Musical Archetypes and Natural Rhythmic Measures

[Ravi Shankar (ninety-one years old!) plays Raag’s Bhiairvi (Bhiairvi Raga)]

Allen Ginsberg’s 1980 class in  Basic Poetics continues from here 

AG: ..And I’m not sure, actually. I’m just posing the question, whether the continuous repetition of a fixed structure and memorization of it will then begin to collect emotions around it, and whether you’ll begin casting your own personal emotions into that slightly different emotional cadence, as in a Sapphic – or, is it possible that a stanza such as the Sapphic is so archetypal as far as breathing and emotional spurt, that anybody might breathe, or thin , or sing in those forms.  Yeah?

Student: (Isn’t that what the Greek’s believed, (something)  that they were involved in?)

AG: Yes.. okay, well that’s the question of the mode, which both in Greek and Indian music, seem to indicate a specific emotion which is archetypal, an archetypal emotion – like, you know..say, the Bhia.. Raag’s Bhiairvi –  I don’t know what it would be in the Greek mode, but I know the... [Allen begins playing scales on his harmonium, and then sings “Sarigama padanisa, Sarigama padanisa..”   I think that was Raag’s Bhiairvi (Bhiairvi Raga). It’s supposed to be particularly sad and sung at, like, two in the morning – “Sariga.. … Sarigama padanisa” . Is that Bhiairvi? – does anybody know? .. Sounds like it ..  It’s peculiarly sad and it’s supposed to hit some kind of archetypal vibe in the body that…

Student (Is that in) both major and minor key?

AG: Yes.  And major and minor seem to be more dissonantly and sad, or more tragic.  So..  But I was thinking of the rhythmic thing. In other words, you might want, like I said, “baseball bicept arm”  ‘man palm”  “baseball bicept arm”, which were interesting information. But I had to cut them out of that little poem to make them fit into a Sapphic. The original of the poem is probably stronger than the little Sapphic form I cast it into, because there’s some freshness and rawness about it.  So, I don’t know, I’m just leaving the question open – that there are forms, it’s good to know the forms, (but) whether to work directly into them, I don’t know.  I tried it all last night, and it got me somewhat inspiring, and got me going into an area I might not have gone into before, just making my feeling classic, and also having to condense my feelings, and find the right words and condense my feelings to fit into that suitcase of the stanza.  So I’ll leave that open.  I do think that it doesn’t do any harm to have studied, and to know, and to have absorbed the rhythms, the classic rhythms (because I did, when I was a kid, and it didn’t stop  me from writing original rhythms when I wrote “Howl” or “Kaddish”, or anything else). In fact, probably, because I had studied, my ear was subtle enough to be able to hear all sorts of interesting sub-rhythms when I was writing on my own, without attempting to cast it into a fixed shape.

(And) one thing that was interesting me, the reason I’m getting into the Greek rhythms now –  I was proposing to do this summer, a course in Rhythmic Measures.. Measures..  (in) which, I think more and more, I’ll try and get back to all the original Greek measures, and maybe some African Drum measures, and see how they correlate. I’ll probably use from (William) Blake on as a text, and then just see what I can fit in,  because Shelley, Blake.. Blake knew Hebrew and such, Shelley, Greek and Latin, Coleridge too. So there’ll be some way of getting back to classic Greek meters, from the nineteenth-century, late eighteenth- and nineteenth-century. If any of you are around, that’s what I’ll be doing.

But.. the thing I was thinking was.. I wrote, in the second part of “Howl” in the Moloch section, I wrote what apparently seemed to be classic choriambic and dithyrambic rhythms,  da-da-da da-da da,  “Moloch who’s eyes are a thousand blind windows”.  I did mixed.. lines with mixed rhythms, that is, mixed feet, mixed Greek feet, three and four, sometimes dactylic, sometimes four-syllable measures (like the choriamb and the epitritus, the epitritus and choriambic meters),  but I didn’t know the names of them and I didn’t attempt counting them except that I could hear them with my body, and I knew.. you know, I knew where there  was something.. a beat missing. I knew where something could be added. And I had a genius for carrying it out and for hearing it, and playing, playing with it.

I remember writing a Moloch section. I was living with Gary Snyder in a cottage on Milvia Street in Berkeley, and I had a desk..  and he did.. so I did my work at a desk, he did his work sitting cross-legged on the floor with a little lap-desk, Chinese-style, and I was.. I wrote out about five or six pages of improvisations on the Moloch theme – da da da-da-da, da da-da da da – “Moloch who’s eyes are a thousand blind windows/ Moloch whose skyscrapers stand in the long streets like endless Jehovahs” – So I could hear that. And Gary said, “Moloch, who reached up out of the toilet bowl and grabbed my cock! – and stole it from me when I was twelve years old”,  you know, some archetypal thing that his mother had told him earlier. So he said, “What are you doing there?”. So I said, Well, I was just sort of testing out different phrasing, you know. I was just trying to extend it, make it bigger and bigger, like a big Bastille .But I didn’t have any way of counting them according to Greek style. And if I did now,  if I knew then what I knew now, I don’t know what I would have done.. It might not have been as good. Because this way, I had defined it as “Promethean Natural Measures”.

However, what I might have done is, then, seeing that I was on to a good thing, checked out all the Greek meters and just built the thing like a … really like a  Bachs Art of..(Fugue) (or) Goldberg Variations, and used every single meter in the book, you know, and just built a great big huge shot, a huge construction (which I still probably will do sooner or later with some poem or other) because my ambition was to write a sort of Promethean twentieth-century poem, using all of the ancient meters that build up to some kind of  grand chorale.  And there’s a little  sample of that in Journals Early Fifties, Early Sixties, a little thing called”Rhythmic Paradigm”, which goes on for half a page  with  a series of meters that are more complicated than the ones in “Kaddish or “Howl”

[Audio for the above can be heard here,  beginning at approximately  ten-and-three-quarter minutes  in and concluding at approximately eighteen minutes in]

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