The Dim Lit Subterranea of the Ancient Mind: the influence of place in ?inspired? composition.

Jonathan P Day

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    Abstract The Dim Lit Subterranea of the Ancient Mind I am interested here in that kind of composition that is often called inspirational or inspired. While acknowledging the essential importance of craft, there remains nonetheless numerous accounts of moments of elevation, a sense of transport, of flow and many other descriptions of what appears to be an unusual or heightened state during the creating of music. This is also often described ? and can be witnessed by an audience ? by musicians who are composing spontaneously in improvisation. Does this inspirational state have any characteristics beyond the personal and if so can we determine the nature and sources of this state? I?ve argued previously in my ?Jazz, Kant and Zen: towards a philosophy of improvisation? (published by Brill) that certain/some music can ?signpost the transcendent?, as Maria Schluter Rodes describes it, because of its insistence on transgression and its playing with the liminal (Corbett, 1995 and Barthes, 1987). It also embodies the ?beyond?. Schopenhauer and others (Butler , Phelan ) suggest that since persona is a construct in response to the vicissitudes of experience, we may escape that construct through music. We do not leave ourselves or cease to be ? we are, as players or ?deep? listeners, simply relieved of the imperative to perform our constructed persona for those moments, making composition/improvisation a liberating extension beyond knee-jerk individuation into a numinous space. If we are escaping surface persona in those moments, where are we escaping to? Carl Jung writes ?in exceptional states of mind [such as when improvising] the most far-fetched mythological motifs and symbols can appear? (1960:112) . Are there then any seed-germs ? situations or experiences that are particularly likely to facilitate the kind of situations we have described? One is clearly the powerful agency of environment/landscape/location. I am particularly interested currently in ?genius loci? the 'spirit of place'. Jung argues for ?the unavoidable influences exerted by the environment? and I am deeply intrigued by the agency of environment. In what particular ways does it inspire work? How noticeable ? if at all ? is it in such works, and does that matter so long as agency/inspiration was encountered? A great number of composers and improvisers acknowledge this inspirational role in their work. This relationship will be examined, alongside examples from my own site specific experimental compositional practice released recently under the title Atlantic Drifter . Examples are at and Do the traces of such compositional/improvisational experiences ? the music which remains long after the experience ? communicate and if so how? Can we reach form this deep state across to others and share in something that is deeper than persona. Barthes, R. trans. Miller, R. ([1973] 1987), The Pleasure of the Text, New York: Hill and Wang Corbett, J. 1995, ?Ephemera Underscored: Writing Around Free Improvisation?, in Krin Gabbard (ed.), Jazz Among the Discourses, Durham: Duke University Press Jung, C. trans. Hull, R. ([1929]1960), "The Significance of Constitution and Heredity in Psychology" Collected Works vol. 8, Routledge: Abingdon
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)56-68
    Number of pages13
    JournalMusic, Myth and Realities 2017
    Publication statusPublished (VoR) - 10 Mar 2019


    • Composition
    • improvisation
    • jazz
    • Jung
    • Schopenhauer
    • Mahler
    • Keats
    • Hermann Hesse
    • Mary Webb
    • Gone to Earth
    • Steppenwolf
    • Jonathan Harvey
    • Krin Gabbard
    • John Corbett
    • Obakau
    • zen
    • genetics
    • post Jungian
    • Andrew Samuels
    • Jacques Lacan
    • Judith Butler
    • Jonathan Day
    • Jonathan Peter Day
    • T S Eliot


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