK, well, that kind of puts the cart before the horse — the atonal and 12-tone systems were invented to try to exploit the possibilities of equal temperament. Most people find them stunningly ugly, which is perhaps not a good sign! My understanding, rather, is that you have to use equal temperament with a lot of modern music, because modulating from one key to another is so common and you can’t stop to retune in the middle of the symphony!

    Eruption, thanks for this. My guess is that no, we never will figure out where musical genius comes from, because it’s not a matter of brain structure — it comes from the nonphysical.

    J.L.Mc12, I should have known that you would be an aficionado of weird instruments! The thing that intrigues me about the two you mention is that they could in fact be made and used on a fairly simple technological basis, so there’s at least a chance.

    Michael, yes on both counts. Complex harmony is our musical culture’s supreme achievement, and of course plenty of other things got sacrificed to make that happen. As for the erasure of early music, exactly — it had to go, in order to clear the way for the intensive exploitation of that very narrow vein of possibilities post-Renaissance art music has pursued. Now that the vein has been worked out, it’s good to see older music coming back into its own.

    Johnny, that’s a very generous approach to things. Thank you for the recommendation of Bryan Magee — the local library system has those books and I’ve just requested both of them.

    Jeff, I don’t know soul music well enough to have an educated opinion, but if I had to guess I’d say that you can probably invoke any of the planets with it, depending on your choice of groups and songs. Even from the limited range of soul I know, I can think of examples that fit several planets.

    Justin, thanks for this. Interesting.

    Circle, ha! Thank you for this — that’s a great story.

    Justin, and also thanks for this!

  143. JMG, Thank you for another educational and mind expanding post.

    “In astronomy and astrology (which counted as a single science in Pythagoras’s time), the mismatch between the solar year and the lunar month is another good example; there’s no way to make the relationship come out exactly.”

    Readers here may be interested in a talk I gave at Kopernik Observatory, an exploration of the sentence above. I called it, The Marriage of the Sun and the Moon, and told a fairy tale, folk tale and a myth related to this challenge of fitting the solar and lunar cycles together.

    My efforts would not have been possible without the influence of JMG.

  144. I know you probably have a mile long to write list, and something like this is probably on it somewhere. But if you published something like “trivium and quadrivium exercises for the modern occultist” I would buy that so fast!

  145. Fascinating, I don’t know much about music or occultism. But I would like to share a couple of notes that maybe you find interesting, I link to music made with one of the traditional instruments of my land txalaparta

    Txalaparta alone
    Txalaparta witn other tradicional instruments (alboka and pandero)
    Some curiosities about this instrument that will not have a hidden but symbolic dimension
    Way of playing
    The interpreters are usually two and them, playing alternately, they make up the music. They hit the plank that is horizontally placed and insulated so that the resonance is not lost from top to bottom, taking the sticks vertically (two for each player). Depending on the place, each interpreter receives a different :
    ttakuna 2. herrena (the lame)
    tukutuna 2. urguna (the lame)
    As theses indicate, each player has its function. One puts the balance-order and the other breaks what the partner has proposed, creating a disorder-imbalance or lameness. Thus, forming the rhythm and undoing it throughout the performance, they accelerate until reaching an unbreakable balance-order.
    There are certain rules for playing the txalaparta, and although these are very specific, they give the txalapartaris a lot of freedom to use their imagination and improvisation capacity.
    One interpreter does what is called “Ttakun” or “tukutun”, giving two beats-strikes each time, and the other, the double strikes that the “ttakun” gives, plays what corresponds to what is called “herrena” or ” urguna “. The “lame” makes the games and changes, introducing two beats, one or nothing, thus forming different combinations.
    There are also other resources for making music: playing with the timbre of the sound, the pitch, the volume and the tempo.
    The txalaparta has another peculiarity. In the writings and in all the cases that we have known directly, it is noted that the gigs have been at night. The parties around cider, the “karobi eztaiak” and the celebrations around weddings are examples of this. The only exceptions would be the performances of the ancient txalapartaris in recent years carried out outside their environment and as exhibitions.
    This point will have to be studied in depth, because the nocturnal character may not be accidental: the same happens in customs similar to the txalaparta that we know in the world, such as the blows of Swiss carpenters and the practices of shelling rice in Malaysia and Siam

  146. JMG,
    Did the Nazi’s have an equally powerful musical program to go with their use of the Occult ( albeit dark)?

  147. Here is a provisional list of songs for the nine planets. My last list leaned heavy on the ambient, so I have tried to actually be more eclectic here, though of course it is filtered through my tastes. Sometimes I have included more than one song… This bit of homework was much more challenging than the first part.

    The Dreamer Is Still Asleep by Coil

    Telstar by The Tornados (Joe Meek, producer)

    Venus as a Boy by Bjork

    For the sun I have the beautiful voice and dulcimer stylings of Pantaleimon with her track, “I Am (Solar Dust)” It’s from her wondrous 2008 album Heart of the Sun.

    Woodpecker from Mars by Faith No More. An hard alternative rock instrumental with a rousing martial energy.

    This was one of the harder tracks to determine. In the end I have picked “On Jupiter” by Sun Ra. I knew he would turn up somewhere… he’s all over the cosmos after all. Piano, synthesizer and lyrics in swing evoke a benevolent planet.

    Among other things, Saturn can be a planet of melancholy. To that end I feature “A Sadness Song” by Current 93.

    Yet that is by no means all of what Saturn is about, discipline is another thing. So here is “Discipline 27-II parts I-IV” by Sun Ra. Saturn is his home planet after all.

    For Uranus I delve into the heart of glam rock with Rebel Rebel by David Bowie.
    Rebel Rebel by David Bowie

    The outer limits of progressive rock and nu metal lend themselves to the visionary aspect of Neptune. With that in mind I would pick “Soothsayer” by Buckethead
    Soothsayer by Buckethead

    For the aspect that is down in the drugs, I have to choose Heroin by Velvet Underground

    Bonus: My Favorite Pop Song about Astrology

    Question: does the parade of planets occuring on June 3rd mean anything in astrology?

  148. Michael @ 143, it used to be said, unkindly if not entirely inaccurately, that the standard repertoire was what Toscanini wanted to play. Back a few decades, someone wrote a hilarious back of the magazine column for Opera News about how in the Golden Age, 1950s, Handel was that German Englishman who wrote the Messiah, bel canto was unknown except for Barber of Seville, in which the female lead was invariably transposed for soprano voice–Rossini wrote many of his leading female roles for mezzo-soprano–and no one had ever heard of a counter tenor.

    Now, Handel’s many operas and oratorios are routinely staged and recorded, as are a bewildering number of bel canto operas, and aspiring singers are expected to master the art of bel canto singing. I can remember when a label called Nonesuch began recording baroque music that had only rarely been heard over the intervening centuries. Now, there hundreds of early and baroque music ensembles who do seem to be able to make a living.

    Classical music stations are routinely programing unusual compositions: I am glad to hear more of William Grant Still, whom I regard as our greatest composer of orchestral music, but I could do without some of the contemporary works. I am sure the composers don’t lack talent, but I think they need to get out of the academic ghetto, and figure out how to appeal to ordinary people audiences.

  149. I confess I also find the potential Wagner series intriguing, not least because of this part: “and into the almost completely forgotten world of ideas that inspired him”. If my suspicion is correct, this forgotten world of ideas has also (at least indirectly) inspired some aspects of Nazism? Of course, the Nazis are not obscure, and neither is their interest in Wagner. But I get the feeling that while a lot of people obsess about those things today, they often miss some deeper connections and cultural elements.

  150. Achille #154:
    I went some years ago to a txalaparta show, and I liked them a lot (there were two instruments). I didn’t know you were a Basque…Arrasti on! (good evening!)

  151. I’ve come across the concept of music as a universal language, notably at raves (at which I’ve had some very fun experiences, but that’s going off-topic). But once again, a post here clears up the fog — it’s not one language, but several. Language is important as a bridge of meaning, but there are multiple languages, bridge designs, and musical ideas, and their structural differences can be profound.
    I concur with others who have brought up the Faustian spirit, it describes very well the Western tendency to accelerate into a narrow window. Perhaps the myth of Icarus, flying to close to the sun on wings of wax, prophesies what will become of the Faustian West. We can already see that in how classical music burned out, with Gustav Holst’s Planets Suite (rightly discussed here) being the last great work, with the possible exception of John Williams’ Star Wars soundtrack. This happened to Jazz/Blues/Bebop too, a creative explosion which forms the foundation of most modern music today, but its last great expression was 70s Jazz Fusion, eg Herbie Hancock; after that there was only tepid, lukewarm Smooth Jazz, which is pleasant in its way, but is just an empty shell.
    I was obsessed with rap/hip-hop in my teens, and its still my favorite genre, although I’ve branched out greatly. I thought it had declined after its golden age of the 90s, with occasional good stuff more recently (eg phonk rap), so I was surprised to read the Archdruid’s prognosis while digging through the archives — that rap is still in its early phases as a bardic/epic poetry tradition! I do agree that it’s the most lively form of poetry of the past 50 years, but that still threw me for a loop, although I can’t dismiss the possibility. In any case, not all white people lack rhythm — I developed a good sense of it through my forays in rap.
    Despite my voluminous consumption of music, I never did learn an instrument, the closest I came was developing the ability to rap in my teens, which I was pretty good at actually. Maybe it’s exactly because music has been hammered into Western scales that I was put off — maybe if I had a monochord or similar, I would’ve progressed.
    There’s other stuff I could respond to, like the caveman meme re-surfacing here, but I won’t get into that. Instead, I’ll finish with musical commentary and suggestions. Regarding Gagaku, it’s quite good in its strange sort of way, I can clearly hear that its built on different musical ideas than we’re used to. Ragas are another good example, the way they set up moods and atmospheres, quite unlike Western structure. Japanese koto is a rather interesting middle ground between Western classical and Indian ragas, in that it combines structure/progression with abstract vibes.
    So, listening material:
    Japanese koto:
    Dan Bau, the Vietnamese monochord (which I discovered from another discussion on here). The lady plays very well, and as one of the commenters said, hearing the in-between notes is like scratching a longstanding itch:
    Since someone brought up Nobuo Uematsu, I have to post a couple from one of my all-time favorite games from my younger days, Chrono Trigger. The first (Zeal Palace) seems influenced by Gagaku, the second (Corridors of Time) seems influenced by Ragas, and is a crowd favorite:
    One more! Another game from my youth, smb3, and how the airship theme crunched down Mars, bringer of war, into 8 bits and 5 sound channels on the NES:

  152. @Johnny I was once in Toronto during the Fall (as it is on that side of the Atlantic) visiting a friend, and was out at a club (I LOVE clubbing and music), decorated with branches and vast amounts of leaves everywhere, swirling into corners. House Music was the music of the day, it was the 90s I think, and at one point they did a section of disco music (the proper stuff, not the Bee Gees), and the whole dance floor spontaneously transformed into a line dance with lots of lines across the floor, a traditional country music thing, mixed in with disco music, in a gay club, it was an absolutely magically moment. A LONG time before the rather wonderful Lil Nas X.

  153. Your picture of Jean Ritchie playing the mountain dulcimer shows that the traditional way of playing the dulcimer was to tune the three strings according to the mode of the song one wants to play. Only the melody string has frets, meaning that the other two strings are drones. Alain Daniélou’s book Introduction to the Study of Musical Scales points out that “modes are a series of sounds having definite relations with a permanent tonic” (p. 23). On p. 26 he goes on to say “That which characterizes the system of relations to a tonic is the almost continuous sounding of that tonic.” One of the drone strings on the dulcimer is set to the tonic so listeners familiar with the modes know which mode is being played. Daniélou thinks that modal music is more expressive than modulated music, because the modes have particular emotional resonances, as you discussed in your post.

    When I was starting out on the mountain dulcimer, one of the books that I studied from was Dulcimer à la Mode by Dorothy May. Modal playing seems to have gone entirely out of style since then; May’s book has been out of print for years. But I have been working with it recently. She includes examples of songs in all the modes, even Locrian!

