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Everyday Music Listening

In memory of my father:
Richard Arthur Herbert (19222002)
who loved listening to all kinds of music.
And for my daughter Asha
who listens to and makes music everyday.

Everyday Music Listening


Absorption, Dissociation and Trancing

Ruth Herbert
Open University, UK

Ruth Herbert 2011


All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval
system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying,
recording or otherwise without the prior permission of the publisher.
Ruth Herbert has asserted her right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988, to
be identified as the author of this work.
Published by
Ashgate Publishing Limited Ashgate Publishing Company
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British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
Herbert, Ruth.
Everyday music listening : absorption, dissociation and trancing.
1. MusicPsychological aspects. 2. Music, Influence of. 3. Altered states of consciousness.
I. Title
781.11dc22
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Herbert, Ruth
Everyday music listening : absorption, dissociation and trancing / Ruth Herbert.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-1-4094-2125-2 (hardcover : alk. paper) ISBN 978-1-4094-2126-9
(ebook) 1. Phenomenology and music. 2. MusicPhilosophy and aesthetics.
I. Title.
ML3845.H54 2011
781.17dc22
2011009332
ISBN 9781409421252 (hbk)
ISBN 9781409421269 (ebk)

Contents
Acknowledgements 
A Note on the Evidence 
Introduction

vii
ix
1

Music and Listening, Music and Consciousness

Conceptualizing Consciousness

31

The Phenomenology of Everyday Music Listening Experiences

53

Absorption, Dissociation and Trancing

83

Musical and Non-Musical Trancing in Daily Life

107

Imaginative Involvement

133

Musical and Non-Musical Trancing: Similarities and Differences149

Experiencing Life and Art: Ethological and Evolutionary


Perspectives on Transformations of Consciousness

163

Everyday Music Listening Experiences Reframed

187

Bibliography 
Index 

207
227

This page has been left blank intentionally

Acknowledgements
Any researcher seeking to tap the phenomenological details of subjective everyday
experiences of listening to music by asking people to write freely about them, faces
a potentially risky undertaking. Self-report requires high levels of commitment, is
time-consuming, and relies on individuals being comfortable enough with using
words to articulate aspects of experience that would not ordinarily be filtered
through language. I have been lucky enough to work with an articulate, diverse
and motivated group of participants, who were willing to let others share aspects
of their personal, private experiences. I thank all of them for their time, enthusiasm
and for the lucidity of their reports. Without them, there would be no book.
Several people have been instrumental in bringing this project to fruition.
Eric Clarke, Nikki Dibben and Stephanie Pitts have read early and more recent
manifestations of the work from its foundations as a doctoral thesis to conference
paper and chapter formats. Their encouragement and constructive criticism has
been invaluable. I am also indebted to Judith Becker, external examiner for my
PhD, whose profoundly insightful work on the topic of trance has been a constant
source of inspiration. In addition, John Kihlstrom and Ronald Pekala have
generously supplied me both with advice and with hard to locate or out-of-print
source material from the fields of hypnosis and consciousness studies. I thank
Felicity Teague for her thorough proofing of the final manuscript, and the staff at
Ashgate for their guidance during the production stages of the book.
Finally, friends and family have provided vital moral support. In particular, I
am indebted to my husband Rob Parkinson for his unswerving critical interest in
my work.

This page has been left blank intentionally

A Note on the Evidence


The semi-structured interview data and free descriptions of the subjective
experience of listening to music that Chapters 3 and 4 refer to were collected during
a one-year period, from 2005 to 2006. They were analyzed using Interpretative
Phenomenological Analysis (IPA). Data were drawn from seven case studies of
individuals (four males and three females, aged between 16 and 85) living in
London and one town in south-east England. The main criterion for selection
was a declared high involvement in music as listener and/or player, indicating a
capacity (innate and/or acquired) to engage with music, supported by participant
comments relating to awareness of music and frequency of use.
Chapters 5, 6, 7 and 9, which compare musical- and non-musical involvement,
refer to free phenomenological descriptions gathered in 2007 from a larger pool of
twenty participants (eight males, twelve females, aged between 18 and 71) living
in London and two towns in southern England. There was no requirement that
participants declare a high involvement in music (although seven did so), as I
wished to access as many involving activities as possible. Following Sloboda,
ONeill and Ivaldi (2001), the total 151 episodes were initially divided by the
experiencers declared main activity into personal (maintenance, travel and states
of being), leisure (music listening, leisurepassive, leisureactive) and work
categories. Travel comprised journeys via train, car and on foot; active leisure
activities were gardening, drawing, painting, exercising, playing an instrument,
playing cards, imagining own story-in-head; passive leisure activities were
looking at art, looking at surroundings, smoking, lying in bed, watching live sport,
watching TV, drinking alcohol, reading, listening to story; personal maintenance
activities were taking a bath, cooking, chopping wood, washing up, DIY, getting
petrol; work activities were doing accounts, carrying out hypnotherapy session,
proofing and laying out manuscript, constructing soundtrack for film, carrying
out reflexology session, doing a mail-out, performing (telling a story), writing,
painting; states of being were sitting and staring, dreaming, day-dreaming, and
emotional shifts such as extreme feelings of love or anger.
A significant proportion (63.5 per cent) of episodes featured a repetitive or
automatically carried out task, e.g. chopping wood, washing up, DIY, gardening,
exercise, carrying out reflexology session, doing a mail-out, proofing a book,
driving, which although stated as the main activity did not accord consistently
with what actually constituted the participants perceived central focus/involvement.
Music or sound formed a contributing element to 83 (55 per cent) of experiences
overall. Music was actually heard in 47 (31 per cent) experiences, imagined in six
(4 per cent), and five episodes (3 per cent) centred on playing a musical instrument.
A total of 25 (16.5 per cent) experiences featured sound, ranging from an

Everyday Music Listening

accompanying background hum, e.g. the distant sound of the TV or audio static/
white noise, to sounds with a clearly identifiable source, e.g. seagulls, or spoken word
(perceived with or without its intrinsic semantic content). A second categorization
of episodes was arrived at via the themes that emerged directly from reflective
report material. Individuals also completed the Modified Tellegen Absorption Scale
(Jamieson, 2005), approximately six weeks after submitting their reports.
I do not suggest that the evidence from this limited sample can be generalized
to broader populations, but I do use it to provide the basis for a discussion of
broader, organizing ideas relating to everyday music listening, and to indicate
how phenomenological changes may relate to alterations in conscious functioning.
A list, including gender, age and occupation, of the individuals that contributed to
my research is provided below. Names have been changed, all participants opting
to select their own pseudonyms. I have taken the liberty (following Bennett et al.
[2009], in their landmark study of British cultural practices and preferences) of
titling it Cast of Characters, since readers, privy to the details of what would
normally remain private, unspoken experience, may feel they come to know
certain individuals rather well.
Cast of Characters






















Imogen [F: 15], year 11 student


Sophie [F:18], year 13 student
Jimi [M: 18], year 13 student
Gabrielle [F: 27], primary school teacher
Clara [F: 28], accounts assistant
Gary [M: 33], fundraiser
Louise [F: 34], peripatetic music teacher
Liz [F: 40], artist and housewife
Hazel [F: 43], writer
Mary [F: 45], history of art and design lecturer
Joy [F: 46], author
Hugh [M: 46], financier
Max [M: 46], film recording mixer and professional musician
Tina [F: 46], podiatrist
Chaz [F: 47], clinical hypnotherapist
David [M: 51], finance manager
Tilly [F: 53] artist and therapist
Monty [M: 55], clinical hypnotherapist and psychotherapist
Will [M: 57], professional musician and storyteller
D.A. [M: 60], film and cultural studies lecturer
Judy [F: 66], retired teacher
Lilia [F: 71], retired
Rachel [F: 85], retired

Introduction
The first article I ever read on music listening was by Lionel Salter, one-time
Assistant Controller of Music at the BBC. It came from a book rather cloyingly
entitled The Years of Grace a compendium of coming-of-age advice, given to
my mother as a teenager in the 1950s. Here is an extract:
The point is that real art any of the arts demands our closest attention and
our thoughts and will not yield up its treasure to a casual observer. Well, now
how do you listen? Do you mentally lie back and wallow in the sound, coming
to again when its all over? Or do you let your fancy slip away and create all
sorts of stories and pictures to fit the music? Do you find that the sound seems to
unlock the gates of your mind and memory, so that you think of all kinds of other
things? All these are unsatisfactory ways of listening (Salter, 1950: 21011).

Salter equated such listening modes with everyday experience of music


particularly recorded music. His ideal way of listening (unsurprisingly, given his
background and the time of writing) is grounded in the Western classical concert
model of (supposedly) autonomous, passive listening, where music is the main
focus of attention. Its now virtually a truism to observe that this type of listening
behaviour no longer typifies the way in which most people in the industrialized
West engage with music. The question is whether it ever did.
Reading Salters pronouncements on musical experience (at about the age of
13), I felt simultaneously guilty and personally belittled my private ways of
experiencing had been found out and judged to be inadequate. It was particularly
galling as I considered myself to be someone who took music seriously, and I knew
I wanted to make music my career. Salters agenda for proper listening didnt
trouble me for very long, but it did prompt a longstanding interest in how music
may be experienced. Despite my subsequent practical and theoretical training in
music, I still find it impossible (and undesirable) to dictate totally consciously
the ways I experience music. At any time, regardless of the context in which
music is heard, I can find myself veering between everyday and proper modes
of listening: whether at a live classical concert, at home, listening to music in a
lecture or on the move, I might find myself wallowing in the sound, be exposed to
unbidden imagery, narratives, associations and memories, notice myself analyzing
aspects of the music, experiencing my surroundings slightly differently or
even forgetting the very presence of music. Notably, my awareness can fluctuate
between these ways of listening to music in a single hearing.
Individuals have always engaged with a broad range of musics, often in
contexts where a sole focus on musical structure would be considered unexpected,

Everyday Music Listening

perhaps even inappropriate. Moreover, an accumulating body of evidence has


demonstrated that the association of Western art music with autonomous listening
is an inheritance from the nineteenth century (e.g. Johnson, 1996), and that
listening to any form of music constitutes a performative process; sense-making
occurs through the connection of various domains (e.g. personal and cultural
associations), so attention is inevitably multi-distributed (e.g. Windsor, 2000;
Clarke, 2005).
Salters words may appear quaint. Yet despite acknowledgment of the variety
of ways in which music may be used or experienced, the simplistic notion of
two main listening modes persists, albeit as a lurking, unspoken assumption.
The dichotomy of directed listening (music as main focus, profound, rewarding,
proper) and undirected listening (music as background, mundane, superficial) is
echoed in a series of binarisms on the theme of special and everyday musical
interaction: aesthetic pleasure or functional resource; complex or basic emotions;
music- focused or listener-focused experience. Is it really possible to demarcate
the special from the everyday in this way? Clarke has noted that listening that
encompasses a thought-ful exploration of associations, memories, imaginings,
surroundings, may also be highly integrated and intensely concentrated (2005:
135) and equally constitutes a form of proper listening. I suggest that the
boundaries between unusual and mundane experience are very often blurred.
Between the extremes of directed and undirected responses to music lie a number
of listening stances. Although the topic of music listening in daily life is a
burgeoning research area, literature has tended to focus on function (music as
resource used to regulate behaviour and mood) rather than a detailed account of
experience itself. Questionnaires even when containing a mixture of forcedchoice and open responses can effectively tap aspects of experience, but they
cannot map it in a holistic way.
Most studies of everyday music listening in the industrialized West tackle
experience from the perspective of mood and emotion. In this book I adopt a
less prescriptive, more inclusive approach to charting experience. My starting
point is not mood and emotion, but consciousness itself. This leads into a rather
different territory from that usually explored in studies of music and everyday life
one that is more closely aligned to Gabrielsson and Lindstrom-Wiks seminal
study of strong experiences of music (Gabrielsson & Lindstrom-Wik, 2003;
Gabrielsson, 2011). First, I explore the phenomenology of everyday involvement,
examining the psychological processes present, drawing on free descriptions of
unfolding experience, completed by participants as part of an empirical research
project undertaken between 2005 and 2007. Second, I compare musical and nonmusical involving experiences (such as reading, drawing, looking at artworks or
surroundings) in order to assess what interactions between stimulus and experiencer
are more prevalent in situations involving music. Very little research has attempted
to focus in depth on subjectively perceived qualities of mundane musical experience,
partly because such experiences are evanescent and easily forgotten. It is an easy
mistake to equate the unmemorable with the insignificant, however. Empirical

