Modern Music's Primitivism & Ecstatic Possibilities

as a Challenge that Demands the Right Response

(from "Ride the Tiger")





The enormous and spontaneous spread of jazz in the modern world shows that meanings no different from those of the physico-cerebral "classical" music, which superseded nineteenth-century bourgeois melodrama and pathos, have in fact thoroughly penetrated the younger generation. But there are two sides to this phenomenon. Those who once went crazy for the waltz or delighted in the treacherous and conventional pathos of melodrama, now find themselves at ease surrounded by the convulsive-mechanical or abstract rhythms of recent jazz, both "hot" and "cool," which we must consider as more than a deviant, superficial vogue. We are facing a rapid and central transformation of the manner of listening, which is an integral part of that complex that defines the nature of the present. Jazz is undeniably an aspect of the resurfacing of the elemental in the modern world, bringing the bourgeois epoch to its dissolution. Naturally, the young men and women who like to dance to jazz today do so simply "for fun" and are not concerned with this; yet the change exists, its reality unprejudiced by its lack of recognition, since its true meaning and possibilities could only be noted from the particular point of view employed by us in all of our analyses.

Some have included jazz among the forms of compensation that today's man resorts to when faced with his practical, arid, and mechanical existence; jazz is supposed to provide him with raw contents of rhythm and elemental vitality. If there is any truth in this idea, we must consider the fact that to arrive at this, Western man did not create original forms, nor utilize elements of European folk music, which, for example in the rhythms of southeastern Europe (Romanian or Hungarian), has a fascination and an intensity comprising not only rhythm but also authentic dynamics. He instead looked for inspiration in the patrimony of the lower and more exotic races, the Negroes and mulattoes of the tropical and subtropical zones.

According to one of the scholars of Afro-Cuban music, Fernando Ortiz, all the primary elements of modern dance actually have these origins, including those whose origins are obscured by the fact that they have come through Latin America. One can deduce that modern man, especially North American man, has regressed to primitivism in choosing, assimilating, and developing a music of such primitive qualities as Negro music, which was even originally associated with dark forms of ecstasy.

In fact, it is known that African music, the origin of the principal rhythms of modern dances, has been one of the major techniques used to open people up to ecstasy and possession. Both Alfons Dauer and Ortiz have rightly seen the characteristic of this music as its polyrhythmic structure, developed in such a way that the static [on-beat] accents that mark the rhythm constantly act as ecstatic [off-beat] accents; hence the special rhythmic figures that generate a tension intended to "feed an uninterrupted ecstasy.' The same structure has been preserved in all so-called syncopated jazz. These syncopations are like delays that tend to liberate energy or generate an impulse: a technique used in African rites to induce possession of the dancers by certain entities, the Orisha of the Yoruba or the Loa of the Voodoo of Haiti, who took over their personalities and "rode" them. This ecstatic potential still exists in jazz. But even here there is a process of dissociation, of abstract development of rhythmic forms separated from the whole to which they originally belonged. Thus, given the desacralization of the environment and the nonexistence of any institutional framework or corresponding ritual tradition, any suitable atmosphere or appropriate attitude, one cannot expect the specific effects of authentic African music with its evocative function; the effect always remains a diffuse and formless possession, primitive and collective in character.

This is very apparent in the latest forms, such as the music of the so-called beat groups. Here the obsessive reiteration of a rhythm prevails (similar to the use of the African tom-tom), causing paroxysmal contortions of the body and inarticulate screams in the performers, while the mass of the listeners joins in, hysterically shrieking and throwing themselves around, creating a collective climate similar to that of the possessions of savage ritual and certain Dervish sects, or the Macumba and the Negro religious revivals.

The frequent use of drugs both by performers of this music and by the enraptured young people is also significant, causing a true, frenetic "crowd mentality," as in beat or hippie sessions in California involving tens of thousands of both sexes.

Here we are no longer concerned with the specific compensation that one can find in syncopated dance music as the popular counterpart and extension of the extremes reached, but not maintained, by modern symphonic music; we are concerned with the semi-ecstatic and hysterical beginnings of a formless, convoluted escapism, empty of content, a beginning and end in itself. Hence, it is completely inappropriate when some compare it to certain frenetic, collective, ancient rites, because the latter always had a sacred background.

Quite apart from similar extreme and aberrant forms, one can still consider the general problem of all these methods that provide elemental, ecstatic possibilities, which the differentiated man, not the masses, can use in order to feed that particular intoxication described earlier, which is the only nourishment he can existentially draw from an epoch of dissolution. The processes of recent times tend precisely toward these extremes; and whereas some of the present youth merely seek to dull their senses and to use certain experiences merely for extreme sensations' others can use such situations as a challenge that demands the right response: a reaction that arises from "being."



click here to return to JuliusEvola.Net /text archive