Imagination Therapy Through Experimental Music
The Power of Sound
Like a kettle pulsing out steam beyond the boil, music overflows past our ears and into the soul, stimulating additional senses and curating the scenery of our imagination. It plants us in the vastness of sky the same minute that it bridges time to the hot necks of our former lovers.
It’s the enchanting and abstract art that inevitably surrounds us everywhere. From stacks of clinking pots, whistling forest winds and city street buskers to symphonic jams and Top 40 hits, music has an inimitable power to transform and enhance feelings and attitudes for fragments of daily solitude or entire nights across strobe-lit dance floors. The strongest frequencies vibrate our tactile senses, too— ensuring their unavoidable grip on our wander through life’s slick, slip-fated mystery lands.
In this piece, I explore an enhanced approach to experiencing music. If the guide and examples that follow resonate with you, use this approach to reveal the full potential of music, for your certain and intense personal benefit. Set aside an hour of your day to concentrate on music, specifically the 10 tracks that correspond with these words, and you’ll soon be prepared to silently engage in the exploration of your imagination.
Active listening requires relinquishing distractions and control so that you may free fall through the rush, through the dopamine drops and strolls along buried memory tracks. Stretch to bend with any perceivable temper of a song; flex to minor key falls and the mismatched charm of dissonance— rousing and sexy, teasing yet mature. Agree to dangle in the wind, to sway among gusty moods and pulse with the surge of each new measure.
Anyone can choose to experience music this way. Vivid listening is far from reserved for super fans, students of music theory, or psychedelic aficionados; every person has an imagination capable of creating entire worlds from surrounding stimuli— it simply requires a bit of concentration. Through the occasional twist of our everyday habits, we can turn the octaves up on our imagination and journey towards peering further inside ourselves.
Music Imagination Therapy
What can the mind create when left alone with art? Imagination Therapy is a concept that explores human sensory potential in immersive art situations. In this venture, a revised music experience is designed through active listening and a growing appreciation for intricate, offbeat compositions. The goal is to exercise the imagination and discover a stronger life within us through deeply engaged listening. With this therapy, our relationship to moments of sound can transform remarkably from passive background ambience to active imagination stimuli.
To test the scope of auditory imagination, I shared a specially arranged playlist with 8 close and curious friends. The 10-track set consists mostly of instrumental songs that feature unique complexities and experimental tinges. These are the vehicles for imaginative discussion, the art chosen to assist in stimulating and analyzing the mind. Listeners were asked to write individual accounts of what occurred in their minds while listening to each song. Prompts encouraged them to articulate absolutely everything the song evoked, from emotions and memories to colorful visualizations to feelings of complete frustration or fascination.
The following stories outline what some listeners experienced during these songs. The results are entertaining and the variety empowering. This abstract summation is designed to enhance the possibility of discovering your own worlds within music. You can listen to the songs while you wander around these words, but afterwards I suggest you simply close your eyes and immerse yourself completely inside each song, enacting the proposition that concluded with the following accounts. This will begin our New Journey through music.
An Introduction to Music Imagery
“Sorry” by Miguel Baptista Benedict is our first compositional oddity: a mouthful of strings, percussion, and peculiar crescendos tossed with experimental detailing. Sparse sounds first begin to rumble our curiosity and nerves, then in one swift plunge the elements sink into distortion. Like the loud and liberated chaos of a fireworks display, the collage ignites us with more than just surface awe.
At the halfway point, ominous strings are replaced by a more reassuring major key riff. One listener notes that the transformation of this layer feels good, like anxiety lifting and clarity settling in after a particularly disorienting few months. Above this point, drums begin to glitch and wrestle, knotting their messy hairs in an adolescent strife to be heard, finally, now that there is something to say. If we continue to imagine that the song ages from start to end, the sparkling curiosities of life that peer and swell at the source eventually integrate into the daily, grinding identity of a wild song. This evolution of balance and growth— sound that embodies perfected duality— is a healthy dose of inanimate advice. Crouching on key and rhythm for counsel, “Sorry” tames its inner anxiety by freeing its outer self. One listener plunges exceptionally deep into this observation. By listening to tense and delicate sounds decay into loud free forces, he’s able to absorb the transitional sensations of relief and release: a space through which starkly warm guitars pluck thick to accompany us on our journey.
Tell a Story
Photay’s “No Sass” is a quirky, wobbling electronic delight. One listener experiences neon green lasers shooting at them and a body bobbing up and down in space, despite feeling overwhelmingly and existentially stable. Another listener imagines a world in which majestic creatures like wooly mammoths and jellyfish move with huge, bellowing grace while armies of ants crawl up their legs, swarming with an “instinct that won’t quit like jet streams, like the tectonic plates, like the evolutionary periods, like technology escalating exponentially— unstoppable.” The song’s visuals according to another listener activate a large, pending delight, a pleasure upon observing all non-voluntary and voluntary movements coming in sync together.
At this point, listener experiences reveal a profound perspective. The stories inside music begin with a song and continue with each active listener. While a musician might write highly emotive music based on what’s inside his head, the remaining life of that song will be determined by every unique imagination, set free to interpret like mad, ludicrously coming to fabulous conclusions: source abstract and unknown.
It’s an interactive experience that demonstrates a way to map one’s feelings to sounds inside the brain. This measure of connection can help a person digest an inexpressible state of mind or recent trauma, allowing the brain to rattle out steady thoughts and correlations in lieu of cloudiness, freeing vitality from a potentially congested flow.
