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Complete Acousmatic Works, Vol. 1 (Kairos, 2021)  Part One – Avant Music News

todayNovember 7, 2023 2

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We are no longer participants in a traditional culture; we live in a scientific civilization that is extending its control, it said, even to images. It is commonplace today to speak of a “civilization of the image” (thinking of our magazines, cinema, and television). But one wonders whether, like all commonplace this does not conceal a radical misunderstanding, a complete error. For instead of the image being elevated to the level of a world that would be proper to it, instead of it appearing invested with a symbolic function, leading to an internal sense, there is above all a reduction of the image to the level of sensory perception pure and simple, and thus a definitive degradation of the image. Should it not be said, therefore, that the more successful this reduction is, the more the sense of the imaginal is lost, and the more we are condemned to producing only the imaginary?

Henry Corbin-March 1964

The quote above is from a paper by Henry Corbin, a scholar of  mysticism and translator of texts within the Islamic world.  It deals with, what he calls the Mundus Imaginalis (the Imaginal World).  The paper itself is short, but extremely deep and is well worth a read.  Personally, every time I go back to it, I discover new insights and understandings.  I believe that it needs to be read with little or no distractions and, more than once for things to really start to sink in.  Strikingly, you can substitute this Corbin paper with an Acousmatic music recording and change the word “read” with the word “listen” and achieve the same deep results.  

Just reading the above quote out of context may be confusing though. In this write-up, I’m going to examine what he means by the “imaginal” vs “imaginary” and attempt to show how and why the concept of the “realm of the imaginal” can be ported over to the Acousmatic Music space.

At this point, let me quickly point out that I’m definitely not a subject matter expert on Henry Corbin or the related Jungian psychology tied to this. I wouldn’t be surprised if some who read this are and, if so… I would welcome any comments or especially any call-outs of where I’ve possibly gone astray in what follows. This subject fascinates me and anyone who feels like dropping a little gnosis on me, please do! I can be reached at my email address below. 

I’m going to use Denis Dufour’s recently released Complete Acousmatic Works , Vol 1 (a massive box set of 16 discs covering just around 25% of his career, released in 2021 on Kairos) as an exemplar of these apparent correspondences.  In this introduction, I hope to provide a bare bones framework of the Mundus Imaginalis. It will serve as part one of a three part series and I’ll be using the above linked paper by Corbin as my primary source.  In subsequent installments I’ll dive into the music on the box and hopefully derive some connections with Corbin’s thoughts and the music of Dufour on this box.

One quick caveat.  Even though this is listed as a “review”, I see it as more of a quasi review.  I’m not going to “deep dive” into every piece, on every CD in this box.  There is so much good music here that I would probably start sounding redundant with every gush of praise I dole out.  Instead, I intend to pick my battles so to speak and try to concentrate on various works and how they can link up to the main theme of the Mundus Imaginalis.

Acousmatic music in general, in the right hands is a marvelous and very powerful vehicle/tool in which the active listener/participant can exercise their (if so inclined) “imaginative consciousness”.  I chose Denis Dufour’s music because I personally feel his work is criminally undercovered and besides, lets face it… this box from Kairos is just so damn good!  Everything below can easily apply to Bernard Parmegiani, François Bayle, Luc Ferrari, Beatriz Ferreyra, Francis Dhomont or any number of fine artists creating (or have created) in the space.

Flammarion engraving-Artist Unknown (This psychonaut was obviously able to ascend The mountain of Qaf)

Right off the bat, Corbin wants the reader to understand the difference between the words imagination or imaginary (something signifying the “unreal” or “utopian”, a fantasy) and the mundus imaginalis (an ontologically real world facilitated by the imaginative power and not to be confused with the imagination). Further, per Corbin, what is actually experienced in the mundus imaginalis:

… dimensions, shapes, and colors are the proper object of imaginative perception or the “psycho- spiritual senses”; and that world, fully objective and real, where everything existing in the sensory world has its analogue, but not perceptible by the senses, is the world that is designated as the eighth climate

This is definitely going to take some unpacking. Much of Corbin’s source material and inspirations are based on the writings of the 12th century Persian philosopher Sohravardi. He was well read in the Islamic East but relatively unknown in the West. Additionally, he was instrumental in reviving the study of hidden knowledge of realms beyond the physical senses in the Islamic world.

