The Musical Exorcist

Leonard Cohen, in his song Hallelujah, refers to "a secret chord that David played, and it pleased the Lord...the minor fall, the major lift."  Singer Anjani Thomas calls C major "the chord of Cohen."  The Hebrew word cohen means priest; Catholic priests have traditionally performed the rite of exorcism.  If the major chord, which I call Deus in Musica, pleases the Lord, so the tritone, traditionally called Diabolus in Musica, may please the devil, as well as those whose wills are inclined towards evil.  Debussy wrote: “People don’t like beauty because it’s a nuisance and doesn’t accommodate itself to their nasty little souls.” (in a letter to Pierre Louys, February 6, 1900; from Faulkner, 176).  My strategy in this performance theme is to modulate and/or reharmonize music based on musical structures that give prominence to the tritone, resulting in an exorcism of what is traditionally called the devil's interval.

Dark Classical and Heavy Metal Music

Western classical music is often perceived as the apex of musical expression.  However, this musical tradition has its dark side.  For example, Crystal Kirgiss notes, "Paganini was con-[16]vinced that he wrote his violin concertos with help from the devil." (Classical Music, 16-18)  However, after describing Paganini as “an enormously romantic figure,” violinist Yehudi Menuhin states: “Music is a measure of the powers that inhabit us, be they beatific or demonic, and which we try to keep in balance and to which sometimes we yield….A musician is by nature someone who has lived and sinned, someone who remembers his feelings, his weaknesses, so that the contrition he feels and the touch of nostalgia and remorse become part of the very music he is playing and that is why it will move an audience whose frailties the musician shares.” (Compleat Violinist, 38)  Tartini's violin sonata The Devil's Trill is based on a dream in which the devil plays for the violinist.  

This dark side of classical music has inspired heavy metal musicians.  Thus rock producer Bob Ezrin acknowledges: "Most of the pracitioners [of heavy metal] were fans of dark classical music, like Wagner."  For example, Gustav Holst’s orchestral work Mars inspired the introduction to Diamond Head’s song Am I Evil, which begins with a bolero-like repetition of an E power chord (E with its perfect fifth and no third) played against a melody of E, B, Bb, F, E – in numbers, 1, 5, b5, b9, 8=1; this melodic riff frames the two notes of a tritone, 1 and b5, as 5 and b9 are passing tones.  The chorus lyrics are: “ Am I evil?  Yes I am.  Am I evil?  I am man.”  By modulating the b5 to 4 and the b9 to 9 the chorus might also modulate, perhaps to "Am I righteous?  Yes I am.  Am I righteous?  I'm reborn."  When the song has ended audiences may be moved to applaud, signifying their approval of these modulations.  

Daniel J. Levitin: “Interestingly, if we divide the octave precisely in half, the interval we end up with is called a tritone and most people find it the most disagreeable interval possible.  Part of the reason for this may be related to the fact that the tritone does not come from a simple integer ratio, its ratio being 43:32.  We can look at consonance from an integer ration perspective.  A ratio of 3:1 is a simple integer ratio, and that defines two octaves.  A ratio of 3:2 is also a simple integer ratio, and that defines the interval of a perfect fifth.  This is the distance between, for example, C and the G above it.  The distance from that G to the C above it forms an interval of a perfect fourth, and its frequency ratio is 4:3.” (This is Your Brain on Music, 72)

Four Stages of an Exorcism

Scott Peck lists four stages of an exorcism: “Pretense, Presence, Clash, and Expulsion.” (Glimpses of the Devil, 111)  Peck: “the presence of the demonic can be felt before an exorcism.” (111)  “The full reality of the demonic Presence is….hidden behind the Pretense,” making it uncertain whether it is the possessed patient “or the demonic speaking.” ([see People of the Lie] 112)  Peck: “during the process of exorcism…the Pretense is completely shattered and the demonic Presence is fully exposed….the exorcist’s first task in an exorcism is to break down the Pretense….this is often the most difficult and time-consuming stage of an exorcism” (112) 

The exorcist refuses to listen to the “gibberish” of the possessed, but instead insists on speaking “only with demons on the one hand, or” the patient in their right mind and in a “healthy” state. (110)  The exorcist refuses “to speak with some confused mixture of the two.” (172)  Peck believes that this approach is “the key to the success of [an] exorcism, specifically because it initiates [a] separation process, thereby unlocking the other-wise unopenable gate of [the patient’s] Pretense and revealing the demonic presence.” (110) 