Individuals listening to Valentin Stip’s “Angst” experience an interesting variety of mental transportation. For some, imaginations run to rain forests and exotic frogs, water droplets wrapped in jazzy aluminum wrinkles, and scenery veiled by mist and a warm, blinding light. The rhythm feels natural and a violet shade of spirituality presents itself. For others, the song appeals to the solitude inside us; it evokes the feeling of being the only person awake or alive after watching the moon slip away at dawn. Like the mourning notes sung during its introduction, we’ve got to keep on searching for a way to hold these moments close, closer, longer. It’s envisioning oneself in a city alone, observing the swelling murmurs of collective sound for an unimportant length of time, and it’s deeply sexy.
Ultimately, personal presence seems to be universally felt while listening to “Angst.” Hollow gaps within circles and layers evoke a meditative mind space, fit for reverb to wobble through while you watch, leaning against a bus stop with a cigarette, removed and self-aware, yet pleasantly engrossed in the silence of empty night. If we can imagine a feeling this centered and calm through warped pitches and stacks of atmospheric percussion, the possibilities in music to better our soul situations will begin to unravel around us.
Finding Comfort in Uncomfortable Sound
A popular motif in professional music therapy is disorganization before reorganization. Experiencing chaos and bass/treble modifications within intricate music can teach us to follow the developments of each layer, eventually listening with more intention and improving our perceptive abilities. Listening carefully to disorienting elements also shows us what calm by comparison feels like, possibly training the body to stay in this state if we train it of the opposite on a frequent basis.
Shigeto’s “Detroit Part 1” enlists visions of swimming among synthesized bubbles and sinking in hot pink waters towards the discovery of new worlds. Melody oscillations give the impression of coming in and out of consciousness on this deep-breathing trek, forming a bank of pulsing progressions that power our way through tricks and twisty paths. To others, it paints a psychedelic stroll inside a lost village and a run through woods, lit by the sun that just barely makes it through the skinny trees reaching tall for the sky. As our kaleidoscope of imagination colors spin, the seasons twirl and change inside the song, bringing an abstract comfort to our own rapidly changing lives.
Swindle’s very special flowering track “Summer Fruits” is a birth of Spring sounds. It bears one of the most unique arrangements in this selection, arousing unadulterated happiness in listeners despite its chaotic core and indecisive structure. The definitively joyful tune is described by one listener as attractive, unpredictable, and exciting because its destination is unknown. To fuse a collective feeling from listeners: Sassy landscapes blossom uncontrollably under the spring sun on an island of creativity, the most beautiful place on earth where Bambi bathes under nymph-strewn waterfalls and even the skunks fall in love.
We can party to the tune of oddity; we can ease our concern for a rowdy mind with the confidence that chaos can in fact find a home inside structure. It will remain exotic and continue to nurture our individuality, but it won’t slip away from us as it has in past places. Chaos in beautiful music can help free us from the misconception that our inner wild is a fool waiting to be tamed, bound to an existence of naked disarray until we cut its cord completely and grow up.
The Life of a Song
Passing through anywhere, the music is both written for us and not. The connection between music and imagery is likewise only partially subjective. While the fruits of our imagination are reflections of ourselves, a song is a collaborative experience that begins before we meet it. With this in mind, the worlds that certain sounds lead us to were forged first by the composing musician, further by its interpreting performers and finally by us, the listeners. Much of a song’s mood is therefore already defined by the time it reaches us. However, once a listener takes the reigns to visualize a detailed narrative, the power of imaginative listening can fully present itself.
Some similarities are so strikingly unique that we’re forced to revel and wonder in the source of our inspirations. Almost all “Summer Fruits” listeners described an island of some sort: an island of creativity, a gospel island, the Garden of Eden on the island of paradise, and holiday on a South American island. This would make sense if the song had a particularly tropical feel, but that’s not really the case. In what stage of the life of this song does this imagery route itself?
Substantial differences in imagery also occur throughout this exercise, thus far more often than similarities. Maths Time Joy’s “Walk With Me,” a rumbling tune in the key of poised fluorescence, fuels a notably varied canvas of moods and imagery. One listener feels the passion of being in love. Persistent melodies and loud, technicolor bursts are described as the embodiment of a perfect love, where leaving is never an option and the pain feels good because it’s part of a greater, inherently pleasurable package. While this listener continues to sketch true love, another feels a longing for being a child in an old family home, watching movies on a parent-less Saturday morning, learning what it feels like to be the master of the hours in a day. This listener derives a melancholy feeling from the song, which is expressed through longing for this simple joy and for the blend of mischievous innocence that doesn’t often exist past adolescence.
The most interesting responses seem to tell stories that reflect both the listener’s interpretation of sounds and whatever pre-existing mindset awoke with her that day. This collaboration of causes into an imagination-generated story is the beautiful wonder of it all, the slice of sorcery inspiration that can be traced but never definitively found. The story is different for every listener; the absence of “wrong” is what allows the mind to trust itself, able now to recognize revelation in the abstract.
Vast Chance for Wonder
Whether you feel love or longing from the songs in this exercise is irrelevant. The muscle of this therapy exists in moments of personal connection with the music, however provocative or short-lived they may be. Perhaps we recognize ourselves in the progression of a track and absorb the mood to which we can now relate. Or maybe we don’t see anything at all, but instead concentrate so heavily on deciphering the sounds in a song that we reach a meditative state— unaware of our worries, entranced instead by the serenity of pleasant immersion.
The ultimate purpose of music therapy emerges in the wake of this exercise’s extremely varied feedback. Mapping a unique reaction to stimuli is a certain path to increased self-awareness. If music can help guide the flow of exploring our imaginations, then we are better prepared to nurture our minds in whatever fantastic places they choose to reside.
Now that you’ve read a few mind trips from our previous listeners, I encourage you to embark on your own listening hour. Peruse this set of songs in solitude, with focus on the mind and good headphones on the ears. Smile and wander with them, center on whatever internal approach feels most natural, and you can begin to realize the extraordinary potential in your imagination’s boundless drift.