Atlantis on our doorstep?

The “mood of the 7th” in Bali and Java


As an impressionable 15-year-old, I sat listening to the Sultan of Yogyakarta’s Royal Gamelan Orchestra. Nothing in my musical training had prepared me for this. This music broke all the rules. Where was the rhythm and beat? What key was it supposed to be in, or was it just random notes? Was there supposed to be a sung melody or was that ‘wailing’ sound designed for another purpose? It was painfully slow, without phrase, timeless. I could not find my way into this music. And perhaps most baffling were the Sultan’s hand-chosen musicians themselves: why were they staring into space as if in a day-dream?

‘The experience of tone structure was completely different, and the soul had a completely different relationship to the tone structure. One who lives musically only in sevenths, with no intervals in between, as naturally as did the Atlanteans does not even perceive the musical element as something that occurs around or within him. The moment he perceives the musical element he feels transported out of his body into the cosmos.’

 

Although I did not know it at the time, I had been brought to the threshold of a totally different paradigm- not just a different musical paradigm, but an altogether different paradigm of consciousness… something so old, so odd, it resisted any access through modern Western thinking. But there was a mood, a feeling that grew in me which I longed to explore.

Four years later I found myself irresistibly drawn to study this ancient art form, or at least its Balinese version. (Bali shares the same cultural heritage of Java.) I rented a little hut in central Bali and the gamelan worked its way into my soul.  I learnt new things about myself, not least discovering my own Asian roots on my mother’s side. The music transported me to a paradise world where I seemed to hover above the ground, a timeless world where every day is the same. There are no seasons, it’s always hot and humid, it’s a world where one can simply sit with a local for an hour in silence, sip tea and just be– it’s just too hot to do anything else. Even thinking is an effort!

‘… the fifth comprised both inhalation and exhalation: the seventh comprised only exhalation.’

In this paradigm, even morality becomes nebulous and vague. I began to experience the shadowy world of dark magic and white magic. I saw and experienced things that my western mind could not explain. The music disembodied me and brought me in contact with a world where nature spirits, both benevolent and malevolent were a constant presence – a dangerous time in my journey, perhaps. Admittedly, there were times where I did not want to come back down to earth.

‘This musical experience, … always consisted of man feeling completely transported [entrückt]. He felt free of his earthbound existence and transported into another world in this experience of the seventh. At that time he could just as well have said, “I experience music,” as “I feel myself in the spiritual world.”’

But inevitably I did have to come back earth: I became a music teacher in a Waldorf School – a good balance between heaven and earth! I read Steiner’s highly esoteric views on music and slowly digested them. I also kept returning to Java and Bali in my holidays to keep the gamelan fire burning – a  citizen of both worlds.

It was years later, whilst preparing to teach a subject called ‘The Time Map’ in the Foundation Studies in Anthroposophy course at Rudolf Steiner College in Perth, that I uncovered the possible link between Atlantis and Java in the gamelan.

Steiner talks of the Atlantean and post-Atlantean epochs being permeated by certain moods. These moods can be expressed quite objectively through the spiritual-musical truths of the intervals. Quite simply an interval in music is the distance between any two tones. Play any two tones on the piano and a certain mood will arise: you will feel the interval to be harmonious, dissonant or somewhere on the scale between these two poles.

‘Atlanteans could not yet experience musical intervals of thirds, not even fifths. Their musical experience really began with feeling the sevenths. They then felt further intervals, of which the seventh was the smallest. They missed hearing thirds and fifths; these intervals did not exist for Atlanteans.  The experience of tone structure was completely different…’

 

So what is a seventh and what is its mood? Actually, there are many kinds of sevenths, all with their own moods. ‘Seventh’ is not an exact term; it generally means seven notes apart in the scale. But what scale? Our scales and their modern tunings have only existed for a few centuries. Pianos give us major sevenths and minor sevenths. These are based on a tuning system of fifths that we inherited from ancient Egypt and Greece.  Clearly, the Atlanteans could not have tuned their sevenths based on the Egyptian/Greek fifth. In fact, as we read above, they had no feeling for such a tuning.

