The Secret Power of Music: The Transformation of Self and Society through Musical Energy


This study of the hidden side of music and its subtle effects is one of the most detailed books ever written on the subject.



By David Gottner on June 18, 2000

The intention of this book is in the right place. It’s a wake-up call to society on the destructive effects of modern music, and conversely, the healing power of the more traditional forms.

The author discusses 20TH Century classical music (the “New Music”), jazz & rock, Indian, and Chinese music, and discusses the physiological effects of music. His discussion about Chinese and Indian music is fascinating, and he seems fairly objective here (not in being strictly factual (he includes the oriental theories and myths in the material), but rather that he is able to discuss this music without passing esthetic judgement.)

His discussion of the “New Music” and Rock/Jazz is much too one-sided. I totally agree with him that early jazz (the blues) and rock are particulary destructive (stand back and examine the lyrics to most songs… I rest my case.) I would also agree with the author that the atonality of most 20TH century “classical” music, not being rooted in the physics of the harmonic series, is also very destructive. (As he points out, this music is so universally disliked that in practice it’s not so destructive — because few people listen to it.)

However, there are several inaccuracies in his critique of 20TH century art forms, and he argues his case with the fanaticism ……… that I find most unattractive. He is also quite fond of circular reasoning.

As one example, he criticizes composer Steve Reich for having imitated the rythmns of african drumming in his music, claiming that Reich is somehow re-enacting barbaric voodoo rituals in his music. Yes, it’s true that Reich’s inspiration comes his study of African drumming, but to claim that Reich is consciously (or unconsciously for that matter) attempting to create music suitable for voodoo is absolutely ridiculus. (For one thing, drumming is part of all African ritual, both voodoo and more constructive uses.) In his section on rock, he compares the incessant drumbeat to a shaman’s ritual, and notes that rock drummers can sometimes move into a trance state during their performances. Yet, that’s the whole point of shamanic drumming (the trance), and that’s part of the healing, not the destructive, power of the drum.

He spends a page deriding Wendy Carlos’ “Switched on Bach” recordings, yet for that whole page, he never really explained what made them bad, except that they were synthesized (so that makes them bad?) and that they made a lot of money. His scathing criticisms about the use of computers to compose or teach music are really unfair and miss the point entirely. Computer composition in the 70’s were really about AI experimentation – I’m sure nobody thought that computers would actually compete with a human composer!

His main complaint about Jazz is it’s over-sesuality. I would agree with him here, after re-listening to some of my (instrumental) jazz recordings. Yet so is the Isolde Liebestod from Wagner’s “Tristan and Isolde”, yet he holds Wagner’s music in high esteem. (as well he should 🙂 For some people, sensuous jazz would be healing. For others it is unbalancing. Yet the author seems unable or unwilling to provide a more moderate view of music.


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