  154. Teacher, many thanks for this and I’m delighted to hear that my online chatter helped you.

    Jack, I’ve considered something like that, but it will take a lot of research.

    Achille, this is fascinating. In the Puget Sound country of northwest America, where I grew up, the native peoples used to take a cedar plank off the roof of a longhouse, prop it up on a couple of logs, and use it as a drum, beating complex polyrhythms on it. It’s also played at night — as far as I know, exclusively so, since it’s part of the spirit dancing tradition. It’s fascinating to see that same custom in Basque music. (Also, the pictures of the Basque country in the first video remind me intensely of the eastern part of Washington state, where there is a large Basque immigrant population!)

    Clay, not really. The Nazi phenomenon was basically what happened when a bunch of self-taught occultists ended up leading, almost by accident, a mass movement, and then succeeded in seizing control of a nation. Hitler was a talented ritualist, and he also had first-rate instruction from people like Dietrich Eckart, but most of his program was a matter of improvising in a hurry — I don’t think he expected to get as far as he did. He and other members of his inner circle were acutely aware of the effects of music on consciousness, which is why they got composers to write neoclassical tunes for every branch of the party and the armed forces — you might have heard the Panzerlied, the theme music for the Wehrmacht’s armored divisions, which got some play in war movies back in the day. It’s also why once war broke out Hitler flatly forbade any performance of Wagner’s last two operas, Gotterdammerung and Parsifal. But that’s about as far as it went. They faced so many other challenges during the brief history of the Twelve-Year Reich that a lot of things ended up being neglected.

    Justin, and thank you for this.

    Daniil, no, the Nazis came out of a different forgotten (or, rather suppressed) world of ideas! Central Europe from 1700 to 1900 was a bubbling cauldron of fascinating intellectual movements, most of which have been forgotten, neglected, or erased from historical memory. As for the Nazis and Wagner, Hitler was a crazed Wagner fan, but it’s pretty clear that he never grasped the ideas underlying Wagner’s mature work; of course Hitler was especially fond of Rienzi, the last of Wagner’s completely derivative works. (It’s been described as “Meyerbeer’s best opera,” and appropriately so.) I’m not sure how many other leading Nazis got past the “Ooh, what neat music!” stage with Wagner.

    Xcalibur/djs, oh, it’s going to take a long time and the fall of a civilization before rap finishes transmogrifying into the bardic verse of the deindustrial dark ages. It’s just that so much of it sounds like a rough draft of that. I forget who it was who first showed that Beowulf makes fine rap…

    SLClaire, well, the traditional mode in her part of the Appalachians! My understanding is that dulcimers and dulcimer playing varied, like everything else, from holler to holler and from subregion to subregion. Not all styles used a drone — but pretty much all styles used modes, in one way or another. Do you know Neal Hellman’s very early book Dulcimer Songbook (Oak Publications, 1977)? It also has material in quite a few modes, though I don’t recall anything in Locrian. Thanks for the pointer to May’s book, though — that sounds worth chasing down.

  155. Fascinating post, especially as music is, for me, mainly aural wallpaper.
    Recently, my kids introduced me to videogame music or OST (Original Sound Track).
    Like movie music, videogame music must move the plot forward and enhance the action, usually without lyrics.
    It’s great stuff! I’d guess that video games along with the internet are where today’s real composers have gone to make music real people can enjoy.

    Currently, I’ve been hearing a lot of “Crypt of the Necrodancers” and “Raven and Wolf.”
    Great fun!

  156. Put me down for Wagner, if and when you get around to it.

    Why we flatten out and negate paleolithic man’s wild diversity is also an appealing topic.

  157. Some years back, before The Way of the Golden Section came out, I read Joscelyn Godwin’s book Harmonies of Heaven and Earth. Near the end, he discusses the Lambdoma and the Pythagorean Table, an arrangement of the overtone and undertone series into a square diagram, with lines drawn on it to connect the fractions of the same value, like 2/2, 3/3, and so forth. He writes, “The Table is an image of the Universe. If extended to mathematical infinity it would contain every rational fraction and integer. Each one of these, expressed by a numerator and a denominator,is the product of the intersection between an overtone and an undertone row … . If each is taken to represent one of the beings of the Universe, this dual origin emphasizes each being’s dependence for manifested existence on a primordial duality, the initial split of the Lambdoma. One might say that whenever the two forces of contraction and expansion meet and are held in some proportional balance, a being arises – and a tone is sounded.” This reminds me of bringing the solar and telluric currents together to form the lunar current in AODA ritual, Lévi’s Verb, and sound as being one of the first emanations from the Cos Doc, among other things.

    Godwin shows that if all of the lines are extended back far enough, they meet in a single point, the fraction 0/0, which as he says “sounds no tone but is the silence toward which all tones tend.” I was familiar with that fraction from the Dolmen Arch course, where it is used to aid in our understanding of Annwn, the non-manifest. When I first saw the outer emblem of the Golden Section Fellowship, with the upper point of the triangle of flow outside of the square of manifestation and coming to a point on the circle of spirit, I had a flash that you might be referring to the Lambdoma as one of the inner meanings of the outer emblem.

  158. As an aside, Oswald Spengler thought that music was the defining cultural art form of the Faustian Civilisation, just as sculpture was the defining art form of the Apollonian.

    (Spengler also thought that aforementioned musical art form peaked with Beethoven, and had its last substantial word in Wagner. Dear old Oswald could be a parochial German snob on occasion).

  159. Chris at #129
    It’s possibly off topic so may not get through, but the interesting thing about the NZ central government layoffs is that they are less than the staff hired by those same Departments in the 9 months or so since the new right wing government was elected.

    Hard to know at this point but I think at least some of the new ministers have realised they can’t adjust to the new reality all at once. The last time they tried that, such as in the late 80s, with far higher layoffs, the social dislocation lasted a generation, and in some places, sent regions into permanent poverty.

    It won’t be the last of them. I know of whole layers that existed to programme field workers schedules by the hour, and then monitor them. I expect productivity in a lot of places to improve.

  160. I remember noting, somewhere along the way, that a visiting lecturer in my class on Old English played a sample, and it sounded a lot like rap. I’m sure many others who’ve delved into the northern cultures in their heroic ages have said the same.

  161. @Justin 156: “For the aspect that is down in the drugs, I have to choose Heroin by Velvet Underground.” I think that is the only one of your picks that I recognize. My high school buddies and I all bought that Verve album (and none of us started bands, no matter what Brian Eno says): one became a lawyer, one a surgeon, one an art history prof. and then there was me, a somewhat odd misfit). I never sampled the drug in question or even anything close, but that song always gave me shivers like nothing else. Wow!

    @Mary Bennet 157: “a label called Nonesuch” Yes, Nonesuch was my favorite budget label. They issued an album that could be found in every hip record collection in the 1960s: “Music From the Morning of the World,” introducing the Balinese gamelan to the west. I couldn’t get enough of it. (see my earlier comment on Harry Partch.) Nowadays, for my generation (and I suspect yours), the sin qua non of a hip video collection is “Stop Making Sense.” “Life in Wartime” seems especially timely today.

  162. A few stray thoughts based on comments by BoysMom (#116) but is addressed to all.

    “For myself, I cannot imagine tuning a piano by ear…” I just so happened to live with a blind Dane for a few weeks (in India – long story!) and he was a professional piano tuner (by ear, of course). What an amazingly highly developed sense of hearing he had! We would be sitting together under a tree on the side of a hill (in a fairly remote rural area). In my world of quasi-optimal use of all five senses, it seemed like a quiet place to me. But Paul-Erik would say to me every few moments, “Do you hear that sound?” and it would be something of a natural or human source. I would have to strain my ears to the max and focus so much to faintly hear what he could easily describe in extraordinary detail. If a bird flitted by, he would describe the size and shape of the bird exquisitely even though he was not well versed in the species of bird in India. Despite being born blind, Paul-Erik swore that he could picture colours in his minds’ eye. I never doubted him; the man was a living wonder!

    “Playing Holsts’ Planets is an experience to be highly desired and cherished…” I can only imagine the ecstasy! As it is, Planets is my all-time favourite suite of Western music. It is also interesting to listen to different conductors’ interpretations of the pieces. My favourite piece is Neptune The Mystic: its’ contemplative 5/4 meter counterbalances the aggressive 5/4 of Mars (at the other end of the suite) and is such a contrast from the chaotic Uranus that preceeds it. But I am very fussy about the choral component – it should be absolutely haunting. Not all conductors ‘nail’ the choral element. If I recall correctly, Neptune was the first piece of Western music that featured a ‘fade out’ ending – something that is nearly universal in popular music over the past five decades (at least).

  163. Hey JMG

    I don’t know if “aficionado” is the right word, as my interest is probably too casual. But I am intrigued and may one day try to build at least one of the previously mentioned instrument. The yaybahar I think would make a good orchestra or church instrument, especially if you made it as huge as possible. The daxophone, if a way can be made to amplify it without electricity, may become some kind of folk instrument that may be used to make sound effects for stories or puppet shows.

  164. @Justin #156 – You don’t know just how much a favor you have done me! Thank you very much for compiling that list. I am currently listening to slothrust which I didn’t know before and I really enjoy. There are other bands in your list I am probably going to enjoy, too. So really, thank you!


  165. @sgage #126 – You describe my own feelings very well. Right now, I enjoy a burst of music thanks to Justin’s suggestions – but it won’t be too long until I need a rest again. Another thing where I am very critical are the lyrics – there are many songs out there that sound great but transport a lot of negativity with what they are singing.

    Are you exposed to a lot of noise in your everyday life?


  166. @JMG – Yes, I think I can understand that. I hope you are doing well!


  167. Well Mr. Greer, I believe the music can be quite magical.. soooo, today, me thinks a dirge is in order .. considering the current rendering of a bogus verdict as it pertains to the one.. the only.. Orange de’Julius!!!
    Now.. you might be thinking a Bach, or some such Baroque master .. however.. I would plug for Troubled Man ….. as only the great jazz-funk saxophonist Grover Washington Jr. could deliver!

    trouble indeed..

  168. Though their use of music was haphazard, I would put forth that the Nazi’s efforts were much more well thought out and effective than the efforts of the US State Department and its diplomatic and musical wundkind, Anthony Bliken, and his attempts to defeat the Russians by playing a poorly chosen Neil Young song in Kiev.

  169. Teresa, I know that that’s where most of the good visual artists have gone, so this doesn’t surprise me.

    SLClaire, excellent. I didn’t have the Lambdoma specifically in mind when I designed the emblem, but it shares a common geometry, of course.

    DS, granted, but he wasn’t far off. Classical music had its last hurrah in the early twentieth century, while the echoes of Wagner were still stirring things up, and then sank into rigor mortis in some contexts and rapid decay in others.

    Patricia M, it certainly sounded that way to me.

    J.L.Mc12, duly noted, but it still didn’t surprise me that you knew about them. 😉

    Nachtgurke, more or less. It’s kind of a long journey, but going well so far.

    Polecat, I’m pretty sure the Democrats just stepped on a rake. I’m not sure what kind of music that makes!

    Clay, well, yes. There’s a difference between improvisation and idiocy.

  170. Since it has been discussed, I will pile on a little. When you first mentioned doing the Wagner posts, I refrained form commenting. What I would have said then was: And when you get that out of your system, we will all be waiting for your next post.

  171. This topic gives me a chance to weigh in on a subject that has nagged at me for years. That is the subject of contemporary intonation.

    As most musically literate people know, the “standard” frequency of Middle A on the Western scale is set at 440 Hz. I have always found that to be higher than I prefer.

    I am the lead singer at my Orthodox church, and I lead the small choir we have at my parish. When I sing from sheet music, I find that I “naturally” gravitate to a whole tone lower than the key signature. For example, if a hymn is written in the key of F Major, I “naturally” tend to sing it in a key closer to Eb Major. My fellow choir members also seem to prefer it this way.

