Dreww is so invested in a weird thing he likes doing that he wants to teach other people to do it and create a shared system for doing it and therefore has made his own thread for it rather than posting it in the Weird Things You Like Doing thread.
DREWW!!! YOU ARE ALWAYS SAYING YOU GAVE THIS OR THAT ALBUM A "SERIOUS CLOSE LISTEN"! WHAT THE HELL DO YOU MEAN BY THAT?! DO YOU THINK YOU ARE BETTER THAN US BECAUSE YOU DO THIS ALL THE TIME? WHAT EXACTLY DOES THAT EVEN MEAN? DO YOU WANT TO BE THE KING OF HEARING MUSIC?!
The truth is it's all probably both way crazier and way less crazy than what you imagined I think a "serious listen" entails. A few years ago someone asked me about my technique with doing this sort of stuff, but I really didn't have a set system. Over the past 20 days I think I've finally perfected something that can repeatedly work, after years of research and casual experimentation.
Something I've been vocally interested in for some time now, with posts scattered and buried in various threads all over the forum, is the mind's capacity for creating visual landscapes from musical input. In other words, choosing some of your favorite music, and then going into your mind and having a new spectacular music video/Broadway extravaganza in there accompanying your music, each time you listen to it with a particular method. Only better than a music video, because even tiny visual details can be tied to the nuances of the music, and better than an iTunes visualization, because of much more detailed and specific images.
Some of you have your own techniques for doing this already. And I want to make clear, just because I'm making a big post about the details of how I do it, doesn't mean I'm proposing it as the correct way. I'm more interested in discussion, and I'm just providing my theory/technique for those who don't do this, but want to.
Basically, when I say I gave an album a "serious listen," chances are I was listening to it in this sort of way. This is something most of us know about from nodding off while listening to headphones. It wasn't until three years ago though, when I was incredibly high and listening to music, that I realized just how powerful these imaginative spaces could be. Achieving incredible visualizations from music with my eyes closed quickly became the driving force behind my relationship with that drug (which is now permanently ended due to terrible side-effects). However, rejecting weed didn't seem to me a very good reason to give up on this aspect of experience, since it's so pleasurable and by its very nature encourages an intimacy with and attention to music that is uncommon in today's culture, but is accessible to anyone with ears, music, patience, and discipline.
The current state of music culture in the West is in some ways the best that it's ever been in terms of availability, but a lot of the technology we rely upon and the habitual practices of casually listening to music that we all develop paradoxically often keep us a few steps removed from all the potential power of certain types of music. Since I've been sober I've experimented with different ways of achieving states where powerful visuals (and potentially even smells and feelings) are reliably and intensely provoked by music without recourse to chemical assistance.
I'm still not an expert on this, and there is woefully little information about it on the internet, so I thought I'd start a thread about it on here to track and share my experiences/experiments in this sort of thing, in the hopes that some of you might want to join in and try this stuff too, reporting on what mental techniques work for you and which don't, what music lends itself to this kind of listening and what doesn't, and so on.
What I don't want to suggest is that this is the only serious or valid or interesting or important use of music. The fact that I can't find hardly anyone on the internet talking about it other than the only slightly related phenomenon of New Agers listening to lame-ass guided meditation tapes shows that it's not some essential core practice of music listening that needs to be returned to. A lot of music is just as profound as any of the music I'll be talking about in this thread, but its importance is more apparent in a social setting, or maybe it's music that works best during a morning commute, or at a concert, or when half-listened to while browsing forums. The point of this is not to denigrate or devalue any of these other uses of music, which I think are valid, but to explore the possibilities of this way.
I've been fooling around with a lot of techniques for awhile now, but only since around the beginning of this year have I found a combination of behaviors and mental techniques which consistently produce the desired state with dependable intensity. If I am especially disciplined I can achieve visuals almost as powerful as I could with chemicals, except without side effects along the lines of bad memory, paranoia, etc. There is also the benefit these techniques have of allowing you to enter an altered state for the sake of visualizing music, but then being able to "turn off" the altered state on command fairly quickly in a way you can't really do with drugs.