Introduction

evidence indicates that music is far from being a habitually adopted, utilitarian
accessory, interchangeable with other life-props (e.g. food, cigarettes or TV).
Multiply distributed attention prevalent within everyday experience does not
necessarily indicate superficial engagement. Instead, the combination of different
stimuli, mediated by music, may provide multiple multisensory entry points for
perceptual involvement, affording mildly transformed alterations of consciousness.
Specifically, I draw on the concepts of trance, absorption (effortless engagement)
and dissociation (detachment from self and/or situation), as explicatory frames
that throw into relief the self-regulatory nature psychological and physiological
of much everyday listening. In this way, it becomes possible to re-evaluate
everyday music listening, and to appreciate the number of different ways in which
individual listeners interact with music in daily life.
Attaching conceptual labels to aspects of phenomenological experience can
be both problematic and revealing. The terms trance, absorption and dissociation
are in a real sense constructs: imposed definitions that bundle together different
threads of experience in culturally determined ways. For example, until recently
dissociation has been linked only to negative, pathological elements of experience
(as opposed to the positive connotations of the word absorption). Reified, such
terms may easily assume a solidity and clarity that phenomenologically they do not
possess. At the same time, it is this very bundling together of interacting variables
that allows experiences to be grasped holistically and compared at micro-level
between individuals, and at macro-level between separate academic studies.
In order for terms to be of use, the sense in which they are meant needs to
be clearly defined at the outset by researchers this is particularly evident in the
case of trance, a notoriously problematic concept. Accordingly, although I reserve
a detailed discussion of the overlapping concepts of trance, dissociation and
absorption for Chapters 2 and 4 respectively, I offer brief explanations of the way
I use these terms at the end of this Introduction. The following overview provides
a summary of the territory covered by the book.
Overview
The book falls into three sections: Chapters 1 and 2 consider current understandings
of everyday music listening and music and consciousness, while the core of
the book (Chapters 3 to 7) focuses on the phenomenology of musical and nonmusical everyday experiences. Chapters 8 and 9 are more speculative and link
contemporary individual experiences of absorption and dissociation to broader
areas of enquiry concerning evolutionary antecedents of artistic involvement and
the psychobiological function of everyday consciousness transformation.
Chapter 1, Music and Listening, Music and Consciousness, presents a critical
overview of the field of music listening research (content, methods, approaches),
setting this against consideration of a slim body of literature concerning broader

Everyday Music Listening

interactions between music and consciousness that to date has received only
minimal attention within empirical studies of music listening.
Chapter 2, Conceptualizing Consciousness, considers ways in which
consciousness has been categorized, in order to explore how such theorizing might
inform the psychological study of the experience of listening to music in daily
life. I suggest that the notion of a dynamic, fluctuating model of mental states is
one that may be usefully applied to the experience of listening to music, notably
in situations of multi-distributed attention. The core of this chapter (entitled Why
bother with trance?) makes the case for the relevance of this construct to an
empirical exploration of psychological processes apparent in everyday involving
experiences, and examines the very different definitions of trance in ethnomusicological literature as opposed to therapeutic practice and lay usage in the
modern Western world.
Chapter 3, The Phenomenology of Everyday Music Listening Experiences,
provides a detailed examination of the psychological processes involved in
listening to music in everyday life. It focuses on a variety of real-world settings,
illustrating interactions between people, their environment and musical attributes
during shifts of consciousness via excerpts from interview and diary data. I argue
that, although engagement with separate components of experiences involving
a distributed attention may appear superficial, the simultaneous combination of
activities (e.g. listening, imagining and looking) may trigger richly multimodal and
involving experiences, and that the resultant changed orientation to consensual
reality may fruitfully be framed as an instance of spontaneous everyday trance.
Chapter 4, Absorption, Dissociation and Trancing, makes the case for
the ubiquity of the processes of absorption and dissociation in everyday music
listening scenarios, the main body of this chapter providing the first extensive realworld study of absorbing and dissociative experiences of music.
Both Chapters 5 and 6 possess the ultimate aim of assessing what interactions
(if any) between stimulus and perceiver are particular to music, i.e. what is
music contributing? Chapter 5, Musical and Non-Musical Trancing in Daily
Life, relates the phenomenology of absorbing and dissociative everyday music
listening experiences to instances of non-musical engagement characterized by
changes in density of thought and sensory awareness. Chapter 6, Imaginative
Involvement, illustrates the importance of the imaginative faculty to musical and
non-musical trancing.
In Chapter 7, Musical and Non-Musical Involvements: Similarities and
Differences, I examine a series of activities in turn, outlining properties or
characteristics of these stimuli that afford involvement together with the qualities
of experience that are connected with shifts of consciousness in each case. The
central part of the chapter focuses on the activities of listening to and playing
music and features a discussion of the perennial question of musics effect.
I suggest that music affords a particularly wide variety of attentional loci that
facilitate different modes of trancing.

Introduction

Chapter 8, Experiencing Life and Art: Ethological and Evolutionary


Perspectives on Transformations of Consciousness, grounds the previous findings
regarding the psychological characteristics of modern everyday music listening
and non-musical involvements within a broader context, examining arguments
from ethology and evolutionary psychology concerning the adaptive value of the
arts. Topics include: the development of the imaginative faculty via the acquisition
of long-term memory and/or language; antecedents of the arts in play and ritual;
antecedents of language; infant development and pre-verbal experience; altered
consciousness as adaptive psychobiological capacity; music and alternative
realities. I argue that the arts are custom made for the capacities of the human
mind, and so may function as particularly effective sites of involvement.
Finally, in Chapter 9, Everyday Listening Experiences Reframed, I provide a
re-evaluation of everyday music listening and non-musical involving experiences,
advocating a reassessment of experiences featuring distributed attention the most
common mode of experience in the modern Western world. Differences between
musical and non-musical instances of trancing are discussed, and consciousness
change is related to psychobiological factors and cultural context.
Definitions of Key Terms
Trancing
I define trance as a process characterized by a decreased orientation to consensual
reality, a decreased critical faculty, a selective internal or external focus, together
with a changed sensory awareness and potentially a changed sense of self.
Hypnotic procedures simply formalize and intensify this process, and in daily
life the role of hypnotherapist is replaced by the interaction of self with certain
internal and/or external stimuli, the selection of which may or may not occur at
the level of conscious awareness. This book focuses on a particular manifestation
of trance identified by the influential twentieth-century clinical psychologist
Milton Erickson, termed spontaneous or common everyday trance (Rossi &
Ryan, 1985[98]). Following the example of ethnomusicologist Judith Becker
(2004), I adopt the gerund trancing to highlight the notion of trance as active
process rather than discrete state. Spontaneous trance subsumes the constructs of
absorption (total involvement) and dissociation (detachment).
Absorption
Absorption can be defined as an effortless, non-volitional quality of deep
involvement with the objects of consciousness (Jamieson, 2005: 120), as opposed
to attentional engagement that is goal-directed, rational and effortful.

Everyday Music Listening

Dissociation
The concern of this book is largely with instances of non-pathological (normative)
dissociation. Non-pathological dissociation may be defined as an altered state
of consciousness that is not organically induced, that does not occur as part of a
dissociative disorder, and that involves the temporary alteration or separation of
normally integrated mental processes in conscious awareness (Butler & Palesh,
2004: 66). The term normative is intended to indicate an understanding of
dissociation as an intrinsically normal process that may be distorted or hijacked
in pathological dissociative states, often through the effects of trauma (Butler,
2006: 46).
Absorption and Dissociation are best understood as a useful holistic wrappers
or shorthand for the overall subjective feel of certain types of experience arising
from the interaction of a number of psychological processes. Empirical evidence
indicates that they are ubiquitous components of everyday experience, with and
without music.

Chapter 1

Music and Listening,


Music and Consciousness

Watching Swanns face while he listened to the phrase, one would have said
that he was inhaling an anaesthetic which allowed him to breathe more deeply.
And the pleasure which the music gave him was in fact closely akin, at such
moments, to the pleasure which he would have derived from experimenting with
perfumes, from entering into contact with a world for which we men were not
created (Proust, 1913[1922]: 279).
I listen to music when Im walking to school, working, trying to get to sleep, in
the bath [laughs] pretty much most of my day is taken up with music. I really
notice when its not there I hate silence. (Sophie)

Introduction
Strong, intensely emotional experiences of music are a transcultural universal, and
possess identifiable socio-cultural functions. The instances of listening to music
that individuals tend to remember, discuss with others, and overtly value the most
commonly, relate to strong involvement experienced at live events such as pop
festivals, classical concerts, ballets, weddings etc. (Lamont, 2009). Transformative
experiences of and with music whether live or recorded are frequently cited
as those where music is a main source of attention and emotional arousal is high.
Such scenarios have often been the subject of literary fiction: the first volume
of Prousts A la recherche du temps perdu, for example, contains a number of
descriptions of intense experiences of listening to music. The protagonist Charles
Swann hears live performances of the fictional composer Vinteuils violin and piano
sonata on several occasions, and moves from a strong, synaesthetic involvement
in the physical quality of the sounds themselves, to the intensely emotional
experience of the rejuvenatory and transformative power of the music, which acts
to provide access to Schopenhauer-esque invisible realities. Swanns experiences
are further intensified by his fascination with one phrase that initially proposed to
him particular sensual pleasures and subsequently becomes associatively linked
to a love affair. Prousts vivid descriptions show strongly involving music listening
episodes to be multifaceted experiences, potentially combining emotional arousal
with a number of other factors, e.g. cross-modal perception (synaesthesia), inner
imagery, associations and memories.

Everyday Music Listening

The striking nature and phenomenological richness of strong experiences,


together with the clear changes of conscious functioning that they imply, make them
immediately attractive to study at first sight far more accessible to psychological
documentation than mundane experience. It is undoubtedly true that to date the
psychological processes operating in strongly emotional experiences of and with
music in both Western and non-Western contexts have received far more research
attention than the subjective qualities of everyday life listening experiences
(e.g. Gabrielsson & Lindstrom Wik, 2003; Becker, 2004; Lamont, 2009; Whaley,
Sloboda & Gabrielsson, 2009; Gabrielsson, 2010, 2011). It is wrong to conclude,
however, that this indicates that everyday experience is intrinsically less richly
varied in psychological terms.
An increasing body of research indicates that the most prevalent listening
situation in the West is one where attention is distributed across a complex
situation of which music is only a part (Sloboda and ONeill, 2001: 418).
In its starkest form this has been identified as a situation featuring markedly
passive consumption in which music is used as sonic wallpaper forming the
undemanding backdrop to some other task (North et al., 2004: 72) reaching
awareness only when it is suddenly absent. Adopting a somewhat different
stance, cultural theorist Michael Bull, in an extensive study of iPod use, views
the practice of listening to music in situations involving distributed attention as a
purposeful way of managing consciousness (Bull, 2007). Even so, he still offers an
essentially negative assessment of much distributed everyday listening, framing it
as an escapist strategy used by those who cannot or choose not to negotiate nonmediated experience because this may threaten the users sense of cognitive
control with the introduction of uncontrollable thoughts or feelings flooding
in (2007: 125). Instead, individuals opt, in Bulls emotively bleak words, for a
tethering of cognition to the auditory products of the culture industry (2007: 133).
Although such explanations certainly articulate some aspects of everyday listening
experience, it seems unlikely that they define all possible types of psychological
engagement with music in daily life. The notion that, in everyday situations, music
necessarily functions as an undemanding backdrop or as a means to censor
uncontrollable thoughts certainly provides a mismatch with my own personal
experience. Anecdotal report suggests that a greater variety of listening stances
exist, but detailed supporting evidence is scarce.
One of the difficulties in assessing the subjective qualities of everyday music
listening experiences is that, because they may not be pre-planned or emotionally
tagged, they lack memorability. Due to the capacity for music to interweave
invisibly with everyday life, the more mundane occurrences are simply forgotten
or filtered out (Sloboda and ONeill, 2001: 417). It is far easier then, to chart the
function of music in everyday life the ways in which music as utilitarian resource
can be used to regulate behaviour and mood in different situations (e.g. DeNora,
2000) than tap the subjective moment-by-moment feel of individual music
listening experiences as they unfold.

