de-mystifying De Clario.


2:  CLASSIC CODES - music
3:  CLASSIC CODES - colour

Back to the Home Page

'The maestro says it's Mozart but it sounds like bubblegum'

De Clario went to some length, trying to reconcile wave and particle theories of light, in the service of his colour-music-chakra code. At the sixth chakra, located behind the forehead, violet light held sway. Its effective vibrations, atomic in scale, were deemed to reach beyond the spectrum into the ultra-violet realm of the invisible. These wavelengths caused a photoelectric effect, generating electric currents in the surfaces on which they fell. De Clario was not the first to notice strange behaviour at the violet end of the spectrum: Mrs. Mary Somerville, author of "Mechanism of the Heavens", used to amuse the painter Turner in the 1830's, by magnetising needles with purple light. Even earlier, in 1801, Johann Ritter had noticed that silver chloride was blackened when exposed to the high frequency light. (His ‘chemical rays’ extended well beyond the region of visible violet, and were soon dubbed ‘ultra-violet’.) Albert Einstein pondered on the photoelectric effect in 1905, and formulated E=hf-W to express how the energy (E) of liberated electrons increased with the frequency (f) of incident light. Years later, Einstein received a Nobel Prize for his theory, which helped establish the science of quantum mechanics. At this level, where light and colour interact with subatomic particles, the term ‘photon’ is used to quantify their behaviour. The idea of a photon, a thing-that-is-not-a-thing, applies beyond all colour as well. Outside the narrow band of frequencies visible to the human eye, the concept permeates the entire electromagnetic field, from radio waves to gamma rays.

Light affects the human body in complex ways, many of them as yet unclear to science. De Clario held that light, especially violet light, stimulated the body to produce melatonin, “a chemical relevant to pigment cells”. In fact, this hormone is suppressed by external light. Melatonin regulates the biological clock, among other things, tuning our feelings of drowsiness to the disappearance of the sun. In an artificial form, melatonin is prescribed for jet lag. Some would go much further: in one US book, "The Melatonin Miracle", the hormone is promoted as a potential cure for cancer, AIDS, old age, and much more. The resulting faddish use exceeds the consumption of vitamin C. (It was interesting to note that melatonin was part of the drug cocktail fed to Essendon football players, prior to 2013, which saw the players heavily fined and the club banned from competition in the Australian Football League.) The journal "Nature" eventually dismissed claims for the drug as unscientific, and it is now banned for casual use in Britain, as insufficiently tested.

Could colour rather than drugs be the answer? When newborn babies develop hyperbilirubinemia – a condition that turns their skin yellow – they are routinely placed in a bili bed and bathed in blue light. Hey, presto! after a week they are usually cured. No matron I spoke to seemed to know why (and it would be trite to suggest that blue and yellow, being complimentary colours, simply cancelled each other out). But outlandish theories are ever with us; Augustus J Pleasonton advertised a colour therapy using blue light in the 1850s. He was convinced of the colour’s virtue after reading it could magnetize compass needles, and decided that blue light caused an electromagnetic current to course through the body, revitalizing every organ. The resultant craze for all things blue saw many interiors decorated in that colour, windowpanes and spectacles made of blue glass, and popular songs on the subject. Only after “Scientific American” debunked Pleasonton’s theory in 1877, did the fad die down. No doubt there is still room for more crazy ideas. We understand little of how light is linked to our circadian rhythms. A recent edition of "Science" confirmed this, reporting findings from Cornell University's Laboratory of Chronobiology. To the astonishment of experts, the biological clock appears to be advanced or delayed by up to three hours when the skin at the back of the knees is exposed to bright light. Those inclined to do so might presume the UV component excites ‘skin melatonin’, leading to enlightenment. Perhaps they might also like to suppose a couple more chakras at the knees.

Some scientists in Queensland have recently explored the possible effects of lack of light; gloomy skies would cut down UV radiation, resulting in vitamin D deficiencies that can lead to rickets or that could stunt the development of the nervous systems in foetuses and young children. Long-term studies noting the effects of latitude, El Nino, and generally overcast weather have found a statistical correlate in the number of births of schizophrenics. De Clario failed to enlist these observations to support his thesis; likewise, a negative side effect of too much UV light falling on the skin - the production of melanoma - went unnoticed. Undaunted, he praised the salutary effects of UV on melatonin. He presumed a chemistry was provoked by photo-electricity, stimulating melatonin secretion by the pineal gland within the brain (Australians might anticipate a national consciousness-raising with thinning of the ozone layer and increasing levels of UV radiation).

