Sonic Imprintation: the Shaman’s Alchemical Sound Check for the Sustainability Age

We’ve taken care of everything
The words you hear, the songs you sing
The pictures that give pleasure to your eyes
It’s one for all and all for one
We work together, common sons
Never need to wonder how or why

Look around at this world we’ve made
Equality our stock in trade
Come and join the Brotherhood of Man
Oh, what a nice, contented world
Let the banners be unfurled
Hold the Red Star proudly high in hand

We are the Priests of the Temples of Syrinx
Our great computers fill the hallowed halls
We are the Priests, of the Temples of Syrinx
All the gifts of life are held within our walls

Temples of Syrinx , RUSH 2112

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Conscious Sounds – Music and the Art of Change David Metcalfe


How do we become the solution to the problems of the world?

The art of Practical Alchemy provides some clues for us on a personal level, techniques and thought forms that can guide us to a better understanding of ourselves and our place in the world. The Alchemist Dennis William Hauck defines Alchemy’s principle goal as the “transformation via manifestation of intention.” If we intend to become active in finding solutions we need to work artfully at the things that will manifest this intention.

Dennis goes on to say that “the chance that materialization will actually occur is directly proportional to the quality of expression.” So it is not just the intention that matters, but our ability to express that intention. And how do these expressions emerge?

Artists are familiar with this process through the translation of thoughts, emotions and reactions into solid manifestations of poetry, song, sculpture, drawing or painting. All of the creative arts are deeply tied to this process, and the artists who understand this are personally changed by the manifestations that they work through

How can this be translated into the wider world?

This is wonderful for the individuals involved in the process, but what of the wider world? What spurs us to seek this process in the first place? How can someone experience it if they have no idea where to start?

For this to happen there needs to be a catalyst, a figure that shows the way, and here we have what has broadly been termed a Shaman. There is the historical shamanism of the various regions of the world, replete with their specific patterns of imagery and symbol. Their dances, songs, costumes and ritual provide an axis for the culture surrounding them. Providing a bridge between the physical manifestation of the society and the ideologies and spirits from which the society draws its particular shape.

As we become more fractured, the centralized social structures disperse and we are left in some ways with the raw technique itself. The shamans who step forward today have gathered their spirits from all times and cultures, the diversity of symbols forming a complex of ideas that express manifestations of the forces surrounding us. From rock stars to graphic designers, the path of social transformation, and the responsibility of the task, exists hidden beneath the mundane surface of everyday living.

With music we have sounds organized to entrain the mind of the listener. Repeating forms reinforcing the neural networks forming through sensual reaction, the means through which craftsmanship and art become a tool of creation and communication. The same occurs with the visual arts, or the spoken arts, any manifestation of a thought form brings the possibility of that form taking root in other mental gardens.

In this communicative web of association we have immediate access to all levels of experience and are also faced with the responsibility of providing paths for others who encounter the manifestations towards the truth, towards responsible living and in the language of our time towards an understanding of sustainability.

If we need further evidence of this process we need only look to birds:

“The best known form of imprinting is filial imprinting, in which a young animal learns the characteristics of its parent. It is most obvious in nidifugous birds, which imprint on their parents and then follow them around. It was first reported in domestic chickens, by the 19th-century amateur biologist Douglas Spalding. It was rediscovered by the early ethologist Oskar Heinroth, and studied extensively and popularised by his disciple Konrad Lorenz working with greylag geese. Lorenz demonstrated how incubator-hatched geese would imprint on the first suitable moving stimulus they saw within what he called a “critical period” between 13–16 hours shortly after hatching. Most notably, the goslings would imprint on Lorenz himself (more specifically, on his wading boots), and he is often depicted being followed by a gaggle of geese who had imprinted on him. Filial imprinting is not restricted to animals that are able to follow their parents, however; in child development the term is used to refer to the process by which a baby learns who its mother and father are. The process is recognized as beginning in the womb, when the unborn baby starts to recognize its parents’ voices.” – From Wikipedia

If artists are to encourage those who encounter their art they need to be aware of sonic imprinting, themselves imprinted with the image of the artist as arbiter of change, holding keys that can lead to transforming not only themselves, but society as well. The manifestations they bring forth can be gates to new experiences and new relationships. Think of an art based on exploring a positive relationship with the earth and environment. These manifestations are to go hand in hand with defining the experience we have with nature and guiding us to seek that experience in the first place.

“Cornell University’s Nancy Wells, an environmental psychologist and assistant professor of design and environmental analysis in the College of Human Ecology, and research associate, Kristi Lekies, examined and analyzed data from a 1998 U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service survey. The Survey examined youth nature experiences and subsequent adult environmentalism. A sampling of more than 2,000 adult Americans, ages 18 to 90, detailed their early youth nature experiences and their present day adult behaviors and attitudes concerning the environment.