Music and Listening, Music and Consciousness

Another difficulty in thinking about the qualities of everyday experience


attaches to the way in which experiences may be classified. Alterations of
cognitive, perceptual and emotional functioning from an individually perceived
norm combine to effect shifts of consciousness commonly referred to in the
literature as being either profound or superficial. Such a dichotomy features a
covert qualitatively positive/negative split, e.g. the term profound carries with
it connotations of depth of meaning, intensity and importance, whereas the term
superficial carries connotations of lacking depth or thoroughness and of being
of insignificant import (O.E.D., 1989). Alterations of consciousness might be
better served by being more frequently defined as dramatic or subtle. Even the
word mundane, often featured in studies of everyday music listening, is increasingly
understood in a weakened sense as ordinary, commonplace. Hence: prosaic, dull,
humdrum; lacking interest or excitement (O.E.D., draft revision, 2009).
Of course, everyday music listening experiences may at times be all of the
above, but on other occasions as I show in this book they may afford subtle
alterations of consciousness, marked by a quality of involvement that may be either
positive or negative. Once again, we can turn to Prousts work a rich source of
phenomenological report for numerous accounts of subtle consciousness change
in daily life. His writing contains many instances of mundane objects or situations
that are seen afresh in what could be described as an informally aesthetic manner,
via a sharpened or enhanced sensory awareness:
A little tap at the window, as though some missile had struck it, followed by
a plentiful, falling sound, as light, though, as if a shower of sand were being
sprinkled from a window overhead; then the fall spread, took on an order, a
rhythm, became liquid, loud, drumming, musical, innumerable, universal. It was
the rain. (Proust, 1913[1922]: 120)

Only via empirical studies with a qualitative emphasis that chart interactions
between music, perceiver and environment in a broad range of real-world
contexts, can the varieties, qualities and purpose of everyday listening experiences
be fully understood. Additionally it is essential to situate such empirical enquiries
within a broader frame of intra- and interdisciplinary reference. For that reason,
the concern of this chapter is to present an overview and evaluation of the field
of music listening research (content, methods, approaches), before considering
the subjective experience of music from the rather different vantage point of
consciousness and altered states literature.

10

Everyday Music Listening

Music Listening in Daily Life: Empirical and Theoretical Perspectives


Overview
Over little more than a decade, everyday music listening practices have come to
constitute a key focus of research attention. This is indicative of a general shift in
the humanities and social sciences towards understanding of the everyday, as well
as of real-life contexts. Due to technological advance (particularly the proliferation
of portable sound devices), the contexts in which recorded music may be heard,
and the uses of music, are more numerous and diverse than in any previous era. In
addition, a wider range of musics are more accessible than ever before. Given this
diversity of musical context and function, it seems reasonable to theorize that the
ways in which music is experienced will be similarly broad ranging.
Accordingly, pioneering empirical studies of music in everyday life (Sloboda
et al., 2001; North et al., 2004) have necessarily possessed a primarily exploratory/
documentary emphasis, setting out to identify the territory of enquiry the
what, when, where, why aspects of music listening rather than a focus on the
psychological detail of individual experiences themselves. Central to most studies
has been the notion of music not just as consumed commodity, but as functional
resource. More recent enquiries have continued to explore specific uses of music,
but have been concerned to connect these to aspects of subjective experience,
particularly musical preference1 (e.g. Greasley & Lamont, 2006; Lamont & Webb,
1
Musical preference has been studied via various routes, including the impact of
individual differences such as personality, social status, age; the influence of situation,
mood; listening behaviours of high and low engagers in music, and empirical aesthetics
(e.g. examining correlations between preference and arousal levels, musical complexity,
prototypes, repeated exposure to music). For a detailed overview of this literature see
Lamont & Greasleys chapter in Hallam et al. (2009); also Juslin & Sloboda, 2010, chapters
19, 24 & 25; North & Hargreaves, 2008, chapter 3). The relationship between lifestyle
preferences and musical preferences has been the subject of a large scale (2,532 respondents)
survey study (North and Hargreaves, 2007), with clear implications for the experience of
listening to music. Central to the study were correlations made between musical taste and
preferred media/leisure pursuits, which led to some provocative generalizations relating to
expected experiences of various taste publics. For example, fans of hip hop/rap, DJ-based
music, dance/house and indie scored highest on factor 1 (non-domestic, intellectually
undemanding, indoor entertainment) fans of opera and classical music scored highest
on factor 2 (open air, cerebral) (2007: 193). Although an apparently straightforward,
thorough and pragmatic documentation of everyday life practices, such objective findings
teeter on the edge of dangerous territory, i.e. that types and qualities of experience are
dependent on membership of high or low culture taste publics. This notion of a hierarchy
of experience (often linked with education and social background) is one that was more
commonly promoted some decades ago, notably by Bourdieu (1979[84]) in what is now
a classic text (Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste). This viewpoint is
contentious and I return to examine it in Chapter 4. North and Hargreaves do not overtly

Music and Listening, Music and Consciousness

11

2010), mood and emotion (e.g. Juslin et al., 2008; Zentner, Grandjean and Scherer,
2008), all of which constitute components within the overarching field of affect
studies (Juslin and Sloboda, 2010). Additionally, some studies have focused on
specific topics, such as everyday therapeutic uses of music (e.g. Batt-Rawden and
DeNoras [2005] exploration of the use of music as a technology of health by
individuals suffering from chronic illness) or the listening habits of different sectors
of the population (e.g. Omigie & Stewarts [2010] study of music use by amusics),
or age groups (e.g. Hays & Minchiellos [2005] interview study of the meaning of
music in the daily lives of older people). It is worth noting, however, that, as yet,
the listening practices of older people and children continue to be severely underrepresented in the literature. Crucially, no study has yet attempted to examine the
listening experiences of a representative cross-section of the population (in terms
of ethnicity, gender, class, occupation). Obviously such a project would be both
logistically daunting, and potentially impractical, although, as Juslin et al. (2008)
observe, a compromise could be to alternate between representative sampling
of participants and representative sampling of situations (2008: 679). To date,
scholarly understanding of everyday music listening in the industrialized West
has derived almost entirely from the experiences of undergraduate psychology
students, and is therefore inevitably partial.
Various methodologies have been used to tap everyday experience. Participant
observation (directly witnessing individuals in a situation, such as an aerobics
class, e.g. DeNora, 2000) and Experience Sampling Method (ESM) methodologies
(electronic alerts, e.g. a text message that signals to an individual that they should
complete an experience response form) enable experience to be documented as
or soon after it occurs. The experience-sampling method also accommodates
situational variables and individual meaning (Zentner and Eerola, 2010: 192).
Structured diaries, or unstructured free descriptions (reflective reports), may be
used to access both present and past experiences, while semi-structured interviews
and surveys typically involve retrospective recall. To date, research has typically
relied on self-report as opposed to indirect measures (for an outline of the merits
and disadvantages of each method see Sloboda, 2010: 5036), although a multiple
method approach is frequently adopted to triangulate evidence, so reducing the
likelihood of inaccuracy.
Activities and Contexts
A preliminary survey study concerning everyday uses of listening (Sloboda,
1999) found that the most popular activities while listening to music were driving,
running or cycling (22%), and housework (22%) all scenarios that feature a
argue for tight links between lifestyle correlates and musical preference, but do offer some
uncomfortably judgemental homologies, e.g. Fans of country and western have a dour,
parochial, and low-culture lifestyle that mirrors the conventional lyrical themes of country
and western music. (2007: 494)

12

Everyday Music Listening

distributed attention. In 2001, Sloboda et al. published the results of the first
enquiry to chart the functions of music in naturalistic real-world settings, using
ESM a methodology originally developed by Csikszentmihalyi and colleagues
(e.g. Csikszentmihalyi & Larson, 1987), and one that has subsequently become
established in the field of music listening studies (e.g. North & Hargreaves, 2004;
Juslin et al., 2008; Greasley & Lamont, 2009, 2011). This landmark, if smallscale study (eight participants) identified a number of common main activities
while listening to music, which were then grouped under three headings: personal,
leisure and work. Personal activities included states of being (e.g. sleeping)
and maintenance activities such as cooking or getting dressed, while leisure
activities were subdivided into listening to music as sole focus, and active- and
passive leisure pursuits. The three top categories featuring music were personal
maintenance, travel, and active leisure.
Declared activities will obviously reflect the occupation and age range of the
sample (e.g. students may be likely to do less housework but more self-directed
study), but other studies have confirmed that one of the most common everyday
uses of music is to frame or enhance the activity of travel (Bull, 2004, 2007;
North & Hargreaves, 2004; Greasley & Lamont, 2009; Heye & Lamont, 2010).
Active leisure and personal maintenance have also recurred as popular categories
featuring music (Greasley & Lamont, 2009), and other activities have been
highlighted to a greater degree in individual inquiries, including relaxation an
example of passive leisure (Juslin et al., 2008) , and intellectually demanding
work tasks such as writing, studying (North et al., 2004; Greasley & Lamont,
2009). In terms of context, studies concur that the highest frequency of selfchosen music experiences occurs at home and while travelling particularly when
alone. Unsurprisingly, listening experiences in public places, or in the company of
others, are likely to involve a low level of choice. All studies have found instances
of listening to music as a main activity to be low (Sloboda et al., 2001: 2%; North
et al., 2004: 11.9%; Juslin et al., 2008: 5%; Greasley & Lamont, 2011: 2.3%),
suggesting that the concentrated, attentive, focusing on music that is paradigmatic
of the classical concert or laboratory experiment is a rather untypical activity for
most listeners (Sloboda & ONeill, 2001: 418).
Musical Function and Qualities of Experience
A major focus of many studies of everyday music listening has been on function
music as resource used to regulate behaviour and mood rather than a detailed
account of experience itself. In a large-scale (n.346) examination of the uses of
music in daily life (North et al., 2004), participants were asked to select from
a range of forced-choice options (drawn from previous research) relating to
function. In terms of occasions involving self-chosen music, the most popular
responses were: (a) enjoyment (56.4%); (b) to help pass the time (40.6%);
(c) habit (30.6%); (d) to create the right atmosphere (30.5%). North et al.s enquiry
became a key reference point for subsequent research, and nearly all empirical,