    Interestingly enough, I have an album of Corelli’s Concerti Grossi, played at the “Roman pitch” which was common in Corelli’s day (A = 395 Hz), which (again) is almost a whole tone lower than modern pitch.

    I have also listened to comparative recordings of classical works played alternatively at A=440 HZ and A=432 Hz (the latter being known as “Verdi tuning” which the composer preferred). I like the sound of the Verdi tuning better, as it sounds “richer” to me.

    (BTW, I have found a set of “Verdi tuning forks” on eBay. If they were not so eye-wateringly expensive, I would consider getting a set.).

    So, that is my $0.02 worth! It would be interesting to compare notes with other commentators.

  172. Yes, I agree Mr. Greer.

    The tines are sharp where the blu hostiles are CONcerned….

  173. Based upon the mentions of Basque music (Achille #154 and JMG #163) afraid I can’t contribute to the musical discussion and this comment originates at the base level of Maslow’s pyramid but if you are ever close to a traditional Basque food scene YOU NEED to go there and eat!

    In Bakersfield, California there is a significant Basque population. By accident we discovered this when overnighting in Bakersfield. Large food hall, shared tables and great food. Seems that they may have some in eastern Washington State based upon JMG’s comment.

  174. @Nachtgurke

    I know what you mean about lyrics. Even if they’re not blatantly violent and ugly, they can transport a lot of negativity. A lot of the time it feels like one is being programmed, which is a feeling I detest now in my later years (I am 68). The Culture is not your friend… Mostly, any music I listen to is ambient beatless stuff very low in the background. But even that seems like noise eventually and when I shut it off I feel quite relieved. I have quite a music collection, and once in a while I’ll play some old stuff, but usually all it does is evoke the old times, and it’s kind of sad.

    As it turns out, I am not exposed to a lot of noise in my everyday life. I live in nature, way out on a dirt road, just a few neighbors along the way. The road I live on is actually called ‘Mountain Road’, and the last 1/4 mile up to my house is not even maintained by the town. Keeps the riff-raff out. 🙂

    This is a wonderful time of the year, in fact, as the Spring bird chorus is pretty much at its peak. It starts at the crack of dawn with the lovely Wood Thrush, then the Cardinals come in, and just develops from there. I am lucky to be here, but then again, it’s not just a lucky chance – this is where I have aimed to end up since my teens…

    No, not much need for music up here in these days…


    – Steve

  175. If Wagner is the music of the Nazi’s, it made me start thinking of current times and what might be the music of the current political campaigns. Hmm, what is the appropriate music of Donald Trump and Joe Biden.
    For Trump we need something bombastic, self obsessed and grandiose. English prog rock from the 70’s might fit the bill. Perhaps Emerson Lake and Palmer.
    For Biden we need something trivial, but slightly creepy. Something that makes people with no taste think they have discovered high culture. Something that makes them think they are better than the plebs , but people in the know are actually laughing at them. I got it, Kenny G!

  176. Hi, thank you JMG,

    I hope you find those Magee books interesting. In the late 80s he had a BBC TV show where he’d have conversations with contemporary philosophers about the work of classic philosophers. It was intended as a potential introduction point to the subject matter for lay people, so an effort was made to make these accessible to someone not in that world, so light on jargon, and for them to be clear. These were all available on youtube which is how I encountered them when I was trying to learn about philosophy (I went to an art college, but in Canada, where university takes the role of what college does down there, so this was more of a technical college that didn’t offer subjects like philosophy – anyway, I went that route assuming I could just try to learn other things on my own if they were that important to me, which to some degree I have…).

    Anyway I thought Magee was a clear thinker and I started reading his books. I enjoyed his “Confessions of a Philosopher” also, although I suspect that would be of less interest to you, which was a sort of philosophical memoir that again tried to make the subject relevant to non-academics, showing how his interest in various ideas shaped his life, and particularly enjoyed his discussions of his personal “philosophical problems” that he felt children encountered in reflection sometimes, and pressed on some so much that it drove them to pursue the subject more seriously. I know as a kid I had become interested in the fact that I couldn’t prove for myself, that what I called “I”, existed in/inside/or as my body, since it seemed to me that all the experiences that seemed directly connected to my body, could have being transmitted from elsewhere without me knowing. That doesn’t trouble me any more, because I think “ok, while that could be possible, why would that be true?”, and then I guess second, “what would it matter?”/”what could I do about that anyway?”. It did probably get me started though.


  177. Kind Sir,
    “Falk, thank you for this. Do you happen to know if there’s anybody who makes a digital piano …”
    If I may jump in here.
    I don’t known of a hardware instrument that does that but there is plenty of software.
    The easiest option is pianoteq
    The standard version allows non standard tunings with a lot of predefined scales such as just intonation.
    I have used it for many years mainly for the quality of the sound, but have played around with JI a bit and found it easy to use. I did not get too deep into it mainly because JI is not compatible with performing or recording with any fretted instruments.
    There are cheaper options such as Scala, but they are very technical.

  178. @ Michael,

    Hi! Possibly of interest to you: this night I mentioned earlier was hosted by gay guys and I think was gay themed, although I think most of the people there were straight women. My friends and I happened to stop in because I wanted to check it out, as I like the venue, and the audience it attracts is an interesting mix of people. I’m not claiming to understand all of what is going on there, but I’ve seen what appeared to be African immigrants partying to music with what I think was Arabic singing (that they were all singing along to), with trans women and gay men partying along with them and in their crews.


  179. @ Photatorius,

    Thanks for the response. I only am familiar with this stuff as a result of my dad being quite interested in it all (he’s discussed it with me several times but I’ve never read any of it first hand), but I’ll dig in from time to time when I need an idea for a present for him. My impression though, is that it’s fairly popular, and there is a steady stream of books and other things being released; guides for the work, and first hand accounts/journals/interviews etc with disciples of his, which indicates to me a consistent and seemingly growing audience.


  180. Greer — Re: are there synths that play in pure scales?
    Oh certainly there is! In fact, this is part of the Advanced Wave Memory AMW2 tone engine that powers basically all of the slightly more high end Yamaha synths. Anything using the AMW2 can be tuned to pure major, pure minor, and a couple of those developed in the 16th – 19th century that attempted to bridge the gap between the fretless string orchestras and piano/ chembalo/ organ. Some, like the CP1 can also do pythagorean.
    This is actually a feature of many advanced synths, but it’s so obscure that it’s not likely to be listed on any feature list that has been crawled by a search engine, so it’s down to forum threads, nerds on the internet, or better yet a nerd in your local music store that has a knack for synths.

  181. I seem to have a memory of hearing the opening of Beethoven’s 5th described as someone taking a few steps and then stepping on a rake.

  182. Hey JMG

    True, we both have a knack of uncovering obscure bit of information. But I admittedly may have a wider scope.
    On the subject of traditional musical instruments, some of my childhood possessions are some instruments my mother bought for me from one of the now sadly defunct Oxfam stores. They are a Peruvian ocarina, a African Mbira, and an Indonesian Suling. The Suling is the only instrument I can really “play”, if playing a ditty such as “Mary had a little lamb” on it counts.
    Sadly, like most children the attempts by Primary school teachers to teach me music were for nothing, they were incapable of inspiring anything close to interest, let alone passion, in playing the recorder or the guitar. It is only recently, a lot of it inspired by you, that I have made this small amount of progress in my musical education. I have also made some instruments, such as a monochord which I originally was going to use as a Psalmodikon but could not really get around to making or buying a bow to play it that way.

  183. JMG wrote:
    “the atonal and 12-tone systems were invented to try to exploit the possibilities of equal temperament. Most people find them stunningly ugly, which is perhaps not a good sign!”

    Thanks, I didn’t know that!
    I’m indeed one of the people that find it very ugly. It’s interesting as an experiment, but that’s about it..

    “My understanding, rather, is that you have to use equal temperament with a lot of modern music, because modulating from one key to another is so common and you can’t stop to retune in the middle of the symphony!”

    I think retuning would only be needed when using just intonation, which uses the pure intervals, and not with a well tempered instrument.

    A piano using just intonation would indeed be able to sound ‘good’ in only one key, and we use temperament to be able to play in multiple keys on the same piano. There are many different temperaments making different choices, with equal temperament being simply one of them.

    To my mind, it’s a continuum from just intonation to equal temperament, with well temperament somwhere in between.

    Just intonation sounds ‘good’ in only one key and ‘bad’ in all others. Well temperament sounds ‘good’ in more keys, but never as ‘good’ as just intonation and some keys sound ‘better’ than others. Equal temperament sounds ‘bad’ in all keys, but they are all equally ‘bad’.

    As I understand it, what Bach was doing with his Well-tempered Clavier is showing that you can create incredibly beautiful music in all keys, including the ones that are furthest away from the ‘good’ sound of just intonation.

    That is: all pieces of that work can be played on a well tempered instrument, without the need to retune it. Thus, modulating from one key to the next in a single piece is also possible.

    But, of course, I could be very wrong 🙂


  184. Re: Michael Martin #180:
    (about 440Hz as standard)

    I don’t sing, but I’ve heard from singers that they also prefer A to be a bit lower, maybe somewhere around 435Hz. It feels more relaxed, with less strain on the voice.

    In the end it’s simply a choice we have and it doesn’t really matter which frequency we use. The only important thing is that all performers use the same frequency.


  185. @Michael Martin #180: One of my favorite harpsichord CDs features harpsichords tuned to A415, modified mean-tone tuning. I don’t have perfect pitch, so without something to compare it to, I doubt that I could distinguish between A440 and A415. That said, the lower pitch certainly puts less stress on the harpsichord. Same goes for the violin family instruments. A440 is for heavy modern pianos with sturdy steel frames, post-Beethoven. And of course the winds and the electronic instruments couldn’t care less.

  186. In reference to digital microtonal instruments. There may still be a bit of technical in this suggestion but this is my favorite solution at the moment. And it’s free to boot.

    I haven’t tried the apple downloads myself. The windows version works well. The desktop app will let you choose or create any tuning you fancy and play it on the onscreen keyboard. Simple enough just to explore various tunings by selecting them from a drop-down menu. And gets much more technical if you want to explore creating your own.

    For someone working within a digital audio workstation you can further use it to retune virtual instruments.

  187. JMG, I’m tone deaf, which is why this week’s essay went over my head. That said, even being so, music still has effects on my consciousness. There’s more to music than merely hearing its sounds.

  188. Clarence, so noted!

    Michael, my late wife used to grumble about how the frequency of middle A has been cranked up step by step over the centuries. She insisted that most music sounds better with middle A set lower, but conductors and critics have been obsessed with the bright, sharp quality of the higher frequencies. She tuned her instruments by ear, and the A was around 430.

    Polecat, and then there’s the whomp of the handle!

    Scotty, I’ll keep that in mind.

    Clay, that’s seriously funny. I think Wagnerian music actually goes well with Trump, though, because Wagner was one of the few people in modern history with an ego even bigger than Trump’s.

    Johnny, I’ll see what I think of the two books I’ve got en route; if I like them, I may well read more of him.

    DropBear and Falk, thank you both. I’ll look into these.

    Mawkernewek, too funny! Maybe Beethoven’s the composer for our times.

    J.L.Mc12, I bow in respect. The fact that you even know what a psalmodikon is, much less wanted to learn how to play it, impresses me!

    BK, my understanding is that you have to retune with any of the non-equal temperaments, precisely because they’re not equal. Just intonation is more vulnerable than most, but it’s not the only one affected. Still, I could also be wrong!

    Jordan, thanks for this.

    Bruno, also a good point.

  189. I’ll weigh in on the intonation/scale tuning/tuning theory thing a little since that’s a particular passion of mine.

    First: the reference pitch of A has nothing to do with the tuning / intonation used for the rest of the scale. One can have any of the various forms of tuning at any reference pitch (and A doesn’t have to be the reference, either).