The first thing I should say is that if you are incredibly committed to your own view of how reality works and are not willing to suspend all those beliefs temporarily for the sake of fun, or are frightened of suspending them, this isn't for you. Definitely not using my particular techniques. I would say this is especially the case if you are committed to the metaphysics of Christianity or some other religion that warns of the dangers of quieting the mind, or of doing something like chanting. An atheist or an agnostic will be able to dip into this kind of behavior and out of it in an easy way, but the same techniques would create way too much cognitive dissonance for someone who is strongly spooked out by anything that smacks of pagan behavior (in which case you should also probably stop attending rock concerts, but that's a discussion for another time.) A very important aspect of what makes this work for me is that of ritual, which gives it a very religious feeling. Because it's a combination of mental techniques from different religious traditions (hinduism, hermeticism, chaos magic) without a clear hand-me-down metaphysical structure, that can make people a bit nervous, which is understandable. My perspective is, if you've ever so much as smoked pot, you've already done something more inherently consciousness-altering and potentially dangerous than any of this, whether you know it or not. In fact, some of the techniques incorporated here seem to have actually contributed to healing the damage pot did to my brain (see recent studies on meditation and grey matter in the brain). My attempt here is to articulate these techniques in a framework of radical agnosticism, which is where I operate from.
I think maybe the core theoretical principle of this type of behavior is the recognition that this is an engagement of the imagination. It is, essentially, tapping into your mind's ability to be instantaneously creative, to play pretend in unexpected ways on command. I think that, at least in some people, pot naturally encourages this functioning on your brain's part. When stoned, you can find yourself watching a movie and a million crazy batshit theories about what it means layer themselves over the film (usually obscuring the actual film in the process). This same mechanism, of course, when applied to the real world and combined with a state of fear, is probably what creates paranoia and delusion. I think it's also related to what creates great visuals to music when you close your eyes. The question is, how can this state be induced without drugs, in a way that can be shut off for real world purposes and therefore not create paranoia or an overload of misleading magical thinking?
All of that really steers the way I design my particular practice, and it is precisely why, at least for me, silly ritualistic components are necessary. At least in some schools of western esotericism, a lot of the silly and pretentious names of mental techniques, the apparently superfluous superficiality of ritual, are chosen not out of a kind of earnest seriousness which actually believes in angels and spells and gods and so forth. Instead, the silly solemnity of ritual is a mental technique for dividing between the mundane everyday self and the magical, imaginative self. The point is to have your ritual designed in such a way that by performing certain super-serious techniques, you can enter a very serious and charged imaginative state, and from there the automatic creativity of the brain is activated. But because the ritual is so so serious, it also has the potential to be seen as silly. This is good: when it is over and you have had your experience, and you perform the final serious act of your ritual, you can now laugh at how silly the seriousness of it is, and so transition back into a more grounded, materialistic, everyday state of consciousness. For people who have trouble telling the real from the unreal, the ritual/ceremonial aspect of this all is a crucial technique. A prerequisite of this is a kind of disciplined flexibility of belief which is essentially agnostic in a metaphysical sense. You must have one foot firmly planted in a materialistic view of the world, and another foot firmly planted in a magical view of the world. When you are walking around in your day to day life, maybe thinking about doing this sort of thing, you know that you are merely engaging your imagination. But by couching what you do in ritual, going through those ritualistic steps can create a potent temporary belief in the reality not just of your imagination, but of the astral plane, of "communicating" with or "encountering" this album in a spiritual sense, or somesuch thing. And then when it's over, you don't believe it anymore, because obviously it is bullshit.
Simply turning out the lights, lying in bed, closing your eyes, and listening to the music in concentration can produce some visuals. Heck, if I say close your eyes and imagine yourself at the DMV, you probably get some visuals. But I have found that when you treat this with ritualistic seriousness, the results are much more powerful, and the fuzzy "dreaminess" of the imaginative state won't bleed over unnecessarily into your mundane life.
