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The Archives #3: Music For Psychedelic Therapy
A Jon Hopkins theme park, please
Back in summer, the band went to Thorpe Park. I used to go to theme parks all the time as a kid, quietly fearful, sometimes able to enjoy the butterflies. This time, by the last ride (Swarm), I figured out that if I breathed in on the way up and out on the way down, my stomach wouldn’t flip - I’d simply feel the sensation of flying.
I got the idea from meditation, a useful tool to help with fear. I realised I could control how I felt on something uncontrollable, a nice metaphor for life. And then I wondered if the fear aspect, the uncontrollable/unknown aspect of rollercoasters could in fact be used for something bigger…
What if…instead of Saw…instead of horror…there was a theme park for meditation?
Hear. Me. Out.
Before I dive into that idea, and the album in the title of this itself, here are some music things;
“The music within was created for the Raveningham Sound Walk 2023 by musicians from the UK and the USA. The Sound Walk was curated by Laura Cannell who sent each artist a set of rural landscape images to respond to in sound in any way they chose.
For 5 weeks their music lives embedded in the landscape, resonating through the naked branches and evergreens, through grey skies they sing and in the elements they wait for you, but also wait for no-one, they repeat and return as the leaves will in spring.
As Autumn turns to winter, the public are invited to walk and listen within the 3 acres of wild and tame gardens of the 16th century Castell Farmhouse, also home to it's summer sister the annual Raveningham Sculpture Trail in Norfolk, UK.”
My track is featured as one of the ones you can listen to - “your hand is right there, but i am scared of everything”.
You can pre-order limited CDs or MP3s here,
And please attend the sound-walk in Norfolk, 3rd Nov - 3rd Dec 2023, £6!
So happy and proud to be a part of this.
Here’s what I said about my track:
‘your hand is right there, but I am scared of everything' started as a piano improvisation in Catrin's old studio, The Lighthouse, 2019. The meditative piece weaves into music improvised four years later on nylon guitar, recorded at The Lake District. Words are sung in the present moment, the first thoughts floating to mind after thinking about the connection between there and the Raveningham Sculpture Trail, as if a portal had opened between the two spaces. They are connected through a third physical space, an analogue pedalboard, tying them together. The piece aims to explore self-expression in man-made structures versus the pockets of time modern life allows us in nature.
More music things:
Working with people! Has! Really kicked! Me up the bum! I cannot believe my luck to work with such talented musicians.
I’ve turned to music again, for the right reasons this time. It feels like all the lessons I’ve learned since 2020 are finally coming to fruition. They are hopefully going to facilitate a time of deep creativity and community. All those days spent thinking, “I really want this - but I know I’m not doing it in the way I want, I know something is wrong, I don’t know if, financially, I can”, and I trusted myself, allowed myself the time and space to heal and grow, followed threads of joy, believed in the long process of change, the journey of it, looking deeper and deeper…as opposed to short term gain or instant gratification. I’ve been making and creating and connecting with people. It’s made me realise I only do music to be around people. I always thought I did music to be alone.
I understand now that moving to London was the best decision of my life, even if ten years later, I probably have to leave. That all that time wasn’t a waste - it built who I am today. I found people, I found a new way of living. I used to be such a lone wolf, believing I create my most ‘truthful’ work alone, but actually, writing is for connection - connection and life comes first, writing comes secondary, always. Writing is just a way to process it all, document it, a way to practice ‘gratitude’, to turn stories into triumph.
And slowly, we are returning to Another Sky in the form of a third album - something I’m not sure any of us thought we’d reach.
Our headline show at Lafayette on 8th November is nearly sold out - here’s the last link with tickets.
Mutations in Brighton next weekend, ticket link here:
So many good acts: my recommendations are (obviously us), Chartreuse, Night Tapes, Paris Paloma, Thala and English Teacher.
We’re creating some beautiful stuff with director Darina:
Okay - time for Jon Hopkins (isn’t it always time for Jon Hopkins?):
My first introduction to Jon Hopkins was 10 years ago in 2013, stumbling upon something brand-spanking-new and innovative in the music world. You can’t talk about his last album, ‘Music For Psychedelic Therapy’, without talking about his surprise hit album, “Immunity”:
It features a cacophony of found sound, synthesised analogue live drum beats, the classical colliding with the electronic; it was very clear back then that he was the latest sonic pioneer. Someone unafraid of space, unafraid to soundtrack life wordlessly, unafraid to use minimal amounts of the human voice for maximum impact, unafraid to clear up the murky space between distortion and clarity.