Music and Listening, Music and Consciousness

13

naturalistic studies of music listening have since employed questionnaires that


usually include forced choice questions (typically including North et al.s top
four functions) to tap uses and effects of music. Enjoyment, sometimes phrased
as I really liked listening to it, emerges as a key reason for listening (Lamont &
Webb, 2010; Greasley & Lamont, 2011; Heye & Lamont, 2010), the other most
popular options being to pass the time, to relax, to create or accentuate an
emotion, to create the right atmosphere (Juslin et al., 2008; Greasley & Lamont,
2011; Lamont & Webb, 2010; Heye & Lamont, 2010).
However, such apparently straightforward reasons are deceptive in their
simplicity blanket statements that could inform whole areas of enquiry. For
example, what does enjoyment mean experientially? What might be the varied
nature of experiences involving an alteration of time sense? If listening is a habit,
why has this habit formed and what does it do for a person? What atmospheres
are valued and what does the right atmosphere feel like? Closed response
formats can be completed quickly by individuals, ensure consistent coding,
bypass verbalization difficulties, and enable cross-study comparison. At the same
time, they also acquire canonical status (as Zentner et al. have observed with
relation to emotion labels [2008: 495]) and circumscribe the territory of inquiry.
Additionally, as individuals become familiar with questionnaire layouts, they may
skim through checklists in an increasingly glib way.
A more developed account of musical function is given by Sloboda, Lamont
and Greasley (2009), via a review of predominantly qualitative literature relating
to self-chosen music use. The authors observe that music appears to occupy
six functional niches in contemporary Western society: travel, physical work,
brain work, body work, emotional work, attendance at live events. Furthermore,
they identify four overarching functions of self-chosen music use: distraction,
energizing, entrainment, and meaning enhancement. Various listening scenarios
are mentioned for example, the use of music on public transport to enhance
or distract from a routine, even boring low-demand experience (2009: 432).
Still tantalizingly absent, however (with the exception of reference to strong
experiences of music), is a discussion of individual, lived experience. In what
ways perceptually, cognitively, affectively does music enhance a journey?
What are the experiential effects of being distracted by music?
Hints of the Subjective Feel of Experience
Listening studies examining functions of music in daily life particularly if
incorporating interviews or open-response questionnaires do offer some valuable
insights into the subjective feel of experience. One example is DeNoras study
of self-regulation through music. Music, described as a technology of the self,
serves to modulate mood or energy levels, to aid concentration (2000: 5860),
and acts as a virtual space in which to explore self-identity, i.e. an ongoing
constitution of person-as-individual in psychological, physical and emotional
terms (2000: 47). Particularly striking is her description of the use of music to

Everyday Music Listening

14

configure shifts of consciousness via physical and emotional entrainment during


the various stages of an aerobics session:
From the meditatively bodied mode of the core2 (little thinking or feeling and
much moving) back to a more self-conscious and more sentimental mode postcore. (2000: 101)

Other findings from the listening literature relate to arousal levels and thought
processes. Summarizing the results of the 2001 diary-based study previously
mentioned, Sloboda et al. concluded that music tended to increase arousal,
present-mindedness and positivity (2001: 20). At the same time, DeNora (2000:
501), Sloboda and ONeill (2001: 419) and Dibben and Williamson (2007: 587),
among others, have noted the involvement of music in the decrease (as opposed
to a more often observed increase) of arousal (i.e. relaxation)3 and also in evoking
memories and associations (DeNora, 2000; Sloboda & ONeill, 2001; Zentner et
al., 2008). For example, results from a Mass-Observation project4 mailing from
1997 revealed that the use of music as a cue to reminiscence [was] the single
most frequent use reported by half of the 249 panel members (Sloboda, 2005:
324). Such reminiscence would involve an inward focus accompanied by visual
imagery and emotional memories that are anchored in familiar music, and it is
possible that this may be a common listening mode in the West.
High levels of involvement when listening to music are often associated with
live concert settings, where music is the prime focus of attention. Bull, however,
has shown that music may form one element within an involving situation
that includes external (e.g. visual) and internal (e.g. thoughts) stimuli. Using a
combination of interviews, framed by insights from critical theory, to examine the
use of music on the move (2003, 2004, 2007) he maintains that the use of sound
technologies can be understood as part of the Western project of the appropriation
and control of space, place, and the other (2004: 174). To put it another way,
music functions as a means of configuring and shaping quality of experience.
The car in particular, is described as providing a customized, private space one
example of what Bull (2007) terms an auditory bubble in which to occupy
routine periods of empty time, thus reclaiming or transforming them. Once
again, different modes of experience are intimated, from that involving an inward,
imaginative focus to one where sound mediates or accompanies perception
of the environment, providing what Bull terms an aestheticization of the world
outside (2003: 369).
The fastest and most vigorous part of an aerobics session.
Dibben and Williamson studied the listening practices of 1,780 British drivers via

2
3

survey, and listed relaxation as the dominant use of music while driving.
4
The Mass Observation project was initiated in 1981 by Sussex University.
Approximately 500 panel members record details of their daily lives in response to a
diverse range of survey topics.

Music and Listening, Music and Consciousness

15

Ways of Mapping Everyday Experience


Any enquiry that attempts to understand the varieties and qualities of subjective
experience will inevitably draw on received ideas, existing conceptual frameworks,
and associated terminology. In terms of a holistic topdown approach to studying
musical experience (as opposed to the primarily bottomup informationprocessing view of perception), emotion variously defined has been the
construct of choice. This accords with an established tradition, traceable to the
ancient Greek notion of catharsis, of writing about musical meaning and affect in
terms of emotion (see Cook & Dibben [2010] for an overview).
It is now accepted that emotion and mood constitute components within the
broader, rapidly developing field of affective science, and that studies of musical
affect can encompass aesthetic and spiritual experience, as well as preferences,
mood and emotion (Juslin & Sloboda, 2010: 9). Despite this, in practice, most
real-life studies continue to map subjective experience principally in terms of
emotion, mood and perceived function of music, even if findings are informed by
other organizing frameworks.
For example, in a study of mobile listening (Heye & Lamont, 2010), designed
particularly to confirm the existence of Bulls previously mentioned metaphorical
auditory bubble, experience was still assessed primarily through checklists of
emotion adjectives5 (happy, relaxed, energized came top), rather than free
phenomenological report or open responses relating to attention, awareness,
altered perception of surroundings etc. Rating scales included specifically to
test the bubble hypothesis merely asked how aware individuals were of their
music and surroundings, whether completing the questionnaire had interrupted
their experience, and how loud their music was. Follow-up interviews with eight
(of a total of 428) listeners, were more productive, revealing that music could
simultaneously shut out and enhance awareness of surroundings, but relied on
retrospective recall of general listening practices rather than recent experience.
By contrast, studies that do not use closed response formats as a starting point
from which to map qualities of experience, arrive at a more varied range of what
might be termed ways of being-with-music, e.g. transcendence, harmony with
the environment (from Greasley and Lamonts [2006] interview study of musical
preference in young adults), solace, diversion, revival (from Saarikallio and
Erkkils [2007] interview and diary study of adolescents mood regulation). In such
scenarios, feeling and function are not easy to separate, or at least function seems to
encompass a composite of associated feelings and other experiential qualia.

Sloboda et al.s (2001) bipolar mood scales in this case

16

Everyday Music Listening

Music-induced Emotions and Psychological Mechanisms


An important body of recent research has sought to clarify, refine and extend
the reach of studies of emotion and everyday musical experience. Drawing on
previous literature, Juslin (2009) and Juslin et al. (2008, 2010) have reviewed
the different ways in which emotions may be evoked by music, arriving at a list
of seven psychological mechanisms (meaning types of information processing),
theorized to have evolved in sequence, and accordingly to reflect lower and
higher levels of brain functioning. The mechanisms are: brainstem reflex
(a focus on acoustic attributes), rhythmic entrainment, evaluative conditioning
(where two stimuli become associated), emotional contagion (mimicry), visual
imagery, episodic memory (where music provides an emotional anchor to past
experience), and musical expectancy (where emotion is generated by the violation
of expectation). The first four mechanisms are considered to induce general arousal
and basic emotions, visual imagery and episodic memory to induce all possible
emotions, and musical expectancy to induce a selective range of emotions,
including awe and thrills (Juslin et al., 2010: 626). Juslin et al. (2008) carried
out an ESM study to assess: (a) prevalence of these psychological mechanisms;
(b) occurrence of particular emotions (terms included on the questionnaire reflected
both categorical and dimensional conceptualizations of emotion) in everyday
situations with and without music; (c) interaction between music, situation and
listener. The most commonly reported mechanisms were emotional contagion,
brain-stem response, and episodic memory, but the authors acknowledged that
self-report may be problematic in that individuals may be unaware of the true
causes of some emotions, and may under-report certain experiences (Juslin et al.,
2008: 679). Results (predictably) indicated that music and non-musical stimuli
evoked a shared range of emotions, positive emotions occurring more frequently
than negative emotions in musical and non-musical episodes, although happiness
elation and nostalgialonging were more prevalent in the case of situations
involving music.
Zentner and Eerola (2010) have advocated a move away from the reliance
on standardized mood/emotion scales informed by categorical (also known as
discrete or basic) and dimensional (most commonly based on valence and
arousal) models of emotion. Noting that these models were not designed to map
music-induced emotion, Zentner et al. developed a domain-specific model of
emotion via a series of four empirical studies involving different groups of listeners,
designed to identify emotion terms suited to describe felt emotions across a variety
of musical styles (Zentner et al., 2008: 496). This yielded the nine-factor Geneva
Emotional Music Scale (GEMS) that accommodates emotion categories such as
wonder, transcendence and nostalgia as well as a range of nuanced affect terms
relevant to everyday experience, e.g. relaxed, dreamy, enchanted, light,
moved, soothed. Via the GEMS, Zentner et al. have endeavoured to bypass
the difficulty of verbalizing experience by providing would-be introspectees with

Music and Listening, Music and Consciousness

17

an off-the-shelf emotion vocabulary sufficiently rich and varied to echo that of


Proust or Thomas Mann (Zentner & Eerola, 2010: 212).
Reconsidering Everyday Music Listening Experiences: Key Issues
The Nature of Subjective Experience: Interactions between Music,
Perceiver and Situation
Much more is known now than a decade ago about the when, where and whys
of everyday music listening experiences. Not so much is known about the what
the subjective qualities of lived experience. It is still not uncommon to find
musics contribution to experience described as background, accompaniment,
or soundtrack. Such terms assume a hierarchical structuring of the components
of experience where some things matter and others fade into the periphery of
awareness. At times this is undoubtedly true we have to pay attention in order
to negotiate the demands of daily life. However, in many everyday situations
when travelling, engaged in a routine activity, or relaxing awareness may be
equanimous, i.e. we may be equally conscious of a number of impressions and
events. In such cases components of experience are not separable, but interact,
perceptually affecting each other. To be sure, musical soundtracks to daily life may
be barely perceived, but they also have the capacity to mediate, focus, colour and
integrate aspects of experience otherwise music would not be employed by the
film and television industries.
In fact, the need to uncover interactions between stimulus, perceiver and
situation, in order to understand processes involved in everyday music experiences,
has been a consistent theme running through naturalist enquiries concerning the
use of self-chosen music. Drawing on J.J Gibsons theory of ecological perception,
the potential of an ecological approach to listening has been increasingly explored
in recent years (Clarke, 2005; Windsor, 2000; DeNora, 2000). In this approach,
it is recognized that listening is not an autonomous activity, but is instead
situated within a context, i.e. dependent on the relationship between perceiver
and environment (natural and cultural) (Clarke, 2003: 117). Music is not seen as
an unchanging stimulus that transmits immanent meaning and standard effects
regardless of occasion or who is experiencing it. Rather, the combination of
objective musical properties and capacities and needs of the listener give rise to
what are termed affordances: the uses, functions, or values of an object the
opportunities that it affords to a perceiver (Clarke, 2003: 117). Thus, sounds may
specify different types of meaning at different times, and correspondingly
different types of experience. Referring to Gavers work (1993) on auditory event
perception concerning musical and everyday listening, Dibben identifies two
kinds of listening which operate simultaneously but which the listener privileges
in different ways according to his or her needs or preoccupations (2001: 162).
Listening may fluctuate between attention to acoustic attributes of music (qualities

Everyday Music Listening

18

of the sounds themselves) or source specification (including both musical and


cultural sources and associations). These insights, taken together with the findings
of the listening studies discussed, point towards types of listening that encompass
one or more of the following:
distributed attention across a complex situation of which music is only a
part (Sloboda & ONeill, 2001: 418)
concentration and attentiveness, albeit with an external or internal focus
wider than the music alone
a potentially multisensory character.
Assessing Experience
Studies of everyday listening commonly adopt a multiple method approach to
generate a variety of data, which is then compared to minimize inaccuracy. Even
so, as I mentioned before, it is often difficult to generalize findings, because of
the emphasis in the literature on the experiences of young, predominantly female
undergraduate students, frequently studying psychology. Another problem is that
individual methodologies tend to prescribe experience to an extent. Put simply,
as a researcher, you tend to get out what you put in. Forced choice items may
function as cues so-called demand characteristics (Vstfjll, 2010: 256) that
circumscribe individual response. Pre-determined emotion labels may not reflect
actual experience (Sloboda, 2010: 505), and individuals unfamiliar with thinking
about their experiences in terms of emotion labels may translate them in various
ways. Function labels prescribed reasons for listening may similarly fail to tap
the details of experience. For example, selecting the option because I really liked
it might short-circuit any further reflection as to the nature of engagement.
Questionnaires even when featuring a mixture of rating scales, open- and
forced-choice responses are necessarily sequential. They do not respect the
narrative of processual consciousness, instead serving to fragment experience.
If we were asked to record a recently occurring dream in this way, it is likely
that any mental imprint of it would have vanished long before reaching the end
of the tick-boxes. Even naturalistic, idiographically friendly methods such as the
ESM possess the disadvantage of interrupting unfolding experience rather than
unobtrusively monitoring it. Like dreams, mundane experiences are evanescent:
questionnaire, survey and ESM studies have limited value in terms of tapping
the subtle detail of the subjective feel of everyday interaction with music. Such
information therefore remains invisible and consequently largely unrecognized as
a form of listening practice.
Defining the Everyday
Noting that the term everyday sometimes appears to function as a catch-all
category, Sloboda (2010) has discussed various ways in which the everyday is

Music and Listening, Music and Consciousness

19

distinguished (implicitly or explicitly) from the non-everyday in the literature.


