For many of us, the quickest route to a transcendent state comes through a particular Coltrane solo, or Radiohead track, or Eric Satie miniature, or… fill in the blank. We recently polled Reality Sandwich contributors to find out what pieces of music most effectively transport them to a higher plane. The results are appropriately eclectic, as should be expected. We expect that this column will be the first of a series. Enjoy.
- Within You Without You – The Beatles
- Flos Campi – Ralph Vaughan Williams
- mbv – My Bloody Valentine
- Echoes – Pink Floyd
- Evbulota – Ahee
- Pygmalion - Slowdive
- Thursday Afternoon – Brian Eno
- Chant from a Holy Book – G.I. Gurdjieff
- The Art Teacher – Rufus Wainwright
- Piano Concerto No. 5, II. Adagio un poco mosso – Ludwig van Beethoven
Within You Without You – The Beatles
By Chris Kilham
For musical pieces that take me to a higher plane, the one song most rooted in my musical DNA is "Within You Without You" by the Beatles,
In "Within You Without You," Harrison cannily manages to outline the human condition in a nutshell, and points the way to ceaseless joy, without
Chris Kilham is a medicine hunter, author and educator. The founder of Medicine Hunter Inc., he has conducted medicinal research in over 20 countries.
Flos Campi – Ralph Vaughan Williams
By Robert Tindall
The impulse to transcend, to rise to a higher plane, was deeply engraved upon Western spirituality by Plato and later Neo-Platonic Christians such as Saint Augustine. Yet Humanitys primordial mystical desire, artistically rendered in the art of the Paleolithic caves, has never been entirely lost: to touch the mind of the jaguar, to sip of the Earths sweet nectar, to take wing with the eagle, to commune in deep time with the ancestors.
This is why I treasure the compositions of the Englishman Ralph Vaughan Williams
It may sound like a stretch to associate a 20th century composer with indigenous consciousness, yet Vaughan Williams, inspired by a poem of Meredith, could capture in a violin melody the rising of a jubilant lark and in his orchestration our experience of symbiosis with all of Nature:
For singing till his heaven fills,
Tis love of earth that he instils,
And ever winging up and up,
Our valley is his golden cup
And he the wine which overflows
to lift us with him as he goes
Like the voice of nature, in Vaughan Williams work, as one critic observed, One is never sure if one is listening of something very old or very new.
Yet Vaughan Williams did not write airy New Age music. It is a brooding prayer, full of ecstasy and grief, very in keeping with the tenor of the English imagination: Ostensibly familiar and common place, yet deep and mystical as well as lyrical, melodic, melancholic, and nostalgic yet timeless.
Of all his pieces, Ive most hearkened to his eccentric composition "Flos Campi," Latin for flower of the field, based in the Biblical Song of Solomon. Opening with a weaving bitonal duet between a viola and oboe, the suite unfolds into an interplay between a wordless chorus and an orchestra of flute (doubling on piccolo), oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn, trumpet, harp, percussion, and a modest body of strings. The voices, rising and falling in mystical/erotic ecstasy to rest in satiated tranquility, are seduced, spurred on to higher planes of exaltation, titillated, and led through intricate, whirling dance steps by their ardent lover, the orchestra. At the pieces conclusion, all join in a single statement of soaring, subtle ecstasy and affirmation.
To listen to this piece is to be taken through a landscape, one whose contents are unique for each listener, yet which speaks universally to our deepest desire for communion with the transcendent through this created/evolved world. The listener never soars beyond into the empyrean, but is continually brought back to the dank, sublime mystery of our biological home before being set to flight in spirit once again. It is the breadth and depth of the visionary journey which makes "Flos Campi" unique.
Like many of his works, "Flos Campi" is a song of the Earth and our symbiosis with it. Vaughan-Williams called himself an agnostic, but his spiritual roots ran deep.
