Why Music deserves far more attention from dissident corners
“Music expresses in an exceedingly universal language, in a homogeneous material, that is, in mere tones, and with the greatest distinctness and truth.”
— Arthur Schopenhauer
“Without music life would be a mistake.”
— Friedrich Nietzsche
There has been much discussion lately in dissident corners about the need to cultivate and promote dissident art. Yet music is rarely mentioned or considered. This is a mistake if dissidents truly want to counter this tyrannical Regime, or any Regime for that matter. No matter the era, people have always found great strength in music. Furthermore, other art forms easily transmit pre-made messages to the audience, and are thus more easily commandeered for propaganda and psyops. Music stands apart as more resilient to such corruption because of its reliance on the individual listener for interpretation. As Schopenhauer writes in The World as Will and Representation:
“Music is by no means like the other arts, namely a copy of the Ideas, but a copy of the will itself, the objectivity of which are the Ideas. For this reason, the effect of music is so very much more powerful and penetrating than is that of the other arts, for these others speak only of the shadow, but music of the essence.”
How is that “copy of the will” generated? Humans are visual creatures. Paintings, sculptures, and films provide the viewer with a plethora of images. Although there is room for interpretation, that image and the first impression it conveys to the viewer cannot be altered. Written works can spark ideas and various personal interpretations of meaning, but the text is immutable. Although there is some visual input from a live musical performance, music by itself offers no visuals. With music, it is the listener’s job to use his or her imagination to generate different scenes in the mind – which themselves can produce a vast array of genuine emotional reactions. It is for this reason that music is associated with a host of psychological and physiologic changes, including social bonding, improved memory, as well as changes in heart rate and blood pressure.
The major advantage of music over other arts is this blank slate for creating one’s own vision. Sergei Rachmaninoff loathed talking about the inspiration for his compositions, as he intended for the listener to use their own imagination. Music’s lack of forced imagery has always been a plus, but ever so in today’s world of brash visual messaging. As Schopenhauer wrote:
“The inexpressible depth of all music, by virtue of which it floats past us as a paradise quite familiar and yet eternally remote, and is so easy to understand and yet so inexplicable, is due to the fact that it reproduces all the emotions of our innermost being.”
The structure and repetition of music can even ‘agree and amplify’ one’s thoughts, providing strength and conviction. While repetition of words can be found in poetry, and repetition of technique can be found in the visual arts, it is not as powerful as the triumphant return of a more developed theme such as in a recapitulation. Such musical techniques and their effects on the mind and body are key to fully unlocking the meta-physical potential of music. Once again Schopenhauer’s words are most relevant:
“How full of meaning and significance the language of music is we see from the repetition signs, as well as from the Da capo which would be intolerable in the case of works composed in the language of words. In music, however, they are very appropriate and beneficial; for to comprehend it fully, we must hear it twice.”
The list of metaphysical concepts or philosophies music can unlock in the listener’s mind is similar to the other arts, and includes everything from love and pain to politics and religion. Yet music differentiates itself in its ability to foment action from emotion. There are numerous historical examples of music first accompanying, then inciting riots, slave rebellions, political movements (a notable example being opera composer Giuseppe Verdi and his music’s influence on the Italian Risorgimento movement), and even genocide, such as in Rwanda.
“Hearing [Bach] make me want to convert to Lutheranism… Some of you ‘spergs only would feel good if someone converted for reasons… Converting for music I think it’s much stronger. You see this in Plato’s Republic, there’s a whole book about how the guardians of the republic [are] raised on the right sort of music and art, they’re not [raised] on reasons, speeches and on principles, because the right music and art is a much surer soil for loyalty to rise than reasons. Reasons change…” [sic]
If music can inspire new religious devotion, then surely it can be commandeered by ‘the other side’ for its nefarious purposes? In the case of contemporary music, where lyrics and visuals are often used to reinforce political messages, that is the rule rather than the exception. But this doesn’t mean music’s power of relativity is a net negative for dissident causes. With music, there is always a way for an individual’s autonomy of thought to reign supreme. A pop song with propaganda poorly disguised as lyrics can still have a riff that one can take and make their own. The visuals of a music video can be ignored and replaced with whatever one sees in their mind’s eye. (Here is perhaps a rare instance where an individual can fight back against mass media within the confines of their own mind, without the risks of publicly revealing their dissident thoughts.)
Sure, there are cases of musical relativism gone awry. Contemporary classical music showcases intervals like the tritone (a ‘harmony’ that was labeled “The Devil’s Interval” in the Middle Ages and banned from performances) or even eschews playing music altogether (i.e., John Cage’s 4’33” which is four minutes and thirty-three seconds of silence). Yet despite those and other attempts to use music in support of repulsive and empty causes, music still retains rigid standards. For example, the note A4 is tuned to 440 Hz before a Wagner opera and before Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. Thus, even music like the latter piece, with its ugly harmonies and subject matter beloved by Progressives (a ballet about a ritual sacrifice where a young girl dances herself to death), still has to bow to absolute standards, at least in terms of what constitutes a note. Beyond the singular definition of what constitutes a note, there are the incredible standards of craftsmanship required to make a functional instrument. Since not everyone can build the equivalent of a Stradivarius violin, music still retains a decidedly dissident focus on ability, function, and performance, rather than so-called ‘equality’.
As Schopenhauer reminds us, the absolute standards of music are also a source of truth. Taking a piece of fixed notes and seeing in it a copy of your own will is not the dirty relativism of Progressives, but rather a reconstitution of spiritual and physical truth. Music rules over both the relative and the absolute – the relativity of individual interpretation and the absoluteness of what constitutes an individual note or instrument. But music is also ethereal: it arises out of silence, works its magic, and then leaves the listener with silence again. Like a fervent religious conviction, music benevolently haunts us, getting “stuck in our heads” even when it’s not being played. Thus, in this mad world, music is arguably dissidents’ most permanent and resilient artistic source of truth and beauty. Books can be banned and burned, statues can be defaced and torn down, paintings locked up, beautiful architecture destroyed… but one can always hum a tune, strum a guitar, or even play a rickety piano. Even in the bleakest of moments, one can always hear a melody and all the feelings and memories that flow from it. That is why music is the noble art of dissidents — it gives our minds the power to generate an instant, on-demand copy of the will.