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Chapter 1
Man's Primordial Need


and the Art of Music
by Dane Rudhyar

1.Communication: Man's
Primordial Need
2. Sound as Carrier-Wave for Tone
3. The Magical and the Sacred
4. Number and the Quantification of
Tone Relationship
5. The Spatialization of the ToneExperience: Musical Notation and
6. Descending and Ascending Musical
7. The Harmonic Series
8. The Septenary Tone Cycle and the
Psychoactive Modes issued from Its
9. The European Spirit in Music:
Pluralism, Tonality and Equal
10. Music in Transformation: Avantgarde Music and the Deconditioning
11. Dissonant Harmony, Pleromas of
Sound, and the Principle of Holistic
12. The Rhythms of Civilization and

Organic life in the Earth's biosphere requires organisms to

relate to other organisms. Human beings are particularly
dependent on establishing enduring relationships with other
human beings, and thus on their highly developed ability to
communicate with them. The ability to communicate also exists
in animals, many of which use some kind of language for
communicating within their own species and genera.
When we think of language we tend to have in mind
communication based on the emission of sounds, specifically
vocal sounds. The word language etymologically refers to the
tongue (la langue in French, lingua in Latin). But sounds used
to communicate may also be produced by other parts of the
body, and there are languages of gestures (for example the
sign language used by some tribes and by deaf people).
The education of young animals, human infants, and adults
depends upon the imitation of gestures and complex modes of
behavior (for instance, playing musical instruments or sewing).
The term education, however, is not accurate here. Animal
young and human babies are not led out (e-ducere) in the nowfashionable sense of the term. If they are led out, it is out of
the psychic womb of the family to eventually take their places
in an open environment. This is very different from learning.
What occurs in childhood learning is that adults demonstrate
the effective use of the nervous system controlling the muscles
and sense organs. The adult's demonstration provides the
young child with an image to reproduce exactly. Learning is
thus primarily based on imitation, on images the learner
observes and either is made or spontaneously wants and tries
to imitate. These images and forms of behavior are memorized
when the young are repeatedly exposed to the examples of
parents or teachers.
Language, however, is meaningful speech and in order to
understand the kind of information it conveys, more than mere

APPENDIX I. The Pythagorean and
Chinese Approaches to Music
APPENDIX II. Notes on the Music of
APPENDIX III. The Origin and Early
Development of the European
Approach to Music
APPENDIX IV. Concerning My
Musical Works

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learning is required. The development of what I call the

"cultural mind" is required. The cultural mind is the mind of
relatedness. It is a mind able to integrate nouns (names) and
verbs into sentences through the use of connective words or
modifiers. It is a mind able to follow, understand, and
memorize "stories" in which different types of persons or
entities act, react, and interact according to significant kinds of
These stories are myths. They transmit to the young mind
the feeling-realization that certain types of activity are of
primary significance and are worthy of imitation. Their value is
conveyed to every member of the social community (and at
first perhaps of the family unit) by rites in which words give
an objective kind of information concerning the significant
activity depicted in the myth (the events of the story); sounds
transmit a collective subjective psychodynamism acting directly
upon the nerve centers of the people involved in the rite; and
ritualistic gestures underline and convey the symbolic nature
of the personages and their actions in the mythic story.
Myths thus communicated convey to the members of the
primordial human community events of the most fundamental
importance to successful living and feeling together. This
communication operates at three levels: the level of
information, the level of psychism, and the level of activity.
Information is to be memorized and constantly held in mind;
it deals with how to respond effectively to external physical
occurrences or internal biological drives and feelings.
Psychism is a word I use to refer to the unifying force holding
together the members of a community within a psychoactive
field in which they experience their unity. (1) Activity needs to
be cooperative and based on a close and constant attunement
to the seasonal biorhythms of nature. These rhythms are said
to reflect various phases of the creative activity of the gods,
who are presented as mythic personifications of different
aspects of the all-encompassing and ceaselessly active power,
often spoken of as "the One Life" or the unfathomable
"Mystery" (Brahman in India, wakinya skan in American Indian
tribes, and the Godhead in the terminology of the medieval
mystic, Meister Eckart).
Without these three levels of communication there could be
no culture. As culture has a twofold meaning, subjective (as in
"a man of culture") and objective (as in the development of a
particular culture), I use the term culture-whole when
referring to what has been called (especially by the English
historian, Arnold Toynbee) a society. A culture-whole is thus a
complex web of interpersonal and intergroup relationships
which operate at the biological, psychic, and eventually mental
levels. In the broadest sense of the term, a culture-whole is an
organism, or at least an organic system of activities, in which a
number of human beings participate, united by a common
psychism - psychism being for a culture-whole what the lifeforce (prana) is for physical bodies. (2)
Toynbee distinguishes between primitive societies and

