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Music of the spheres

Considering that the surs are limited in number, what does being subservient to structures imply?

Music of the spheres

Well, creativity is the Holy Grail that we all go in search of and rarely find or achieve.

For starters, perhaps a distinction has been made between art and craft in wanting to understand the complex debate. It is assumed that the tools have to be mastered to be able to be effectively creative, for if one does not have command over tools how would creativity be expressed or take any objective shape? Some may say in retaliation that it is the craft or the mastery over it that limits a person’s array of creativity.

It is a very difficult question to answer as it is impossible to pinpoint creativity. The same is the issue with originality, as to what is original or how original, is there originality in toto or is it originality in stages or only in parts? Structure could imply systems of feelings or it may mean the rational codes that mankind has so painstakingly evolved.

In our traditional pedagogical set-up of music there has been great emphasis on riaz (practice), the implication being that there should be total control and command over surs. Once this has been achieved through ceaseless practice, even the most accomplished of musicians then leave the rest to what they call bhaag — or stroke of good luck or even pure chance. They do not draw a necessary connection between rigourous practice and its fulfillment or a transformation into an art form. To talk of creativity would yet be a step ahead.

But what does being subservient to the structures imply — that the surs are limited in number and there can be no music beyond these, but many have tried to create music through atonality, or even by distorting the application of the sur? They have just been playing around with intonation — the way a note is applied which is culturally specific.

In our recent history musicians have attempted to break the structure by being independent of the raag’s strictures which they may find limiting, experimenting with form, mostly saying goodbye to the various progressions, from the exacting elaboration of the raag in various tempos, while just latching on to the song format which the coy listener is easily attracted to. They want to make the lyrics more in synch with the contemporary sensibility. Then in reaction to the outside/Western influences, abandoning the single melodic line in wanting to supplement it with some kind of a harmonic structure.

These days the entire thrust has been not on the production of natural sounds but on the immense possibility of playing around with computer generated sounds, which can be engineered far beyond the scope of natural sounds. Once that has been done, the next step is to create some order or system in it that may conform to a conventional definition of music.

Borrowing wholeheartedly from other sources now can fall under the umbrella of experimentation and innovation and the easiness of it all is not an inhibiting factor in all this. Jazz and rap have been rampant after Elvis Presley and the Beatles. Actually, music round the world is beginning to sound alike which was or has never been the case and the traditional musical structures are being infiltrated with new sounds and rhythmic systems.

Many of it is experimentation for the sake of it, and results in individual initiative as against the collective response which may be still conditioned by conventional responses.

Perhaps in the ancient world or that world that still casts its magical shadow over us, creativity was based or happened to be pure inspiration. It were the muses that took hold and in that possessed state whatever was said, or sung or painted fell under creativity. And it appeared that inspiration was otherworldly becoming worldly through a human agency.

The human being was only a messenger or a source of transmission and not the originator — only a conduit and to use a contemporary phrase, a facilitator. The less his or her person was involved the more original or purer it was supposed to it. The involvement of the individual only seemed to be a corrupting ploy with the role of adding or editing, not totally desirable for it sullied the pristine sheen and marred it with human intention and limitation.

The ultimate function of music was “sur ka giyan” to have a deeper bonding with sound or an organic oneness with “kun fayakoon”, or “ahat” or “nawai saroosh” or “the music of the spheres.” For them what mattered most was not innovation or experimentation but the internalisation of just one sur, the tonic note which was called “ishwar” because of its entirety.

Of course, then there has been a debate, whether creativity really exists or not. Or what is meant by creativity, a more nineteenth century idea fuelled whole-heartedly by the Romantics and in the later centuries a kind of a trade-off occurred with its lessening of importance.

Read also: Straitjackets of rationality 

It is now asserted with greater confidence that actually it is all a construct, which in other words holds the implication that it is not a discovery but rather a man-made contraption in a manner of understanding. If there is one construct then there can be many others as well. It is related to the race, the people, the history rather than some metaphysical entity that needs to be acquisitioned.

But one has seen all this to happen, even if the divine and the metaphysical appellations are removed in this contemporary age of rationality and causal figuring out of thought, action and even emotion. There is a heightened state that is either transcendental or elevating or transporting, call it what you may, but it is a state different from the ordinary. Perhaps it is the same division that exists between love/labour and inspiration/perspiration, and to many it is difficult to draw a line between the two.

Sarwat Ali

The author is a culture critic based in Lahore

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