“In the pure pursuit of its own formal law it [chamber music] critically honed itself against the activities of the music market and against the society they complied with”.
– Theodor Adorno, Introduction to the Sociology of Music
Musical happenings can be exhilarating in how they too contort reality. Once that threshold is passed from the public sphere to this private sphere, things start to change.
The house DJ of The Paradise Garage, a famous discotheque in New York City from ’77 to ’87, was Larry Levan. While Levan was around, The Paradise Garage was in full “pursuit of its own formal law”, throwing caution to the wind whilst doing so. Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton reflected on this other world that Levan created at The Paradise Garage in their history of the DJ, Last Night a DJ Saved My Life:
“Levan could drive dancers wild with desire or work them into a fury of frustration, often at the same time…Once (while sitting on a rocking horse), he had the whole club dancing to nothing more than a few of his live keyboard doodles, unaware that the record he was accompanying had finished minutes ago”
“One time Francois Kevorkian, a regular guest DJ there, remembers him putting on a movie instead of music. ‘What are you going to do? There’s two and a half thousand people there and you suddenly play Altered States. That’s the kind of freedom that I think people need to know exists.
Within the power of communal musical experiences, this kind of freedom can exist. We can use this freedom to pursue our “own formal law” within a community. By replacing societal norms within these gatherings, we can offer a different glimpse of how things are, could be, and should be.
Music can take us somewhere else. Yet let us not forget that, within our power, the communal rituality of music can take us to another place entirely.