Mysterium Musicus

In all chaos there is a cosmos, in all disorder a secret order

         [Carl Gustav Jung]

Growing popularity of techno music understandably creates a question what is about this “technoculture” – as it calls itself – so attractive that it fascinates people practically around the whole world.

The name “techno” refers to the fact that it is based on computerisation of music. Technomusic or electronic dance music originated in the United States (Detroit, Michigan) during the mid to late 1980s.  The initial take on techno arose from the synthesizer-based music with various African American styles such as Chicago house, funk, electro, and electric jazz; added to this was the influence of futuristic and science-fictional themes that were relevant to life in American society of late era of capitalism. From U.S., this style travelled overseas to England, where it settled and divaricated into dozens of various techno styles, depending on the “typology” of the dancer (raver). But its characteristic feature, a “rhythmic drum”, on which is this music basically built, remained crucial in all of them. Different styles, such as “acid”, “house”, “drum-and-base”, “trance” and so on differs only by its heaviness and speed, but the main point, - i.e. gradation, or dramatisation of theme, then climax, followed by stereotypical phase - remains practically the same. Older generation would probably – and rightly – say that this music lacks melody. In this music is form which makes other music melody irrelevant. What is allowed by neo-cortex, like creativity and complex inventiveness is in this case basically useless: what matters in technomusic is rhythm and repetitiveness. By its structure and rhythmicallity it resembles an African tribe music used in initiation rituals where it serves purpose of inducing ecstatic trance. As Jung said, “a great many ritualistic performances are carried out for the sole purpose of producing at will the effect of the numinosum” so this one too fells under such category. (Jung, 1938)

We can say that this music appeals to the most archaic level of our psyche, or that from this depth it emerges. Basal vibrations which could be observed on most fundamental organic and inorganic molecular level are by this music exaggerated and amplified, then projected and imposed on raver with such intensity that it is virtually impossible avoid synchronous movement. Indeed, the rave parties are more shamanistic rituals than dance parties in classic terms. In rave harmony with technique or the “norm” is not important, only norm is purely subjective: raver has to find his own individualized movements synchronized with rhythm to express his emotional experience and to be able dance for many hours without stopping.

Expressive performance is clearly individual. The goal of raver is not performing for audience, but only to achieve an ecstatic trance.  We are not talking here about song in classical sense, but one long compact rave lilt which is played without stopping even for 12 hours. Those who manage to achieve trance can really dance the whole time. Music is created right in the dance hall. D.J. makes the music out of his repertoire based on needs of the dancing audience. An unconscious connection between D.J. and dancers is soon created.  D.J. is the witness of the drama of creation, but also a member of the crowd with which he inevitably identifies. Let’s not be mistaken, it is a dialog and not one-way communication from machine to the man. Machines become live in the hands of man. The dancing crowd, which becomes one body, dictates tempo and gradation to the D.J. and D.J. dictates that to the crowd. After a while it is impossible distinguish what was first, the chicken or the egg… It is very hard to describe this experience to those who have not been “in” it. The party would take place in a huge hall where 15 to 20 thousand people would dance surrounded by high-tech sound speakers, clouds of smoke and fast blinking lights without access to the outside world. The dancers’ clothes are usually soaking wet. I’ve seen sweat dripping from the ceiling and about ¼ of inch of human sweat flowing on the floor. It is like a bathing in one’s own self. But it is also an experience of participation and unity, where aggression and hostility practically does not exist…

You might ask: what is the philosophy of techno movement? Answer is: there’s no philosophy about this movement. The only “philosophy” is an individual experience. Exodus – the rave movement originated in U.K. – has some goals: to spread love, communitas and friendship through the mankind. In the case of techno music these ideals are not achieved by rational philosophy, but through abaissement du niveau mental. We can speak about regression to primitive initiatory techniques, where drumming, intoxication and trance played its crucial role. While ritual objectified unconscious processes and reproduced acts of gods, technoparty only reproduces formless and frameless situation. It reproduces primitive experience of chaos.

