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The Launch of Nocturnal Records
Mark Daniels ponders a novel experience – his first ever rave.
The relationship between philosophy and music has been a source of much debate since the heady days of Plato and Pythagoras. Even in more modern times, thinkers such as Schopenhauer and Adorno have bent their little grey cells to an analysis of the phenomenon. Nonetheless your humble editors were still somewhat taken aback to be invited to the launch of a new record company (Nocturnal) in a country hotel in deepest Norfolk.
Armed with earplugs and bottles of aspirin, your still-humble editors ventured forth to investigate the newest developments in this time-hallowed relationship. Thus equipped, they descended into a noxious den suffused with odious vapours, dim and dismal writhing forms which on closer inspection proved to be Terpsichorean devotees garbed in feathers, plastic, kilts, tattoos and other curious appurtenances. This 13th circle of the Inferno palpitated to the throbbing decibels produced from behind an iridescent panoply of light beams and fug.
(Pythagoras and his disciples thought that numbers and mathematical sequences were the key to everything in the universe, and the composers of the music at this event obviously felt the same way. Traditional melodies were conspicuous by their absence and in their place were mathematical sequences of notes repeated over and over again,varying slightly with each repetition in a logical progression. This is a surprisingly danceable formula. Apparently it is called Techno-Jungle Hard Ice. - RL).
But what about the philosophical view of the ‘music’? The first point desirous of attention concerns the all-encompassing barrage of sense-data – not merely auditory, but visual, aromatic (perhaps a euphemism for stale cigarette smoke), tactile (when the thumping causes the floor to shake) & psychotropic. The bombardment of one’s senses when the “Disk Jockey’s” fingers slip while manipulating the volume control is peculiarly dominating, driving out all thoughts from one’s mind, to leave it free of the encumbrance of thinking.
Conversations with several of the aforementioned devotees who had voluntarily (!) chosen to subject themselves to this somewhat peculiar experience indicated that this subjection of one’s consciousness to all-pervading phenomena was regarded as “liberating”. Your ever-humble investigators thus subjected themselves to this somewhat self-degrading adventure in an attempt to verify the truth of these assertions, and identify the nature of this ‘liberation’. After many minutes (hours? days? aeons?) of this masochistic torment, the prophylactics (earplugs & aspirins) were rendered totally useless under the ceaseless bombardment. We were surrounded by devotees of “Ice House” who, being forced to be free, gyrated in a staccato and frenetic fashion to the tumult, thus expressing their liberation from bondage. Attempts to ascertain the nature of this ‘freedom’ were quashed by the quantity of qualia emitted during the ordeal.
One of the many paradoxes encountered on the evening was the absence of the one who forced all the others to be free – our gracious host himself. Either having achieved this beatific state of freedom himself, he felt no need to subject himself to its rigours – or else his bodily health had been so damaged during previous such experiences that it had deteriorated to the point that he could no longer survive such an ordeal.
The true nature of this enforced liberty was most graphically illustrated towards the end of the evening (or, mayhap, the start of the morning) when leatherclad whip-wielding lady acolytes of the Marquis de Sade descended amongst the throng driving before them fettered youths bearing baskets of fruit in an attempt to satisfy the last untouched quality of qualia – the gustatory – with passion fruit and rambutans.
But this is a Philosophy magazine. We want philosophy! A desperate search for profound comments on the State of Affairs has led to the unearthing of two savants of yore and antiquity whose insights have great relevance here.
The first, Plato, had somewhat straightened views on the relationship between art and the state of the state. In his ideal state (adumbrated in the Republic), Plato wanted to restrict the range of music permitted in order to prevent the stirring up of anti-social emotions and habits – and to purge society of nasty notions such as luxury. Of the many differing varieties of rhythm available, he lists only two which would be acceptable in his utopia (Republic Bk III 398c).
One can accordingly assume that his deliberations on the ‘rave’ would not have led to overtly positive emotions. Even though the rhythm may indeed be a close approximation to that of the extreme Phrygian (a mode imitating the sounds and accents of a man courageous in warlike deeds and violent work who in failure or when going to face pain or death or falling into some other disaster stands firmly and patiently against fortune), the activities of the celebrants – whose actions were indeed replete with emotions such as the enjoyment of luxury and vigorous involvement in hedonistic concerns – would have repelled him to his very essence. Despite the correctness of matters rhythmic, the misinterpretation of the rhythm by the assembled company would have rendered the entire exercise farcical, anti-utopian and utterly verboten.
Let us however move on to the views of the august mentor of the notable Nietzsche. Arthur Schopenhauer (d. 1860) had strong views about many matters. One of these matters was the fairer sex (“Only a male intellect clouded by the sexual drive could call the stunted, narrow-shouldered, broadhipped and short-legged sex the fair sex, for it is with this drive that all its beauty is bound up”; “One needs only to see the way she is built to realize that woman is not intended for great mental or great physical labour”). Another such matter was Kant’s distinction between the world as we know it (the phenomenal world) and the world as it really is (the noumenal world – which is unknowable). Unlike Kant, Schopenhauer felt that the noumenal world could be known and that this knowledge could indeed come through the arts. He ranked the arts from the most basic (gardening and architecture) to the most sublime (music).
Music is the purest art (without ideas, categories or phenomena). There were no ideas in the barrage of qualia produced by the experience. Even my sempiternally-humble fellow-editor’s foot was observed to gesticulate in time to the rhythm as his mind was slowly emptied of years of philosophical introspection to be replaced by the knowledge of the noumenal. Slowly I tried to wrest my mind from this awesome revelation and come to terms with what was happening around me. The liberation experienced by these devotees may best be seen in this manner: mayhap they were all fanatical philosophers urgently attempting to transcend their phenomenal prisons of the flesh trying to reach out to the true noumenal reality, and grasp the Will to Life in all its multifarious complexity.
We can thus see how the philosophy of Schopenhauer yields deep insights into the ‘music’ and the audience’s reaction to it. But let us proceed further. How would our dear Arthur have viewed the entrance of the devotees of the Marquis? Arthur’s views on the fairer sex are well known: “Men are by nature merely indifferent to one another; but women are by nature enemies.”
The emergence of the two young ladies lashing male passion fruit bearers as the essential nature of the Will-to-Life may well explain poor Arthur’s problems in this regard. The truth of this mighty philosophical matter is not for those of weak heart or of feeble mind. The revelation of the true essence of the Will to Life in its unblemished reality by the driven PVC-clad forms which arose from the suffused miasma, lashed by the harsh whip-wielding icons of femininity was that of the masculine subjection to the feminine. The inferiority of the masculine ego and its willing self-abnegation before the overpowering female autocrat. The revelation of the true nature of the noumenal must have come as a bitter blow to the young Arthur, and his retaliation on the manifestation of that reality in the phenomenal world (embodied as the fairer sex) is now much more comprehensible even if inexcusable.