    Second, for digital (or digitally-controlled analogue) instruments that support MIDI Tuning Standard messages or similar technology (this is sadly a bit deep-nerd stuff, but there are standards for this kind of thing, at least!) you can use a tool like Scala ( to define any mathematical scale you want and send it to the instrument, including scales with more than 12 notes per octave, and scales that have no octave equivalence at all. This is extremely cool stuff for those who care about this and it lets you use any of the supported synthesizers (the link to Scala – which I hope comes through here – has a long list of supported instruments, hardware and virtual) to play with those tunings. Some of the hardware on that list is quite affordable used, though personally I’m a little particular to the Dave Smith / Sequential stuff which is.. not.

    Third, “well temperament’ is itself not one single tuning – there are many tunings that have been known to be “well tempered” and it is in fact a matter of great debate _which_ well-temperament Bach was using (and how to calculate it, if it even can be and wasn’t purely by the ear of his favourite tuner). In general, well-temperament, along with the various forms of meantone and the increasing orders of N-limit Just Intonation, are all attempting to find harmonious compromises between the harsh realities of the limits of the Pythagorean style tuning and what works well with increasingly complex music. As has been discussed before, while this affects even solo melodies, this particularly matters with polyphony – the harmonies must have ratios, after all, and depending on context some of those ratios convey different emotions and are pleasing or unpleasing. It’s arbitrary, but it’s not unimportant, as our host has pointed out before! 😉

    Last, since it was brought up, the “traditional” pitch that modern Baroque orchestras play in is A=415. That’s sort of a reference standard. I have heard pieces played at A=415 on period instruments (including some pieces literally _from_ that period) as well as at A=440(ish, some use 442). I can’t say that I’m against A=440 at all, it’s (almost exactly) the same as transposing a half step higher than A=415.

    I’ll leave you all off with a suggestion to explore the tunings of the Wilson combination product sets, which use beautiful mathematical sequences to come up with tunings that often have absolutely nothing to do with the western idea of tonality at all, but can sound profoundly beautiful as a self-contained set of pitches!

  190. A quick follow up on the wilsonic tuner. I just did a little test and discovered you do not have to be working within a DAW to utilize it’s instrument re-tuning ability. So after testing with Dropbears pianoteq suggestion, all one would have to do is load both the wilsonic desktop app and pianoteq desktop app, click “440” in pianoteq and change selection to “external tuning new notes,” and the piano would automatically retune itself to the tuning selected in wilsonic. This would be true with any software instrument that supports MTS-ESP.

    If one plugged in a cheap USB midi keyboard this would give you immediate access to infinite tunings on a keyboard.

  191. @Phutatorius #170: Hi there! I agree that the Velvet Underground song is profoundly haunting. I never took the stuff either. I was starting to get out of doing drugs just when some of my closest friends and cousins were starting to take heroin. (Not counting weed and alcohol which I got worse about.) This was when a group of two cousins and one friend from highschool were all in college together. They started shooting up, and offered to shoot me up. This is one of the times when I have been grateful to have anxiety (much milder now than it used to be). So, I steered clear and made new friends, keeping them to the side even though I loved them. That was at age 19-20. My friend and one cousin went to jail after robbing a gash station for heroin money a few years later. That got my friend and cousin into jail and off the drug. My friend stayed clean and eventually got into a good trade and has done well. My cousin didn’t do heroin again, but got into meth after a number of years of sobriety. We are now in our mid-forties and he got sober again recently, found Jesus, and is now now in the aftermath of a meth psychosis that I don’t know if his brain will fully recover from. He has constant delusions of electronic persecution / voices / government surveillance, etc. His younger brother is in SF now, homeless, and still addicted to heroin and crack. I haven’t drank any Robitussin for a cheap trip or taken anyone elses ADHD medicine for a buzz since I was 21, haven’t smoked weed for over ten years, and no alcohol since the fall of 2015. I attribute much of the progress I’ve made towards my personal goals towards letting that stuff go.

    On a positive note, I do know many people who did do what Brian Eno said, and had formed bands due to the influence of the Velvet Underground. I think that is generally a true statement about their legacy.

    @Nachtgurke #175 : I am really glad you took the time to listen to some of the songs on my list. Thank you! Slothrust is a lot of fun. There other albums are more grunge, but I like them a lot as far as fun “program music” goes. I will expand upon and comment on this basic list when I get time. I love sharing music with friends, so I want to thank JMG again for allowing me to do that with the community here in this space.

  192. You know a Wagner series *might* lose you commenters, but not necessarily readers. 🙂

    I read almost every post (providing I can keep up – because your output is truly phenomenal), but do not comment on every post, because very often I do not know enough about the theme to have a lot to say. Still, I will read, and be interested, and study and learn.

    Regardless. 🙂

  193. A Comment following an article on the coming stellar alignment I thought you might find amusing;

    “A nude beach with a high dune is required for the dancing and chanting, 20 minutes before sunrise. Install Stellarium on your druidic device and set it to night mode, to align your thoughts and prayers.”

    When I was younger around 1981 or 1982 I managed to eyeball Uranus during an alignment. I was in Idaho Falls and the elevation made for clear skies.

    Sadly the forecast here is for gloom. May you have clear skies and your Druidic device not crash.

  194. Teresa – #164. Re: video game music as today’s accessible “classics”. Check out

    The Washington Metro Gamer Symphony Orchestra plays video game music live.


  195. About Basque food – I remember eating at a Basque restaurant once. I was driving between Utah and Oregon, via Wendover, Nevada, and I think it was in Nevada. I rememebr the food being strange, and me being ill-at-ease eating at a large table with strangers, but it certainly was unique.
    The following day, between there and the eastern border of Oregon, a large flock of sheep crossed the road, with a sheepherder on horseback, another new experience. (Anyone driving that route: gas up and get water before you take that stretch. It’s miles and miles of nothing but miles and miles – except for a flock of sheep.) But the little I’ve read about the culture fascinates me.

    About the power of music – The December 2023/January 2024 issue of the AARP magazine has an article about music which starts blandly enough with a spotlight on Ringo Starr, but then goes onto the miracles music therapy can do. I already knew that people in dementia respond to and recognize the songs of their earlier years, but not that playing them sparked their memories of other things, and on into more detail. Personally, I find hearing those tunes – and sometimes, in some settings I can – leaves me energized. Even the “Disney singalong” film (film clips included, along with the lyrics subtitles) the Life Enrichment ladies rented for us for a Thursday evening entertainment. Last Fourth of July, there was a similar event with patriotic classics., though, alas, no 1812 Overture. BTW, the last Disney song, from “Tangled,” didn’t feel like music at all. It was recent enough to have possibly been run through Autotune; and in general, the older the songs, the livelier.

  196. Chuaquin #159 and Scotty #182
    It is very gratifying to hear that someone appreciates your culture, and even more so if it is a relatively unknown culture like mine.
    JMG WoW!

  197. @JMG – I was going to suggest Wagner myself, but you beat me to it. I do understand why Hitler like all Wagner’s Ring Cycle until the Gotterdamerung. Because that’s what he was headed for at a high rate of speed, of course, and either sensed it on some level, or was in raging denial over it.

    Modern heathens who run with Odin are pretty well aware that their god isn’t going to bring them any sort of good luck. Even though they end up in, to quote one contemporary s/f writer, “a celestial retirement home for old warriors, complete with booze, bints, and pork roasts.”

  198. VOG, oh, I get the distinction between where you put middle A and how you arrange the octaves. Those are parallel grumbles, not connected ones. Thanks for the nerdology — beyond my limited tech knowledge, but it may well be useful to others.

    Jordan, duly noted!

    Scotlyn, also duly noted. I’m considering the Wagner series. We do seem to be moving into a very Wagnerian time just now over here in the US.

    Siliconguy, this is my idea of a Druidic device:

    The silicon chips are larger than is fashionable these days, but the resulting device is very hard to crash.

    Patricia M, I’m not sure whether it’s autotune or something else, but it’s certainly true that a lot of recent music is lifeless. Mind you, I’ve got Wagner’s Die Walkure on the CD player right now; it’s bombastic, sure, but alive.

    Achille, I wonder if the tradition of drumming on a plank is ancient enough that there may be some connection. Last I heard, the Basques have been in their land since long before the beginning of recorded history; I’ll have to take a look at the latest genetic info, but there’s plenty of evidence for transatlantic contact in the distant past.

    Patricia M, ah, but they’re only in that retirement home until Ragnarok, when — in the classic Dark Age warband style — they get to pay back that hospitality by fighting to the (second) death against the massed legions of chaos and old night. It’s a harsh faith, if a noble one.

  199. Achille #205 – this may be off-topic, but…

    A long time ago I worked as a ship’s agent (consignataria de buques) in the fishing port of Killybegs in Donegal in Ireland. Many of our clients were Basque fishing boats. Upon which, as you probably know, the position of ship’s cook is a very high and trusted one. Compared to Irish fishing boats, where the last man on is the one who “has to” cook for the rest. Needless to say, the Basque fishing crews ate much better than the Irish ones… 😉

    In any case, one of my favourite memories involves meeting one of the Basque fishing boats on an Easter Sunday when I had pulled weekend duty. After their lorry was loaded, groceries and gasoil delivered, and the paperwork done, they invited me to stick around. They had set up a barbecue under the open hatch, and the ship’s cook was grilling some serious, 3cm-thick, pork steaks. I have to tell you it was the nicest pork I ever ate. The lads on those boats were always friendly and easy to talk to, and you would see the same crews on the same boats year after year (this is an excellent sign of a well-run boat!). But also, I can see why people’s encounters with Basque culture often involve food. 🙂

  200. JMG: “Mawkernewek, too funny! Maybe Beethoven’s the composer for our times.” According to the biography of Beethoven by Jan Swafford, little Ludwig was a bedwetter (p29). I wonder if bedwetters have their own flag yet.

  201. Hey JMG

    I learned how to play “love me tender” on my monochord from a now defunct website of Psalmodikon players, plucking with my fingers instead of bowing. But that was a long time ago and I don’t think I can do it anymore. Luckily I still have some of their PDF newsletters that had the score. I may still get back into it when I make/buy a bow.

    Now, on the subject of scales. You say that the modern scales are derived from the Ionian and aeolian modes which have been developed as far as possible. I wonder what music could have been made if such concentrated effort was applied to the other modes like the mixolydian?

  202. It seems very odd that atonal music, 12-tone music, and even bum notes in otherwise good music, can sound as bad as they do. I’ve never heard any bird song or combination of simultaneous bird song that sounded discordant, even though I doubt birds adhere to any mathematically orderly tonal system, especially across species. Likewise I’ve never seen clashing colors in any natural setting, even though in the human environment I can tell you (if you ask) whether the mauve in your sweater is a tiny fraction of a shade wrong for your skin tone or for the rest of your clothing’s color palette.

    I think it shows pretty clearly that there’s no simple binary or spectrum between cacophony and music, nor between a clashing and a harmonious color palette. In a world full of sounds, bad music is still only possible because there’s music.

    By the way, due to a misreading at an early age, part of my brain will always think The Well-Tempered Clavier is an operetta about an unusually easygoing knight.

  203. Patricia Mathews @204: “I already knew that people in dementia respond to and recognize the songs of their earlier years, but not that playing them sparked their memories of other things…”

    You may have seen this video of a former ballerina with dementia responding to a recording of “Swan Lake” and remembering her choreography from a long-ago performance: (I’m not crying, it’s just dusty in here…)

  204. Hi John Michael,

    Rarely do we disagree, but I must say that your comment: “but it’s certainly true that a lot of recent music is lifeless” reads to me like a sweeping generalisation of the finest order. Well done.

    I hold some reservations that you actually listen to recent music, at least in the same genre’s that I do. I’m a very long time fan of the Australian national youth broadcaster, Triple J. If everyone took your approach to views on music, then the art form would die, from hubris.