The study clearly found that “wild” nature activities in youth directly correlate to adult behaviors and attitudes to the environment. The researchers also found that “domesticated” nature activities like gardening had a positive relationship to adult environmental attitudes, but the effects of domestic nature activities did not have as strong an effect as fishing and hunting, playing in the woods, hiking, walking or camping. “When children become truly engaged with the natural world at a young age, the experience is likely to stay with them in a powerful way – shaping their subsequent environmental path, explains Wells.”

* * * * *

The Modern Shaman’s Sonic Alchemic Voice

Thankfully it seems that whether they are fully engaged in it, many artists have a notion of their role. Used as a tool for critique, change and for creating new art forms, many are actively pursuing sonic imprinting.

The following interviews allow the artists to speak for themselves:

Interview with James Blackshaw

I think for me it’s something that I can’t describe. I think that’s actually one of the amazing things about playing or listening to music. Is its subconscious effect that happens that I can’t describe.

I think for me it’s probably the closest I get to a meditative state. There’s a couple of things at play, to actually play these pieces and for me it’s very blank, rather than it being particularly conducive to feeling one way or another, or about some kind of imagery or having some kind of narrative at play. It’s a kind of state of nothingness, I think that word would have for a lot of people a kind of negative connotation, whereas for me that’s quite a peaceful thing. It’s rare in our lives that we kind of shut out things to enter into that kind of state.

I’ve always found it incredibly cathartic; having to concentrate, it’s not always easy to do. Going through a process and reaching the other side of that. The best songs are quite lengthy.

Interview with Bryan Michael (Alka)

At this point, it is left mostly up to the individual as to the experience they are going to obtain. Some can use music solely, or a combination of music with static imagery, to delve within their own mental state and have a more intense experience, as opposed to having the whole thing decided for them with screenplay-style moving images. I think it may be possible to prompt listeners towards a more intense experience by way of color combinations that directly and truly represent the music. How to accurately translate music to image, remains to be seen. Music moves and thus its visual counterpart should. For so long, the visual arts had been locked in a static medium: canvas, paper, wood, etc. Music has always been about tonal changes through a time dimension, an ever-changing sonic vibrational experience. The musical equivalent of a painting would be a single chord, or say, a one second sound snippet of a fully orchestrated track. I think the early pioneers of film and even TV were privy to this, striving to create a unique experience by morphing and varying visual frequencies on a time plane similar to music. They were not keen to reduce the medium as some method for easily broadcasting theater productions, which is what it has predominantly become.

Interview Two with Jacob Haqq-Misra

If a Shaman is one who seeks after spiritual knowledge, then I could be counted as one. That said, I never apply the title of Shaman to myself. Many people interested in psychedelic substances will validate their experiments by pointing to tribal shaman leaders who also used psychedelic drugs. I think this comparison is often misguided, though, for the tribal shaman was probably the only member of the entire tribe privileged to commune with the divine in this way.

Indeed, I’d be willing to venture that the societal structure of tribes based around psychoactive plants resulted as a need to keep the power of the plants from abuse by the common folk. A shaman who carefully prepares to enter the unknown can then take the mysterious knowledge of the plant drug and pass it on in a useful form to the rest of the tribe. In today’s culture, though, we assert that everyone can be a shaman. I agree that everyone can (and should) explore their own spirituality, but I would consider a shaman to be a protector of a divine mystery for the sake of a community.

Interview with Divina Klein and Douglas Mackar of La Forza

By working on consciously using different parts of our brains that allow us to be psychic and powerful, and by working on accepting other dimensions and the invisible to be as real as the world we can perceive through our five senses.

The most basic aspect of how we are Shamans is the experience of the trance state.

All creation occurs in a trance state. In trance, your old attitudes can’t disrupt creation and evolution. It’s only when you release from that trance state that you fall back into your old mind state. It’s always a temptation to go back to the familiar. True change- transformation- is incorporating new knowledge into your psyche and holding it there long enough for it to become a permanent part of your thinking.

Remember, Shamanic healings are almost always instantaneous. They treat time differently than we do. The old program must be replaced. That is what Shamans do. That is what instantaneous healing is. Replacing the old program with something new. And you can repeat this process indefinitely. That is evolution.

Interview with Chris Deckker

It is more of a feeling. Most Shamans’ I have experienced are the most humble, heart centered people I have met. It is not a role that is accompanied with theatrics and ego.

Interview with Drupal Cheth Rowe

By programming computers and by performing music I am, in a sense, a shaman, able to communicate with the secretive spirits of good and evil that wiser folk choose to leave alone. It is thrilling to have such power, to wield a well-placed object-oriented overloaded polymorphism—well, thrilling when it works. More often programming efforts fail. It is only by repeatedly trying again and again that programs slowly become usable. With musical performance it is somewhat different. Failures still occur, but they become part of the product. With live music whatever one does is. It’s too late to make it any more perfect. But it is still the same channeling of the secretive spirits.