Ecstatic spontaneous dancing among primitives is well documented. After such shamanic dance, the healing process took place. Psyche found its own instinctive way to heal itself. The eliminating of consciousness brings about activation of the inferior function by sudden emergence. It is as if the whole unconscious flooded ego-consciousness. Trance which resembles psychotic noxa has something to do with the temporary disintegration of rational system of partie supérieure. While evolution of consciousness is a gradual movement from “massa confussa” towards more differentiated state, in trance libido flows regressively towards unconscious where it awakens sleeping gods. Activated contents of unconscious are contained only through the dance, not rational integration. The raver thus maintains an affective relationship to the contents of unconscious. The whole experience is certainly very interesting. It activates the most archaic emotions. While experiences of other kinds of music evokes refined emotional responses and images bound to previous experience, in techno, raw and undifferentiated emotionality overwhelms the raver.  It is “regressus ad uterum”. Techno music invokes “timelessness”. Past and present are in this unseparably connected. The dancer thus descends into the primordial chaos, to the days where space, time and causality were one; to the times where creation of consciousness began. Actually we should not speak about “the past”, because this is happening hic et nunc. This experience has a character of fascinans et tremendos. Unconscious wholeness attracts the dancer as a magnet, hypnotising voice of the sea Limousine. On one hand we can describe the state as a “fall”, because the raver feels an irresistible urge to give up one’s own rationality, identity and conscious continuity of self-experience and merge with infinite universe of collective unconsciousness; on the another hand, he experiences a fear that all he has will be lost forever. Name, age, sex, parents, friends, location, that all has to be forgotten in trembling and sweat. It is terrifying like a death, but once the dancer is on the train, there’s no slowing down before it reaches it final destination… the raver has to trust the process and hope that it will have a good end.  Even though the ritual seems formless, it still has an immanent structure in itself. There are three components of this experience. [cum grano salis please] It is: 1) descendus at inferno – descend to the unconsciousness, or if you like, an activation of unconscious. A sacrificial lamb has to be offered in order that could happen. What has to be sacrificed in this phase is extroversion. Relation to the outside world has to be abandoned; only relation to what exists now is relation to one’s own unconscious. 2) Experience of unconscious where ego is extremely relativised and humbled. It is a phase where the raver experiences complexio oppositorum of archetypal power through the inflation and identification. He is “in it”. He is “it” and “it” is him: the universe is in him and he is in universe. He is overwhelmed, taken away by the dream-world, identified with collective unconsciousness merges with gods: he becomes the god!

It is a state with which he has to “deal”. It cannot be solved rationally only acted out through bodily movements. It cannot be known, judged or understood it can only be seen by the eyes of the dancer. Here the raver has to totally submit to the experience of ekstasis, i.e. unconscious. 3) Resurrection - restoration of ego, a state which is usually experienced towards the end of the party, when music is “ascending” and “liberational”; it also is experienced after the party. It is a state of deep silence, calm and peace which follows vibration and massive energy intake of the party.[2]

It is certainly not an accident that roots of techno reach to the psychedelic era of the America’s 60’s.  Techno revolts against individualism and materialized world, against government and rationalized spirituality. Techno restores unconscious need for participation and social interaction; it does so, on very primitive level, but nevertheless it brings about those feelings which lied unrealized in the unconscious. I believe that experience of the party is therefore a compensation of one-sided position. Techno attracts more young people than churches and sport events together. It is considered to be spiritual, and there lies its power: it fascinates and devours. It is westerner’s experience of the Mecca ritual. Techno partying, though, should serve as a means in achieving higher consciousness, as a means of creating individual consciousness, not as an end. Numinosum once discovered and “touched” is to be the starting point for young people on their road of individuation. Archetypal experience of unconscious wholeness should become motivation for seeking conscious wholeness. Introverted experience of numinosity has to be translated to extroverted life. A frame of rational understanding needs to be added to this experience of the irrational. Spirit has to be connected with matter. Without applying acquired “knowledge” to the world, without discrimination and further development of moral consciousness dancer would remain an addict slavishly caught in this mysterium musicus.


Vlado Šolc

[1] An airplane shot of Berlin technoparty “Loveparade” attended by more than 2 million people.

[2] It takes usually 5 hours for music which now plays solely in the head of the dancer to cease.

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