The music of Xian-chi

The following passages are from the Taoist text – the Zhuangzi – Chapter 14 – REVOLUTION OF HEAVEN – Part 3
Sections 1-3 could be an improvisational set of instructions, as is.
Equally, the narrative and text from the ‘3 part music of the Xian-chi’, is an interesting foundation for a large scale instrumental piece.

The music of Xian-chi:
After hearing Huang-Di’s performance of the 3 part music of the Xian-chi, Bei-men Cheng asked Huang-Di
why the parts affected him in the following ways; “When I heard the first part of it, I was afraid; the next made me weary; and the last perplexed me. I became agitated and unable to speak, and lost my self-possession.”

HUANG-Di then describes the three sections of music, followed by a summery of each section, and it’s affect on Bei-men Cheng.

Section 1:
“It was likely that it should so affect you! It was performed with (the instruments of) men, and all attuned according to (the influences of) Heaven… The Perfect Music first had its response in the affairs of men, and was conformed to the principles of Heaven; it indicated the action of the five virtues, and corresponded to the spontaneity (apparent in nature). After this it showed the blended distinctions of the four seasons, and the grand harmony of all things – the succession of those seasons one after another, and the production of things in their proper order. Now it swelled, and now it died away, its peaceful and military strains clearly distinguished and given forth. Now it was clear, and now rough, as if the contracting and expanding of the elemental processes blended harmoniously (in its notes). Those notes then flowed away in waves of light, till, as when the hibernating insects first begin to move, I commanded the terrifying crash of thunder. Its end was marked by no formal conclusion, and it began again without any prelude. It seemed to die away, and then it burst into life; it came to a close, and then it rose again. So it went on regularly and inexhaustibly, and without the intervention of any pause: it was this which made you afraid.”

HUANG-Di’s summary:
I performed first the music calculated to awe; and you were frightened as if by a ghostly visitation.

Section 2:
“In the second part (of the performance), I made it describe the harmony of the Yin and Yang, and threw round it the brilliance of the sun and moon. Its notes were now short and now long, now soft and now hard. Their changes, however, were marked by an unbroken unity, though not dominated by a fixed regularity. They filled every valley and ravine; you might shut up every crevice, and guard your spirit (against their entrance), yet there was nothing that gave admission to them. Yea, those notes resounded slowly, and might have been pronounced high and clear. Hence the shades of the dead kept in their obscurity; the sun and moon, and all the stars of the zodiac, pursued their several courses. I made (my instruments) leave off, when (the performance) came to an end, and their (echoes) flowed on without stopping. You thought anxiously about it, and were not able to understand it; you looked for it, and were not able to see it; you pursued it, and were not able to reach it. All-amazed, you stood in the way all open around you, and then you leant against an old rotten dryandra-tree and hummed. The power of your eyes was exhausted by what you wished to see; your strength failed in your desire to pursue it, while I myself could not reach it. Your body was but so much empty vacancy while you endeavoured to retain your self-possession: it was that endeavour which made you weary.

HUANG-Di’s summary:
The 2nd section was “calculated to weary; and in your weariness you would have withdrawn.

Section 3:
“In the last part (of the performance), I employed notes which did not have that wearying effect. I blended them together as at the command of spontaneity. Hence they came as if following one another in confusion, like a clump of plants springing from one root, or like the music of a forest produced by no visible form. They spread themselves all around without leaving a trace (of their cause); and seemed to issue from deep obscurity where there was no sound.
Their movements came from nowhere; their home was in the deep darkness – conditions which some would call death, and some would call life; some would call the fruit, and some would call (merely) the flower. Those notes, moving and flowing on, separating and shifting, and not following any regular sounds, the world might well have doubts about them, and refer them to the judgment of a sage, for the sages understand the nature of this music, and judge in accordance with the prescribed (spontaneity). While the spring of that spontaneity has not been touched, and yet the regulators of the five notes are all prepared – this is what is called the music of Heaven, delighting the mind without the use of words. Hence it is said in the eulogy of the Lord of Yan, “You listen for it, and do not hear its sound; you look for it, and do not perceive its form; it fills heaven and earth; it envelopes all within the universe.” You wished to hear it, but could not take it in; and therefore you were perplexed.”

HUANG-Di’s summary:
I concluded with that calculated to perplex; and in your perplexity you felt your stupidity.
But that stupidity is akin to the Dao; you may with it convey the Dao in your person, and have it (ever) with you.