    Secondly, I must bring you to task. What you may not appreciate is that all those digital platforms have had a profound impact on the actual quality of music delivered. The music has been compressed so that the delivery of the music takes up less bits and bytes, i.e. it becomes cheaper to deliver, but sounds flat. And a lot of FM radio stations (but not all) deliver that compressed music. If you have the equipment, and ears, to discern the difference, the compressed audio is terrible sounding, but when a station actually cares about the signal being transmitted, it can be astounding.

    It hardly surprises me that vinyl LP’s have made something of a comeback in recent years.

    So, you’re wrong.

    Years ago I knew a bloke from your generation who told me bluntly he’d love to see the national youth music broadcaster shut down. I have no idea why he said that, but he did. One possible explanation was that he worried that the much vaunted music of his youth, would be bettered, as it has been. Just sayin, such talk is not a good look.



  205. @Achille (#154) and JMG in reply (#163 and #207)::

    There is a scholar named Roslyn M. Frank (emerita, University of Iowa) who has spent her working life looking into the prehistory of the Basques, their mythology, their traditional stone constructions (stone octagons), their sacred astronomy and geometry, their number system, bear shamanism among them and other prehistoric European peoples, and so forth. She writes in English mostly, but in Spanish sometimes, and now and then even in Basque. The few of her papers that I have read strike me as excellent, even brilliant work. She has enhanced my own understanding of prehistoric Europe considerably, even with just the few papers I have read.

    As for transatlantic cultural contacts, it ought never to be questioned that they always were possible. Though the risks of dying in transit were very high, the technology of occasionally successful transatlantic or transpacific voyaging is fairly simple — as Thor Heyerdahl proved beyond any reasonable doubt.

    There is a very wide-spread, very old use of shouting-stations; that is, of places in the landscape with special acoustics where two people can communicate over great distances by shouting at one another. It’s found in Asia, in Europe and in the Americas.

    And there is also some North American evidence of transcontinental communication overland, in part by similar means. (Note the curious “coincidence” as to the date of the concerted action, on the one hand, by New England Indigenous tribes and, on the other, by Southwestern Indigenous tribes to drive out European colonists from their ancestral territories: King Philip’s War against the English in the Northeast in 1675-76, and Po’pay’s Rebellion against the Spanish in the Southwest in 1680.)

    Frank has put more than 100 of her publications up on for free downloading. A basic membership is free for the signing up., and gives you access to everything. (You will constantly be asked whether you wish to upgrade to a paid membership, which gets old fast, but you can read and download as much and as fast with a free membership as with a paid one.)

  206. Dear JMG and community:

    A thought regarding musical talent, I understand that Frank Zappa was a very, very technically competent musician. I am also thinking that he was a seer: his Gregory Peccary- Trendmonger came to mind with the current glut of “Internet Influencer” ( and what on earth is an Influencer??). And his “I’m the Slime”; what’s out there now is orders of magnitude worse!
    And Wagner is an interesting cat, his anti-semitism may be the least of his bad tendencies! But such music! Worth a post!


  207. Phutatorius, no doubt. I’m tempted to speculate which of the flags out there belong to that category!

    J.L.Mc12, good question. There’s a lot of lovely Mixolydian music out there — most books of mountain dulcimer tab have a good collection — but of course that’s just the starting point.

    Walt, maybe the Platonists are right and there really is a cosmic order that reveals itself through natural phenomena… I love the Well-Tempered Cavalier, btw! I’ll have to insert a children’s book by that name into a novel sometime. Would you mind having some anagram of your name as the author?

    Chris, of course it’s a sweeping generalization. “A lot,” however, does not mean “all.” I’m delighted to hear that there’s some good music being produced on your end of the planet, and even more pleased to hear that it’s being broadcast. Me, I’ll stick with my habit of listening to stuff by dead people — though I may just get a turntable one of these days.

    Robert, thank you for this. I’ll visit and see what looks enticing. Have you by any chance ever read Farley Mowat’s The Farfarers? He makes a case for a Pictish transatlantic presence in Newfoundland in fairly early times. And there’s also the awkward fact that something like a quarter of Native American genetic lines have a mitochondrial type that’s otherwise only found in far Western Europe, and which (to judge by mutation rates) has been in North America for something like 30,000 years…

    Cugel, oh, Wagner was a loathsome human being. He’s exhibit A for the case that creative geniuses do not have to be nice people. That said, his antisemitism has been exaggerated; he insisted on having Hermann Levi, who was Jewish, conduct the premiere of Parsifal because Wagner was convinced Levi could do a better job than anybody else.

  208. @JMG (#216):

    You’re very welcome! And thank you, in turn, for pointing me at Farley Mowat’s book, which I did not know of. It’ll be a must-read for me as soon as I can get at a copy. Nor had I known about the mitochondrial evidence. What a rich harvest!

    I don’t know exactly why it should be so, but since earliest childhood I have thought of oceans as promising highways, not daunting barriers. (It was mountains that felt like daunting barriers.) I always supposed that was due to my father’s wholly Danish ancestry (about half of them went to sea in their youthful years). But maybe it goes much further back than that … food for thought there … (The Shadow over Innsmouth and The Terrible Old Man are my favorites among Lovecraft’s stories, for what it’s worth.)

  209. JMG, since you have mentioned Hitler and the occult in this posting and the occasional odd posting over the years, I am curious if there is a book or two that goes into the subject (failing that, the Nazi Party). I’d like to do some research for my own education.

    JMG, Robert & Achille re: Basques and transatlantic crossings – this is purely anecdotal, but since it fits into this week’s conversation, I’d like to share that I once had a brief friendship with a wandering Indigenous guy from Nova Scotia (Mi’kmaq / Mi’kmaw but until recent years spelled “Micmac”) who told me that he once met a Basque guy and when they compared the vocabularies of their native tongues they were surprised to find out that there was a considerable amount of overlap/mutual intelligibility.

    Off topic – but since “The Orange One” was mentioned earlier and for those who take interest in astrology, I’d just like to mention one thing. In the sidereal system (which is used in Vedic astrology), there are presently four planets occupying Taurus: the Sun, Venus, Mercury and Jupiter. Venus and Jupiter are natural benefics and when Mercury ‘hangs out’ with benefics, he becomes benefic, too. So, it is pretty powerful in a positive way. Also, from June 2 to 7, Venus will be Cazimi the Sun (i.e. within one degree of each other). This tends to be extremely beneficial for one area of life that Venus often rules (typically wealth) but not good for another area (often love life). So, what does this have to do with Trump? Well, in his birth chart, Taurus is his 10th house (which governs reputation, status, career). This indicates that the ‘crushing defeat’ of The Orange One in the courthouse and the consequent events over the next week may end up being a great blessing for him. Like the ‘Democrats stepping on a rake’ that JMG mentioned earlier. Already money is flooding in to support him. Quite possibly public sentiment will swing even further in his favour. And, of course, an overturning of the ruling is not out of the question. If nothing else, the whole drama is definitely popcorn-worthy!

  210. Thanks for tackling the subject of music on the blog, JMG– I’ve been waiting for over a decade!

    On Gagaku, I’ve never gotten deep into it but I’ve listened enough to cotton on to the fact that there is, in fact, melodic structure to it, it’s just so alien sounding to our Western ears that this fact can be hard to ascertain. The melodies are often much slower than we are used to– or Japanese people for that matter, probably. This take is probably not literally correct, but to myself I kind of think of it as music not at the speed of people, but at the speed of the kami. But most important of all is the weird electricity that you can feel when you’re in the presence of skilled musicians playing it live, in the midst of a ritual at a shrine. Like any truly magical endeavor, I suppose, it’s quite a singular experience that is probably impossible to convey effectively in words.

    I just wanted to recommend a book to you and anyone else interested. It’s called The Music Lesson: A Spiritual Search for Growth Through Music” by famous bassist Victor Wooten. Through the Castanedaean literary device of a trickster teacher taking Wooten on various adventures, Wooten explores the practice of music through various vectors in 10 different lesson/chapters in a way that, without ever saying it outright, seemed quite obvious to me to be a conscious mapping of the art of music on to the Kabalistic Tree of Life.

    On music as numbers in time, that’s interesting. I’m still mulling over what that means, but it feels right. In a related vein, to those musicians who are even marginally familiar with Geomancy, the geomantic characters mapped into 4/4 eighth notes makes excellent improvisational practice (or chance music compositional) opportunities. Each character spells out one of the 16 different possible 8th note rhythms that a single bar can contain, and one’s daily reading provides numerous rhythmic combinations with which to enjoy a wealth of creative tomfoolery.

  211. Hey JMG

    True, maybe that is something that some future civilisation will work on.

    Also, on the subject of less mainstream takes on music, are you familiar with Ted Gioia? He has written both books and substack articles about music, its history and its problems in the modern world, along with more general topics about society. I’ve been reading his substack for a while now it is definitely one of the best out there.

  212. Hi John Michael,

    That was a very gracious reply, and thank you. I also concede your point that the words ‘a lot’ is by no means the same as the word ‘all’. Agreed, and just because music is the latest release, does not necessarily imply that it will be any good – the same can be said of the works from the past. I’m reading the collected works of the author Jack Vance, and not all the books live up to the expected high standards of his best.

    Yours is an entirely fair strategy, but I must say that the music business is in many ways similar to the publishing industry, but maybe worse, in that there are a few talents making an awful lot of mad cash, whilst merely talented bands barely make a living. During you-know-what, many local acts which had earned their keep for a decade or more, were smashed. It was brutal, and because I’m guessing, of their less than corporate structures (they’re rock bands after all), they got stuff all support during that time.

    You may not be aware, but the national youth music broadcaster is paid for by the government. There are no advertisements, it’s all about the music. And, they provide a forum for independent acts who produce good material, to get air play when no other radio station will play them. It’s hard out there for creative folks who don’t necessarily fit the 9 to 5 mould.



  213. JMG
    “…though I may just get a turntable one of these days.” I don’t think you will regret that for one second. I didn’t think my musical ear was that sophisticated and that I couldn’t tell the difference between a CD and an LP. I was wrong. I was really impressed with how much richer and fuller the sound was when we played some of our old LP’s on our turntable. I know people that have an even better ear for this kind of thing and they simply won’t listen to a CD.
    My brother-in-law likes to troll thrift stores for old but good audio equipment. Stuff that went for hundreds if not thousands of dollars can sometimes be had for very little money and it is still workable.

  214. Really interesting, thank you.

    I never realised the octave intervals ratio in the ‘standard’ scale isn’t quite all nicely contained.
    Does remind me of just the other day I was talking π with a student and exactly what ratio it represents, why circles and spheres appear naturally in the universe and where knowledge of their ‘power’ can be most useful. We had been talking earlier about the latest Titanic tragedy so I could link it with that and the idea of ‘even spread’ (pressure load in this case)’. Bottom line – don’t go deep sea diving in a tube – insist on a sphere. She got the idea, which was music to me ears, however irrational the ratio.

  215. Robert, your childhood intuition seems sensible to me. The ancestors of the aboriginal Australians crossed from Asia by boat some 40,000 years ago, so deepwater voyages were obviously an option that early; thus access to the Americas from northern Eurasia by either the eastern or the western route in deep antiquity seems likely, not least because people on all sides of the relevant seas have had sturdy seagoing craft since very early times. And of course the possibility of craft rowed by tentacles even further back is appealing. 😉

    Ron, start with Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke’s The Occult Roots of Nazism. Goodrick-Clarke was one of the very few genuine scholars who was willing to look squarely at the evidence, and he did a fine job of sifting through the occult movements in central Europe that gave rise to the Nazi movement. He didn’t go on to do a history of occultism in the Nazi Party, which is a pity — I have yet to see any book on that subject that’s worth citing. The Basque/Mi’kmaq overlap isn’t surprising, since Basque fishermen have been coming to Canada’s Atlantic coast since long before America was officially discovered — the cod fishery of the Grand Banks was attracting European ships from the Middle Ages onward. (The references to Portuguese fishermen in Newfoundland before Columbus in my tentacle novels were based on that.) No doubt Basque sailors and Mi’kmaq villagers did as people generally do when they speak different languages but want to talk, and worked out some kind of convenient jargon, from which words migrated in both directions. As for the King in Orange, interesting! I’ve noticed that Democratic politicians have by and large been fairly muted about all this; I get the impression they realize just what a whirlwind Biden’s pet prosecutors have let loose.