Robert Tindall is a writer, classical guitarist and inveterate traveler, whose work explores themes of pilgrimage and the crossing of frontiers into other cultures and states of consciousness.
mbv (2013) – My Bloody Valentine
By Roy Christopher
Not so much a come-back as an outright surprise, after a 21-year wait, My Bloody Valentine finally released a follow-up to their masterpiece. Not only was it one of the most influential albums of the 1990s but Loveless has lasted. The recently released mbv is as traditional for them as it is transcendental for the listener, and it shows how much heavier things are now. The My Bloody Valentine signature sound is guitar-based, drenched in drones with vocals that drift in and out of focus like any other instrument. The older stuff seems to lilt along in comparison to mbv. Even Kevin Shields' and Belinda Butcher's normally ethereal vocals sag in the squall, but it's definitely worth the weight.
With nine songs total, mbv is a trilogy of trilogies. It hangs together as a whole, but one can easily discern three movements. Three floes in the waves. The first set of three songs pulls you in with perhaps the poppiest sounds on the record. Theirs is a sweet stupor recalling the most sugary spots of Loveless. The second set is hypnotic in its lack of dynamics. This is the bed of shards upon which you will sleep. Set three, starting with In Another Way, my favorite track so far, brings all the characteristic My Bloody Valentine traits into play. The walls and waves of guitar and the buried but beautifully breathy vocals, as well as the hooks and beats. The whole record builds to Wonder 2, which will finish you off nicely.
As Steve Reich illustrated on 1960s compositions like It's Gonna Rain and Come Out, repetition can be used to ascend, to break through to unexpected heights. My Bloody Valentine muddies their melodies with loops of layered guitar and brutal but dance-able beats. The new record is as seductive as anything they did two decades ago, but it takes a little longer to lull you in. Repetition and saturation are still its guiding principles though. Follow them to a higher plane.
Roy Christopher is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Communication Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. Though his work has been featured on numerous websites, in many magazines, and in a few books, roychristopher.com is now home to most of his writing.
Echoes – Pink Floyd
By Jill Ettinger
There are quite a few details that distance us from 1971. In some respectseven for those who lived through that period of timeit's hard to recall the world as it really was.
Pink Floyd's 1971 track "Echoes," released on the album Meddle is as potent and meaningful now as it was more than 40 years ago, when the British quartet composed it. The song provides an instant connection to those departed days, like a sonic wormhole we can use to travel back and forth in between eras at our leisure. And that gives us an essential perspective in which to better value our present space in time.
For nearly 24 minutes, the listener is transported to another state of being through the progressive, eerie, yet unmistakably familiar sounds. Defining the psychedelic existential quandary in sound, "Echoes" is directly addictive, hypnotic and comforting at the same time. Credit the band's appreciation of the absurd, in both sounds and (mostly banned) substances, for taking us on the unforgettable journey. The float-y, wind-y hum comes by way of David Gilmour's inimitable guitar stylings and experimentations with pedals, pianos and even tape recorders. Roger Waters' bass takes on vibration and distortion, while Richard Wright fiddles with a Hammond organ and Nick Mason does what only he can do to percussions.
But how the band got there is less important than where there actually is. We know, by way of the lyrics, it's somewhere overhead nearby a floating albatross, or deep beneath rolling waves in labyrinths of coral caves places where distant tides echo, and "No one knows the where's or why's / But something stirs and something tries / And starts to climb towards the light "
Years after the song was recorded, Roger Waters told Rolling Stone the song's lyrics aimed at providing some explanation as to "the potential that human beings have for recognizing each other's humanity and responding to it, with empathy rather than antipathy." And it's that prescient point that many people continue to struggle with today, more than four decades after the song was written.
Empathy is, after all, a higher plane of awarenessnot in an, entitled egoic sensebut in that everythingiseverything awareness, which makes selfishness and vindictive behavior seem utterly self-destructive and pointless, particularly when one could instead, be pondering why "I am you and what I see is me."
