To start with: there are very, very few books that deal with this subject-matter. So finding literature about the music linked to the unspeakable, mysterious, secret and hidden (hence: lat. occultus) is interesting enough.

occult arts music coverBut David Huckvale is not a novice when it comes to exotic topics, he is a writer and journalist who has already published a number of books on horror movies, soundtracks, mysticism, ancient Egypt and the British Hammer studios.

Even though there are some titles dealing with subliminal messages in music, this constriction to esoteric interpretations of music is original.

For it may not surprise anybody that there are strong theoretical, ethical and even theosophical analogies in occultism and literature, but the idea of uncovering similarities between occultism and music is rather fresh. For it took the advent of cinema and film production in general to have the “science” of occultism and the art of music combined.

Only now could experience, meaning, inexplicable action and mysterious development be accompanied appropriately, mainly in horror and science fiction productions.

Thus, occult and mysterious phenomena were tied to experimental noise, spherical sound collages but just as often to classical music, hitherto not linked to the hidden or supernatural at all.

This involvement of two former theories of notions is one of the key aspects of the enormous flexibility of the very expression “occultism” thus being connected to both “art, …science, …the supernatural, … theosophy, anthroposophy, Rosicrucianism, and even the spurious racial theories of Nazism.” Why then, should there not be a strong connection to music, e.g. the emotional essence of music?

Huckvale shows in detail the workings of such collaboration in movies such as The Omen, The Mephisto Waltz, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Exorcist and other titles. There, as in films of other genres, music is employed to set atmosphere, but also to announce the presence of certain forces, notwithstanding deceased persons (who are represented by a musical theme), a guilty conscience, or a theme that may occur and reoccur to introduce a fantasy, an idea, unspeakable horror, inexplicable circumstance or satan.
This makes sense, when we learn later in the book that music for centuries was more or less always required to reach a different state of mind, be it ecstasy, intense worship, or a byproduct of fervor to set the ambiance; not to mention music in Christian masses.

Huckvale then picks up on  a number of mythical theories on the universal nature of music, its (forced) relatedness to arithmetic and a higher order of art, spirit, wholeness of both good and evil origin.
Naturally, composers pick up this relatedness, be it Carl Maria von Weber, Wagner, Holst, Berlioz and Mozart; and later on soundtrack composers such as Franz Waxman, Jerry Goldsmith and John Williams.

The final chapter on Sgt. Pepper, Charles Manson, The Summer of Love, occultism as possible part of the Monterey Pop Festival and other huge gatherings (entitled: Satan Rocks) may be the most interesting for students of popular music today. Nevertheless, fans of soundtracks, movie composers and the horror movie genre will be delighted by many references to themes, topics, scenes and allusions to films.

Review by Dr. A. Ebert (c) 2014

David Huckvale. The Occult Arts of Music: An Esoteric Survey from Pythagoras to Pop Culture. McFarland, 2013, 217 p.