    Quin, thanks for this. I also find gagaku pleasant, and if I lived somewhere where it was performed regularly I’d probably put some time into learning more about it. Thank you for the book recommendation, and also for the idea of musical geomancy!

    J.L.Mc12, yes, I’ve read Gioa’s substack now and then — he’s pretty good.

    Chris, I’ve heard that about the music industry. What interests me is that sometimes you get a rush of genuine talent making it big, and at other times — like the present — the heavily marketed music is deadly dull and the talented have to scrape by on the fringes. I’ve wondered more than once if that follows an astrological rhythm.

    Flatware Tiger, thank you.

    Kay, thanks for the encouragement. It’s a project I’m certainly considering, and the thrift stores here are tolerably good.

    Jay, glad to hear it!

  216. Quin got me thinking about music as it relates to time and space with his comment #219 where he wrote:

    The melodies are often much slower than we are used to– or Japanese people for that matter, probably. This take is probably not literally correct, but to myself I kind of think of it as music not at the speed of people, but at the speed of the kami.”

    This is interesting to me with regards to the influence of Gagaku on Stockhausen. One of the things he worked on doing was taking his music and slowing down specific lines and formulas to where they could be played in different durations. Say one line of music might be written and take a minute to two and half minutes to play, as in his Tierkreis melodies, but then he might stretch them in other pieces where they would be played slower over the course of an hour or more. Western ears aren’t as accustomed to hearing a melody played in that slow of a duration, but listening in this way might develop new organs of perception and adjust our relationship to time. Right now the western mind is trained to have the attention span of a pop song. Getting into a state of immersion with music takes longer though, so the longer jazz pieces, the classical, and ambient really do get you into a different sense of time and can start entraining the brain in useful ways.

    Stockhausen had some other interesting ideas about time in music, such as rhythm, pitch, and form all being the same but at different levels of time. Music is unique in the arts in that it is experienced as flowing over time. Stories of course do, also, in the telling or reading, but music, whether composed or improvised, is always within that specific time and exists only as it is being played (later to be recalled in imagination). Then in the 20th century with the development of speaker systems used in electronic concerts, sound could be moved in space. The same effect can of course be achieved through the careful arrangement of players in a concert hall, which also began to be done more… so composing on different time scales and planning the movement of music through space became part of the equation.

    To me the spatialization of sound, the extension of it over longer durations and training our ears to hear extended melodies has been an area of continual excitement about music.

  217. Two related quotes that came to mind…

    “Any two particles that have once been in contact will continue to act as though they are informationally connected regardless of their seperation in space and time.”- Bell’s Theorem.

    “It can be said that sampling, looping and re-assembling both found materials, and site- specific sounds selected for precision ov relevance to thee message implications ov a piece ov musics, or a transmedia exploration, is an All-Chemical, even a Magickal phenomenon. No matter how short, or apparently unrecognisable a sample might be in linear TIME perception, it must, inevitably, contain within it, (and accessible through it) thee sum total ov absolutely everything its original context represented, communicated, or touched in any way. On top ov this it must implicitly also include thee sum total ov every individual in any way connected with its introduction and construction within thee original (host) culture, and every subsequent (mutated or engineered) culture it in any way, means or form, has contact with forever…(in past, present, future and quantum timezones).

    If we shatter, and scatter, a hologram, we will real-eyes that in each fragmeant, no matter how small, large, or irregular, we will see thee whole hologram. This is an incredibly significant phenomenon. If we take, for example, a SPLINTER of John Lennon, that splinter will in a very real manner contain within it everything that John Lennon ever experienced; every that John Lennon ever said, composed, wrote, drew, expressed; everyone that ever knew John Lennon and thee sum total ov all and any ov those interactions; everyone who ever heard, read, thought, saw, reacted to John Lennon or anything remotely connected with John Lennon; every past, present and/or future combination ov any or all ov the above. All that encyclopaedic information – and the time travel connected with it through memory and through previous experience – goes with that one “splinter” of memory, and we should be very aware that it carries with it an infinite sequence of connections and progressions through time and space.
    “–Genesis Breyer P-Orridge from Thee Splinter Test, an essay on sampling and holographic magic.

  218. The vigorous American popular music scene in the 20th century was an incantatory energetic blend of craft, creativity, artistry, capitalistic money making, and popular response spread over a number of genres and styles, the Brits were also part of the mix. The current popular music scene to me is a symbol of the drying up of the American culture’s springs of life and creativity, another sign of decline. Well, it was a good party while it lasted. I was born in 1953 and saw it in action.

  219. Not a topic I’d have ever voted for, but interesting all the same. Music theory is an incomprehensible and alien world to me, and I’ve never been a big music person in general. Anyway, I had no idea Western music was so distinctive in world terms, or that there was so much “notional space” (to use a good term from back in the ADR days) outside it. Makes sense that our music would be Faustian, too.

    Also a strange collision of worlds to see Nobuo Uematsu discussed on a JMG blog. Of course I’m biased since Uematsu’s music was an important part of my childhood, but I agree that his art transcends the medium even for those here who usually can’t stomach anything to do with video games. Or: I could never imagine our host playing a Final Fantasy game, but I think he might just appreciate some of those tracks. For those here who do video and have a better grasp of music theory than me, there’s also an interesting Youtube channel called “8-bit Music Theory” that analyzes some of his works in great detail.

  220. After thinking a bit more on this post, I think maybe it’s in the category of “bad choices of the modern world”. Not only has the quality of music declined in recent times, but I’m guessing there’s a sinister subliminal aspect to it. I’ve never been able to figure out why my musical tastes were very poppy when I was young, from the late 1960s through the mid 1970s, and then suddenly took a turn for hard rock. Which, also seemed to occur at the expense of other genres of music. About 2/3 of my music collection is from the mid 1970s through the early 1980s, and much of the rest is from more recent albums by bands that were making music in that timeframe.

    It’s like somebody threw a switch in my brain. Hmmmm.

    I did think of a couple of examples of (not too) electrified music I do like – much of Gordon Lightfoot’s work is not distorted, and I marvel at the sound and skill of bluegrass bands. But mostly I like rip roaring guitars and a decent vocalist.

  221. @lathechuck #203
    I will definitely look for them.
    Imagine, a modern symphony orchestra playing modern music audiences actually want to hear.
    The very idea!

  222. @Justin Patrick Moore #226
    “Music is unique in the arts in that it is experienced as flowing over time.”

    I’d like to respectfully point out that dance is also experienced as flowing over time, and, at least to me, so is the experience of poetry in that the reader’s mindset changes as the poem and its layers of meaning reveal themselves through the course of the journey of reading it.

    It occurs to me further that depending on the topic and treatment, some poetry-in-itself can also directly be thought of as an experience of time in both directions simultaneously, in the imagery and emotions the verses evoke in the sequence in which they are presented.

  223. Justin, I’m not at all sure I get your contrast between music and other arts in terms of time. Cinema, for example, is just as timebound as music — it exists only as it is being played, except to the extent that it resides on a length of film (and to exactly this same degree, music exists on vinyl or other media). In the same way, reading a novel is an experience in time, and when you’re not actually reading it, it also exists in memory and can be recalled in imagination, just as music does. Maybe you could explain. As for P-Orridge’s thesis, er, in what meaningful sense do (say) three notes taken at random from “Imagine” embody everything John Lennon ever wrote? To me this comes across as one of those “neat ideas” people have when they’re really ripped on cannabis — but perhaps you can explain a bit more.

    BeardTree, I could see that.

    Alvin, I’m delighted to hear this; I’ll give it a listen when I have the chance.

    Kim A., duly noted!

    Drhooves, well, most people have decided tastes in music, and that goes back a very long ways — back before effective subliminal technologies do. It may just be that hard rock did things for you.

  224. Rap? Like the revolution will not be televised, revolution number nine, the Beatles and tomorrow, I have listened to some rap, lots I don’t like the lyrics.. I found Celtic Johnbarleycone reborn: Dark Britannia. On cd and liked it enough to continue getting a series or five 2 cd sets, various artists. Songs live by being sung and heard and some songs thrive by leaping genres and times, and they survive the most horrible degradations done to them, including plunderphonics, sampled to death,ai. I like to sing and play sings making them live, which is really magical when you see and feel it live and in person over a solstice full moon in the mountains singing a hybridized nuebluegrass and tapping into the earth water, air and sky and have a sense of community, and have late night picking songs and learning how to play so it is passed on in the ranks. But what song to sing?and how does it fit? Sing your cheating heart at a wedding, or put Firesign theatre in the music box, next to spike jones. Somewhere we come to the place of noise and lawn mowers and motorcycles seem to have a lot of it. When we are exposed to different musics, we hear noise,perhaps, or get taken outside or inside ourselves. If we can let it in, some people can’t, won’t, or dare not to. In the counterculture, you hang at the fringes. I’m so conservative I been married fifty years, lived in the same house for forty, under an old cottonwood tree with my compost bins that continues to live from when I brought it here. It is quiet around the trees, bird quiet, except for the city growing up around me, suddenly the drone of modern America is everywhere, with punch drunk throbbing bass. Music made to be talked over.its a beautiful day, white bird,time is,Grateful Dead’s ripple water song.,but the typos happen when I touch something bad on this tiny keyboard.. Music will take us down this long descent, different songs will live, and all of the songs will change, as each different person sings it.

  225. @Steve #183 – I see there’s still more we have in common… although I’m roughly 25 years younger than you are and our house, despite being in a remote location of our choice is not quite as remote as yours 😉

    As for the lyrics – I sometimes wonder how the composers and singers and listeners are capable of wading in such imagery. A good friend of mine was a committed listener of the darkest of dark metal for many years, but looking back he was also going through very dark times. Interestingly, in what one could possibly describe as the darkest moment in his life, he found his own spirituality and raised like the phoenix from the ashes. Much has changed since then and so has his taste for music – his favourite music being silence nowadays.


  226. I do agree with you about cinema, novels and storytelling and the experience of time passing as involved in making and creating those. Also, certainly for painting and sculpture, and other works, the artist has the experience of time being passed with regards to conception or initial seed to finished product. What I think makes music interesting with its relation to time is the way different elements of music can change our experience and perception of time. But maybe so too can a good book that you get caught up in. I guess what I am glimpsing myself, but not conveying as well as I would like, is the notion that through playing with duration in music, and learning to hear melodies over longer durations, when the ear hasn’t been as trained to hear them as such, might help those who are interested in doing so, have a sense of longer periods of time and the changes that occur on larger scales. Now most people who don’t listen to classical music or long pieces of music in general (which could include folk ballads), listen to short songs mostly. I wonder if that has an affect on our attention spans and also ability to think about larger periods and cycles of time. I will have to think on this more myself, but thanks for asking me to clarify.