Peck: “The moment when the Pretense is finally penetrated is what [Jesuit writer] Malachi [Martin] called Break Point.” (112)  The Pretense is “shattered the moment” the demon appears, removing “any uncertainty about the Presence of the demonic.” (112)  Peck: “the most striking feature of the Presence is its inhuman nature.  When the Pretense is penetrated so that the Presence is revealed, everyone feels the unmistakable presence of something inhuman in the room….we were in the presence of the inhuman and the sub-human.” (176) 

Peck describes how a possessed person’s “face became like that of a snake….The face was one of pure reptilian torpor….[a] monstrous snub-nosed snake with hooded eyes.” (173, 174, 175)  This person later assumed “the face of some amphibian creature….like that of a newt…a Gollum-like creature….it seemed like the most primitive creature I had ever seen.” (225)  Later still the “face appeared to be that of a very dry, thick-skinned, lizardlike creature – possibly an iguana.  Definitely a reptile.” (225)  Bluesman J.B. Lenoir's father saw the devil "with a bukka tail and a shape like a bull.” (Blues and Evil, 30)

Peck “came to the conclusion that demons were powerless without human bodies – that they could speak evil only through human tongues.  Were they to be cast out, they would be…utter[ly] impoten[t].” (181)  Similarly, demons can only play evil music through human musicians.  The Clash refers to “a clash of wills between the demonic and the exorcist.” (112)  Peck believes “this to be a feature of every exorcism.” (112)  The demonic wills to remain in the patient, whereas the exorcist wills to cast it out.   

Peck: “[T]he stage of Expulsion…occurs at the conclusion of every successful exorcism….it is ultimately the free will of the patient that chooses to expel the demonic….the most the exorcist can do is assist – perhaps even enlist – the patient in exercising his or her free will by choosing to sever relations with the demonic completely.  It may be a very brief moment…or a prolonged period…but the moment that choice is made is the moment of Expulsion.” (113) 

According to Malachi Martin, “one basic note of possession is confusion….Confusion, it would seem, is a prime weapon of evil.” (Hostage to the Devil, 25)  Peck: “As Malachi repeatedly wrote, ‘The exorcist should act only under the authority of Christ, making Christ the center of all that he says or does.’” (Glimpses, 185)  Peck mentions “one of the most important things the public needs to know about possession.  Possessed people are not evil.” (98)  They are victims “of a demonic lie.” (100)  Peck: “The demonic is evil.” (100)  Possessed people are in a “state of internal conflict,” and those who consider their “possession to be ego-alien” (98, 99) are “waging a heroic war against evil.” (99) 

Peck describes a possessed person who “had close to superhuman strength and fought against us with amazing violence.“ (173)  In 2005 percussionist Babatunde Olatunji related a similar experience: “In Richmond, Virginia, last year when we performed there, one of the dancers from another dance company that performed with us got possessed in the middle of her solo.  They had to carry her out and it took an hour to revive her.  She just wanted to continue dancing, didn’t want to stop.  She had so much energy we actually had to hold her down.  It took about four to six men.  She became very powerful.  No matter how strong you are, you cannot handle a person who gets possessed like that by yourself.  You have to have at least two people if you don’t want to hurt them, or yourself, because if you hold them by the hands they will kick.  They will shout, ‘Get away from me!’  You need more than one person, two or three, to hold them.  That strength comes from somewhere.  We are trying to find out more about that.” (The Beat of My Drum, 34-35) 

Wallace Fowlie: “[French author André] Gide has written that we serve the devil best by believing he does not exist.” (A Guide to Contemporary French Literature, 180)  Martin: “No one wants to believe in evil, really, above all, not in an evil being, an evil spirit.  Everyone wants to abolish the idea.  To admit the existence of evil means a responsibility, and no one wants that responsibility.” (Hostage, 389)  Near the beginning of his book Peck states, “I did not believe in the devil….it occurred to me that if I could see but one case of genuine demonic possession, it might change my mind.” (Glimpses, 2)  Towards the end of his book Peck states that he had “succeeded…in answering…major” questions.  Those answers are: 

1.“Yes, the devil or a demonic world does exist.