The eventual result was clairvoyance and the ability to see invisible energies. The capacity to conjure up images, such as dreams, is usually associated with the interior of the brain, and many cultures have long held the 'third eye' to be the seat of wisdom and the unsighted vision. Not surprisingly, the coloured hallucinations of synaesthetes, of increasing clinical interest from the 1870s, were likened to the visions of spirit mediums. According to one Theosophist, the highly individual experiences were simply the results of overactive imaginations; with correct occult training in the use of the organ of the pineal gland, synaesthetes would come to agree on the one true form of their hallucinations.

The pineal gland was also central in the theosophy of René Descartes. He described the soul directly moving the gland, to operated 'animal spirits' and produce mechanical changes in the body, in the manner of a hydraulic transmission system. When the flow was reversed, bodily sensations affected the soul. De Clario's notion of the sixth chakra was based directly on the Cartesian model; the hormone melatonin supplied the place of the animal spirits to transmit the sensation of the highest light frequencies direct to the 'visionary' centre in the pineal gland. Though Descartes had quickly been discredited (for one thing he believed, contrary to 43% of Americans, that animals had no pineal and so no soul), De Clario was undeterred in paraphrasing this most dubious work.

Pursuing this mechanical model, De Clario claimed the pineal gland was affected by light "...even when the pathways mediating conscious light perception are severed." Such was the case, we were told, during his piano performances at Heide: concealed from view and shielded from light, he was supposedly blindfolded throughout. The suggestion that each performance was somehow psycho-automatic, seemed intended. Some of the audience saw his playing as a channelling of the influences of the full moon and the mood lighting - in spite of the blindfold, and concealment that shielded him from the direct rays of either. Others claimed themselves to feel the influence of the moon, the music and the coloured lights, directly on their own bodies. And yet others, less subject to synaesthesia, could merely "feel the gentleness", despite the cold and rising river damp in the gardens of Heide.

The idea that colour had a physiological effect gained credence at the end of the 19th century. Chromotherapy, one of many eccentric disciplines that grew out of early experimental psychology, used colour as a treatment in lunatic asylums. Cell walls painted in certain colours, or coloured glass placed in windows, were believed to alter the moods of patients. Blue was said to be calming, red stimulating, and, as De Clario was to claim, their presence felt even when the subjects' eyes were closed. By World War I, colour-cure wards were part of hospitals in London and Sydney, for shell-shock and nerve cases, while Berger marketed a line of paints for therapeutic purposes.

Medical authorities soon frowned on the spurious claims of chromotherapy. After all, they were made by the same mad-doctors who could report straight-faced on patients who, while psychologically blind, read with their ear lobe and smelled through their knees. Scant research, yielding fewer objective results, has since been conducted into the physiological effects of colour. The one detectable response of the body to light is a marginally lower heart rate under violet (high frequency) light than under red (low frequency). Maybe dilation of blood vessels, due to warming of the skin by the relatively hot, blue end of the spectrum, requires the heart to do less work.

Chromotherapy rated a passing mention from Gaugin; typically, Kandinsky gave it more sweeping importance, along with colour synaesthesia, as an example of colour's emotive and spiritual power. In formulating his dynamic conception of colour. Kandinsky resisted the impulse to be over-specify his colour theories, so he was able to adjust his position as the intellectual climate around him changed. Other artists were less cunning: the American architect and designer, E. J. Lind committed himself early to a codified approach to colour. As a student in London, he read George Field's "Chromatography" (1835) and "Chromatics" (1845), recommending the painter followed musicians in matters of harmony. As increasing numbers of cases were reported of synaesthesia triggered by vowel sounds, Lind transposed the Newtonian colour-music code he found in Field to apply it to speech. In "The Music of Color and the Number Seven" of 1900, Lind paraded his bizarre code to visualize a most extraordinary text, as shown below.


Colour-coded speech

"Gentlemen of the Jury! I 'aint a'goin to ask you to give a moment's consideration to the evidence before you It 'aint worth shucks, It don't count, and even if it did, it don't prove as my client were'nt there. No gentlemen, You can't convict even a white man on such evidence much less a nigger."

Sevenness: Sublunar" may seem a harmless, even beneficial diversion, apart from the gratuitous theories propped up by bits and pieces of science. But De Clario retreated into "the dark/invisible world" of the occult, taking some of his audience with him, and such practices sit uneasily with mainstream religions. While some churches adapt their forms of worship to accommodate alternative approaches, orthodox religions remain jealous of their market share. They may have little tolerance for cranky cult practices as they already have their own rituals, and a stock of mystics that includes at least one pianist. The young Mozart had also improvised, while blindfolded, as a parlour trick and the Swiss Protestant Karl Barth built a theology of divine revelation around him in the 1930's. Barth's commentary, like De Clario's, evoked a holistic universe realized through music, by a channelling process:

"It is as though, in a small segment, the whole universe bursts into song because evidently, the man Mozart has apprehended the cosmos and now, functioning only as a medium, brings it into song."