societies in the process of developing what is generally called

civilization. The latter have been very few in number, as far as
modern historical records indicate, and they have appeared
only within the last few millennia. Primitive societies, on the
other hand, presumably have been extremely numerous since
the totally unknown beginning of the type of humanity still in
the process of development today. While hardly any trace of
the earliest societies remains, some relatively primitive
societies are still operating. Although they have been studied
by many anthropologists and ethnologists, it is nevertheless
questionable whether these studies have truly grasped the
psychic character and special quality of the stage in human
development primitive societies manifest.
The earliest societies which produced lasting records of
their achievements in the form of architecture, artistic objects
of great beauty, musical instruments, and manuscripts about
religion, philosophy, science, and the operation of various
social-political institutions are those of Sumeria, Egypt, India,
China, and pre-Colombian America. The beginnings of these
culture-wholes (which Toynbee calls civilizations) are still
practically unknown. Historians assume they were once
primitive societies that either contained the germ of dynamic
growth or were spurred by special environmental challenges.
On the other hand, religious and esoteric traditions claim that
these culture-wholes were ruled by quasi-divine kings or were
taught by divine teachers who were remnants of previous kinds
of humanity which lived on continents that have now
disappeared, or that they were beings who came to our planet
from more advanced spheres. From the point of view I am
taking in this book, it seems best to think of the development
of a culture-whole as a process of natural growth, which may
have been guided by the progeny of a previous culture-whole.
In any case, what most specifically distinguishes the
societies that have left records of their achievements from the
ones that have not is the development of the kind of mind that
established systems of communication not only between human
beings living at the same time but, most significantly, between
a relatively long series of generations. In primitive culturewholes communication remains intracultural; only members of
the same culture-whole can totally experience what the
gestures, tones, and mythic, sacromagical words of its rites
communicate. This communication requires the use of symbols
symbolic gestures, symbolic sounds, symbolic activity
(myths) operating at the level of the culture-whole's
psychism. With the development of the abstract mind the
mind making use of numbers, geometric forms, and
nonbiological relationships communication spreads beyond
the closed field of a tribal culture-whole and acquires an
intercultural character.
As this occurs, symbols become concepts. The psychism
that had created a basic unanimity in the primitive community
largely surrenders its integrative power to the intellect and
reason; myths that established a spiritual-psychic

communication are replaced by an event-oriented history

providing mental information. Then also the study of exact
musical intervals that is, the mathematical ratios between
the frequencies (the number of vibrations per second) of
sounds in rigidly defined series (or scale) tends to become a
substitute for the direct experience of tones charged with
psychoactive energy and used for sacromagical purposes. In
the plastic arts (painting and sculpture), the exact reproduction
of the appearance of objects and persons becomes the goal of
artists, whose predecessors had been concerned only with
sacromagical forms revealing not merely the ephemeral
personality of people but their functional identity as participants
in ritualistic and mythic activity.
Such a change of consciousness and activity within a
culture-whole eventually radically transforms it; yet the
transformation takes a long time to become entirely effective.
At first only a few members of the culture-whole are affected.
The mass of the people cling to the familiar biopsychic manner
of living together and feeling together; they continue to think in
terms of the traditional meanings given to words they had
learned in childhood. Yet the transformation which a few
inspired pioneers initiate - as semi-conscious agents of some
mysterious evolutionary power rather than as individuals
displays an energy of its own, usually in socioeconomic
circumstances favoring its spread. To accept it, at least
intellectually, eventually becomes fashionable. It is formulated
in new words, integrated in terms of more or less new concepts
loaded with new feelings at first mainly feelings of rebellion
against authority, then the belief that one is very special and
part of an elite. Sooner or later the new mental approach
becomes socially and culturally organized, then
One can interpret such a basic yet gradual transformation
in the consciousness and activities of the participants in a
culture-whole in several ways. It has successive and
simultaneous causes at several levels biological, economic,
political, intellectual, and religious, even planetary and "cosmic"
(or spiritual). Here I wish to stress that the transformation
involves a change not only in consciousness, but also in the
level at which human beings are expected to communicate
when they transmit the experiences the culture considers most
valuable and significant. Although many human experiences
always have to be communicated at the more primitive
biopsychic and feeling level, our intellectually developed
Western culture-whole collectively and officially values
communications requiring the specialized use of the highly
developed abstract mind. The abstract mind operates most
significantly on the basis of number and form thus, in terms
of quantitative measurements, statistics, and formal
arrangement and development.
When its collective abstract mind develops sufficiently, a
culture-whole reaches the stage of civilization. It then operates
at three levels. Mental activity operates at the most valued

level as it leads to the perception of what is called truth.

Psychism operates at the level at which emotional responses
are communicated. Ritualized gestures serving specific
collective purposes operate at the level of physical activity.
These gestures include office work, movements employed on
assembly lines, all traditional and legalized modes of business,
government activity, and sports. All are rituals performed to
keep the culture-whole functioning as an organized system.
This system is rooted in a particular type or level of
consciousness, which it also seeks to perpetuate and export.
In primitive culture-wholes, mind is essentially the servant
of life. Mind stabilizes life-energy and increases the
effectiveness of life's basic drives: the drive for survival, the
drive for reaching optimum conditions of existence making
possible the maintenance of the essential characteristics of the
species, and the drive for expansion in space (conquest) and in
time (progeny). As the stage of civilization is reached, mind
increasingly draws energy from the life-force and psychism. But
when a one-pointed and exclusive concentration on the
development of the quantitative and analytical mind
emphasizes measurements and form over the contents of the
form, the results can be sterile "elegant" perhaps in their
simplicity and apparent universality (the ideal of modern
science), but sterile, nevertheless.
Everything stated so far can be applied to music, or rather
to the purposeful use culture-wholes make of sound. I say
"sound" rather than "music" because the term music should be
used only to refer to communication at the level of a culture's
collective psychism. Even then the word music does not
usually mean what it does for at least relatively educated
musicians and music lovers of our Euro-American society. The
music of primitive societies is not music in our sense of the
term; it is tone-magic. In order to understand what tone-magic
means, we have to try to develop an empathetic kind of psychic
resonance to the consciousness of primitive human beings and
their instinctual responses to sound as a power of
communication and creation.


See my recent book, The Rhythm of Wholeness (1980).


For easily understandable reasons, considering the academic

mentality of the Western world, Toynbee insists that a "society"
should not be called an organism. He sees society only as a
"network of relations." But a physical body is also a network of
relations between cells, and we may be quite wrong in thinking
that cells are deprived of consciousness and of some degree of
independence. Return

By permission of Leyla Rudhyar Hill

Copyright 1982; by Dane Rudhyar
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