2.  The phenomenon of demonic possessions of human indiviuals also does exist, and offers prima facie evidence for number 1.” (247)

Martin: “’The one infallible sign of the success of an exorcism…is that the victim…becomes obviously more humble.’” (Hostage, 86)  Peck: “In becoming possessed the victim must, at least in some way, cooperate with or sell out to the devil.” (Glimpses, 247)

Peck: “An exorcism is a massive therapeutic intervention to liberate, teach, and support the victim to choose to reject the devil.” (Hostage, 248)  Peck: “There are only two states of being: submission to God and goodness or the refusal to submit to anything beyond one’s own will – which refusal automatically enslaves one to the forces of evil.  We must ultimately belong either to God or the devil…  This paradox was, of course, expressed by Christ when he said, 'Whosoever will save his life shall lose it.  And whosoever shall lose his life, for my sake, shall find it.'....As C.S. Lewis put it, ‘There is no neutral ground in the universe: every square inch, every split second is claimed by God and counterclaimed by Satan.’ [Christian Reflections, 33]….[83] we must choose.  One enslavement or the other.” (People of the Lie, 83-4)

Aldous Huxley: “To be more against the devil than for God is exceedingly dangerous.  Every crusader is apt to go mad.  He is haunted by the wickedness which he attributes to his enemies; it becomes in some sort a part of him.” (The Devils of Loudon, 260)  Peck: “Evil can be conquered only by love.” (Lie, 267)  Peck: “The healing of evil…can be accomplished only by the love of individuals.  A willing sacrifice is required.  The individual healer must allow his or her own soul to become the battleground.  He or she must sacrificially absorb the evil.” (Lie, 269)  

The Symbolism of the Cross

Martin: “The inferiority of the preternatural power of evil spirits compared to the supernatural power of Jesus is clear and definite in many of its effects.  There is an opaqueness that impedes and even stops Evil Spirit – its ability to act and its ability to know – everywhere that Jesus and his supernatural power extend, where the choice has been for Jesus and where the supernatural reigns, where the supernatural invests objects, places, and people.

The power of symbols of the supernatural (a crucifix, for example) to protect good and repel or control evil is such an effect.  Objects used in and closely associated with worship…, are protected in their essence from the freewheeling activity of Evil Spirit.” (Hostage, 424) 

During an exorcism “The exorcist…invokes divine protection on himself and on the possessed by making the Sign of the Cross” (The Roman Ritual Of Exorcism; from Hostage, 464); he says the following in accents filled with confidence and faith: "See the cross of the Lord; begone, you hostile powers!"  Stringed instruments were traditionally regarded as analogous to the cross; therefore, this command could be declared by a guitarist exorcising the devil's interval.

Evil spirits flee the sign of the cross, and yet the cross in both the cycle of fifths and the chromatic scale cycle outlines a diminished chord, with a tritone from top to bottom and from left to right.  Stanley Crouch describes the words of Jesus on the cross - ‘Father, why hast Thou forsaken me?’ - as “perhaps the greatest blues line of all time.” (The All-American Skin Game, 44)  "he that is hanged is accursed of God." (Dt. 21:23)  "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree” (Gal. 3:13)  The analogous relation of the crucifix to the quadrants of musical cycles is a mystery that invites further contemplation.

crucifix   red drops by alakdan83 peter cycle scalecycle

Jesus on the cross establishes a hierarchy, with his head at the top and his feet at the bottom.  The upside-down crucifixion of Peter reverses this hierarchy.  In contrast, the musical cycles can be inverted.  For example, if one is playing music in the key of F#, then F# would be on top of the cycle and C at the bottom.  The crucifixion is followed by resurrection to rejoin the Trinity.  The dynamic of crucifixion and resurrection is manifest in a perfect cadence, which resolves a dominant seventh chord to a tonic triad.  It may be that the tritone embedded in a dominant seventh chord pleases evil ears, but as Jesus became cursed on the cross (symbolized by the crown of thorns, recalling the curse of Adam, who would till thorny soil), so the inadequacy of a dominant seventh chord is revealed in a perfect cadence.  As Jesus is God-forsaken on the cross, so the dominant seventh chord is forsaken of the keynote of the triad that this chord inevitably resolves to in a perfect cadence.

Make your special occasion a more memorable event with a musical exorcism.  Rejoice as Colin modulates sonic evil and applaud as he reharmonizes discordant classics.  Robert Schumann: “if you want to judge a public, observe what it applauds.” (On Music and Musicians, 45)