True music challenges us to liberate ourselves from fixed positions

Music & Noise
Last Updated : 18 November 2023, 20:08 IST

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Over the many years of writing and speaking about art and faith, I have consciously stayed away from ever directly speaking of the profoundness of music. The few times that I have, I have felt inarticulate. I have only shared these spaces of experience through singing. But since dichotomous viewing and the inability to think beyond self-affirmed boundaries is the norm, with great hesitation I write about something that is very personal. The probability that my words will remain inadequate is high. And in one short column, I can only point at things, not unravel them.

Every one of us, irrespective of which religion we are born into, is subconsciously forced to slot ourselves in a religious bracket. Within the religious there are sub-categories, spiritual but not religious, religious but not ritualistic, so on and so forth. The non-believer position is also a slot that needs to be filled. Somewhere in-between are the ‘I don’t care’ or unsure agnostics. We adorn one of these titles and play our designated part by reading, listening, interpreting, turning and internalising material that accents the category that we belong to.

The atheists would argue that unlike the faithful who are indoctrinated into believing, their position is born out of self-awareness, rationality and questioning. And they would further emphasise that it was a conscious choice. But not acknowledging the role played by culturing in their choice-making is disingenuous and judgemental of the innumerable people who belong to the faithful category.

Intellection is not the sole proprietorship of atheists. Much like snooty intellectuals who demean and degrade the knowledge that exists among the non-academic everyday person, hardliner atheists tend to belittle the everyday believers. The substantial overlap of these two categories, the faithful and common person gives us much to ponder about. At the same time, the societal role of the rationalists is unquestionable. Their words, often seething and sharp, dislodge us from our comfort zones and make us revaluate our blind beliefs, divisive nature, demolish superstitions, and show up tricksters for what they are. When it is clear that all of us live within this muddle, how is it even possible to just meander, receive abundantly, and yet remain self-critical?

I do recognise the multi-sensory nature of living. But it is when I am in music that I see with the abandon and freedom needed for clarity. This clarity is not an escape to any mythical, transcendental celestial domain. Neither does it lead to an understanding that the life we experience is false or irrelevant. It also does not tell me that something ‘higher’ exists. Clarity is the recognition of my limitedness and inability to confront my despicable traits and actions on an everyday basis.

If music is to effect change, it must reveal this reality. Real music redrafts our interactions in life, it does not indulge us with mumbo-jumbo. But we are a clever lot. We know deep within that music is telling us something we do not want to hear. Therefore, we drag it into our respective controlled environments and subsume it within an established doctrine.

Fixed ideologies traverse the entire spectrum of societal thinking, from the conservative religious to the synthetic sociological. By explaining it with the clever use of words, metaphors and analogies, we make music speak the language that we command of it. True music challenges all these fixed positions and demands from us a criticality that is brutal. A profound musical experience is both elating and uncomfortable.

My musical experience is not divorced from hard societal living. Music is the gateway to giving up power and hierarchy, being an ally, listening to the unheard voice and attempting to create a more equal and kind society. Music shows me that I am not perfect and that I will make mistakes and fall on my face. But it also gives me the courage to acknowledge my follies and keep moving forward. Instead, if music encourages or enables any form of parochialism or fear, then it is not music.

Unfortunately, the very music that we hold so tight and claim as divine is a frightening wall that keeps many outside. Music also demands humility from the atheist who refuses to let it do its thing, bathe in its beauty and accept that deep listening even without cultural comprehension and logical explanation can be complete and this completion leads to socio-cultural questioning. Even after knowing the science behind every experience, the resplendence of the experience remains. I may know which hormones are released when I feel happy, but that knowledge does not delete happiness. Marvelling at this does not make the atheist any less rational!

What about God? We have to ask this question because God dominates the mind of both the theist and atheist. Serious thought and observation informs us that to have a transformative musical experience, believing in or negating god is not a precondition. Both stands in fact hold us back. Then there is the other problem, our need to label everything. Shall we call it spiritual? For some, this term provides solace, but for others it is troubling. There are then those who explain music as a form of intense pleasure. To them, this entire discussion will seem ‘over the top’. What if I don’t call it anything. When not given a name, it need not conform to any preconceived definitions. I only need to remain awake as I go through every moment of the experience and try to retain that texture in the way I live my life.

Published 18 November 2023, 20:08 IST

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