He suggests that everyday experiences are typically low in intensity, characterized
by shifting mild emotion by small steps (2010: 495), linked to habitual actions,
are easily forgotten, and marked by distraction and flux (2010: 497). They
involve basic self-referential emotions, with a focus on factors external to music
(2010: 511), occurring not in special environments, but in locations that people
can move through freely. The music heard may possess everyday qualities
(e.g. brief and simple, clear emotional codes) that encourage surface hearing,
or art music may be listened to in a surface way (2010: 503). If an element of
emotional complexity is present it is likely to derive from non-musical aspects
of the situation, and the experience is typically listener focused (e.g. targeted use
of music to change mood, aid task completion) rather than work focused.
While these observations are accurate in a substantial proportion of cases, I
argue that they do not account for all forms of listening in daily life. Particularly
difficult is the notion of dividing the everyday from the special via location and
experience. People certainly may experience intense involvement while listening
to music heard in a variety of non-everyday specialist settings in a concert hall,
in a stadium, at a cathedral. They also may experience the same sensation when
hearing jazz in a pub or Peruvian panpipe players in a shopping precinct (both
everyday locations where individuals can come and go). In fact, studies of strong
experiences of music (SEM) indicate that they can occur non-volitionally in any
place at any time (Whaley et al., 2009: 452; Gabrielsson, 2010: 568).
Sloboda acknowledges that we can experience non-everyday music in an
ordinary way (2010: 502). By the same token, we must be able to experience
the ordinary in a special way. The notion of ordinary experience as consistently
mundane and insignificant concerned with the unexciting business of managing
home, food, cleaning, getting to and fro from work (Sloboda, 2010: 496) is
misplaced and if true, for many people would make life simply unbearable!
The point is that, at any moment, the everyday can be transformed into the noneveryday, and one of the aims of this book is to demonstrate how music is a
particularly effective medium for that purpose. Undertaking routine activities can
feel mundane (in the modern sense), but experience may be mediated by music to
seem fresh or unusual.
Packaging Experience: Moving Beyond the Emotion Wrapper
Different vocabularies divide up experience in different ways. Critically, as
music therapist Mercedes Pavlicevic observes, not only does terminology
package experience, but it saves us the trouble of first checking the packaging
(1997: 9). Emotion studies offer one vantage point on experience, but researchers
have used words such as emotion, mood, feeling and affect in differing and
sometimes contradictory ways (Juslin & Sloboda, 2010: 9), and categorical and

20

Everyday Music Listening

dimensional models of emotion potentially ignore a broader range of affective


phenomena.
Of course, whether or not words like feeling and emotion accommodate all
experiential phenomena depends on how the terms are defined. For neuroscientist
Antonio Damasio, emotions are chemical and neural responses (1999: 42),
i.e. body and brain reactions that occur both continuously and unconsciously, while
feelings constitute a conscious read-out of emotions (1999: 285). Thus, some
level of emoting is the obligate accompaniment of thinking about oneself or about
ones surroundings (1999: 58). By contrast, the working definitions of emotion
and mood prescribed by the recent Handbook of Music and Emotion appear more
restricted, e.g. emotion as a quite brief but intense affective reaction (Juslin &
Sloboda, 2010: 10). This has prompted some authors in the field to call for a focus
on other types of experience such as flow experiences, altered states, and
aesthetic experiences (2010: 940).
One option when seeking to tap a more inclusive range of experience, is, as I
have indicated, to expand the remit of emotion labels, as in Zentner et al.s (2008)
development of a domain-specific model of emotion, or to admit other proposed
types of emotion e.g. aesthetic emotions6 (Scherer, 2004; Zentner et al., 2008),
and refined emotions (Fridja & Sundararajan, 2007) contemplative, detached
modes of experiencing, divorced from the need to act.
Another option is to abandon canonic emotion labels altogether, and simply ask
people to describe their subjective experience. Evidence suggests that individuals
may experience emotions to music (as represented by current emotion labels) just
over half the time (Juslin & Laukka, 2004; Juslin et al., 2008). If that is the case,
then emotions (at least as represented by current emotion labels) do not account
for the entirety of experience. Free phenomenological reports (mentioned as a top
priority for future research in the Handbook of Music and Emotion) may well
include emotion labels, but are not exclusively about emotions.
The most detailed phenomenology of music-listening experiences to date
is provided by Gabrielssons pioneering research (Gabrielsson & Lindstrom
Wik, 2003; Gabrielsson, 2009, 2010, 2011), prompted by the dearth of research
concerning the holistic experience of music, into the nature of strong experiences
with and of music (henceforth SEM). Gabrielsson explained the focus on strong,
rather than ordinary experiences, by quoting from a classic text The Varieties
of Religious Experience by William James: we learn most about a thing when
we view it in its most exaggerated form (1902: 39). Between 1989 and 2004,
1,354 reports of strong experiences of music were collected from 953 individuals,
representing a cross section of age, gender, occupation, education, musical training
(Gabrielsson, 2010: 552). Although feelings and emotions frequently featured in
reports, some descriptions did not mention them.
6
Juslin et al. have objected to the term aesthetic emotion, maintaining that aesthetic
and emotional responses may occur independently of one another (2010: 636).

Music and Listening, Music and Consciousness

21

Many of the characteristics the authors include as part of a descriptive system for
SEM (based on content analysis of free descriptions) would seem to be relevant to
everyday listening. Experiences are considered via seven overarching categories,
five of which are immediately pertinent: physical reactions/quasi-physical
reactions, behaviours, perception, cognition, feelings/emotions.7 Perceptual
characteristics include a generally intensified perception and/or multimodal
perception, sensory change and/or synaesthesia. Among the numerous cognitive
factors identified are: focused attention, complete absorption, no thoughts/abandon
analytic attitude, changed experience of time and space, associations/memories
and imagery. Feelings and emotions include intense/powerful emotions, positive
emotions (including mood states, e.g. calmness), negative emotions, and mixed or
changing feelings. A more recent study (Lamont, 2009) of strong experiences of
music in university students, was informed by a positive psychology framework,
specifically Seligman et al.s (2005) notion of the importance of pleasure,
engagement and meaning in achieving authentic happiness. The study confirmed
the advantages of idiographic analysis in conveying the totality of experience
(Lamont, 2009: 257), noting that in comparison to the emotional affects of music,
much less is known about engagement, including the constructs of flow,
trance and absorption (2009: 252).
Towards the end of the Handbook of Music and Emotion, Juslin and Sloboda
make the following extremely pertinent observation:
Ultimately, it could be fairly difficult to establish clear boundaries between
feelings of emotions and other experiential qualia in music listening. One might
predict then, that in the long term, the field of music and emotion may eventually
be subsumed under the far broader heading of music experience (Juslin &
Sloboda, 2010: 941).

The authors could equally have written music and consciousness. It is this rather
different vantage point on experience that I now examine.
Music and Consciousness
Identifying the Territory
Interest in the psychological and physical effects of music can be traced back at
least as far as the Upper Palaeolithic period, circa 45,000 to 10,000 years ago,
when music is presumed to have been used in cave rituals involving image making
while in an altered state of consciousness (Lewis-Williams, 2002: 225). The
anthropologist Erika Bourguignon has referred to the ability to alter consciousness
as a psychobiological capacity available to all societies (1973: 11).
The overlap between cognition and perception is acknowledged by the authors.

Everyday Music Listening

22

Although it is probable that alterations of subjective experience have been


recognized and valued at all times across all cultures, the term consciousness
(first appearing in Roman juridical literature) only acquired its modern usage
(to describe psychological consciousness) via two key philosophical texts of
the seventeenth century Descartes Meditations (1649) and Lockes An essay
concerning human understanding, vol. 1 (1690). The first book to feature both the
words consciousness and music in its title was only published in 2006.8
To my knowledge, no specific historical chronology charting interactions
between music and mind exists. The nearest equivalent is offered by writers
in the field of music therapy, who have sometimes sought to situate/validate
contemporary music therapy practice by piecing together historical trajectories
concerning the effects of music, or the relationship between music and healing.
Such lineages are of dubious value since they do not always draw upon primary
sources, assume a continuity of practice, and are necessarily selective due to
author bias, lack of written documentation especially in the case of ancient
or heterodoxical practices and lack of availability/translations of non-Western
texts, leading to a bias towards European and American sources.9
In many ways, the slow progress in the study of music and consciousness
resembles that observed in the associated field of music and emotion only a
few years ago. In 2001, a landmark publication the predecessor of the current
Handbook of Music and Emotion appeared, constituting the first attempt to
establish emotion as a core research area bringing together the various concerns
with the affective nature of music that have so far been spread over a wide variety
of journals and book publications in different disciplines (Scherer, foreword to the
2001 edition). At the beginning of the book, Juslin and Sloboda suggested reasons
for the slow development of an integrated study of music and emotion, many of
which are equally applicable to research into music and consciousness. These are:
the difficulty in studying emotions in a laboratory setting (2001: 4)
the lack of a unifying paradigm
the emphasis on the study of observable behaviour in the 1940s and 1950s
during which the study of inner mental processes were seen as less than
scientific (2001: 5)
the lack of truly interdisciplinary synthesis within a multidisciplinary field.
The authors also summarized a series of overarching dichotomies that are easily
transposable to the study of consciousness, e.g. whether the effect of music on
consciousness is received (something inherent in the music), or constructed
D. Aldridge & J. Fachner, eds (2006). Music and Altered States: Consciousness,
Transcendence, Therapy and Addictions. London, Jessica Kingsley.
9
W.F. Kummels (1977) Musik und Medizin: Ihre Wechselbeziehung in Theorie und
Praxis von 800 bis 1800 offers the most scholarly approach to music and mental/physical
disorder
8