More recently, the electric guitar virtuoso Jimi Hendrix laid claim to a similar source of inspiration:

"I attribute my success to God. It all comes from God.
I go by message. I'm really a messenger from God."

Shortly before his death in 1970, Hendrix was codifying a relationship between colour and music that could trigger a physical response and reversion to positive, natural, childlike states. His interest in a therapeutic use for colour music grew out of the psychedelic era - aware of the overwhelming effect of electrified sound and light on large audiences, Hendrix speculated on more personal applications:

"I'm thinking of the days when people will be able to have this little room, a total audio-visual environment type of thing. So that you can go in there and lay back and the whole thing just blossoms with colour and sound. Like a reflection room. You can just go in and jingle out your nerves. It would be incredible if you could produce music so perfect that it would filter through you like rays, and ultimately cure."
Colour-coded architecture

Illustration 2 :
Seattle, Washington,
Frank Gehry, 2000.

The central form of this building was inspired by the Hendrix song, "Purple Haze"; other parts take their colour codings from guitars - gold for Les Pauls, blue for Fenders - and the red of a roadie's truck.

When one of the founders of Microsoft sought a home for his immense collection of Jimi Hendrix memorabilia, he commissioned a design (above) from the Gehry firm. The building houses exhibitions on science fiction, as well as on local popular music - with an emphasis on Hendrix, a native of Seattle. At its heart is the Sky Church, a sanctuary for rock disciples according to accounts. Huge video screens cover the walls of this towering hall, to immerse visitors in the the Jimi Hendrix experience. Whether the music is perfect, whether the sights and sounds penetrate "like rays, and ultimately cure", I cannot say. But, in some way, Jimi got his dream after all.

In the late sixties, sex, drugs and rock'n'roll were considered gateways to self-realization; the sensory stimulation of Hendrix's audio-visual environment was one means of personal development. Other scenarios were derived from occult traditions - astrology, witchcraft and the like - where the idea that colour and music were formally conjoined was implicit. Zealous practitioners would soon discover the colour-music-chakra code, kept alive in the parallel spiritualist world of Theosophy. The psychedelic experience encouraged mysticism, and a vague spirituality permeated the alternative culture. Oriental philosophies - yoga, Zen and Tibetan Buddhism - were popular, gurus abounded, and writings on eastern religions were widely read. Australians increasingly travelled the overland route to England, taking in India, South-East Asia and enlightenment along the way. Some were eventually corralled into sects (Hari Krishna, Moonies, Orange people), though religiosity was sufficiently pervasive to allow for later, more diffuse developments in the New Age.

"Sevenness: Sublunar" had precedents in ideas popularised during the hippie era. It was a contemporary outdoor equivalent to Hendrix's reflection room of colours and music, sharing both its form and intent and directed at much the same audience. But while the mythologizing of Hendrix has ensured his continuing popularity, and his original audience still consider him a seminal influence, Heide's "Sevenness: Sublunar" relied on a set of rules to ensure its durability. The colour-music-chakra code supplied the theoretical framework for the now middle-aged audience to nail down their sententious views.

In the interpretive realm of psychiatry, soft-core therapies based on colour and music are likely to be tolerated, if not ignored. They may even be condoned for a placebo effect, when coupled with meditation techniques that alleviate stress. Painting and music, as vehicles of self-expression, find a place in broader treatment programs for certain conditions, such as schizophrenia. At a theoretical level, Gestalt psychiatry places great emphasis on visual acuity, and Rudolf Arnheim, in "A Psychology of the Creative Eye" of 1966, applied its principles to painting and music. He concluded that both the palette and the scale are notable for their discords as much as their concordances, and found formal systems of colour or music harmony at best incomplete, telling us next to nothing about a completed work. The doctrines of colour music are of no use - and any bid for inclusion they might make could easily be gazumped by the Jungians.

Since 1916, Carl Jung had been developing his own orientally-inspired model, the mandala, as an instrument of meditation and diagnosis. In Jung's mind, it was the product of deepseated universal rules, and any mandala produced by an individual could yield interpretations that were both personal and collective, historical and timeless. A strict colour code of red, blue, green and gold was applied, and if any one were missing, a psychological imbalance was presumed. Complex interpretations of the colours were given impeccable 17th century credentials, by cross-referencing to alchemy and religious symbolism.

