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Rod Paton
from: Rod Paton
Category: Music & Archetypes

Music & Archetypes

Jung famously remarked that every psychotherapy consultation should include some musical element since music puts us in direct contact with the archetypes. When we unravel this statement and reflect on its meanings we find that it is more complex a notion than might at first be apparent. The theory of archetypes, as we know, derives from Jung’s expanded model of the unconscious. Freud had conceived his theory of the unconscious as a kind of repository of all those desires and behaviours which are socially unacceptable or taboo; as a person matures, the ego strengthens forming a kind of dustbin lid over the id and its libidinous contents, the superego providing the cultural imperatives and the regulating tools for this process. However, Jung views the unconscious in a very different way, suggesting that, far from being a dustbin, it is actually a kind of deep well which has various layers. Around the personal unconscious we have a group unconscious, perhaps at work in families and football teams; then beneath or beyond this we have a cultural unconscious, formed from the wider community or nation. The most original notion is that of a collective unconscious, wired into each and every one of us and operating through universal patterns which he calls the archetypes. The archetypes cannot be identified in their essence but only through the images that we project onto them or else they can be detected in the behaviours we adopt, often determining the relationships we have and the decisions we make, how we construct the narratives of our lives. So the idea that music, alone amongst the arts, is a direct expression of archetypal forms places music at the very heart of human experience.
In the contemporary developed world, music is so often considered as a pastime or as “mere” entertainment that to regard it as central rather than peripheral might seem alien. However, when we actually look closely at how deeply and widely it permeates our lives we might think differently. And when we consider exactly how it functions, how we are excited, moved, exposed or healed by its power, then it quickly becomes obvious that music is not merely constructed in keys (well, some of it anyway) but may well hold the key to our existence. Even the word “entertainment” which has come to mean something which takes us away from “serious stuff” might reclaim its essential meaning as something which is integral (entertain = hold together) to our being.
In the book I am writing and which is nearing completion, I have included a chapter on music and the archetypes and have divided the archetypal experience of music into four categories: FORM – RITUAL – NARRATIVE – AFFECT. No doubt, many readers will want to debate this and that is all to the good. Yet, pursuing this line, and following the Jungian habit of dressing up the archetypes in the clothes of gods and heroes, I suggest that the musical mind is inhabited in varying proportions by Apollo, Dionysos, Orpheus and Psyche – two gods (half brothers in fact), a mortal who accessed the domain of a god (Hades) and another mortal who, at the end of her complex and tortured tale, is herself admitted to the pantheon.
Apollo is often considered the god of music due to the fact that he was instructed in the arts by the muses and also perhaps because he represents beauty and generally people want music to be beautiful. Yet, Apollo’s graceful structures and refined art is only part of the story. We hear him particularly at work to be sure in the Preludes and Fugues of Bach or the Symphonies of Haydn but also, (annoyingly perhaps) in the national anthem or the marches of Sousa. His hunting horn is always somewhere to be heard in the lofty works of the canonic classical tradition often providing us with the key centre but, as the sun god, Phoebus, his strict sense of rhythm, his regularity and his clockwork precision remind us that “light” means also “superficial”. Apollo dominates music of the European classical tradition because the culture demands this. Traditional musicology, which regards “great” music as somehow immune from social meanings may squeal at this but I do not doubt that the continued (though waning) elevation of this tradition is created by an unhealthy adherence to the Apollonian ideal.
Nietzsche of course, (in his book The Birth of Tragedy) was famously impatient with the dominant role Apollo had played in European music and wished for a more rooted, chthonic musical culture represented by Dionysos. This is where the ritual function of music becomes ascendant. Almost a hundred years ago, Stravinsky, in one extraordinary musical outburst, exploded the Apollonian myth at a stroke with his Rite of Spring. I still constantly refer to The Rite as a model for improvisations, creative music making and freedom of the imagination and I suspect others do likewise. The Rite provides the perfect musical landscape for group (tribal) gatherings. It takes music out of the head, and relocates it in the body. It is instinctive, sexy, earthy and dangerous. Stravinsky himself recounts how he was able to improvise the Sacrificial Dance long before he had any idea how to notate it. And the Dances of the Adolescents is so EASY to imitate that I very often use the basic structure (repeated pulse with unpredictable accents) as the basis for group improvisation in Lifemusic workshops. Of course, Dionysos is also very active in rock music, free jazz, hip-hop and rave events where Stravinsky’s image of a chosen virgin dancing herself to death has on more than one occasion been tragically re-enacted. There is always danger in over-identification with a single archetype and we might witness this also in the lives of those rock musicians who meet an early end.