Music and Listening, Music and Consciousness

23

(personal appropriation of the music), the contribution of biological and cultural


factors to the experience of music, and whether consciousness-changes attached
to music are merely perceived (as when people speak of music as trancey but are
unaffected by it) or actually induced (the music feels hypnotic).
Labelling Experience
To date, most studies of music and consciousness have focused on musics
contribution to the creation of qualitatively different, often dramatic shifts in
consciousness. These are usually considered in terms of the constructs of trance
and altered states of consciousness (ASC) and examined from various perspectives
(ethnomusicological/anthropological, psychological, neurological). There can
be a tendency to treat trance and ASC as isolated terms or thing-like givens
perhaps allocated a local definition that fits with the particular phenomena/
situations being investigated rather than locating them in any broader view/
theory of consciousness.10 That there are different potential ways to define trance
and ASC becomes less confusing if these are considered as generic terms that may
then yield typologies of experience. This is a necessary approach, and one that I
explore in Chapter 2, which considers ways of conceptualizing consciousness. For
now, however, I acknowledge that it is not an approach that is problem free, not
least because it can create a notion of experience as static, rather than processual,
and also because ambiguity is still possible if different typologies are adopted by
different researchers as is the case in emotion research.
Descriptions of rituals involving the concept of trance are familiar within
ethnomusicology and anthropology. There seems to be a consensual acceptance
among ethnomusicologists/anthropologists of the existence of trance, perhaps
because rituals serve to frame and contextualize it, lending trance validity as
an observable and real phenomenon supported by the belief systems of those
taking part. Rougets seminal work on music and trance (1985) has provided an
exhaustive worldwide overview of such studies. More recently, the concept of
trance has been applied to music experience in the West, e.g. Hutsons (1999)
study of rave subculture and Beckers contextually broader-ranging description
of deep listeners (2004). Within the studies mentioned so far, there has been an
emphasis on, and acceptance of, traditional notions of strong forms of trance11
(paralleling the focus of Gabrielsson and Lindstrom Wiks 2003 study of strong,
Western listening experiences). Thus Rouget characterizes trance as taking place

Judith Beckers book Deep Listeners: Music, Emotion and Trancing (2004)
is a notable exception to this, drawing particularly on theories influenced by Biological
Phenomenology (Varela et al., 1991; Edelman, 1992; Damasio, 1999).
11
Strong trance in the sense that it is similar to other altered states of consciousness
such as sleep, concussion, epileptic seizure, alcohol intoxication (Heap and Aravind, 2002:
24). The authors note the (as yet) lack of a rigorous scientific classification of strong trance.
10

Everyday Music Listening

24

in company and involving noise, crisis, sensory over stimulation and amnesia
(1985: 11). He then becomes more specific:
let me list the principal symptoms of the trance state:12 trembling, shuddering,
horripilation, swooning, falling to the ground convulsions, foaming at the
mouth, protruding eyes, large extrusions of the tongue, paralysis of a limb
noisy breathing, fixed stare (1985: 13).

To the Westerner, used to the notion (often courtesy of depictions in literature,


film and television) that trance involves somnambulant states, immobility, and
the handing over of volitional control to large-eyed Svengali-like figures,13 this
may seem extremely odd; the antithesis of what one might expect if seeking
help from a hypnotherapist. In fact, Rouget does acknowledge a state involving
immobility, silence, solitude, sensory deprivation and hallucinations (1985: 11),
but chooses to term this ecstasy, which, confusingly, he maintains never includes
music, although he immediately qualifies these definitions by placing trance and
ecstasy at opposite ends of a continuum linked by an uninterrupted series of
possible intermediary states, so that it is sometimes difficult to determine which
of the two is involved.
Becker prefers the gerund trancing to terms such as trance state or altered
state of consciousness, as both terms imply a static situation, a fixed form
(2004: 7) rather than process. She warns against the dangers of reification (2004:
40), commenting, I suspect there may be different kinds of consciousness
coterminous with different kinds of trancing (2004: 165), although choosing to
focus on a definition of trance in accord with that of Rouget:
I define trance as a bodily event, characterized by strong emotion, intense focus,
the loss of the strong sense of self, usually enveloped by amnesia and a cessation
of the inner language (2004: 43).

It is obvious that there are difficulties with attaching phenomenological labels to


aspects of consciousness. For example, the SEM descriptive system previously
referenced, includes components that seem to fit qualities in altered states of
consciousness, such as complete absorption, lose consciousness of body, time and
space, experience unreality, loss of control, merge with the music (Gabrielsson
and Wik, 2003: 203). However, the authors stress that SEM cannot be simply
identified with altered states, peak experiences or flow, although there is
considerable overlap between all these concepts (2003: 203).

My italics. This phrase does not allow for the possibility of different forms of trance.
Svengali is a character from a novel (Trilby, 1894) by George du Maurier. Grim and

12

13

gaunt, with dark, staring eyes, he uses hypnotism to turn a tone-deaf young girl (Trilby) into
an opera singer.

Music and Listening, Music and Consciousness

25

A fairly recent, edited compilation of essays, Music and Altered States:


Consciousness, Transcendence, Therapy and Addictions (Aldridge and Fachner,
2006) constituted the first published text to attempt to bring together contemporary
research concerning music and consciousness. Interestingly, the impetus for the
book came from the field of music therapy, and the topic of music and healing
(via shifts of consciousness) informs a good proportion of the material (settings
range from palliative care to medicinal uses of music in conjunction with drugs
in non-Western contexts). Additionally, Fachner includes research relating
to music and drug-induced altered states of consciousness, together with
electrophysiological (EEG) studies of music-related ASC that attempt to map
neural correlates of such states, e.g. the increase in slower alpha and theta waves
during meditation (Kohlmetz, Kopiez and Altenmller, 2003; West, 1980) and
music and dance-induced trance (Oohashi et al., 2002; Park et al., 2002).14 The
equation of brain states with specific states of consciousness is problematic for
various reasons (which I explore in Chapter 2), but it does reflect an increased
emphasis on evidence-based research in music therapy.
Fachners chapter on altered states and music cites a range of literature not
commonly considered together. Thus, the topic of music and trance (drawing chiefly
on the work of Rouget, in addition to Fachners own research [2004] concerning
the interdependency of mental set, setting, sound and trance via a mixture of EEG
mapping and phenomenological report) is considered alongside targeted uses of
music to alter consciousness. These include: (a) the use of music therapy with
patients for whom alternate states are the norm, due to brain injuries or when in
a coma (Gustorff and Hannich, 2000); (b) the use of music to aid relaxation and
imagination in the Bonny method of Guided Imagery in Music (GIM) (Bonny and
Savary, 1973; Grocke, 2005); (c) the use of monotonous drumming to function as
an induction to hypnotic states (Harner, 1990; Szabo, 2006)
The latest addition to the field, Music and Consciousness (Clarke & Clarke,
2011), includes a broad-ranging exploration of interactions between music
and mind via specific case studies, as well as a consideration of the topic from
philosophical, cognitive and scientific perspectives. The contribution of music
to transformations of consciousness is assessed with relation to improvisation,
composition, everyday life and music therapy, in addition to non-Euro-American
traditions and practices such as Buddhism and North Indian classical music.
Although the book has no over-arching agenda, several provocative organizing
ideas emerge. One is the possibility informed by an ecological approach to
perception that behavioural/situational modes of engaging with music and
perceptual interaction with specified properties of music may produce different
kinds of consciousness that are particular to music (E.F. Clarke 2011, chapter 11).
EEG experiments reveal particular brainwave patterns alpha, beta, theta or
delta with different frequency ranges that represent different consciousness aspects of
the measured experience (Fachner, 2006: 32), e.g. slow delta waves are associated with
dreamless sleep.
14

Everyday Music Listening

26

If that is the case, one could hypothesize that particular kinds of consciousness
also attach to engagement with non-musical stimuli or activities. For example,
from a bio-evolutionary perspective, when the communication systems of music
and language are compared, it is certainly true that they mediate experience
differently, so yielding different ways of being-in-the-world (Zbikowski, 2011,
chapter 10). Another possibility explored is that music facilitates entry to and
understanding of forms of consciousness that might not be accessed so readily
or completely without specific sonic stimuli, e.g. in Hindustani music the loss of
sense of self when engaged in the concentrated activity of intoning the tonic note
Sa against a drone (D.I. Clarke, 2011, chapter 1).
Imaginative Involvement, Musical Involvement and Absorption
A slim, little-known but thought-provoking body of literature to do with broader
interactions between music and consciousness (although still laboratory focused)
exists, which is of particular relevance to real-world everyday listening practices.
In essence, this examines the capacity of music to provide a means towards
involved, absorbing experiences, and whether such musical involvement is related
to hypnotic susceptibility.15 Several studies take the construct of absorption as
their starting point, attempting to assess its presence using the Tellegen Absorption
Scale (from now on abbreviated to TAS), originally developed as a measure of
openness to absorbing and self-altering experiences (Tellegen & Atkinson, 1974:
268) that the authors considered to be a trait related to hypnotic susceptibility, i.e.
there is a likely association between hypnotizability in a controlled setting and
absorption in hypnotic-like experiences in daily life.
For example, Rhodes et al. (1988) asked 35 introductory psychology students
to complete the TAS prior to listening to eight 4-minute excerpts of a range of
musics (classical, new age, rock and country), concluding that there were links
between the enjoyment of music and the trait of absorption. Unfortunately, their
value-laden hypothesis that classical music, with its greater complexity, would
make greater demands on this ability [absorption] (1988: 737) was reflected in the
subsidiary conclusion that a preference for classical music would lead to a greater
likelihood that absorption would occur than if listening to rock or country music.
In a pioneering interview-based study (1965, 1974), J.R. Hilgard developed
the notion of imaginative involvement to describe so called hypnotic-like
experiences in everyday life, which provided a temporary absorption in satisfying
experiences in which fantasy plays a large role (1979b: 483). She identified music
as one strong area of such involvement. Drawing on this, Snodgrass and Lynn
In academic usage, the term hypnotic susceptibility is used to mean how
suggestible a person is after undergoing a hypnotic induction (Heap et al.,, 2004: 2),
usually as assessed by psychometric tests such as the Stanford Hypnotic Susceptibility
Scale: forms AC (Weitzenhoffer & Hilgard, 1959, 1963) or the Harvard Group Scale of
Hypnotic Susceptibility (Shor & Orne, 1962).
15

Music and Listening, Music and Consciousness

27

(1989) studied correlations between degree of imaginative absorption and hypnotic


susceptibility while listening to imaginative versus non-imaginative music
(1989: 41). Initially, 282 students were screened for hypnotic susceptibility using
the Harvard Group Scale of Hypnotic Susceptibility, Form A, and on a different
occasion (supposedly as part of a music appreciation study) listened individually
to four pre-selected pieces of classical music.
Links emerged between high hypnotizability and capacity for absorption: a
greater correlation between these factors was shown by those interested in classical
music, and, regardless of level of hypnotic suggestibility, the pieces previously
rated as more imaginative triggered more imagery elaboration. This led Snodgrass
and Lynn to conclude that music involvement could be definitely included
as part of the domain of imaginative involvement related to hypnotizability
(1989: 50). However, the artificiality of the study (listening to non-self-chosen
music in a laboratory), in addition to its inherited assumption (taken from one
sentence within J.R. Hilgards study of imaginative involvement)16 that classical
music is more likely to be absorbing, make it impossible to accept these findings
without question. Students heard the music on headphones at a table facing a oneway mirror and were given the instruction to listen with their eyes closed; both
these factors form potential impositions on normal individual listening practice.
They were instructed to listen carefully, which could have encouraged an
analytical mode of perception, and afterwards to fill in a questionnaire containing
items such as How involved were you in the passage? That is, how much was
your attention held by the passage? How deeply were you concentrating while
listening? (1989: 46), which hint at what involvement ought to feel like. Finally,
the two pieces pre-selected as most imaginative (see footnote 31) were obviously
programmatic, and thus more likely to trigger standard images. The authors
characterization of the other two (Baroque) pieces as least imaginative reflects
the unstated (if common) assumption that old or structurally complex classical
music must be abstract, other-worldly and autonomous.
Taking their cue from Snodgrass and Lynn, and drawing on a similar range
of literature, Nagy and Szabo examined the nature of musical involvement while
listening to music via a series of experiment-based studies (Nagy, 2002; Nagy &
Szabo, 2003, 2006). They hypothesized that qualities of involvement would differ
depending on whether the experiencer was deemed to be a high or low involver
in music, i.e. that musical involvement was a capacity, rather than dependent on
state or context. A twenty-nine-item scale of musical involvement (M.I.S.) was
developed, which was used in conjunction with open-ended essays concerning the
meaning of music (both applied to retrospective recall of experience) to establish
differences within music-listening experiences. One limitation was that the M.I.S.
Hilgards sentence reads: Absorbed involvement in music of the classical type can
be like pure involvement in nature, an intense, absorbing, aesthetic experience (1979b:
484). She is obviously referencing one type of listening the contemplative detachment of
the traditional Western concert model.
16