"Sevenness: Sublunar's" promises of well-being seem mere side effects of the main intent of drawing believers closer to spiritual goals, near to those of the established Churches. They have less focus by encompassing a plethora of existing approaches (science for one and eastern mysticism for another were co-opted with little respect for accepted contemporary usage). As an expression of alternative religiosity, "Sevenness: Sublunar" was a weak pastiche of stale traditions and a retreat into simplistic ideas originating from the Hermetic tradition of the Renaissance. Like a parody of antique mystery cults or the introverted practices of early Christians, ritualised ceremonies, like the mass, were held seven times over. In hushed and reverential tones under portentous conditions, a panoply of disassociated items, events and ideas was puffed up as spirituality. Presenting "Sevenness: Sublunar" as some kind of art event, the state-run gallery at Heide allowed De Clario to preach religion: the central creed of colour-music-chakra attempted to supply a connection to the sublime that would otherwise be missed.

Compared to the music of either Hendrix or Mozart, De Clario's performances inevitably came off second-best. In fact, his limited virtuosity suggested he needed more than divine intervention to perform spontaneously for hours in one of the more difficult keys - say, B with its five sharps. I would guess, since the Roland HP keyboard he used could be pitch-adjusted by the turn of a knob, that De Clario pre-set it to the key required each night. He could then simply play on the white notes alone, no matter what key was scheduled for that evening. While concealment made it impossible to verify this, it would certainly explain much of the performance and throw doubts upon his capacity as a medium. My suspicions are in part grounded in the premise that was established by "Sevenness: Sublunar" itself, that the value of the performance resided not in the integrity of the way colour and music were used, nor in the quality of the result, but in the eternal verities of the colour-music-chakra code. Even the originator of the colour-music code, Sir Isaac Newton himself, gave not a fig for music; when woken at the end of one keyboard recital, he could admit, only grudgingly, that man Handel to be clever with his fingers.

Many great musicians have claimed divine guidance. Joseph Haydn once said "Not from me - from there, above, comes everything". Understandable, considering the authority of his musicianship, the age in which he composed, and his modesty when faced with overwhelming acclaim. De Clario attempted to emulate this kind of spirituality, but could not rely on the quality of his playing to transport his audience. In case the hocus-pocus of colour, music and chakra also failed to convince, he formally associated "Sevenness: Sublunar" with Christianity. Timed to start at Easter, the evenings were designed to parallel the Resurrection. Transfiguration was offered as a practical goal - achieved by the "transformation of body into spirit", with an imaginative leap from the visible to the invisible world. Program notes outlined a process of transcendence that had its equivalents in the Christian mystic tradition. But compared to the likes of St. John of the Cross or St. Augustine, whose roads to ecstasy lay through genuine hardships of starvation and even torture, De Clario's path seemed very tame indeed. Even the hardened unbeliever Oscar Wilde, writing from prison in "De Profundis", had placed more emphasis on hardship as a prerequisite to revelation, on sorrow as a necessary part of the creative process:

"Clergymen and people who use phrases without wisdom sometimes talk of suffering as a mystery. It is really a revelation. One discerns things one never discerned before. One approaches the whole of history from a different standpoint. What one had felt dimly, through instinct, about art, is intellectually and emotionally realized with perfect clearness of vision and absolute intensity of apprehension. I see now that sorrow, being the supreme emotion of which man is capable, is at once the type and test of all great art. What the artist is always looking for is the mode of existence in which the soul and body are one and indivisible: in which the outward is expressive of the inward: in which form reveals. Of such modes of existence there are not a few...Music, in which all subject is absorbed in expression and cannot be separated from it, is a complex example, a flower or a child a simple example, of what I mean; but sorrow is the ultimate type in both life and art."

"Sevenness: Sublunar" offered transcendental states without the concomitant agony, and a recipe for revelation in the seven easy steps of the colour-music code. Many Christian theologians would dismiss this soft option out of hand, as individualism gone mad, lacking in social conscience and any broad humanistic framework. De Clario might argue, in turn, for cultural relevance, since yoga, Greek philosophy, science and numerology were all lauded in his scheme. Even so, his credo became decentralised and weak, its authenticity and sincerity diminished, as it stretched to embrace any and every cultural concern.

