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January 17, 2008

"The Mysticism Of Sound & Music"

...or What I Learned From Hazrat Inayat Khan

Okay, so the first thing to say is that I have little tolerance for religious mumbo-jumbo in any shape or form, but that doesn't mean I don't believe in spirituality on some level. In particular, I can empirically see that music has a strong emotional and even physical effect on people. Some forms of music relax you, some make you cry, some make you hit the loud pedal in your car and drive like a maniac.

Hazrat Inayat Khan was a travelling Sufi who lectured on the true nature of sound and vibration as the basic creative force in the universe and how music and dance can be used as a tool to achieve harmony with your surroundings and God (pick one... he wasn't choosy which one you worship). "The Mysticism Of Sound & Music" is a compilation of lectures by the esteemed musician turned mystic.

While this may all sound like mumbo jumbo, most of Khan's conclusions are based directly on observation and it's that very scrutiny of the obvious that gives power to his discourse, making it an engaging and valuable read for anyone with an interest in music.

Some of the salient observations were:

Repetition is very powerful. If you keep repeating a musical phrase over and over it'll eventually stick. If you look at guitar solos, the memorable and powerful ones always employ some degree of lick repetition in the build up to a crescendo. Taken to the extreme, if you hit a bum note then you can trick the listener into accepting it by hitting it a few more times. An old jazz trick!

You can listen to and play the right music at the wrong time. If you're in the mood for (i.e. in harmony with) one type of music but someone plays something you're not attuned to, it'll aggravate and unsettle you.

Music and dance can be used to reinforce a meditative state, putting you on a different (sometimes higher) plane of consciousness.

Harmony and dissonance are basically vibrations reinforcing or countering each other... gee that's Physics 101! Look at music... particularly classical music. Dissonance is often deliberately used to disquieten the listener, putting them on edge. In most chord progressions from popular music you get a deliberate build up of tension followed by release as the sequence resolves to the root, bringing it back in harmony. That's a very subtle form of dissonance, usually existing within an individual chord.

In essence, the book contains insight into the way music can be used to affect an audience. Isn't that the holy grail of all musicians?

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