Music: A Psychic Experience?
Is music a psychic experience? Stravinsky claimed that The Rite of Spring was already written and that he was simply the medium for it. I think many composers have had that feeling when creating works that are very special to them.
I know that when I feel stuck while writing a work and decide to take a break from it, I can resort to something inside myself to get things rolling again when the time is right. It’s as if I hand over the work to my subconscious. It has often done a much better job than my conscious mind, even though I think that can be pretty creative too by churning out all the possible solutions for a trouble spot. Call it the raw material for the piece. Then I walk away from it and another part of me seems to take over and do the work. I certainly can’t describe the process, but I know it is not intellectual or cerebral. It seems as though some kind of extra-consciousness appears from an almost secret place and invites me to play.
Perhaps all creativity has a psychic component — in art, science and all our daily creative pursuits. Many people resist or ridicule the existence of psychic reality, though there is much evidence that it exists — sometimes under different names, such as intuition, coincidence or luck.
In The Secret Life of Plants, Peter Tomkins and Christopher Bird tested the live plant leaf of a rhododendron with a polygraph to see if it registered emotion. Not only did the leaf register a strong pain response when they dipped one of its leaves in hot coffee, it registered an even higher reading when one of them simply thought about doing it. Did the plant read their minds? And if plants have such powers, why don’t we?
I have never wished for or searched for unexplainable experiences, but a couple have simply happened to me.
One incident was in a workshop, where I demonstrated dancing while balancing an imaginary little white feather on one hand. The group gave me a variety of instructions regarding the feather I was visualizing, shifting it from one palm to the other, imagining how it changed its color, weight and size. Suddenly they told me to stop and close my eyes. They asked me to describe the latest feather on my palm. “It has changed to a large feather in a brilliant purple color,” I said. When I opened my eyes, I saw they had placed a lady’s hat with a long purple feather on the floor in front of me. At that moment I saw a bright image of a newly renovated front porch with a large mirror and a hat rack next to it. When I described it to the group, a woman’s voice called out: ”That’s our new porch where I hang my hat”— meaning the hat that was on the floor.
Years later, I was composing a movement of music called “Ice and Light” in my work Arctic Dreams, which was inspired by a long stay with an Inuit family in Pangnirtung, Baffin Island. I had been concentrating intensely on this movement for several days, trying to capture the sonic effect of changing colors in a moving iceberg as the sun’s rays refracted in it. Then the phone rang and it was Rosie, my Arctic host, who hadn’t written or contacted me since I lived with the family three years earlier. I was thrilled and asked her why she called. She said, “I don’t know—Enukie and I were just sitting here watching an iceberg floating by with all the different colors and I said, ‘Let’s call Michael.’ ”