Interview with Steve Kilbey

i wish i was a shaman
i perform pseudo-shamanistic artistic feats sometimes
but in truth i am a shrewd and intelligent manipulator of ideas n techniques
unless i have completely fooled myself
sometimes i get confused where it’s all coming from
i would hate to have delusions of grandeur
yes and no about the new world
my worlds are alternate worlds
neither newer or older
much like ours but stranger and more improbably probable
i’m trying to represent these other places/other things
i dont really know
its just what i have been “told” to do

Interview with Steve Tibbetts and Marc Anderson”

No. From my reading, there seems to be an historic connection between drumming and shamanism, but I don’t think of myself in this way. Not on a stage. A shaman is usually someone who has gone through a wrenching life experience that evokes a spirit, and comes back to the community to heal and counsel. This hasn’t happened to me. I’m a mixing console shaman! We are attempting to invoke something of course, but we’re not animists, we don’t give it a name. We don’t (leave) offerings out. But we’re certainly attempting to invoke something from part of our minds and then again on tape. Then we know we have the mix correct. We’re done our “bogus shaman thing.”

Interview with Robyn Hitchcock

Jim Morrison thought of himself as one. He wrote a song called “Shaman’s Blues.” Ya, (all musicians) are. The guy in the pub, Prince. All performers are likely invoking something. It’s not just “us and them,” you know? I’m doing something on behalf of the audience, but I’m not just sure what it is. Something is activated. It’s not just a freak show. But to be a focal point for a crowd is a big responsibility (and scary). And I don’t really know what to do with it afterwards.

Interview with Jerry Harrison”

Yes, I’ve thought about this. I think that many people embrace this idea, but I don’t like something that causes the audience to lose a sense of their personal identity. I like it when people get as excited as they possibly can, but I would rather that the audience feel like they are contributing to the show and not being taken over. I resist this shaman or high priest role. I’d rather be a leader to self-discovery than a controller of minds.

* * * * * * *

Sound Mapping the Sonic – Human Interface

“Alchemy’s explanatory strength lies in its capacity to toggle between the seemingly incongruous realms of practice and metaphor.”

– Transformed as if in a Dream: Alchemical Transmutation and Our Sacred Earth. From Interview with Michelle Ramona Silva, PhD.

Innovative artists have been exploring the outer edges of sound for some time. From the Futurist music of the early 20th century that sought to embrace their vision of a world constantly in a state of action and conflict, through Delia Derbyshire’s experiments with electronic sound in the 1960’s, into the various groups today who take similar pilgrimages into the musical borderlands, there is a constant experiment with how sound and perception lead to a change in our visions of the world.

In the multi-mediated environment that exists today the power of sonic imprintation and alchemy are manifest in interesting ways. Artist and musicians can fully encounter the nexus of sound, vision and word. Whether it’s through the combination of these elements in an album format, or if that album is expanded beyond physical dimensions in the ethereal networks of the inter-webs, the possibilities go far beyond what is offered by radio, television or print as they were previously conceived.

Avant-Garde, chaos or canvas – or just the start of the next initiation? Each listener will create his or her own experiential values as the work unfolds. My invitation is for file sharing and recombination of these raw sound experiences. As many writers have discussed in Magazine interviews, this sound is an alchemical or transmutation process, where the recombining of elements and the interactive process is more important than the product.

“For performance art, such as rock or, indeed, any form of live music, there is a connection formed between artist and audience that transcends individuality. In a way, the audience give their souls to the performer and it is only when the music ends, in that moment of stillness before the applause, that their souls return and individual personalities are born anew. In this way, the experience of a concert is akin to a shamanic journey and, as overseer of that journey, perhaps the musician becomes a shaman.”

– Re-painting the Shaman’s Trance in the Sustainability Age. Open Myth Source Interview with Mike Williams by Willi Paul and David Metcalfe.

David Metcalfe and I will continue to exam myth as soundscape – or how the imagination of each listener both creates and recombines a story and how meaning evolves as each collaboration (iteration) changes the imprint.

Another research arena: How is soundscape no longer in the background but becomes the foreground as the sound collage drives the experience; when is sound the story that we process and interpret individually and collectively?

“The alchemical process is a physical ritual that projects an inner state onto physical elements.” “Yes, I believe I understand how alchemy can work in the sound and visual arts; what’s just as clear is that today’s technology has definitely upped the ante.”

– Journey into Joseph Campbell Rising. Magazine Interview with Stephen Gerringer – Community Relations, Joseph Campbell Foundation.

* * * * * * *

More Insight: the reservoir: rock music and mythology

About [ open myth source ]

The [open myth source] project gathers conversations, symbols, songs, visual art and stories. Building a house for Myth in the Sustainability Age.
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