One alternative goal, the 'perfected excellence' of Hinduism and Buddhism, was a vital inclusion; knowing the Christian church might not approve, De Clario hedged his bets. He arrived at a peculiar compromise to encompass the differing attitudes required by the religious traditions of East and West; while practising a mild, verbal form of the saint's self-flagellation, he adopted the egoless stance expected of the enlightened one. The notes were littered with self-effacing comments, attempting to prove De Clario's credentials:

" eternal beginner, labouring in obscurity, confused in darkness, hidden from view, blindfolded..." and "...these events do not focus on a performer, or a performance, or a performed content."

Enlightenment was equally available as transcendence to those who followed "Sevenness: Sublunar" - and for no extra effort. Again, theologians have tactics to deal with such posturing: De Clario would be chastised for reacting against Christian disciplines that had treated him badly in the past. And he would not be the only sheep to have strayed from the fold. Many of his generation have rejected conventional religions' monopoly over the soul. In this scientific and rational age, that guarantees no spiritual solutions, a broad range of alternative beliefs caters to the individual's quest for personal growth. Until recently, the Sydney comic Anthony Ackroyd was to be counted amongst the self-improvers:

"...ordinary, blue-jeaned, middle Australians looking for that certain something. What is that something? What are millions of us around the globe searching for in books, tapes, seminars, workshops and speaking events? Information to enhance our lifestyles and enrich our experience on this planet? Certainly. This is undoubtably a good thing. But I smell something else in the ether. Something more desperate and deluded. A worrying snake-oil factor that is spinning out of control. It is the promise of salvation. Salvation from the basic rules of human life. This is the neurotic aspect of the human potential movement. This hunger for the get-out-of-the-human-condition-free card. We are the generation who refused to accept the limitations endured by our ancestors. We wanted more and we made damn sure we got it. Now we want it all. We want it easily and we want it yesterday!...The completely valid and tremendously exciting possibilities opened up by the human potential movement are in danger of being distorted by the promotion of a Brave New Age World where we ascend beyond all human limitation. You guys! You are going to suffer sometimes and you will die! Or did Buddha, Moses and Jesus all get it wrong? Maybe it was just their reality."

So what, in the end, is left? As repeated after each evening's performance, De Clario would have us believe "...And then amongst all this, after all, there is You." That is presuming You stayed. And that You survived the journey from the worldly or sublunar plane, through six cosmic stages to the seventh realm of pure white light beyond. As with many other New Age ventures, enlightenment and improved well-being were promised, in the hope of persuading us to paths of righteousness and truth. A traditional colour-music code, the backbone of all its rituals, emerged as a central article of faith. What remained at the end of "Sevenness: Sublunar" were the bare bones of borrowed belief - neoplatonism, western science, oriental yoga.

The intertwining of theology and technology was once a uniquely Western trait. The Chinese didn't do it though they were quite as advanced, developing calculus at the same time as Newton and Leibnitz; Hindus, too, saw no reason to complicate mathematics with religious overtones. But in the West, one end-purpose of science had been to serve the prevailing beliefs - to such an extent that it became almost automatic, arguably influencing the course of research and the results obtained. Like the Pythagoreans, who wed the gods to number, modern scientists look for arrangements that give wholesome sanctity to their theories and apparent legitimacy to their results.

Number-worship, as refined by the Pythagoreans, was applied to the fields of politics and religion by Plato. His mystic progression of Heavenly Spheres was later decorated with colours by the alchemists of Alexandria and eventually absorbed into Gnosticism, that formative stew of Hellenistic, Jewish and proto-Christian beliefs. Later, Judaism, Christianity and Islam actively suppressed their rival sects - still, systems like the Muslim Haft Rang (Seven Colours) persevered, like a fragment of the old beliefs, to inform both Persian poetry and inspire the colour schemes of architectural tiling.

The colour-music code was just one other bastard child of the liaison between number science and religion. When Isaac Newton divided the spectrum into seven to analogize the musical scale, he served a higher religious purpose, too. Similar septenary sequences had been a vital subtext to traditional religion, ever since the astronomers of ancient Sumer created the seven-day week to represent known heavenly bodies (the astrological names remain attached to the days, in modern European languages). The Hebrews also incorporated the seven-day week (and other Mesopotamian creation myths) into the story of Genesis: so the number seven gained sanctity within subsequent monotheistic beliefs.

The classical tradition of colour music was epitomised by Newton's ROYGBIV, made by an analogy based on similar things numbering seven, but now understood as parallel vibrations of light and sound. Modern colour-music-chakra codes, De Clario's included, maintain much of the intent and many of the features of Newton's prototype, though paraded in guises more acceptable to contemporary audiences. They are largely unworkable as systems of colour or music and, despite all claims, have only got what meaning you read into them.