    As for Genesis P-Orridge’s ideas, yeah, they are a bit half-baked, but I do think there is something to it, maybe not as far as he has suggested. To quote my own new book, with regards to sampling we might look at Claude Shannon and Harry Nyquist sampling theorem as used in information theory which has allowed for lossless transmission of signals. “The Nyquist-Shannon theorem has come to be known as the sampling theorem. It is fundamental to converting signals from analog-to-digital and back again from digital-to-analog. Much modern technology works with its application ticking away in the background. When converting a signal, there is always danger that essential information may be lost. Nyquist and Shannon did the difficult theoretical work that made those losses minimal. The theorem shows the minimum sampling rate that a continuous-time signal needs to be uniformly sampled from, so that the original signal can be remade by the samples alone.” In other words, their theorem has led to a formula that has allowed engineers to reconstruct an audio signal, even when it has not been perfectly sampled, if other constraints are present. This has given rise to the idea and practice of lossless audio files. To me this suggests that even when someone samples a small part of “Imagine” it still contains a seed or element of the whole song. Magically it is like using the stems or root of a plant for a natural magic spell. So the sample of the three bars of “Imagine” have the correspondences of that song, just as the stems of St. John’s wort have the properties of that plant. Perhaps here it might be that the sample contains just a fragment or spark of the “aura” of a song or work and its creator, in Walter Benjamin’s sense of that word. Another way of thinking of it, is that sampling in music allows for the creation of magic chains that connect a new work to an original work. I think that, for me, that might be the key insight from P-Orridge’s stoned meanderings. I don’t think as much as he did that it then connects to the whole spirit of the original creator. But I always thought of sampling as a way to reference previous works and is a way to link up to that chain of associations. This can of course be done without electronic technology, as was done by many composers when they “sampled” motifs of folk songs and put them into symphonies or tone poems. Just musing here further here. I hope this helps explain my interest somewhat better. With more time and space I might develop this line of thinking. Again, thanks for asking to clarify.

  227. I was thinking earlier… since magic is causing a change in state of consciousness by act of will, then when discussing music as a magical language… lullabyes. Their very purpose is to change the state of consciousness. And they’re magnificently effective.

  228. ° The Australian Band “King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard” used modified instruments for microtanality. From Wiki: “Unusual in Western rock music, starting in 2017 with album Flying Microtonal Banana, the band have experimented with microtonal music using custom built guitars in 24 TET tuning, as well as several other modified instruments.[48][148] This was inspired by Middle Eastern and Turkish music, including Anatolian rock, and their customised guitars were modelled off the bağlama.[48][149][150] Mackenzie described it as “kind of a Dorian mode with a half flat sixth and a half flat second, because that was the way my baglama was fretted”.[48] After Flying Microtonal Banana, the band went on to create two more albums utilising this scale – K.G. and L.W. – while also utilising it in other one-off songs.[151] Many of the band’s songs feature unusual time signatures, such as 7/8 and 5/4, and frequent time signature changes.[152][153] Their albums Polygondwanaland and Butterfly 3000 feature polyrhythms and polymeters.[154][155]” A podcast with bandfounder Stu Mackenzie:
    °A couple of weeks ago there was a performance in Vienna for deaf/neardeaf people by: exploring the border between sound and vibration…
    Sorry for double-posting, but the www’s didn’t show up at the preview!

  229. I second J.L.Mc12’s recommendation of Ted Gioia’s blog about music. It is very good.

  230. Hey JMG

    I thought you would like Ted; I think he may be one of the few people who are just as prolific in writing as you are, or close to it. And what he writes about those often intersect with your themes on this blog, such as how corporation interfere with culture.
    Also, I think a while ago I mentioned the odd blind musician Moondog who used to recite poetry while dressed as a Viking in a corner in New York for years, and invented his own musical instruments with which he composed his own original music. I recently bought the biography of him written by Robert Scotto, which I am yet to read. I have added a link to a youtube video (no film, just the cover of an album) of one of his more famous instrumental pieces “The Witch of Endor”.

  231. I recently replaced my old Crown amplifier (200 watts) with the TubeCube, a 3.5 watt single-ended pentode amplifier. I have large and very sensitive speakers, so 3.5 watts will get me up to 100dB or so.

    There is absolutely a signature sound to tube amplifiers. Tubes are better at delivering current than solid-state, which delivers voltage. There’s also a second-order harmonic that sounds euphonic. And while their specs are unimpressive when compared against a solid state amp, voices and acoustic instruments sound more tangible and more alive.

    I don’t know if solid-state technology will survive the next few centuries, but I’m pretty sure we’ll be able to make vacuum tubes. And to this day people pay enormous sums for Western Electric horns and speaker drivers that were made in the 1920s, because the sound is superior to what you hear in modern theatres. And while cassettes and CDs might go the way of the dinosaur, I’d imagine long-playing records and radio broadcasts will last a while.

  232. Jdmbozouki, if you want to put these effusions of yours to some other kind of music, go ahead.

    Justin, I used a moderate amount of acid back in the day, though I left out the cough syrup. Maybe that’s why Deuteronomy Q. Oatmeal’s outpourings never made much sense to me.

    Michelle, an excellent example!

    Pamouna, I have no idea what their music is like, but the name’s a keeper.

    J.L.Mc12, thanks for this.

    Kenaz, solid state technologies are difficult to do at home, but do-it-yourself vacuum tubes are already a thing. Here’s a classic example:

    These days, though, glassblowing has been added to the mix, so you get artisanal vacuum tubes like this very nice triode:

    At this point I’m pretty sure the technology has become a permanent acquisition of our species.

  233. This was a fascinating essay to read, thank you as always JMG. And just as good as the essay are the many comments from knowledgeable ecospohians, with links to some very interesting music.
    I especially want to thank @viduraawakened for the ragas – wow, just wow. I am going to look for some recordings on vinyl or CD of Kishori Amonkar, that was so incredibly beautiful. My huband and I high-tailed it down to our local second-hand CD/record shop on the weekend, and luckily managed to pick up (all on vinyl) a recording of koto music as well as two albums of music from the Carnatic tradition (those were both issued by Nonesuch, which has been mentioned here a few times this week). Going to check out the record stores in town this week for more ragas, hope I can find some of the Hindustani tradition.
    And @Justin Patrick Moore, thanks for the “Telstar” link, brought back memories. Good one to choose for Mercury! Also like your choice of Velvet Underground’s “Heroin” for Uranus, it’s one I listened to a lot on the live double album of theirs.

  234. Hey JMG

    No problem, I must warn you though that not all recordings of Moondog’s compositions are great, many are just test runs of some of his homemade experimental instruments, or recitations of his odd short poems.

    Oh, you mentioned the use of geometry for creating the musical scales, and not only have I constructed one such scale devised by Guido, I also have done this Construction by the Organ-maker Strahle, for calculating the sting lengths for instruments such as pianos.

  235. Do you (or anybody else) happen to know why Holst didn’t include any pieces for the Sun and the Moon in his “Planets”?

    (wikipedia tries to tell me that Sun and Moon were part of the seven classical planets, but now we’re in modern times, with modern astrology, which includes Neptune and Uranus, but obviously we now know better about the Sun and Moon and so Holst didn’t include them because he was using modern astrology. Progress, you know, even in such absurd areas as astrology! 😉 )


  236. OT for this week, but I wanted to share with you the most comprehensive good-bye to the idea of progress that I have so far read in any major news outlet. “Die ZEIT”, the most important German weekly, published, to be read also at I suppose the page can be automatically translated.

    The author, Andreas Reckwitz, ignores physical constraints completely, but nevertheless redefines “progress” to include:
    1. A sense of precarity – one cannot sit back and wait for progress to arrive
    2. Resilience against climatic, military and political perturbations
    3. Honesty about the necessity of losses and frank negotiation of who will suffer how much loss
    4. Conservation of past progress

    The resulting outlook strikes me as much more useful than belief in progress, though I don’t see what use there is in keeping that label!

  237. Thanks for this- very good as usual. I always thought it was interesting that the octave note names were given as a cosmic map.
    Do (Domini, God)
    Re (Regina, queen of the sky-the Moon)
    Mi (microcosm, earth, humanity)
    Fa (Fata, fate, the planets of the solar system)
    Sol (the Sun of course)
    La (Lacta, the Milky Way)
    Si (Siderus- the whole starry world)
    Do (and God again)

  238. > Do you happen to know if there’s anybody who makes a digital piano, or some other relatively straightforward keyboard instrument, that can play just intonation or some of the other old tuning systems without requiring too much technical knowledge from the user? That would be helpful.

    In digital pianos it’s rarer, because they focus on mimicking regular pianos. Most just feature a “master frequency” change option (from A=440 to others).

    One relatively cheap option, as a synth I know of, is Novation AFX Station which is a version of the companies monosynth (single voice at a time) with support for microtonal tunings, co-designed by a Cornish electronic music artist known for his use of microtonal scales. Would be able to do just intonation and other tunings.

    With a computer it’s easier, there are lots of plugins (aka “virtual instrument”, “VST”, “AU”), that allow you to play just intonation and alternative tunings (including microtonal and more than 12-notes per octave), and even “adaptor plugins” that give the same capability to any plugin that doesn’t natively have it. Usually this is built-in in synthesizer virtual instruments but Pianoteq (already mentioned) is a piano plugin that has this feature ( ). Probably others too.

    Some DAWs (computer software for recording and producing audio and MIDI, the ones that host the virtual instrument plugins) also have it built-in these days and can extend it to any plugin they host even if it doesn’t have it naitively (I know Ableton Live, Logic and Cubase do).

    There’s also an interesting possibility some DAWs have (Logic has it iirc), which is kind of just intonation that switches dynamically as you modulate to different keys. This is called “Hermode tuning” (there’s also specialized software that does it outside a DAW: )

    Some key words: microtonal MIDI, MIDI MTS, custom scales, hermode tuning

  239. Oh, and here’s a hardware modifier: that can do microtonal tunings and just intonation for digital pianos/synths/or sound units that do no naitively support it.

    You need:
    a midi keyboard [to play the keys]
    -> connected to this device [to modify the notes passing thru as you play to the tuning you picked]
    -> connected to a piano keyboard or sound module (a keyboard-less sound unit) [to actually play the sound]

  240. From JMG: “… into Wagner’s life and far from admirable personality, and into the almost completely forgotten world of ideas that inspired him.”
    I’m going to “come out” here as a serious partisan for the life and music of Brahms, as opposed to Wagner. You probably know that the German “new music” was represented by composers like Liszt and Wagner. The traditionalist school, on the other hand, was represented in the latter 19th century by Brahms and Joachim, the violinist. The “new music” composers favored the opera and the tone poem. Program music, in other words. Brahms looked backward and used the traditional sonata form. Most of his work, his symphonies, concertos and chamber works were “absolute music.” The three sonatas for violin and piano are especially engaging. I also admire Brahms’ for his personal life; a lifelong bachelor who (due to poverty) was raised around the prostitutes of the Hamburg red light district; later in life he remained familiar with the brothels and prostitutes of Vienna, at least according to the Jan Swafford biography. As a lifelong bachelor myself, I can sympathize. He could be “prickly” at times, it was said. His temperament was compared to that of a hedgehog, and he was caricatured walking along accompanied by a hedgehog. His favorite watering hole in Vienna was called “Zum Rothen Eigel” or the Red Hedgehog. Swafford thinks he died (at 64) of liver cancer.

    Okay, that’s my pitch for Brahms, who would otherwise go unmentioned on this 5th Wednesday music post.

  241. Mr. Greer, re. LSD…

    Here’s hoping that you were able to avoid taking any of the progressive ‘brown’ acid back in the daze..
    I, personally, never had much luck grooving whilst imbibing in that chemical concoction the few occasions I partaked. Perhaps that’s because I was already buzzed, after hiking 8 to 10 thousand feet into the High Sierra! ‘;]

  242. p.s. .. I kinda like those images of the steam punk vacuum tubes you provided.. makes me inclined to take up glass blowing, just for that alone. Hummm…

  243. Dear JMG, concerning the Gagaku piece you proposed, it sounded so familiar to me, that I had to recollect where I had heared it. Then The simple answer was, because I’m an anime fan.
    Japan animations (so called “anime”) are full of different musical genres, and act as a veicle of diffusion of such music in the western world

    Maybe you know a few of them, like Kenji Kawai in the “Ghost in the shell” movie
    or Geinoh Yamashirogumi – Kaneda, that was in the “Akira” movie

    There is a lot more, obvuoisly.

