The Return of Pythagoras

Make sure you don’t miss David First’s cosmic and bumptiously entertaining article “The Entertainer” that went up on New Music Box today. Along with his own personal view of music history, it’s a plea for composers to start making music that actually heals people and makes life better, a return to the Renaissance concept of music as magic. As someone who’s followed David’s career closely for a quarter-century, I can attest that this is an endpoint he’s been visibly and aurally heading towards for decades. And I’m very sympathetic. It was reading about the astrological healing music of the 15th-century Marsilio Ficino that led me to writing The Planets, and I have bought and tried out Chinese healing CDs that are supposed to lower your blood pressure, balance yin and yang, and stuff like that. But in my own music I’ve always been content with metaphor, ambience, and suggestion; David’s actually hoping to rearrange your molecules. Somebody’s gotta try it.

UPDATE: Also, make sure you listen to the drone piece clickable at the top of the article. It made very cool interactions with my tinnitus, seeming to draw my usual drone pitches into it and make them go in and out, neutralizing them at times. It’s the first time I’ve ever noticed my tinnitus while listening to music and could actually enjoy it.


  1. says

    Thanks for that link!

    Any recommended reading on “the Renaissance concept of music as magic?”

    KG replies: Yes, Gary Tomlinson’s Music in Renaissance Magic. I recommend pretty much skipping the first chapter, which mainly establishes his deconstructionist bonafides.

      • says

        I’ll add D. P. Walker’s “Spiritual and Demonic Magic from Ficino to Campanella,” a useful survey of Renaissance magic, as well as Ficino’s “Book of Life.” If you read French, Joscelyn Godwin’s “L’ésoterisme musical en France” covers later occult music in France (from 1750-1950).

        • says

          Doug – Thanks so much for those suggestions – I’ll follow those leads.

          Kyle – Have the Tomlinson in hand – if you hadn’t warned me would have given up. I simply can’t convince myself that academic writing style isn’t just another version of academic music – meant only to self-validate the “in” crowd folks to themselves – and that outside that there’s little real value. If for no other reason, with your clear writing that can be understood and enjoyed by the hoi polloi, I can see why you’re such an irritation to them.

  2. mclaren says

    Alas, anyone making comments supporting such an article will see their comment deleted before it appears.

    No comments critical of high modernist musical ideology are permitted on New Music Box. That site suffers from extreme epistemic closure worse than the Republican party’s global warming denial.

  3. says

    I can attest to the healing effects of music. Whenever my daughter’s carpool gets too rowdy, she says “BACH” and my brain switches to hearing one of his Inventions in my head. Highly recommended when you are dealing with kids driving you nuts.

  4. says

    Well, I’ve not made a personal study of the NMB comment tendencies. But they were extremely supportive of the article, so I can’t imagine why they would then turn around and censor comments that were in accordance with it. I never asked whether it fit in with their particular “views”, but it seems they were, at the very least, genuinely interested in a bit of pot stirring.

    And thanks for writing this Kyle! I, too, will be checking out the Tomlinson book..


  5. says

    This was a great read. I am a believer in the healing effects of music — – I’m especially interested and curious about the impact that music can have on babies in the womb.

    KG replies: My wife and I attended a performance of Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron when she was eight months pregnant. My son became a black metal guitarist. I’ve always thought there was a connection.