Jills examinations on our food and culture regularly appear in a number of publications, primarily OrganicAuthority.com, where she writes a daily news column as well as contributes feature articles.
evbulota – Ahee
By Nese Devenot
Avatar alchemist Ahee (Chris Adams) travels the world with a field recorder in search of sonic singularities that he remixes into hyperdimensional soundscapes. "evbulota" is a song from Ahee's 46th album, "The Synchronicity Sampler." It was composed from three source recordings: Josh Mellinger drumming on a near-empty mini-keg of Oberon Beer; Chris Adams playing the piano; and throat singers from the Leonin Ensemble.
Over the course of the 7-minute song, each original sound sample is layered with two accelerated versions of itself – one twice as fast and the other four times as fast – to create a constellation of sounds iterating at multiple octaves. In fractal image compression, detail is restored to digital images by layering the images with smaller, shrunken copies of themselves; based on my experiences of listening to "evbulota" during meditation, I'm tempted – with a wink – to describe this music as "fractal audio compression," revealing the detail of higher-dimensional realities by scaling fractal codes. On repeat occasions, I've downloaded an ecstatic transmission of evolutionary potential expressed through its synchronistic alignment of sounds.
As the opening sequence plays to my mind's eye, I travel woozily past skittering entities that are busy at work on something just offscreen – the final preparations of still-latent potential. Something significant changes at 1:49 – walls are breaking down, scaffolding falls away, dimensions start to come together, and hyperconnectivity comes online. At 2:49. angels begin to sing – or is it a mother's lullaby? The feeling of a long-forgotten revelation starts to filter back to conscious awareness. Suddenly, at 3:07, I hear in the midst of the noise: "We're here! We're here!" and in the background: "We are he-re! We are he-re!" With a flash, I remember everything: why we've been striving, for aeons, to realize this moment of potential in time; how we're all connected, infinitely and forever. A profound recognition of future potential: we have made it to everlasting life, to our next stage of consciousness, to realization of our true being and highest potential.
As the song ends and I flutter back to 4D consensus reality, I bring back the lived experience of that total activation, which renews my hope in humanity's path and the part I play within it. A transcendent trip for the ages.
Ne?e Devenot, MA is a doctoral student in the Program in Comparative Literature and Literary Theory at the University of Pennsylvania, founder of the Psychedemia psychedelics conference, and a contributing editor for Reality Sandwich.
Pygmalion (1995, Creation Records) – Slowdive
By Ryan Hurd
Pygmalion is a hazy and soulful post-rock dirge, and one of my favorite albums of all time. Its like a half-forgotten dream, capturingat least for methe experience of realizing What Its All About, and the inevitable crash of sorrow that follows when you wake up and lose the vision. This is the album that cost the band its label (they were dropped within days of the albums release) due to its complete lack of indie pop hooks and danc-ability. And it was worth it, as the albums clear vision is now said to have paved the way for Radioheads Kid A and, in general, bands like Sigur Ros and Labrador.
Composer Neil Halstead has said he was deeply influenced by Karlheinz Stockhausen, the 20th century German composer who helped bring about the modern expression of elektronische Musik. The album also catches the feeling of nights spent at a club in Brixton that also regularly featured ambient luminaries such as Aphex Twin and The Orb. Those nights, some of which could be very dark, and the liberal use of psychedelics and occasional doses of special K, influenced the sound of Pygmalion, Halstead admitted recently in an original interview published in Sonic Cathedral.1
Pygmalions 48 minutes of ambient instrumental melodies loop and echo as Neil Halstead and the heavenly Rachell Goswell chant back and forth with one another like ghostly lovers on opposite ends of a time-distorting vortex. Unlike a lot of the ambient, shoegazing sounds of Britpop in the nineties, Pygmalion is never harsh, random, or saturated with discordant noise. Instead, its spare, slow, and gracefully integrated. The effect is hypnotic and melancholy-inducing. It feels like nostalgia for eternity.
1 Still crazy for you: Pygmalion revisited
Ryan Hurd is an independent scholar, editor of DreamStudies.org, and board member of the International Association for the Study of Dreams.