Moving forward, I’m going to use the term “Eighth Climate” (an Islamic term) as a substitute for mundus imaginalis (a Corbin term) because I see them as being identical and for no other reason than, it sounds cooler. To Sohravardi (and Corbin), the Eighth Climate is objectively real, and holds an ontologically superior status to our down to earth mundane world of the physical senses. (I’m sure all fans of Carl Gustav Jung are completely on board by now.) How it’s accessible and what is revealed there can only be mitigated by our imaginative consciousness.

And what is revealed there? The Eighth Climate is a realm of shapes and forms that are in their symbolic state. In other words, It could be considered a world of archetypes. It allows all things, all thoughts, all desires to exist in a primal symbolic form. These are not just degraded images, as in today’s world of constant visual stimulation… these are the REAL deal. This world is above our sense-knowing world of the cosmos-the fixed stars (In Sohravardi speak, the cosmic mountain of Qaf… a spiritual mountain that needs to be spritually crossed to reach the Eighth Climate) but, it’s below the ultimate kingdom of the ineffable one… the highest sphere of the angelic intellect, the place that all Platonic and Islamic philosophers crave to reach… the NO-WHERE.

So the Eighth Climate is a non physical sensory place existing within the imaginative consciousness. It is a middle place between the known cosmos/fixed stars, i.e. where you are reading this right now… and the highest realm of the intellect. It’s populated with symbolic archetypes and, per Corbin by way of Sohravardi… a place only obtainable with the aid of the active imagination.

What is written above is less than a thimble full of the wonderful and beautiful details Corbin describes in the linked paper. His retelling of the phenomenological experiences by some who have gained access to this world is an especially beautiful read! I’m not going to dive into that deep end but, I think I have presented enough of the bare bones basics to finally bring it on over to the music scene. Namely, the Acousmatic Music scene.

Archetypes play a key role, let’s consider the “Magician” archetype as a metaphorical representation of Acousmatic music and a great example. The Magician archetype embodies the power of transformation, mystery, and the manipulation of unseen forces. Acousmatic music transforms everyday sounds into complex, otherworldly sonic landscapes. It takes listeners on a journey where the familiar is reimagined and transformed through sound.

I think we can run with this Magician archetype argument for a bit. Acousmatic music often utilizes sounds that might not have clear visual counterparts. Similarly, the Magician archetype is associated with tapping into hidden or unseen realms of knowledge and power. The musical compositions invite listeners to explore sonic realms beyond the visible and tangible.

Taking this even further, the Magician archetype can alter perceptions and reality. Acousmatic music has the capacity to alter listeners’ perceptions of time, space, and sound itself. Just as the Magician can make the impossible seem possible, Acousmatic compositions challenge our notions of what is sonically achievable.

Additionally, Acousmatic composers manipulate elements of sound-pitch, timbre, rhythm and texture to create immersive experiences. Similarly, the Magician archetype manipulates elements of the natural world to create enchantments. I think it’s important to remember that these creators work with the unseen aspect of sound, its ethereal nature that exists beyond the realm of the visible. Is this not similar to Magicians who work with the unseen forces and energies of Nature?

These are just a few threads of possible correlations I’m able to conjure up but to tie is up, this can be reduced to one major juncture between the two: Just as the Magician embarks on a quest for knowledge and mastery, the music encourages listeners to embark on sonic journeys of discovery which might involve introspection, exploration of emotions, and engagement with the imagination. Acousmatic music, by removing the visual context and focusing solely on sound, transports listeners beyond the mundane… compelling them to engage with sound in a heightened and immersive way.

In Part 2, I’ll look at some of Dufour’s music on the Kairos box that I would consider good candidates to incite this trip to the Eighth Climate. Stay tuned.

Mike Eisenberg (meisenberg1@hotmail.com)



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Written by: Soft FM Radio Staff

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