Prerequisite: Meditation - In terms of actual practice--totally divorced from any of the theory or "beliefs" regarding this kind of experience--the foundational techniques of doing this in a powerful way come from the yogic tradition of meditation. Which is not to say that the goal of this is actual meditation proper. Creating a lightshow in your head set to your favorite music is certainly not meditation--maybe the opposite of meditation. But at least for me, becoming comfortable with asana (meditative posture), pranayama (breath control), and dharana (control of your own thought; ability to concentrate on a single imagined object) are prerequisites to really getting good results with this (because when I incorporated them my results skyrocketed). In order to do this well, you need to build up your mental muscles. Getting good at meditative posture allows you to remain still in a position where you will not fall asleep. In combination with that, breath control will relax you and still your mind. Being able to control your own thought and concentrate on a single imagined object (like a dot between your eyebrows, most traditionally) will help you to build up strength against irrelevant thoughts and tangents that will take you away from the music and sap you of the mental energy required to produce visualizations.
Now I'll just describe as simply as I can, the steps I am taking now, why I take them, and possible alternatives if you think my steps aren't suited to you.
1. The first thing I do is decide well ahead of time which album I am going to listen to. Usually at least a day ahead of time. It's good to set a strong intent for what you are going to be doing. Before you get to the actual experience proper, you may want to spend time reading interviews with the artist, studying lyrics, focusing on album art, stuff like that. None of this is truly necessary, but it helps.
2. Have a space that is dedicated to doing this. Theoretically you can do it anywhere, but designating one place for it seems to make it much more potent. If you meditate you may have a designated meditation space, and you can use that space for this. I use the space right in front of my bedroom door. I place a pillow there, and I sit on it in lotus position with my dresser behind me, with the door to my left, with a blank wall straight ahead. Similarly, it is good to have a dedicated time. Nighttime works the best for me, and my current dedicated time is midnight, but you can of course do it whenever. I also find it helpful to turn off the lights, but again, you don't have to. Obviously, within this space you are going to have the button you need to push to get the music to start, once you've done all the preparatory stuff.
[This is where things start to get super silly and ritualistic. Again, the point here is to temporarily slip into True Belief of ridiculous things as an aid to switch-on/switch-off spontaneous creativity, not to actually believe them For Real. Think of the seriousness underpinning ritual belief as a tool of the mind, rather than something that has any connection to metaphysical truth. You are a smart person method-acting as a stupid person for an hour or so.]
3. Because I am on carpeted floor, I like to drag my fingers through the carpet in a circle around the place where I am sitting. This is a way of signalling to yourself that, for these moments, what is going on in this small concentrated space is, temporarily, the center of the universe, in a sense. In addition to, or as a replacement for this, you can visualize a bubble around yourself once you are sitting that is imaginatively protective/limiting.
4. Now for potentially the creepiest and most potentially eye-roll-inducing part of the thing, and one that is optional but which I highly recommend you have some sort of version of which fits with your worldview/disposition. Personally, I choose to perform a "banishing ritual". This is an example of something which has a ponderous/embarrassing name for the sake of seriousness and energetic creation within ritual, but that same ponderous/embarrassing name is also for the sake of silliness and snapping back into reality when exiting ritual. In some magic traditions, these were thought to clear the "psychic space" of negative energy or psychic interference or evil spirits or crap like that. Personally, even when I am performing a ritual, I do not actually believe in any of this because it seems to create an unnecessary and maybe harmful superstitious quality to the what you are doing, which basically boils down to a kind of light hypnotism. For me, I have simply found that the power of moving my hands in a certain way, and especially vibrating certain vowels for ten seconds, really gets me into an "otherworldly," imaginative frame of mind. I think it's crucial to provoking the creative energy that feeds into your visuals. I do an extremely simplified version of the IAO banishing which is as follows:
-I hold my hands together and lift them pointing straight above me and vibrate "eeeee" for ten seconds (traditionally this represents growth, Isis).