Thursday Afternoon – Brian Eno
By Darrin Drda
To rock fans, Brian Eno is known as a producer for U2, Taking Heads, Depeche Mode, Coldplay, and a host of other bands, whereas electronic music aficionados know him as the self-described non-musician who coined the phrase ambient music and who was instrumental (pun intended) in defining the genre. After a short stint with the glam band Roxy Music in the early 70s, Eno embarked on a solo career that quickly veered from quirky pop songs into experimental soundscapes designed to induce calm and space to think.
Indeed the best thing about good ambient music is that it is mentally and emotionally unobtrusive. Unlike most music, its less about generating a particular mood than providing a space into which ones current thoughts and feelings can flow. As music that Eno insisted must be ignorable as it is interesting, it can be listened to (psycho)actively or heard passively as background music. This was certainly the intention behind Enos most famous ambient release, subtitled Music for Airports (1975), which was in fact played at LaGuardia for a time during the 80s. In my mind, the four-song album could have been called Music for Yoga, as I have found it especially conducive to ritual relaxation and even for meditation. If silence is golden, then ambient gets the silver.
If I had to choose a single transcendent track, it would have to be "Thursday Afternoon" (1985), one of the first recordings ever to take full advantage of the then-fairly-new CD format. Clocking in at almost exactly 60 minutes (again, ideal for a yoga session), the composition incorporates a handful of sparse piano and droning synth loops of varying and unsynchronized lengths that overlap in ever-shifting ways. The loops also vary in volume throughout the piece such that the piano notes recede gradually from foreground to background. In contrast to Enos darker ambient albums like On Land and Neroli, "Thursday Afternoon" is relatively light and airy. In my mind, it will forever be associated with the smell of Nag Champa and the delicious feeling of free-flowing prana and mental quiescence.
Darrin Drda is an artist and author of The Four Global Truths: Awakening to the Peril and Promise of Our Times, published by the Evolver Editions imprint of North Atlantic Books. He is a Regular Contributor to Reality Sandwich.
Chant from a Holy Book – G.I. Gurdjieff
By David Rothenberg
What is it about the music of G.I. Gurdjieff? This mysterious early twentieth century mystic traveled the steppes of Central Asia to return to Russia and then Europe with a unique and total spiritual vision which attracted artists and adepts alike. You will meet their descendants in the canyons of Manhattan, the Gurdjieff Way lives on in pockets and enclaves. What was it all about? The Master himself described it in one sentence as If you go on a spree, go whole hog, including the postage which shows he did have a sense of humor as large as his twirled moustache. In moments of anger he said that none of his followers ever had a clue of what he was talking aboutthey had all failed.
But what remains is an astonishing body of music, which he pecked out on the piano for the composer Thomas de Hartmann to transcribe. Over the ensuing decades many musicians have tried to realize these works in methods unique but somehow all-one at the same time.
This music is neither Western nor Eastern, it is of the earth and of the sky. Dont listen to it while youre driving, or youre liable to space out and careen into the curb. It takes you to a higher plane, but it is hard to figure out exactly why.
Gurdjieff himself believed that music should have an exact, specific, emotional meaning. He did tests of his followers and reliably found only how to put them reliably asleep. Still, each of these works he left to us does draw us on to a mysterious otherness that may in fact lie right within.
Listen to Thomas de Hartmann explain in halting English on his first recording of these pieces, music enables us to assume the greatest possible emanations it is a thing that helps you to see, and plays a great role in all the worlds religions. After Georg Ivanovich, we understand this role a little bit better.
David Rothenberg, author of Why Birds Sing (www.davidrothenberg.net) is currently writing Thousand Mile Song: Whale Music In a Sea of Sound, to be published by Basic Books in March 2008.
The Art Teacher – Rufus Wainwright
By Leah Steuer
"What is your favorite song?" she asked me in the dead of night, eyes black and limpid in the dark.
