teleology in Gagaku court music

Gagaku court music concerns itself with stasis. It is additionally the product of a culture less concerned (only apparently however) with teleology.


Its “structural symmetry,” writes Robert Garfias, “is a characteristic of Gagaku compositions and must be understood in historical perspective […] as modeled on the older tradition of Confucian ceremonial music. Thematic development and variation […] do not exist in Gagaku. Repetitions  of phrases and the use of derivations of melodic material appear only rarely. Most of the melodies unfold in continuous organic growth without obvious reference to anything that has receded, and with very little thematic definition. Structure, in this context, derives more from the duration and placement of elements in time and from the relative repetition of such placements than from variation of the elements themselves.”


The construction of Gagaku music is completely formulaic and based upon an incessant repetition of rhythmic cycles: that is where the musical dimension of its ritual is situated. In my mind  it is music as it metaphorically pertains to “pure experience and not to discursive cognition,” not unlike the concept of “Buddhist Nothingness, [which] is thought to comprise a framework within which the form and the formless coexist and rejects any explicit reference to existence.” Nevertheless, its apparent non-teleological building crumbles the moment the underlying ideology is exposed. The abolition of the historical process during the time of the Chinese dynasties, and its later implementation in Japan’s Gagaku music, was part of the ruling class’ religious and political program, so that the pervasiveness of a static time, and its non-passing, would never threaten to pulverize its tyrannical social structure. (Thesis first formulated in music by Luigi Nono in reply to John Cage’s appropriation of Zen teachings)

In other words, the ceremonial, Buddhist perspective as inherited and transformed by the Chinese empire, attempted to instill in the minds and subsequent art-making of its people, the spirit of non-action. Stasis served as a means to submission.