I happen to be a musician in my spare time, so take what I’m about to say with a grain of salt. But of all art forms, there’s something especially sacred — even Buddhist — to me about music.
It’s got something to do with the way music manipulates time, each note highlighting the present moment as it moves steadily through the environment of past and future. Electronic composer Éliane Radigue compares that environment to a river, through which her slowly evolving tones meander, always different, always the same.
Immersion in an awareness of that river can lead to a loss of ego, because ego is built on past and future narratives. Jazz legend John Coltrane believed that in seeing through those false narratives, musicians can give “the best of what we are.” On A Love Supreme, his watershed reimagining of modal jazz, he managed to achieve that aspiration for 33 minutes and 2 seconds.
A particular kind of music, often called “minimalism,” seeks to disrupt our normal way of listening, intentionally producing these transcendent moments. Though it’s debatable whether Coltrane could be lumped under that umbrella, Philip Glass is essentially a spokesperson for the genre. I remember being excited as a teenager by this sentence from his own liner notes to Music in 12 Parts:
“[W]hen it becomes apparent that nothing ‘happens’ in the usual sense… [listeners] can perhaps discover another mode of listening—one in which neither memory nor anticipation… have a place in sustaining the texture, quality, or reality of the musical experience.”
That sounds a lot like what Laurie Anderson has jokingly called “difficult listening.” And in fact, Glass admits that this kind of music can be more of a challenge to its audience than to its performers. But make no mistake, this music is made for an audience, as he himself argues.
All three of the musicians featured here consider(ed) themselves deliverers of liberation from ego, transmitting dharma/grace/awareness received directly, through their very performance, to any audience brave enough to listen. In that way, they are all bodhisattvas.
—Andrew Glencross, associate art director, Lion’s Roar magazine