-Then I hold out my hands, palms facing the front of my chest, with fingers touching, and vibrate "aaaaah" for ten seconds (traditionally this represents destruction, Apophis).
-Then I cup my hands in front of my stomach and deeply vibrate "oooooh" for ten seconds (traditionally this represents rebirth, Osiris). For the rebirth section, I like to imagine an invisible smoke of creative rebirthing energy floating up from a blue flame in my hand and filling the circle/bubble--something that is completely my creation.
But really, just the act of holding these silly postures and vibrating these silly vowels with their silly mythological connotations in mind, and actually believing (within the ritual space) that they have some significance, should get you into at least a lightly different state. Again, you don't have to do a banishing ritual, and you certainly don't have to do this one. If it makes you feel more comfortable, you could probably just as effectively create your own spooky-dookie ritual out of nonsense, so long as you are actually intoning weird syllables (using your voice seems to be a crucial part of tricking your mind into a creative state), and the tone and manner in which you performed it allowed both for entering-ritual seriousness and exiting-ritual self-mockery. Remember this is all a form of tricking yourself, or acting to yourself, in a controlled way to stimulate creativity.
To get an idea from a different discipline of something similar, and a general idea of dipping into seriousness in a silly but effective way, watch this short clip of Nicolas Cage talking about how he prepares for acting roles:
It's a perfect example of using silly ritualistic elements to trigger useful mind-states, which, because they are based in ritual, are also easily snapped out of and not taken seriously. The true danger would be to believe that you actually are a shaman (in Cage's case), or actually have tapped into an astral plane that we all share with musical form (in our case), and then carry this belief into your daily life. Don't do that. As soon as you believe that you are special or have special powers that no one else has access to, you've crossed the line and you need a reality check. Ritual is a way of creating a separation between plunging into the crazy depths of your mind and emerging from it into stark mundane reality.
5. This is where I choose to meditate, and this is another area where you can alter things as you see fit. As I've mentioned before, my techniques are cribbed from yogic meditation and I find them to be particularly suited to this sort of thing.
-The first step, which should already be accomplished, is being in a meditative posture. Just a basic cross-legged whatever is fine. It's better to put your butt on a pillow than directly on the ground. Keep your back straight. If you aren't used to meditation, at first this may hurt your lower back, but eventually you will get used to it and you won't even be aware of your body while delving into your mind. The idea is to be in a position that will be as comfortable in the long term as possible while also being very difficult to fall asleep in.
-At this point close your eyes and begin breath control. The idea is to breathe in, hold, breathe out, and wait for equal lengths of time with the breath. Right now I do each for roughly four seconds, 4-4-4-4. At first you will be counting, but eventually it should sort of become automatic. Soon, you will start to feel a pretty deep relaxation.
-While doing breath control, you should already start trying to focus all your concentration and energy on say, an imagined dot between your eyebrows, or an imagined red triangle in front of you, or some other image which will function as meaningless for you. Focus on it and visualize it while ignoring all other thoughts. And other thoughts will come. Every now and then, one of the thoughts will take control of your mind and you will have lost your visualization. Don't get mad at yourself for this, just gently push the thought away and return to the image being visualized. I have found it is helpful to sort of think of these thoughts popping up as scenes passing by on either side of a fast moving train, the center of which is your attention, which is all being focused directly on the image you are visualizing. And when you think you have reached the point where you are really calm, where you have a fair amount of control over your thought, that's when you stop visualizing the symbol, and transition to playing the music. But before getting into that, a quick tip. You might make the mistake of thinking that if you just keep sitting there, visualizing the symbol, the thoughts will eventually come to a complete, perfect standstill and it will be just you and the visualized image. Unfortunately, for newbies to meditation (and this includes me) this is rare. What is more common for newbies is that the thoughts come in stages. At first your mind will be distracted with petty thoughts that are fairly easy to push away. Then you will gain some degree of control over your mind where the thoughts just barely pass by. At the newbie stage, this is the point to transition to music. If you progress too far past this stage, what often happens is that the mind starts coming up with even more complicated thoughts to distract you, which are harder to ignore. In actual meditation, you want to learn to overcome those thoughts too. But for the purposes of this activity, you just want to get to a level of control over your own mind that you can handle, and then transition to music. Learning to identify that sweet spot of control over your mind, and eventually being able to progress to a higher stages in it through daily meditation, is one of the fun parts about this. The process of meditation itself isn't always fun, but for the sake of this process, this particular aspect of it can have a fun video-game like aspect to it. (Note: if just doing meditation for a short amount of time produces powerful visuals or audio hallucinations, or you just naturally get them anyway, then it's not a good idea to be making as big ritualistic a to-do over all this stuff as I do. If your mind is already that wildly creative, you are probably in the "just turn out the lights and close my eyes" crowd).