Everyday Music Listening

28

required participants to recall listening to a musical piece that has a great effect
on you, thus assuming that high involvement in music equated strong emotional
involvement, and that high involvers would always be likely to listen in this
way. Once established, this supposition led to some questionable conclusions,
e.g. that high involvers usually listen to music when doing nothing meanwhile
(2002: 508). For the authors, this was inevitable, given their qualifying statement
that [t]his can be understood if we think that you can be deeply involved in an
activity only if you pay full attention (2002: 508) a notion that will be called
into question by the empirical data included in this book. Thus they arrived at a
division between high and low involvement characterized as high equalling more
trance-experiences and low equalling memories and relaxation (2003: 429).
In their 2003 study, the claim that high involvers in music are more likely
to experience trance is substantiated somewhat, because the M.I.S. is used in
conjunction with Pekalas Phenomenology of Consciousness Inventory (a checklist
of interacting dimensions of experience used to assess the presence of altered states
of consciousness) although echoing the methods of Snodgrass and Lynn (1989)
the situation in which music is heard is again artificial (alone for 15 minutes
in a darkened room in a comfortable armchair (2003: 430),17 and the division
between high and low involvement is still seen to translate as high equalling more
trance-experiences and low equalling memories and relaxation (2003: 429).
Nagy and Szabos most recent study (2006) built on connections between music
and trance, seeking both to establish whether hypnotic inductions influence the
experience of music, and whether music itself may act as a hypnotic induction.18
The authors concluded that music indeed did serve as a hypnotic induction for
high involvers, but not for low involvers, although hypnotic induction enhanced
musical experience for the latter.
As already noted, laboratory-focused research has the capacity to conceal or
skew phenomena because practice (in this case ways of listening and experiencing)
is divorced from natural contexts, thus severing interactions between experiencer and
environment. The prime reason for observing phenomena in a laboratory situation
is the opportunity to be able to restrict and manipulate the number of contributing
variables, so making findings specific, reliable and capable of replication. However,
it is worth acknowledging that, in practice, it is impossible to create totally controlled
This scenario appears to be a perennial favourite among researchers examining
listening experiences in laboratory settings. It appeared yet again in a recent study (this
time a reclining chair was chosen) where lights were dimmed and participants listened
to a series of 25 pre-chosen excerpts using headphones. They were left alone during the
experiment in order to create a private atmosphere (Kreutz et al., 2008: 107).
18
The hypnotic induction used was the Stanford Hypnotic Susceptibility Scale, form
A (Weitzenhoffer & Hilgard, 1959). This scale is generally thought by hypnosis researchers
to be especially suitable for general use as it favours easier suggestions what are called
ideo-motor items (e.g. suggestions for arm levitation), as opposed to cognitive items (e.g.
hallucinating a mosquito) or challenge items (e.g. you want to open your eyes but cant).
17

Music and Listening, Music and Consciousness

29

conditions, and that the experiments just reviewed can themselves be viewed as
rituals, encouraging ways of behaving and interacting with given stimuli that would
not be equivalent to the real-life scenarios they seek to access.
Typically, participant experience is passive: listening setting, music, time and
length of listening episodes are all pre-determined. Participants inevitably become
primed by setting, and by the behaviour of those around them to expect
something to happen. In fact, if taking part is a requirement of their studies, or they
are given course credit for contributing, they may already be in an increased state
of arousal or suggestibility and consequently motivated to manufacture responses
(or conversely to withhold them if jaded by aspects of their course/irritated by
the tutors!). The instruments of enquiry (questionnaires/scales) may privilege
some aspects of experience at the expense of others, so creating the danger that
any results are merely methodological artefacts. Particularly problematic is the
comparison of the scenario of hypnotic induction-by-music with use of scripted,
hypnotic inductions and tests for hypnotic susceptibility, which are not tailored to
the individual, and may thus have the potential to create a sense of exclusion or
alienation. Hypnosis researchers Woody and McConkey have advocated a move
away from the long-established and widespread (since the late 1950s) use of the
various Harvard or Stanford Hypnotic Susceptibility scales in research studies,
noting that their persistence mistakenly implies that the underlying issues are
by now so well worked out that we can specify a gold standard procedure for
assessing trait levels of hypnotic susceptibility (2003: 314).
Summary
Existing listening studies reveal the need for documentation of the details of
individual experience at different times and in different settings, in order to
understand the psychological processes operating in everyday music listening
experiences, together with nature of involvement. It is also clear that asking
individuals to articulate their experiences solely in terms of emotional response
prevents the mapping of those experiences in their holistic entirety. Additionally,
any study needs to define the terms it uses, or at least the sense in which it chooses
to use them, at the outset. Despite its limitations, Nagy and Szabos research
remains thought-provoking, but at the same time a fundamental (and frustrating)
flaw is that although words such as trance and hypnotize are frequently used,
the authors never explain what they mean by these labels. Without explanation,
we are simply left with construct piled on construct an intellectual house of
cards, lacking firm conceptual foundations. That is why I now turn to ways of
conceptualizing consciousness, in order to situate and explain what I mean by the
terms subjective experience and trancing. Only then does it become possible to
discuss the subjective perceptual qualities of everyday experiences of listening to
music with any lucidity.

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Chapter 2

Conceptualizing Consciousness
Introduction
What conceptualizations of consciousness might be relevant to the consideration
of the subjective experience of listening to music? Various ways of framing or
categorizing experience the gestalt sum of a network of cognitive, perceptual,
emotional and physiological interactions are possible. One route is to think in
terms of kinds of consciousness, each characterized by a qualitatively different
awareness, e.g. the contrast between a raw, direct sensory awareness and
experience mediated by prior knowledge or coloured by personal, autobiographical
detail. Another is to consider notions of conscious and unconscious perception
of non-verbal pre-conscious processing of sensory information and its impact
on behaviour and mood. Other options are to explore temporal notions of
consciousness as continuous process versus the individual perception of discrete
states, or to explore ways of classifying specific experiences, e.g. by mode of
induction or prevalence of particular psychological processes, or the extent to
which consciousness appears to have altered from a perceived baseline state.
While conceptualizations function as theoretical constructions to a greater or
lesser degree, all provide useful insights regarding the experience of music in daily
life, as this chapter will show.
Attitudes to Consciousness
Although consciousness only emerged as a concept in its familiar sense
(of referring to psychological consciousness) during the seventeenth century in
the West,1 descriptions of changes in subjective experience do appear far earlier
(from early mediaeval times), often concerning mystical experience or possession
and explained as resulting from the invasion of the body by external spirits or
from direct communion with God. Additionally, words defining alterations away
from a perceived baseline of normal experience pre-date the modern usage of
the term consciousness by several hundred years. For example, the word trance
in the sense of either a cataleptic or hypnotic condition or half conscious

1
Written references to consciousness emerge earlier in various non-Western cultures
e.g. Rasa theory of ancient and mediaeval India, with its division of experience into high
and low arousal mental states sometimes considered as forms of consciousness.

32

Everyday Music Listening

intermediate state between waking and sleeping can be found in the late
fourteenth-century works of Chaucer (O.E.D., 1989).
Claxton maintains that an unarticulated, unvoiced general awareness of
unconscious processes pre-dates the notion of consciousness: before the
seventeenth century, the fact that people were not entirely transparent to
themselves was so commonplace that it had not needed stressing (2005: 22). The
reason that words describing the unconscious post-dated those for consciousness
(i.e., emerging in the eighteenth century) was that:
the explicit conceptualising of unconscious mental states needed a welldeveloped notion of the mind as the organ of intelligence to hook onto, and
that notion itself only developed during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries
in a nutshell, the unconscious has a relatively short history as a word but
an extremely long and complex one as an idea (2005: 22/25).

The study of consciousness was originally the core concern of psychology,


as evidenced by Wundts study (from 1879) of what he termed
Erfahrungswissenschaften (meaning the science of experience), which constituted
the tapping of immediately perceived, subjective experience via classical
introspection (i.e. self-report, currently termed retrospective phenomenological
assessment). William Jamess two-volume Principles of Psychology (1890)
provided a detailed consideration of consciousness and its relation to mental
processes, while the Phenomenological tradition was established at the beginning
of the twentieth century by Husserl (1913).2
In the same year, in a classic paper entitled Psychology as the Behaviourist
Views It, J.B. Watson established behaviourism, suggesting that by making
consciousness the primary subject matter of psychology, behavioural data were
reduced to having no value (Pekala, 1991: 21). Behaviourism offered a practical
and functional approach to psychologists the study of observable, external
behaviour that was quickly adopted.
Braisby notes that, for some decades afterwards, belief in a consciousness
that could not be objectively observed or measured was [consequently] seen as
speculative at best, and a rejection of the scientific approach to psychology at
worst (2002: 188). Consciousness continued to be ignored for some time by the
developing tradition (from the 1950s) of cognitive psychology, which tended to
focus on mental components such as memory and attention. Since the 1980s and
1990s, however, the study of consciousness has assumed a much greater urgency
2
Once again, the study of subjective experience, but centring round the notion of
intentionality, defined as the action of the mind reaching out to the stimuli that make
up the world and interpreting them in terms of our own personal, meaningful experience
(Edgar, in Miell et al., 2002: 31). Phenomenology distinguishes noeses (intentional acts,
or processes of consciousness such as thinking, perceiving) from noema (objects of
consciousness, such as thoughts and feelings).

Conceptualizing Consciousness

33

(2002: 188) and is now a multidisciplinary field drawing contributions from


neuropsychology, neuroscience, philosophy and cognitive psychology.
Kinds of Consciousness
There is no generally agreed definition of consciousness (Blackmore, 2005: 7),
but the term is commonly equated with the word awareness and used to describe
subjective or phenomenal experience. In an overview of the field, Braisby observes
that it is not yet clear that we have conceptualized consciousness appropriately
(2002: 197). A more profitable therefore and widely adopted approach, is to think
in terms of kinds of consciousness, acknowledging that theories may be driven
by empirical evidence or philosophical reasoning, and tend to reference either
different types of, or different processes behind consciousness (2002: 185). That
any one theory is unlikely to be able to explain consciousness in its totality ceases
to be problematic when the field of study is viewed in this way.
The philosopher Ned Block (Block, 1991; Young & Block, 1996) has divided
consciousness into four main kinds, and these provide useful ways of thinking
about different processes of experience, often forming the basis of theoretical
discussion. Three of these appear relevant to the immediate experience of listening
to music, as well as the practice of recording episodes in written or verbal form:3
Access consciousness: This refers to the shaping of conscious experience
by access to information from other mental processes, i.e. an awareness
of accompanying mental process, as opposed to sudden flashes of insight.
Such information is available for reasoning, verbal report or controlling
behaviour, e.g. when introspecting, information about particular thoughts
is said to be access conscious.
Phenomenal consciousness: This refers to the raw feel of subjective
experience ineffable (or indescribable) qualities sometimes termed
qualia (Blackmore, 2005: 3). As Blackmore puts it:
I may wonder whether your experience of green is the same as mine or whether
coffee has the same smell for you as it does for me, but I can never find out
the redness of that mug is a quale; the soft fur of my cat is a quale; and so is the
smell of that coffee. These experiences seem to be real, vivid, and undeniable.
They make up the world I live in. Indeed they are all I have. (2005: 3)

Explaining phenomenal consciousness is extremely difficult because it is


impossible to observe objectively the subjective experience of another, leading to
3
Blocks fourth kind of consciousness is monitoring consciousness, i.e. the
monitoring of ones actions and mental states. Absent mindedness revealed in error of
intended action demonstrates a lack of such monitoring.