Prior to this, he was an understudy of Brian Eno, handing out production ideas to Coldplay’s ‘Life In Technicolour’ (working up the courage to tell them, “I have the perfect piece of music for this song”…). His first few releases didn’t do so well, so he gave up on being an artist. He thought he’d make a better producer.
I didn’t know all this, yet. I just knew the title track, “Immunity”. I think it was Jack or Max who told me the piece sustained a sample of Jon Hopkins closing his door as a drum loop, and I listened to the song on loop itself, imagining the last time I saw someone, the door closing again and again. It soundtracked my first gut-wrenching heartbreak. That piece of music will forever remind me of the sound of someone leaving.
Listening to it again, ten years later without fresh heartbreak, it reminds me of why that record felt like such a turning point in music; it sounds like the end of something. Wandering around London for the first time, I knew I was having a special, lucky experience, I knew I was privileged to be there. Every moment felt significant, as it does in your twenties. And I knew that at some point, it would have to end. It feels like my generation and the generations below us have had to live our lives with the concrete knowledge that how we live will end, with no new way of living in sight.
Inspired by an expedition into Ecuador’s ancient caves, Jon Hopkin’s sixth solo album does what it says on the tin, like a prescription from a new-age doctor. The record is “connected to Hopkins' work crafting music experiences for a psilocybin (that's the psychoactive ingredient in "magic" mushrooms) trial held at Imperial College London”, NPR wrote. However, it’s surprisingly beat-less. You won’t find this music accompanying light lasers at a festival.
In 2018, Hopkins was invited to spend a few nights in a cave in the Amazon, Ecuador. The cave was under threat of mining for its rich metals and gold, so the idea of the project “TAYOS” was to bring artists on this expedition to create work bringing awareness to the region. “It’s just this huge hole in the forest, basically”, Hopkins told NPR. Descending into a 60 meter drop, he got to the bottom and began to “seriously question his decision”.
The main cavern was like a cathedral, the perfect temperature. “You almost felt like you were outside”, he said. They stayed down there without daylight for three nights. A neuroscientist brought a full-fidelity recording system with him, so Hopkins had an incredible starting point, and Hopkins himself carried a speaker and laptop with him, playing a few sounds in the cave to record the actual space.
At the beginning of ‘Music For Psychedelic Therapy’, we hear a bird Hopkins woke up to one morning.
I’ve listened to Jon Hopkins ‘Music For Psychedelic Therapy’ every single night since the height of COVID in 2021. So much so, that if I put on Spotify’s new AI DJ, each DJ ‘set’ suddenly traverses into an ambient piece that doesn’t feel like it belongs in a DJ set at all. It feels like part of something else. That’s what Jon Hopkins does best; honours real-world spaces to juxtapose his electronic ‘abstraction’ of sound, giving every single one of his creations a spatial home. That’s how each track on the album is supposed to feel - like it is part of a whole.
And each time Spotify throws it at me, I faithfully let it play, even if it’s in the ‘wrong’ place.
The last track, ‘Sit Around The Fire’ was released first. Not only did Jon Hopkins go on a trip to Ecuador, he also had access to never-before heard archives of spiritual teacher Ram Dass. And when I heard Ram Dass speak in his track, I truly believe that’s the reason I broke through whatever I was before. That was the moment. My partner would laugh and reiterate, “you love a dog, you love a cat, you love a tree” in a stupid voice, and I laughed too, but then I’d hide myself away, listening to the ‘lesson’ over and over. “Beyond all polarities, I am”. So simple, yet for so many years, I’d actively rejected that idea…in favour of pretending I could be an idea myself.
Jon Hopkins told Far Out Magazine, “I was contacted by East Forest, who had spent some time with Ram Dass in Hawaii before he passed. He was given access to several lesser-heard talks from the 70s, and asked to set them to music.”