6. Okay, so you are in a stable posture, your breath is stabilized, and you have some degree of control over your thoughts. You are ready to transition to playing the music. You could just hit play. If you are not doing this in the dark, you could glance at the album cover. If you have an iPod, you can look over the title, the album art, and the tracklist real quick. If you want to really clarify your intent to yourself while you are in this spooky-dooky magical state, it can be helpful to say something like "It is my intent to have an intense encounter with *Name of Album*". If you are superstitious and afraid of dabbling around with these extreme states, you can even say something like "It is my intent to have an intense but safe encounter with *Name of Album*". I like to do things like this, but eventually, you just have to hit play, close your eyes again, and start seeing (and maybe smelling and feeling!) the music.
7. Now you're listening to the music. Try to visualize the shapes and colors of sounds. If there are lyrics, visualize what they describe. The music is the input and your unconscious mind is a factory producing images, but you can guide it gently with your intent. Try not to get lost in interpreting the meaning of the lyrics. That's something better done outside of this setting, and then when you can bring that information in with you into the ritual and it can inform your images. If you think too much about decoding meanings in lyrics within the ritual, you can lose touch with the details of the music, and since the details of the music are the primary driver of the visualizations, you won't have as great an experience. But really, you can visualize anything you want. Sometimes you can visualize a band playing. Or maybe a band playing, with colorful shapes coming out in streams from their instruments. Or maybe just colorful shapes in streams that are tied to the music. Or maybe you're listening to something where it's just dense walls of shifting textures and patterns. Or maybe you're watching a Looney Tune set to punk rock. Or maybe you're watching an opera soundtracked to your favorite black metal album. Or gazing at some Busby Berkley choreography to Le Sacre du Printemps. You can let your mind take total control, or you can guide the visualization. Just have fun with your imagination. If you can think it you can see it. The more you do this, the better you get at meditation, the better you get at concentrated visualization, the better this part of the journey will be.
8. Now the album is over. I like to spend a few moments in the still of the darkness. In the case that maybe while you were deep in the depths of your imagination you came across some particularly interesting ideas or images or juxtapositions, you may want to write them down. In my experience these things are like dreams--they can be incredibly potent while you are experiencing them, but after a few minutes they disappear from memory. If this aspect of doing this stuff appeals to you, you may want to keep a journal and pen in your space for doing this so you can write it down as soon as it's all over.
9. After writing down what I encountered, if I write anything, I do the banishing ritual again, very seriously. But this time, at the end of the banishing ritual, I start laughing at it/myself. Maybe not audibly (though it can't hurt), but at least in my mind, I start making fun of myself for performing such silly rituals, for taking make believe to these extravagant lengths. Because you've just likely spent an hour totally in your head, it can be good to kind of quickly give yourself light slaps all over your body, to really remind yourself of your physical presence and of the basic materiality of your existence. It is crucial that you redirect your consciousness into physicality. Especially if you've had a particularly powerful experience, you want to come back down to earth. You don't want all those mechanisms you activated through ritual and trance still running in the background as you go about your day. Do something to get thoroughly "back in your body" metaphorically speaking. A shower is always good.