Steiner never indicated which seventh he meant when he spoke of the Atlanteans, and we have been making educated guesses ever since. Heiner Ruland, in his book ‘Expanding Tonal Awareness’, suggests it was the ‘natural seventh’, based on the numerical relationship 4:7 (two strings vibrating in this ratio will produce this ‘mood’). This interval is not found on the piano, hence it sounds foreign to our modern ears. It can be found by overblowing a brass instrument, as it is a naturally occurring overtone. In fact, brass players must constantly repress the natural tendency to sound this interval. This natural seventh (4:7) is indeed more naturally occurring than our modern major and minor sevenths (5:9, 8:15) but it has been covered up by modern tuning. Perhaps, in the interest of knowing our past, it is time to uncover it?

Steiner suggests Atlanteans felt a mood of consecutive sevenths raying up or down, something that does not fit into the limits of modern musical instruments or the range of the human voice. Modern humanity is thus left in the dark as to how to approach such a concept in music. Quite possibly, these raying-out intervals were not even heard in “physical” music but simply existed in silence as a ‘mood’. It is possible, however, to bring these tones into the compass of an octave, which makes it audible and far more accessible. We can thus experience the ancient mood of the seventh in a microcosm, within the range of an octave. Something very interesting happens when we do this: our octave becomes divided into five almost exactly equal parts. Our microcosm takes on a five-fold nature.

You can try tuning a lyre or guitar to these notes, using an electronic tuner that shows decimal places (best calibrated to A=432):

D         E +0.4             G -0.2              A +0.2             C -0.4              D’

This gives a “true” pentatonic scale of five equally placed notes: the very same scale used in Java and Bali! It is also called the “slendro” scale. We can thus say that this particular style of gamelan is quite definitely based on the seventh, that is, the natural seventh. Gamelan (slendro) gives us the mood of the seventh in a microcosm. Some have found this tuning in the songs of the North American Hopi Indians. Others believe slendro is the oldest form of our modern pentatonic (based on fifths). Slendro-tuned instruments have also been found in Africa. But how did the mood of the seventh end up in Indonesia?

‘The Atlanteans …were forced to emigrate… the most important migrations were the ones that moved eastward from Atlantis. Europe, Asia and Africa were gradually settled by the descendants of the Atlanteans. Various peoples differing in their degrees of both development and depravity took up residence there. In their midst marched the initiates who guarded the mysteries…’

 

Atlantean music would have certainly migrated to Africa, but its mood would eventually be crystallized in India, where according to Steiner an important impulse based on the Christ oracle arose:

‘This initiate moved with them from west to east, to an area in central Asia… he selected the seven best to receive life bodies and astral bodies that were reproductions of those of the seven greatest Atlantean initiates.’ (These were the seven rishis.)

 

There is no evidence of mood of the seventh in classical or historical Indian music. Perhaps India has moved on and forgotten it. Is it possible that the music of Atlantis somehow resurfaced in Indonesia? Well, we do know for certain that holy Indian men have been visiting Indonesia for at least 2000 years. And their presence is still felt…

Four years ago, my wife and I visited a temple high in the mountains of Bali, a modern temple yet still with ancient remnants giving clues into its rich past. With our guide, we were the only ones there. We were so high up, the climate was cool, the clouds and jungle surrounded us. We seemed to be floating in a sort of bubble, high above the world, the thin air making us light-headed and impressionable to the supersensible worlds. The spirits were present. It was so still, but so alive. The only sound was that of gently trickling water coming down the mountain. Our guide was a Balinese religion and history scholar. He quietly explained that the temple was founded by the sage Agastya, descended from one of the great seven rishis of India, around 70 AD. I had to ask several times to confirm this fact. It was a eureka moment. Here I was, standing in the very place where high Ancient Indian culture first made its mark in Bali, carrying the impulse of the great Atlantean initiates. In this silent nebulous place in the clouds that ancient paradigm that still echoes today in the sounds of the gamelan was still palpable: the Atlantean mood of the seventh.

The mood of the seventh presents the modern ear with a challenge. We must learn to listen very differently, with our spiritmore than with our soul. For one thing, this music can never live inside us in the way that all music of the modern era does. The mood of the seventh lives outside the listener. Its tendency is to excarnate us into the spiritual worlds. For this reason, there will be many who object and say it has no place for modern humanity. But I beg to differ. If we are to truly know ourselves and how we have evolved, as Anthroposophy implores us to do, then the mood of the seventh does have a place for us now. Through it, our distant past is lifted from the realm of ‘concept’ and takes its place in the realm of ‘soul-spirit’. The mood of the seventh is part of who we are.

Paul Lawrence,  March 2018

Quotes from Rudolf Steiner: “The Inner Nature of Music and The Experience of Tone” and “An Outline of Esoteric Science”.

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