“He sent me some starting points, including the beautiful choral vocals he recorded which open the piece. I put my headphones on and with Ram Dass’ voice inside my head, I sat at the piano and improvised. What you hear is the first thing that came out – it just appeared in response to the words.”
This album reminds me of sticking a candle on during the worst time of my life, the only thing I could control. I was desperate to get my anxiety under my grip, terrified the world was about to end. It reminds me of thinking I was going to lose everything - of having to completely reframe why I do music and undo years of damage. It reminds me of completely un-picking myself and rebuilding myself.
And I feel like ‘I’ve arrived’ - at the understanding I’ll never arrive. And what felt like vast amounts of never-ending pain, and a ‘death’ of the old self in a way, actually looks a lot like transformation. I can finally look back at everything, glad all these things happened to me, now, and cherish the lessons I learned. I can now cherish the path I was steered onto, no matter how dark the night became.
I wrote a poem by the sea the other day, and it’s a little corny, but it felt like a full circle moment; an understanding that my dying ember has finally come roaring back to life:
and like an explosion, the ember becomes a flame,
you couldn't have ever imagined
your name, dancing,
red or white, hell or high,
somehow still light
is better than not knowing,
barricading yourself away,
and letting all of you die,
so you never have to face a single night.
but you knew you could not be contained,
deep down, you knew,
how life begins, again and again,
forget the grey rock
that served you once;
dance the song of your being
loudly, fearlessly, effortlessly
in front of those who want to blunt you.
We like to believe there is an ‘end’ in our lives, a time to stop being who we are. We think that any loss, the loss of youth, the loss of a friend, a loved one, a career, a way of living, a reality we thought was concrete and absolute…means we should stop trying at all. Really, every loss is an opportunity for transformation, a transference of energy.
One door closes, another opens. Life is full of cyclical endings and rebirths. We will find a new way to live, if we choose, and it won’t be easy. It will be terrifying. It won’t look anything like the relatively easy lives we’ve experienced in the Western 21st century. But if we can give whatever happens to us meaning, or a story, we can make sense of our lives and move on from whatever happened to us before, in order to be who we need to be now.
In 2022, I snagged free tickets to the ‘Dream Machine’ in London, inspired by an 1959 invention by artist–inventor Brion Gysin.
“His experimental homemade device used flickering light to create vivid illusions, kaleidoscopic patterns…
Designed to be the ‘first artwork to be experienced with your eyes closed’, Gysin had a pioneering vision for his invention to replace the television in every home in America. Instead of passive consumers of mass-produced media, viewers of his Dreamachine would create their own cinematic experiences.
Gysin died before his vision could be realised, but his idea to use technology to reconnect us with our inner lives remains just as radical, and relevant, today.
Over sixty years after its original invention, Dreamachine has been radically reimagined as a powerful new kind of collective experience.
Created by Collective Act, in collaboration with Turner Prize-winning artists Assemble, Grammy and Mercury nominated composer Jon Hopkins, and a team of leading technologists, scientists and philosophers, our programme invites you on a magical journey to explore the extraordinary potential of your mind.”
I arrived at a giant pod and sat inside, instructed to place a black eye-mask on my face. I instantly recognised Jon Hopkins signature production moves, sat back and allowed the images to spin. I saw a woman diving into the sun hanging over a big horizon, and a big sea, again and again, and she just kept diving, over and over. And then I saw beautiful marble structures, like a map, or falling through into void spaces in a video game. My friend came out in tears, processing a lot of grief, and we sat for a while on the beanbags outside, happy to have each other to share the experience with.
I didn’t know what the sun and fire and sea and diving meant, but my friend bought me a beautiful notebook for my birthday with a big red sun and black sky. It looked exactly how I saw it in the Dreammachine. And then I thought about Another Sky’s second album and finally understood what I saw.
I suppose the Dreammachine was the theme park. But I still imagine a scene of rollercoasters propelling us through space in a gentle, lulling fashion, blindfolds on, Jon Hopkins’ meditative music blaring, breathing in on the way up, out on the way down. A safe place to challenge and face our fears.
I know this is quite a saccharine blog post. I guess with everything going on in my personal life and the wider world, I wanted to imagine a nicer one. I’m trying to rewrite my own story in a better, more grateful way.
I typed “John Hopkins Theme Park” into Canva’s image generator:
Take me there. Now.