So, that's the core theory and the core technique as I operate now. My thoughts and actions re: this behavior are not completely end-stopped. I'm still researching more stuff in the western esoteric tradition, yogic meditation, psychonautic experiments, and blog posts of people who claim to "astral travel" as possible ways of informing my technique and theory for all this stuff. I hope that some of you are not too freaked out by it, and maybe give some of it a shot sometime. If you have any information on ways to improve the theory or practice I have laid out, please suggest things. If you think any of it is particularly dangerous, for whatever reason, I'd be interested to know about that too. But I'm most interested to know about the experiences of people who actually decide to start doing this stuff, if they haven't already started their own version of it. What albums do you use? Or do you use playlists? Which examples of music are suited to this method of listening? Which are not?
Right now, my favorite album to do this to is Loud City Song. It has a lot of rich instrumentation, has a very "airy" atmosphere, but is also conceptually interesting, and is both musically and thematically a journey from a high, detached state (first track: "Heaven") down into the chaos and particularity of material reality (final track: "City Appearing"). Which basically makes it structurally perfect for this particular practice!
I will say though that since I do this at night, albums which are overly distressed and evil sounding don't particularly work well for me. Maybe somebody can successfully do this with Swans or that Scott Walker/Sunn O))) collab, but not me. Remember that by performing these techniques, you are sensitizing yourself to a particular input. If the input is enough to freak you out in your regular state of mind, chances are it will be terrifying in this state.
Anyway, I hope somebody gets something out of all this! I've been working on it for a while, and thought about not posting it since I'm more than a little embarrassed about it, but more than that I'm interested to see if others can get the same results from my theory and methods (or better results from tweaking mine).
Yeah, it's all in your mind. But your mind can do a lot!
I also think I might print this off and hang it around my listening station along with my band posters, pictures of sea stuff (light houses, the beach, sail boats, whales, etc - they're really cool because they are shaped like the round windows in ships), pictures of my home town, lyrics/poetry I scribble on my walls and this weird picture I have where I did shrooms and tried to draw Baudelaire's self portrait. I need some stuff to fill up the blank spaces on my wall and if I put this in courier new it looks really neat.
Well, there is definitely music which isn't as good with an intensely focused listen, but is amazing from a more casually focused listen. And a lot of things which are amazing when you listen to them this way are boring when you listen to them in a casual way. It's more about giving you another tool for listening to music than necessarily coming to an end-all-be-all judgement about how good the music is, or whether it "withstands scrutiny" or something like that.
Like when I'm driving somewhere, St. Vincent's self-titled is amazing. But if I'm just browsing the web it's just average, and if I listen to it like this it's very good, but doesn't blow me away.
I think one of the most important things here is the posture. I've had partial experiences like this before, but never a full album because I always did them in a comfortable position in which I ended up falling asleep.
I did a baby version of this this morning (with Loud City Song) and didn't, precisely because I sat in a posture like the one recommended.
For this particularly elaborate method I have almost always listened to albums I have heard in a normal state first. Last night I attempted the new Bjork album this way (before giving up due to bad audio quality) but that's definitely an exception. There are lots of albums over the years where I would close my eyes and try to visualize things the first time I played them, but that was without any ritual or meditation or anything like that.
Joined: Thu Mar 03, 2011 4:36 pm Posts: 535 Location: Lake of Fire
So, what you are trying to do is get the same type of experience while listening to music as if you were high, only now, without getting high.
Dark Side of the Moon used to reveal the most colorful, vivid, fantastic images pulsing to the music that I have ever had while high. All with my eyes closed. That's why it is my favorite album.
What I have found is that listening while high, teaches you to get the same thing out of the music sonically when listening not high. I still get high for the images. Lately, I would describe my listening as "dissolving in the music".
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