She climbed into my bed, then, and we huddled together with the reverence of communion, two twelve-year olds bathing in waterfalls of melancholy piano and deep male vibrato. Rufus Wainwright's "The Art Teacher" valiantly poured out of my five-dollar speakers and I stared into my friend's face, willing her to taste what I tasted. "It's like a river," she whispered as the low chords built and roiled. It was a strange word for a pop song, somehow holy. Yes, a river.
The song takes me somewhere new, ancient, still, deep. It took me somewhere even then, when I was a little girl. Even before I grew up and learned about art and religion and self-actualization. It was my first experience with a song that went beyond the ear or even the heart. It wasn't the lyrics or the story contained within them, although it was lovely and poignant: a woman remembers the teacher she once loved in the blush of her youth. "He was not that much older than I was…he told me he liked Turner; never have I turned since then." I did not yet understand the act of mourning lost innocence, nor the desperate human beauty that touches us even when we barricade ourselves behind material possessions. I only understood the voice and the piano and the vortex it opened up inside me.
Years passed and I kept listening to that song, kept closing my eyes in cars and beds and green fields, touching the divine as soon as the first notes started. It was that piano, like a river, speaking of time endless and the profundity of loss, of dreaming, of growing and dying. The way the chords just tumbled into one another and repeated, repeated, louder and softer, like a fractal. And his voice did not sound human to me. It made me just feel. It was deep and sweet and biting like honey, too weighted with memories to contain only one small life. It contained every experience; the voice was male and mature, but the sound echoed from within a womb, with a woman's tenderness. "The Art Teacher" was mine. I did not play it for very many people after that night when I was twelve. It was mine alone to experience, so meaningful that it made me nervous. Eternity contained in three minutes. Not a song but a ritual. A solar eclipse. Mine. Ours. Everything.
Leah Steuer is an LA-based writer, but a New Yorker at heart. She runs a pop-culture blog, Pop Mitzvah, in which she writes about media, art, and literature.
Piano Concerto No. 5, II. Adagio un poco mosso – Ludwig van Beethoven
By Faye Sakellaridis
Anyone who's talked music with me for a considerable length of time knows that I have a profound love for Ludwig van Beethoven. The reason for it has always been hard to definitively describe. I can say I grew up on Beethoven, thanks to my music-literate father. I can say that, as a classically trained pianist, I always felt the strongest affinity towards Beethoven's boisterous, brazenly emotional pieces. (What can I say – I like to break a sweat when I play.) It might be that accounts of his cantankerous arrogance and our shared love for solitary nature walks endear me to him even more. Of course, they are all viable reasons. But it goes beyond that, into a realm that evades the capacities of spoken language. When I listen to Beethoven, I slip into the seductive delusion that we share the same heart, that what I'm hearing couldn't possibly affect anyone else the same way.
No matter how often I listen to it, the second movement of the Emperor piano concerto is always a transcendent experience. A glowing warmth spreads inside me the moment the lush orchestral opening chords are played. This is a softer, more meditative piece relative to his signature bombastic style. Still, it brims with an impassioned fervor that threatens to overflow with each ebbing crescendo. It never explodes though, instead remaining subtle and nuanced.
A sprawling melody unspools from the piano, gliding up and down the octaves. At its climax, it marches forward with grace and resolution, like a river's flow. In that span of time, the piano engages in a tempered battle with my doubts and insecurities. Each turn of the melody is underscored by a defiance in the face of adversity. It embodies me completely, healing me as it runs its course. I take the journey alongside it every time, and by the end, both our tensions are alleviated. It is soothing like a featherbed, but make no mistake about it – it rests on the implacable soul of a warrior.
There is always a struggle in Beethovens music, a dogged affirmation of ones inner strength. This piece lifts me from my skin and carries me through my anxieties until I emerge from the other side, purged and galvanized. Within its ethereal beauty lies the enduring reminder that I can, and do, transcend my inner demons.
Faye Sakellaridis is an MFA student living in New York. She is associate editor of Reality Sandwich.