    Have a nice day

  244. Dear Mr Greer

    Europe is likely to go into a dark age in the next couple of hundred years and it is possible that classical music could die out as a living tradition in its heartland (By living tradition I mean being performed and loved). I have noticed that classical music is popular in China and Japan and there are a lot of Chinese and Japanese performers. The Shanghai symphony orchestra celebrated it 120 anniversary in 2018. If classical music dies out in its European heartland is there a possibility that it will continue in places like China and japan where it will be kept alive as a living tradition and taken in different directions.. The historical parallel I have in mind here is the way that Buddhism died out in much if its heartland in India, but was adopted in china, Japan and Tibet.

    it is not just the far East where this might happen. There is Russia as well where classical music is very popular and there are quite a few famous Russian composers of classical music. If Russia is going to become a new civilisation, then the same thing could happen there as well..

    I ask this because there are a lot of things about Western civilisation that deserved to be dumped in the dustbin of history. However classical music is one of those things that deserves to be kept going.

    Yours sincerely


  245. @Michael Gray: King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard are coming to my town later this year, and I was thinking of going. I’ve enjoyed the albums I’ve listened to, including the Flying Microtonal Banana. Also, they have a bad ace name.

    @Polecat: If you like your psychedelia a bit darker, than the album “The Brown Acid Caveat” is a good one to listen to, by The Tear Garden…

    Et, al, speaking of drugs, I seem to have inadvertently invoked that darker side of Neptune by posting the Velvet Underground track. It just goes to show the raspberry jam principle in action.

  246. J.L.Mc12, thanks for this! I’ll give it a look.

    Milkyway, I don’t — anyone else?

    Aldarion, that’s fascinating. It really does look as though a trickle of common sense has started to seep through the concrete.

    Quicksilver, they came to have that meaning assigned to them, but the syllables originally came from a medieval hymn in which each line starts one note higher than the one before:

    European, thanks for this.

    Phutatorius, duly noted, but Brahms — as fine as his music is — didn’t create the most influential and revealing single work of art of the 19th century. Wagner did, which is why I may go ahead and talk about the Ring later this year.

    Polecat, nope. The sources I had up in Bellingham, Washington got very clean stuff, with just enough rat poison to add to the visual impact. I experimented with it, and realized after a certain number of trips that I could get just as far using occult methods and my own mind, so I shrugged and went onward.

    Degringolade, hmm! Good to see.

    Michael, thanks for this. I’ll give it a listen when time permits.

    Pierluigi, I don’t watch anime but in the US these days you’d have to be hiding under a rock not to know about it! I didn’t happen to know, though, that gagaku found its way into anime. Interesting.

    Jasmine, well, here’s hoping! I’d like to see classical music survive as a living tradition, and that’s certainly no stranger than some of the other odd survivals that have happened.

  247. I almost let this opportunity to comment pass. But, by coincidence, perhaps;-), I stumbled on a book about Péladan, just today. And, so, I am commenting.

    About thirty five years ago, as I was living a nightmare of numerous near-death experiences, I had occasion to discard nearly all of my ambitions. Under the circumstances I had become emotionally numb, and, by my own accounting, I had transitioned most of Kübler-Ross’ Five Stages. In my soul searching, I could only find one thing I still wanted: to slight desire to live, what remained of my time, in solitude, in silence, by the ocean.

    I felt drawn to one piece of classical music, in particular. I won’t tell you what that is, as that became my secret prayer, and remains so, to this day. What I began doing, almost compulsively, was visualizing whatever I could of the ocean as I listened to that piece of music, over, and over, and over. Sometimes I could only, barely, visualize the color of the ocean waves. De vez en cuando, I could see a little more, and could watch the waves crashing against the rocks. I didn’t attach any other context to that desire nor that image.

    I just kept this up through the days and the weeks and the years. I had little else but time to fill until what seemed an inevitable end.

    I won’t even tell you, exactly, how things turned out.

    But, apparently, I am still here.

    “You cannot travel within and stand still without.” – James Allen, _As_A_Man_Thinketh_

  248. JMG wrote:
    “Do you happen to know if there’s anybody who makes a digital piano, or some other relatively straightforward keyboard instrument, that can play just intonation or some of the other old tuning systems without requiring too much technical knowledge from the user?”

    Yamaha has quite a few instruments that can use different tunings. There are versions of their DX7, the classic synth from the 80s, that can do that, for example. They’ve added it to many instruments since then.

    I don’t know if there is a list of them somewhere, but this may narrow down the search a bit.


  249. Hello JMG and commentariat!

    I thought I would share something that I and other music theoreticians have noticed about major and its modes, in the hopes of someone knowing something about their more esoteric or magical qualities. There are seven modes of major: Lydian, Ionian, Mixolydian, Dorian, Aeolian, Phyrgian, and Locrian. Here they are arranged in order of brightness, as there is much more to the emotional tenor of musical modes than “major = happy” and “minor = sad”. Lydian is brighter than Ionian (aka major), which is yet brighter than Mixo, and so on.

    Likewise there are three classes of modes herein: Lydian, Ionian, and Mixo are “major modes” as they are built with the major triad as their tonic harmony, while Dorian, Aeolian, and Phrygian are “minor modes” for the same reason. But Locrian stands alone as the single “diminished mode”, where the tonic harmony is actually very dissonant, making Locrian unstable as a harmonic center.

    Anyone have any thoughts on the implications of any of this? I’d be very interested!

  250. Hi John,

    Add me to the list of people who would love to read the series on Wagner.

  251. I renovated my community garden space this spring, constructing such to include stringing a bunch of small, indian brass bells that I had laying around unhung.. needing a home. Everyone, be they gardener or guest, who has noticed (not hard to do..) absolutely loves the sound, as they tink and chime regardless of the wind’s strength: Nature’s climatological notes in rather chaotic, but pleasing, fashion..


  252. @ #259 Patrick.

    I am a very big Gizz head. I could probably talk your ear off about many details about them. If you want a wild night out. Go! You will not regret it. If you want a big taste of it look up on Youtube, the 12 hour mix from the Residency tour last year. Edited so there are no repeat songs as well.

    Do check out their last two albums Petrodragonic Apocalypse and The Silver Cord to see their mix in action. The first is a Thrash metal about how people worship cars and its destruction of the word when witches summon a Gila monster to save the world but that turns into a dragon to destroy the world – figure out the allegory yourself on that one. The next album is a syth music which is the concept in reversed about how we need to realize our higher selves in order to make for a better world “Binds us to the higher divine. A bridge immortal and unspoken. Helping us to truth-align” . For the musically inclined, all the tracks are polar opposites of each other on the respective album and share the same chord progression and the occasional lyrics. They are very much Yin and Yang intertwined.

    I am sure they named themselves that in high school thus the kind of off tilt name. I do completely appreciate a group that goes again all conventional advice on how to be successful and still manage a decent fan base. Excessive release schedule (album #26 coming soon), different genre most albums, some they can play live – others no chance at all. Weird subject matters addressed with little regard for a curated appearance like most pop groups. Also helps that they are from my home town for a little bit of aussie pride!

  253. Now I know: when the devil went down to Georgia, that fiddle made of gold was tuned to equal temperament, and the devil intended to throw the game all along.

    (Yeah I know, no frets, but I’m sure the devil has devilish ways around that.)

  254. B.Tidwell #30: Japanese aesthetics generally make fine use of negative space and shadow, quite unlike our clinical brightness. So it’s not surprising that their classical form of music would do likewise.

    JMG #163: As I said, I thought hip-hop had peaked in the 90s, but I could definitely see it becoming the foundation of bardic verse. And from a cursory overview, I can also see how Beowulf could be delivered in a rhythmic chant, which is the mode of rap.
    Btw, while rap is dominated by braggadocio, it’s not limited to that by any means. Keep in mind also, the vulgar content works as an outlet for the darker side of human nature, similar to other genres like metal, horror, and so on.
    A sample of what else it’s capable of: (Pete Rock & CL Smooth – T.R.O.Y.) (OC – Born 2 Live) (Nas – The World is Yours) (Common – I Used to Love H.E.R.) (Slick Rick – Children’s Story) (The Roots – What They Do)
    Admittedly this is very east coast, due to my bias, but that should prove there’s more to the genre than stereotypes suggest.
    I believe 7 is a magical number, so I’ll include one more, this one a significant departure from the mainstream of rap. In a strange twist of fate, some of the recent torch-bearers of hip-hop include Japanese idol girls! Just goes to show what forms genres can take, and the music video is one of my favorites — see how many movie references you can get! (lyrical school – Last Dance)

    Jasmine #258: Classical music was one of the finest, most noble creations of the Faustian West. I too would like to see the tradition carried on, even if in a frozen state. As I said, Classical has been mostly moribund since 1945, with the exception of John William’s score for Star Wars, but even that was a derivative of Holst’s Planets Suite in many ways. I have high hopes for the soon-to-be victorious Russia & China preserving Western high art, as the West itself continues on its downward spiral of self-destruction. I guess it was the fate of the Faustian spirit to burn out eventually, yet it accomplished amazing things along the way, which I hope can be preserved and curated as life goes on.

  255. @daniel #134,

    >You might wish to research aphantasia,

    I have heard of it before, and I suppose that I have it. Meditations and mental imagery do not come easy. I do apophatic meditations, instead. Remembering details, people’s faces, clothes is very difficult. I do not even remember my own clothes.

    > No noise inside my head that isn’t a sound coming through my physical ears. I strongly suspect you may be similar, and if the mere idea of having sound in your head is odd to you then you certainly do.

    I might have some of that, too. I listen to classical music in the morning while commuting and it stays stuck in my head the rest of my working day, so my mind-ear does exist. But it is very low-resolution and I fail spectacularly at all mental activities involving music.

  256. One more comment for this round of magical music… for those who use spotify I have made a playlist for The Radio Phonics Laboratory if you’d like to hear a selection of the music I talk about in my book.

    For those who don’t use that service and are interested I’ll be doing a radio show on the phonics subject this weekend and can post links to it at a later time.

    John -thanks for allowing me, and us all, to share some bandwidth on this frequency you occupy.

  257. @daniel #134,

    >You might wish to research aphantasia, and in particular how the same phenomenon can affect all the other senses beyond sight.

    You might be onto something here. There are a number of issues related to aphantasia: anauralia (hearing), dysikonesia (all senses) and alexithymia (no conscious perception of emotions).

    The sources I found do not mention alexithymia (no conscious perception of emotions) as being related to the other issues, but I cannot imagine that it is unrelated; they are probably even all aspects of the same general condition. I score pretty high on alexithymia tests, too.

    (According to some interpretations of the Holy Trinity, “God-Christ-Holy Spirit” in Heaven corresponds to “Mind-Soul-Body” here on Earth. Or “Druid-Bard-Ovate”. That I cannot picture images, sounds and emotions probably means that there is something wrong in my Soul. Sometimes I feel like someone separated from his daemon in Pullman’s books, or like a “forged one” in Robin Hobb’s Farseer Trilogy; I used to identify with the character Data from Star Trek – someone who knows everything, except the first thing about being human. The sentence in the 1927 movie Metropolis “The Mediator Between the Head and the Hands Must Be the Heart” sounds true to me, in the sense that I am not sure that I have a heart).

    >attempting to figure out why by asking for help just got me blank stares. Nobody realised that I wasn’t on step 1 in their learning world, for me there were no steps at all as others implicitly understood them.

    Yes! That is precisely how I feel, too. There a few areas in life where I am a complete failure, music being one of them. A number of people have asked me “why don’t you just do it?”. And all I can answer is “do what? and how?”. In their mind it is just a matter of pushing a door open. In my mind, there is just a thick wall extending to the sky, and no doors.

    >There is one exception, and that is the methods of Neil Moore and his Simply Music method of learning musicality. If you have access to a piano, there is a short free online course at that you might find interesting.

    Thank you, I will give it a go.

    >I still cannot learn music in any other method than pure muscle memory strictly following written scores, similar to how you describe.

    Indeed. It is hard for me to picture that, for some people, music is much more than that.

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