Title: Trance Music and Altered States of Consciousness: An Analysis of Trance & House Music as a Transcendental Force
Author: Jamil Karim
Date: March 31, 2010
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In the article entitled, Trance Music and Altered States of Consciousness: An Analysis of Trance and House Music as a Transcendental Force, author Jamil Karim discusses how trance can be seen as a means of reviving the original conceptions of music, the practice where rhythms were used to alter states of consciousness to bring about spirituality and dissociation (Karim 2010). Through the repetition of the primal drum which was used in ritualistic and shamanistic practices, the link between music and emotive awareness developed, allowing the practitioner’s state of consciousness to be altered. Through the genre of electronica, the early states of altered consciousness can be experienced.
Many forms of house and trance music embody this aspect of altered state induction through the use of a series of repetitive beats and slowly shifting tones. Through this process, the primal intent of vocal melody and percussion (electronically synthesized) have been replicated to achieve this prehistoric sound. (Karim 2010).
The rhythmic bass and drum beats, when combined with other sounds, can bring about a form of temporal or virtual reality. In this form, one can easily “get lost” and clear “all extraneous thoughts and appropriate their full attention”. Bodily functions are also affected by the progressive nature of these tracks (bass and drum), and “by progressing in waves, a song can have both a stimulating and relaxing effect on the listener merely seconds apart. The gradual progression and acceleration of tempo can bring about a hypnotic trance in the listener and distort one’s sense of time. Such an impact can regulate physiological processes and attune one’s heart rate and brain chemistry in a similar fashion” (Karim 2010).
In the evolving vocal technique called vocal stutter, the vocals are seen as an extension of the music, in which only a fragment of a word being sung is sampled and mixed among the track in such a way that it is unfamiliar. In this case, the vocals become merely another instrument in a medley and serve to add to the complexity of the song without engaging one’s faculties of reason to comprehend. The focus on trance/house music is as a sensory perception instead of a rational one [in which the lyrical content plays some goal-political/poetic] (Karim 2010).
An altered state of consciousness is defined as any shift in the normal functioning of psychological consciousness or experience. This shift can occur for a variety of reasons, such as music, drugs, and religion; electronic music can be a medium used to achieve an altered state of perception and a complete dissociation of the mind and body (Karim 2010).
The importance of the study and research of trance music, as suggested by Karim, is to better understand how the theta waves of the brain, most typically associated with levels of sleep, are stimulated. Theta is a state of extreme relaxation in which heavy dreaming occurs, a state which is nearly unattainable in a conscious state. The most known method for obtaining this state is through intense meditation.
Karim, in his closing statement writes, “the power of music on states of consciousness is ultimately entirely subjective. Music is thus a vehicle whereby one can transcend their own reality- to lose themselves in some greater force” (Karim, Jamil, 2010).
“An altered state of consciousness is any shift in the normal functioning of psychological consciousness or experience. This can happen for a variety of reasons, music, drugs, and religion all serving as specific mediums whereby to achieve this shift. Electronic music can assist in achieving an altered perception and complete dissociation of the mind and body.” (Karim 2010)
As a music therapist and researcher interested in the further investigation of music, altered states of consciousness and health, I found the above quote to have much credence. The relationship between these entities, are their similar themes of attractiveness to express, to discover, or to escape. Through these mediums, in one form or another, participants desire to liberate themselves from pain (physical or mental) or to experience another form of reality; however, when music is utilized to induce altered states, music would deliver a less harming encounter.
“The dissociation of the mind and body as witnessed in some experiences can lead to varying results – for some it can cause them to think with clarity whereas for others it can do the exact opposite. Music can be a relief from the constant thoughts that plague one’s mind and inevitably end up a burden. The power of music on states of consciousness is ultimately entirely subjective. Music is thus a vehicle whereby one can transcend their own reality – to lose themselves in some greater force” (Karim 2010).
There exist, within music, various properties of function. Music can act as a depressant, music can work as a stimulant, music has the power to manipulate the body, and ultimately, music can have altering affects on the brain. The application of trance and house music was no exception in this study, as this carefully designed genre had the ability to bring forth altered states of consciousness. The primal elements of this music opened the brain to another form of communication, permitting the participant to transcend their own reality.
For future research, I would like to further investigate the capabilities of altered states of consciousness in the medical/health field and look at pre-existing folk rhythms which might have similar effects on the participants as did the trance and house music utilized for this study.