at the risk of seeming ridiculous…

The Embodied Will.

Posted in written thoughts by Charles on June 26, 2009

A few days ago, archeologists announced that they have found a flute in a German cave.  This flute is approximately 35,000 years old.  The significance of such a find is that it is from the prehistoric era.  It blows my mind that in a time where basic survival was the daily goal, people found a reason to create things that would aid in expression.  Or in other words, people sought to create an aesthetic means in order to reach the sublime.  Now of course, art (as we understand and experience it today) and language weren’t as dichotomized back then.  Art was not seen as “art” but rather an expression of what is.  People drew in order to record their stories/histories, not because they wanted to hang it in some gallery.

The profundity, then, of this archeological find is that it hints at something I’ve been feeling for a while.  That art, or creative expression, is just as necessary as the basic necessities of survival: food, water, etc.  I can imagine the guy/girl who made that flute going off to gather some food, maybe hunt down a swine.  Then come back, roast it and eat with fellow tribesman.  After they’re all full and merry, I imagine some dancing to happen, some percussive instruments laying down a groove, and this guy to get up and just play.  Maybe he’ll express something happy, maybe something sad.  I mean, just take a listen to the clip of someone playing a reconstructed model of the flute.  It sounds beautiful and sophisticated.  I was nearly brought to tears just listening to it.

The point is: we humans aren’t just about survival, we are about creation.

To see this early in the archeological record suggests it might be a fundamental aspect of human nature… It does at least hint that music lies close to our foundation of common humanity.

What is it about this incessant need we have to express?  And what is it about our insatiable drive to constantly create new means that enable us to do so?

Now I’ll be honest with you… the fact that it’s a flute excites me.  I’m a musician, so the bias is obvious.  Personally, music profoundly embodies the human will more so than other art forms.  My reasoning you ask?  Sound most resembles spirit.  After all, sound is nothing more than compressed air.  When it is projected at you, it quite literally passes through you.  And perhaps the most amazing thing of all, it dissipates thereafter.  It comes and it goes.  It is felt, but also invisible.

So to realize that music was and still is that powerful, even to a prehistoric man, elates me.  Actually, it’s sublime.  Luckily enough, I read a beautiful passage from Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy that helped contextualize this whole discovery for me.  Hope you enjoy:

Music, therefore, if regarded as an expression of the world, is in the highest degree a universal language, which is related indeed to the universality of concepts, much as these are related to the particular things.  Its universality, however, is by no means the empty universality of abstraction, but is of quite a different kind, and is united with thorough and distinct definiteness.  In this respect it resembles geometrical figures and numbers, which are the universal forms of all possible objects of experience and applicable to them all a priori, and yet are not abstract but perceptible and thoroughly determinate.  All possible efforts, excitements and manifestations of will, all that goes on in the heart of man and that reason includes in the wide, negative concept of feeling, may be expressed by the infinite number of possible melodies, but always in the universality of mere form, without the material; always according to the thing-in-itself, not the phenomenon – of which melodies reproduce the very soul and essence as it were, without the body.

This deep relation which music bears to the true nature of all things also explains the fact that suitable music played to any event or surrounding seems to disclose to us its most secret meaning and appears as the most accurate and distinct commentary upon it; as also the fact that whoever gives himself up entirely to the impression of a symphony seems to see all the possible events of life and the world take place in himself.

. . . .

We might, therefore, just as well call the world embodied music as embodied will: and this is the reason why music makes every picture, and indeed every scene of real life and the of the world, at once appear with higher significance; all the more so, to be sure, in proportion as its melody is analagous to the inner spirit of the given phenomenon.  It rests upon this that we are able to set a poem to music as a song, or a perceptible representation as a pantomime, or both as an opera.

. . . .

Music . . . gives the inmost kernel which precedes all forms, or the heart of things.

Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy


7 Responses

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  1. Anthony said, on June 27, 2009 at 15:45

    I love this

  2. advid nosh said, on June 28, 2009 at 01:34

    “to disclose to us its most secret meaning and appears as the most accurate and distinct commentary upon it”

  3. sam said, on June 29, 2009 at 01:03

    Beautiful Nietzsche passage. Good words.

  4. Dan said, on June 29, 2009 at 16:39


    “Personally, music profoundly embodies the human will more so than other art forms…”

    I don’t know if I’ve ever agreed with you more than on this singular paragraph.

  5. giles said, on July 9, 2009 at 13:16

    “Personally, music profoundly embodies the human will more so than other art forms…”

    I disagree. Not because I want to be an ass, I just happen to.

    I think music is capable of immediately affecting people in a deep way than probably any other artform, but then I don’t think that’s a sign that it’s the best or truest representation of the human will. Over the course of human history, armies have been led into battle by bands and orchestras, not dancers or painters or poets.

    I have to leave for work now. Talk later…

  6. jensuh said, on July 15, 2009 at 23:18

    isn’t it only natural, though? if we isolate ourselves from all environmental stimuli, well, aside from oxygen and atmosphere- and given that one is not deaf- the only thing that confirms the existence of the self aside from consciousness is that one will be able to hear tone, created by the sound of blood circulation, and rhythm- created by the sound of one’s own heartbeat. john cage once did an experiment to try to isolate all sound from his environment and found that he couldn’t because of the mere fact of his own existence and ability to hear. i suppose what i’m trying to say is that perhaps music can be considered an embodiment of will because sound is synonymous with consciousness. i mean, the way you know a newborn baby is alive is if it wails or not.
    I think, certainly music is one of the easiest and most beautiful forms to express and share the existence of human consciousness- simply because whether or not we are paying attention- our mere existence introduces us to tone and rhythm and we are all familiar with it insofar as we are not deaf. I would not say the same about color because I feel it’s a little more subjective and its phenomena cannot be measured physically- color is an interpretation of light energy by the human brain, but you can measure sonic waves and it correlates with what we hear. And we can close our eyes but not our ears.
    and what about the musicality of language and human utterances themselves? human speech is also compressed air, manipulated by the diaphragm and vocal flaps. Isn’t the development of speech amazing in itself? And I definitely agree that the dependence on speech to actually mean something is abused and renders it artless/expressionless at times.
    In the end though, I’m pretty sure we mean the same thing- music is absolutely spiritual and totally freaken awesome and reflects on the human need to process and create. as usual, total gratitude for sharing such wonderful thoughts!

    and crap- the rendition of that ancient flute sounds like old korean music! yay the five note scale!

  7. juliet said, on September 13, 2009 at 05:29

    great post, but it’s time to update

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