Development through Alternation

7.5. Dissonant harmony and holistic resonance

Anthony Judge

As Attali has shown (79), music remains one of the clearest domains in terms of which the thinking underlying any social order can be discussed. It provides a more concretely accessible language with which to comprehend the subtleties and distinctions reviewed in the two previous sections. Thus the composer Dane Rudhyar, in a study of spatialization of tone experience, confronts the basic duality of those sections:

"The basic issues is, should we think of the notion of separate entities in space, or of rhythmic movements of space producing entities which, though they may appear to be separate, are in fact only differentiated areas of space and temporary condensations of energy? This may seem to be a highly metaphysical issue having very little to do with music or the other arts, but it is actually the most basic issue a culture and its artists (and even the organizers and leaders of the society) have to face" (69, p. 4l-2)

Rudhyar points out that the need for order is basic in human consciousness. "But the kind of order human consciousness demands and expects varies at each level of its evolution" (69, p. 93). In the realm of music, Westerners have needed a type of musical order which makes it very clear that classical works constitute an integrated whole with a consistent tonal structure.

"Tonality is a system by which the innate pluralism of a society is kept wihin a definitive operative structure. Its manifestation is not so much in melodic sequence as in chordal harmony....Each melodic tone carries an identifying badge announcing clearly where it belongs, not so much in relation to the tonic as in terms of its place and function in the tonal bureaucracy. This is the ransom of the ideal of universalism....(Multiplicity and differences are the evident realities; the principle that makes possible the harmonization of these differences has to work throughout the society, up and down the scale. It has to be able to be "transposed" to any place, to meet any situation. It is universal, but it has to be imposed upon the many units. It needs the complex power of chords to achieve that purpose. In other words, in our pluralistic European music the instinctual psychic power of integration that once was inherent in sequences of tones had to be replaced by the harmonizing impact of chords clearly stating the tonality to which melodic notes belong. Cadences of chords also make the hearer expect how the melody will develop..." (69, p. 9).

For Rudhyar, any society or work of art is a complex whole composed of many parts which may be organized in two fundamentally different ways. In social organization they may be termed the tribal order and the companionate order. In music these are analogous to what he calls the consonant order and the dissonant order. The tribal order, founded on biological relationships in a community, derives its sense of unity from the past and all the associated (paternalistic) traditions which give rise to such a compulsive, quasi-instinctual feeling-realization. The musical equivalent is the harmonic series and overtones in the classical tonality system.

The companionate order begins with a multiplicity of differentiated individuals and strives to achieve unity as a future condition. If achieved it has to be "unity in diversity" through the harmonization of unsuppressed differences. Rudhyar argues that the musical equivalent of this is to be found in what he calls syntonic music in which the experience of tone is unconstrained by the intellectual concepts of the classical tonality system. Tonal relationships are included in the space relationships of syntonic music, but the rules, patterns, and cadences obligatory in tonality-controlled music normally hinder the development of syntonic consciousness. In syntonic music the notes are drawn into holistic group formations. Instead of emerging from a tonic, they seek the interpenetrative condition of dissonant chords, as pleromas of sounds. "These are limited in content; each has its own principle of organization, which determines the content of the pleroma" (69, p. 142-5).

In these terms, Rudhyar considers that melody is aesthetic in the tonality system associated with the culturally organized tribal order, and expressionistic in a society characterized by transformation. In the latter case its essential attributes are dissonances, rooted in their own musical space. Such dissonant chords can generate, when properly spaced, a far more powerful resonance than so-called perfect consonances, because of the phenomena of beats and combination tones (69, pp. 143-6), which engender beauty of another order (69, pp. 1 41). "A pleroma of sounds refers to the process of harmonization through which differentiated vibratory entities are made to interact and interpenetrate in order to release a particular aspect of the resonance inherent in the whole of the musical space (accessible to human ears), its holistic resonance, its Tone" (69, pp. 139-140). As examples of such holistic resonance, he notes the traditional role and effect of gongs (in Eastern societies) and church bells (in the West). Such effects are also produced by two cymbals tuned to slightly different pitches, giving rise to a vibrant tone because of the interference pattern of the two different frequencies (69, p. 141) - a case reminiscent of Maruyama's binocular vision analogy (see above).

Rudhyar concludes that although consonent harmony has its place and function and should be enjoyed, its danger lies in re-inforcing psychological attachment to the "matricial security and comfort" of the cultural framework with which it is associated. This bond prevents the individual from developing creative spontaneity and thereby engaging fully in the processes of social transformation (69, p. 162).