When we turn to the prototypical musician, in Orpheus we encounter what I term the narrative function of music – the capacity of music to tell a story, not literally, but in pure tones, taking us through time, articulating time as we experience it at a human level. But there is more to Orpheus than the articulation of time since his story is also about loss of soul. In archetypal terms, he represents Animus, the male in search of Self. The loss of his bride, Eurydice (as anima) on their wedding day is a complex event since this is no accident of fate. Rather it represents the location of anima in the dark depths of reality and therefore the journey Orpheus makes in his ultimately futile attempt to reclaim her, is akin to the journey we all make sooner or later. That this journey through time and experience is facilitated by music (since Orpheus sings his way into and out of Hades) places music dead (sic) centre of human experience. The long or short haul from life to death through time is articulated, expressed and facilitated by music since, as in the myth, this Orphic music is not at all about the polite divertimenti of Boccherini, the bland anthems of Abba or the saccharine tunefulness of Lloyd Webber but the throbbing heart of matter, the growth and decay of life and the capacity to uproot trees and move rocks. (“The hills are alive with the sound of music!”) Orpheus’ narrative may well be reflected in the songs of Schubert, the symphonies of Beethoven, the ballads of every singer song writer from Bob Dylan to the Beatles but his myth permeates the whole of life, demonstrating that life itself is a musical process and also a tragic and mysterious event however much we duck and dive to avoid the arrows of misfortune. When Orpheus renounces the flesh and is torn apart by the wine swilling Maenads, the followers of Dionysos, his myth links up with the eternal struggle, the same patterns and energies which create music, the furies intoxicated by the decaying fruit. The Maenads have to scream and chant (“Eloi Eloi”) to drown out Orpheus song which otherwise protects him from their arrows and heals his wounds. But his head, deprived of the body, still sings as it floats downstream towards the eternal sea. The Pythagoreans developed a whole religious cult out of the Orphic myths in which music (alongside various and curious abstinences) played a central role.
And so finally to Psyche who I included because her tale is all about integrity and depth of feeling and because (following Langer) I consider music to be primarily a language of feeling. Her story is also about constancy, soul and love. Her name of course is the Greek work for “soul” and she represents therefore Anima as a counterpart to Orpheus as Animus. In Jungian terms she therefore appears often as a muse, guiding us through the labyrinth, the maze of the unconscious, nurturing our creative instincts without which we wither and collapse. This is Anima as guide and as healer – the qualities in music which take us into an inner space where spirit and soul can be reconciled.
We encounter Psyche in all music but especially perhaps in solo song, in violin concertos (particularly if they are by Berg or Elgar), in Jewish and Roma music (the music of the dispossessed) in that exquisite song by Wolf, The Forsaken Maid where a Cinderella figure recalls a dream of her unfaithful lover and weeps into the ashes accompanied by disembodied augmented triads! Psyche reminds us that we are alone and vulnerable and music, whilst it has the capacity to unite us to others in anthems and marches (thank you Apollo) or connect to the rituals of nature in dance and rhythm (thank you Dionysos) or reminds us of our mortality and longing (thank you Orpheus) also reminds us that we are alone with our feelings until we find the true (and erotic) relationship which will make us also gods. Psyche’s travails, her endless tasks are undertaken with help from the small creatures of the world, ants and bees and inner intuitive voices or the river god. It is because of her capacity to weep, to remain vulnerable that she eventually, finally, softens the heart of Zeus himself who intervenes and admits her to the pantheon, making it possible for her to marry Eros and give birth to Pleasure.
If I was to choose one song which seems to capture the essence of the soul agony which Psyche endures then it would be Bjork’s “So Broken”, recorded in 1998 with the flamenco guitarist Raimundo Amador supplying an unwavering tango rhythm and fierce melodic juxtapositions to Bjork’s fragile but angry vocals. The lyrics tell of heartbreak:
In pieces, my heart is so broken
I’m puzzling.
Here I go, trying to run ahead of that heartbreak train.
Thinking it will never catch up with me
As the song begins, the small melodic cell with the falling seventh on the word “broken” might easily be heard as the weary sighing of Psyche as she faces yet another day of impossible tasks. The image of running ahead of the train is just such a task. As the song progresses, Bjork’s voice becomes more and more fragmented, at one point breaking into falsetto and then back into the throat as she attempts to communicate the fullness and depth of emotion. As the song ends, she wails like a nymph pinned to a wall of despair. This is Psyche as the butterfly in the net, struggling for release.
As a musician attempting to create new paths, new possibilities for musical healing, new structures for participation, new forms of sound communication I have found this archetypal perspective invaluable in creating a foundation which does not pay allegiance to any particular style, genre, myth or creed. The four aspects however, need to be somehow in balance and the Lifemusic method therefore suggests ways in which this might be achieved. But, ultimately, this can only work when, like Psyche, we abandon the idea that we are somehow in control and trust the inner voices to lead our music making, our improvising and our communing. As Krishnamurti put it, “intuition is the highest form of intelligence and the truest guide to all knowledge.”
But most of all perhaps, Psyche teaches us about the constancy of relationship: her story is, ultimately, about love, the heart simultaneously captivated and tormented but finally renewed by the deepest and most soulful of all human emotions and the one which music, according to the bard, feeds.
[A fuller exposition of these ideas forms Chapter 2 of Lifemusic – Connecting People to Time. Due to be published by Archive Books in May.]

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