Organic Euphoria: Music and the Altered State
In times like these when living day-to-day has become a guessing game of survival, we humans feel the urge to escape more than ever. Some part of this feels like a weird dream that we might someday be able to wake up from. Our old lives – and the rest of the world – feel so distant that we hardly remember what “normal” was.
Amidst all the panic-ridden chaos and strangely silent chaos, I’ve resorted to the “hermit crab life”: messing around on synths, meditating, watching anime or documentaries, reading, learning how to cook (badly) and lately, wondering about the various reasons that people listen to music.
I wanted to dig deeper, to understand what it is about music that drives us to move a certain way, and why particular genres are often associated with certain activities. In a few brief moments of uncertainty, I’ve had to ask myself the difficult questions – why I bother doing what I do, how to keep doing it – and to remind myself to stay positive. There is no succinct way of describing the answer to that, so I guess we’ll just talk about meditation.
It may appear simplistic for a DJ and electronic music producer to say that playing and listening to music induces a sense of homeostasis – a neutral state of calm. It may even seem ironic that someone who enjoys playing six-hour rave sets would also find passion in such things as meditation or spirituality. After all, energy in the club can be dark and intense at times, surely contradicting the supposed level of zen one would hope to achieve. Throughout the years, however, I’ve learned that the reasons we meditate and the reasons we go to the club are perhaps not so different after all.
Music is sound, sound is vibration. We are all made up of vibrating atoms, so it would make sense that different frequencies stimulate different parts of the body. In the practice of certain yoga styles such as Dharma or Kundalini, every class begins with specific “body-opening” mantras consisting of different resonating consonants and vowels in varying tones. Some believe in the existence of healing frequencies – 432 hertz being one of them, for example. I believe that frequency varies from person to person as none of us are built the same way, just as every person has a different definition of music that feels cathartic to them. For some, it’s Tupac. For others, it’s Rina or Rachmaninoff. All are equally valid.
The flow state
Sometimes we listen to music to intensify and surrender to the mood that we’re in; other times we listen to escape from it. But there is one common denominator that ties our need for music all together: the ability to ultimately leave the experience in an altered “higher” state of mind, regardless of outside influence.
This altered state shouldn’t be regarded as an escape or a feeling of numbness, but rather of flow and togetherness, of mutual understanding and self-acceptance. The coloured lights and loudspeakers in a dark room are designed to facilitate such a journey.
In a fascinating interview with the Sydney Opera House, the late Sir Andrew Weatherall, a respected and well-loved figure in our scene, spoke of going to the club as an almost-religious experience – a ritual in which club-goers have the opportunity to transcend reality if only for a few brief hours, with or without the use of psychedelics. The things he said in this interview deeply resonated with me.
No matter how many times I get on the decks at Hong Kong’s Mihn Club or while on tour, the same initial nervous excitement creeps in, followed by slight doubt as the crowd moves in and out of sync, taking time to find their groove. It takes but one good moment in a track to snap into a natural state of trance – otherwise known as the “flow state” – when the entire room is finally lured into the “pocket” of the rhythm, which feels to me like a flood of relief washing into powerful-yet-calm waves of collective energy. Intuition kicks in and the rest is forgotten. It is a beautiful feeling which reminds me of the times I used to play the violin regularly back in my school days.
Music as meditation
This sort of presence resurfaces while observing musicians improvise solos at jazz clubs like Hong Kong’s popular Peel Fresco. There is a moment from which anything seems possible; no matter how “out” they play, the audience flows with them. The same goes for meditation – an initial focus on breath gradually zooms out into a higher perception of non-judgemental awareness towards all the sensations that surround us.
Meditation is the art of intentional inward focus, in order to take full advantage of our experiences. Sam Harris, a neuroscientist and the author of Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion, puts it more eloquently: “Everything we do is for the purpose of altering consciousness. We form friendships so that we can feel certain emotions, like love, and avoid others, like loneliness. We eat specific foods to enjoy their fleeting presence on our tongues. We read for the pleasure of thinking another person’s thoughts… While a person may not be responsible for the opportunities he gets in life, each is entirely responsible for the what he makes of these opportunities.”
So what is “organic euphoria”? What is the point of connecting our enjoyment of music with the yogic mindset of meditation? At the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter what sort of music we listen to, why we make the effort to do so or what we want to gain from it. By simply approaching our musical experiences with intention, whether it be from home, at the club, sipping beer at a salon or watching your local philharmonic perform in a concert hall, we open the gateway to living a more conscious and meaningful life.
All Images: Xiaolin
Writer | Xiaolin
Known for her nostalgic melodies, groovy breaks and love for warm, organic sounds, Xiaolin is a DJ/producer and former classically-trained violinist. She is a resident of Hong Kong’s Mihn Club and co-founder of HEX, with mixes featured on NTS, Balamii, Rinse, Block FM and EOS Radio. She will be releasing her second EP later this year. Follow her on Instagram.