Everyday Music Listening

34

a reliance on inference, using verbal report and behavioural clues. The difficulty
of explaining how phenomenal experience arises from a physical basis (brain
function) has been termed the hard problem by Australian philosopher David
Chalmers (1995: 200).4 It is articulated vividly with relation to instances of strong
trance involving music, by Becker:
the easy problem is the ability to find out which brain structures, what
neuronal groupings, and what chemical transmitters need to be activated in order
to make one feel happy, or sad or powerful or sleepy the hard problem is: why
do Yak Tovil patients, or Christian Pentecostals, or women bitten by a tarantula
in south Italy, on hearing certain kinds of music, feel overwhelmed by emotion,
compelled to moan and finally to collapse? (2004: 118)

Self-consciousness: This refers to a wider sense of awareness, dependent on


an awareness of self not just in the present, but in the past and anticipated
future. The notion of an autobiographical self where memories and
previous physical and emotional experiences shape or colour perception,
i.e. properties of the perceiver and environment interact to produce
subjective experience is central to phenomenology.
Thought of in terms of Blocks kinds of consciousness, experiences of listening
to music may:
at times be likely to have a raw subjective feel to them (phenomenal
consciousness) that is perhaps difficult to describe or ineffable, maybe
including a multisensory range of qualia.
at times reference an extended, autobiographical kind of consciousness via
memory or association that is reliant on possessing a sense of self.
at times, if they are recalled (in written or verbal form) involve a filtering
of initial experience through access consciousness. Additionally, listening
itself could involve access consciousness most obviously if analytical.
In her quest to save the phenomenon of trance (2004: 2) by synthesizing
information from scientific and cultural fields of enquiry, Becker has sought
to build a theory of consciousness for musical trancing and music listening by
drawing on general theories of consciousness (2004: 134). One of the ways she
does this is by importing Damasios biologically based theories concerning two
kinds of consciousness core and extended into her study of strong trance.
Core consciousness emerges from an interaction between a non-conscious
body of information concerning bodily homeostasis (termed the proto-self), with
neural patterns representing perceptions of the outside world. It provides a
sense of self about one moment now and about one place here It is stable
As opposed to the easier problems of explaining memory, attention, perception etc.

Conceptualizing Consciousness

35

across the lifetime of the organism; it is not exclusively human; and it is not
dependent on conventional memory, working memory, reasoning or language
(Damasio, 1999: 16). Extended consciousness arises from storage over time of the
contents of core consciousness. The proto-self, contributing to core consciousness,
can be seen to resemble aspects of phenomenal consciousness (the second kind
of consciousness described above), and extended consciousness accords with an
autobiographical sense of self (the third kind of consciousness described above).
Becker suggests that, while trancing, core consciousness is unaffected, but
the autobiographical self, extended consciousness, is temporarily replaced by a
trance persona, a trance consciousness (2004: 11), which is a type of alternate,
autobiographical, trancing self marked by a cessation of inner languaging
(continuous internal thinking and imaging) and informed by a narrative from all
other similar trancing experiences (2004: 1456).
Becker acknowledges that her application of Damasios theory is better suited
to possession trance than to shamanic trance in which the autobiographical self
of the shaman is a crucial aspect of the ceremonies. Sufi ecstasy likewise doesnt
fit easily into my hypothesis (2004: 165). As stated near the opening of this
chapter, Becker believes that different kinds of consciousness attach to different
types of trancing. This is the reason why I offer no single over-arching theory for
musical trancing and music listening in this book.5 However, it would certainly
seem possible as I have suggested above that everyday listening experiences
may feature a fluctuation between a raw, pure awareness of phenomena, and a
colouring of experience via an extended, autobiographical consciousness. The
extent to which sense-of-self is apparent to the experiencer would thus form a key
determinant of quality of experience.
Unconscious Perception
I have already mentioned Claxtons assertion that a widespread awareness of
the unconscious mind although not explicitly conceptualized as such predates notions of consciousness. The German polymath Leibniz is often credited
with originating the modern investigation of the cognitive unconscious, both
in terms of the notion of a continuum of consciousness (rather than a definite
divide between conscious and unconscious percepts), and the idea of a threshold
between conscious and unconscious: a critical level of energy that an idea had
before it was strong enough to rise up from the unconscious into consciousness
(Claxton, 2005: 202). These ideas are reconciled by Leibnitzs description of
consciousness as an island, which Claxton illustrates: At the summit of the island

5
Neither do I attempt to prove the existence of a kind of consciousness specific to
music, although I do argue that there is enough evidence from evolutionary psychology to
suggest that we may be predisposed to respond to music in certain ways (cf. Chapter 8)

36

Everyday Music Listening

are the clearest percepts; lower down are those that are shrouded in mist, and
below the waterline lies the truly unconscious (2005: 204).
The existence of unconscious perception is now almost universally
acknowledged by cognitive scientists, supported by findings from many
controlled studies (Claxton, 1997: 102).6 It is sometimes termed unconscious
awareness to indicate a broader understanding of awareness as the general
phenomenon of picking up signals from the environment (or from the body),
regardless of whether they get represented in consciousness (1997: 100), and
in this sense corresponds to Damasios notion of a non-verbal, non-conscious
proto-self. If conscious perception is the result of the integration of filtered
sensory information (often termed bottomup information) with stored
knowledge (often called topdown processing), unconscious perception is
the result of sensory information processed automatically below the level of
conscious awareness, but still capable of influencing how we react and behave
(Edgar, 2002: 6). An increasing body of evidence (summarized in Claxton, 1997,
2005) indicates the importance of neural clustering to this process. Situations of
high arousal appear to bind groups of neurons together, suppressing those outside
the group (termed reciprocal inhibition) and consciousness is associated with
such situations, supporting the viewpoint that maintains that consciousness is
activated in novel or potentially threatening circumstances, i.e. its function is
self-protection. Claxton indicates that the manner in which neural clustering
occurs encourages different ways of thinking:
In a state of arousal, a single chain of associations that is more conservative
and more conventional will tend to be followed [by the mind]. In a state of
relaxation, activity may ripple out simultaneously from a range of different
centres, working in less predictable ways (1997: 146).

Different ways of thinking indicate different ways of experiencing, and the


suggestion here is that low arousal neuronal activity is associated with a creative
mindset. Claxton also maintains that thinking in words involves extensive neural
bundling that can impede non-verbal, more intuitive or imaginative kinds of
cognition (1997: 153). It is noteworthy that nearly all theoretical models designed
to explain the phenomenon of trance/hypnosis do so by invoking the notion of
inhibition of [conscious] high-level mental processes and subsequent bias
towards simpler [unconscious] forms of processing (Heap et al., 2004: 13) that
are non verbal and non sequential. Examples are Fromms model of secondary
and primary processing (1992) and Brown and Oakleys model of secondary and
primary attentional systems (2004). Meanwhile, Hilgards neodissociation theory

6
The area has been the subject of investigation for nearly a hundred years, including
early, classic studies by Pierce & Jastrow (1884) and Sidis (1898) and involves the
presentation of faint, fleeting (i.e. subliminally presented) or peripheral vision stimuli.

Conceptualizing Consciousness

37

(1979) proposes a fractionation of conscious functioning itself, rather than


between high- and low-level cognitive control processes.
Phenomenological theory acknowledges the importance of the unconscious
to subjective experience: consciousness is not to be understood as limited to
awareness, but in a much broader sense which would also include pre-conscious
and unconscious processes (Giorgi & Giorgi, 2004: 25). Drawing on the outline
of unconscious perception provided so far, it is reasonable to theorize that such
processing may inform musical listening experiences in the following ways:
At a general level there may be an ineffable interaction between music
and perceiver, affecting bodily homeostasis and emotional set.
At a specific level, a person may appear to automatically play a track for no
reason, but consequently realize it felt right.
The second point is interesting because it references two key areas of everyday
music listening research: motivations for playing music, and the notion of selfregulation. In particular, the statement that music is often merely habitually adopted
in an unthinking way as a barely perceived soundtrack to daily life, becomes less
tenable, and certainly more difficult to prove. It also suggests that verbal or written
reports of experience need to be treated with caution, since motivations may be
misconstrued. As Claxton puts it:
One part of us manifests implicitly in our spontaneous, unreflective, acting and
feeling, while another part is in control of what we are consciously thinking and
perceiving. We are, in other words, capable of giving mixed messages, saying
one thing non-verbally, for example, and another thing verbally. (2005: 20)

In addition, the shared, primarily non-verbal nature of both music and of


unconscious processing suggests that music may be particularly effective in
interacting with mental set perhaps providing periods of relief and rejuvenation
from consciously directed problem solving, rather than being framed as simply
occupying so-called transitional gaps in time.
If we accept that consciousness comes fairly late in the sensation-perception
chain, that it is there to be applied to novel, useful or important situations, and that
conscious perceptions are readings that summarize the state of unconscious
processes (Claxton, 2005: 341), we also have to acknowledge the notion that
the majority of everyday tasks are therefore accomplished automatically, without
conscious awareness. It is therefore possible to argue that it is the unconscious,
rather than conscious mind that is at the core of human experience. This has
implications for the way different types of experience are commonly categorized
in altered states literature, i.e. the premise that any shift of consciousness is usually
taken to be a shift away from the normal conscious baseline. If it is unconscious
processes that should be taken to function as the baseline, then do some perceptual
characteristics of altered states (including trance) no longer need labels such

38

Everyday Music Listening

as special or altered? Is the notion of categorizing experience as normal


and abnormal or altered itself misguided? In the next section I explore the
segmentation of experience and explain how this can inform a phenomenology of
music listening.
The Segmentation of Experience
our normal waking consciousness, rational consciousness as we call it, is but one
special type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by the filmiest of
screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different. We may go
through life without suspecting their existence. (James, 1890: 374)

William Jamess observation about types of experience (made after studying


nitrous oxide intoxication) is one of the most often quoted, or paraphrased,
texts within altered states literature, and James has been credited as the initiator
of altered states research in the West.7 Unfortunately, the suggestion in his text
that consciousness can be divided into entirely different forms can be overemphasized (despite the evocative metaphor of the filmiest of screens), and
was almost certainly not intended by James because he conceived the study of
consciousness in terms of process. Early research into ASCs occurred solely via
first-person reports of subjective experience that because brains automatically
process information by patterning it inevitably stressed the notion of discrete
states. In other words, although perception is processual, experience may feel like
a series of (self-constructed) gestalts or summary statements.
Consequently, this section moves from considering the kinds of consciousness
involved in experience, to the categorization of types of conscious experience
(each of which usually involves more than one kind of consciousness).
Altered States of Consciousness
As observed in the previous chapter, one popular way of categorizing experience
is to talk in terms of emotional states or mood states, and it is possible to
conceptualize changes of mood or emotion as either constituting or contributing
to shifts of consciousness. Another way is to consider experience at the level
of holistic entity and conceptualize in terms of transformed or altered states of
consciousness.
The term altered state first emerged at least in written usage in the writings
of Breuer and Freud in 1893 (O.E.D., additions series, 1997) and appeared with

7
Once again, Eastern theory pre-dates Western theory. Goleman cites the Buddhist
classic the Abhidhamma as probably the broadest and most detailed traditional psychology
of states of consciousness (1977: 1).

Conceptualizing Consciousness

39

increasing frequency during the first part of the twentieth century.8 Its meaning
was firmly established by the publication of Ludwigs seminal paper on altered
states in 1966. For Ludwig, an altered state described:
any mental state(s) induced by various physiological, psychological, or
pharmacological maneuvers or agents, which can be recognized subjectively
by the individual himself (or by an objective observer of the individual) as
representing a sufficient deviation in subjective experience from certain
general norms for that individual during alert, waking consciousness (1966:
225, my italics).

The requirement for changed experience to feel definitively different is echoed by


Tart, who defines an ASC as:
a qualitative alteration in the overall pattern of mental functioning such that the
experiencer feels his consciousness is radically different from the normal way
it functions. (1972: 95) [my emphasis]

The subtle shifts of consciousness perceived as unremarkable and quickly


forgotten that may occur in daily life are not accommodated by such a definition.
Neither is dreaming the most obvious altered state of all , because it is only
on waking that the change of consciousness is recognized (Blackmore, 2005:
101). Consequently, the experiences that have attracted most attention within the
existing altered states literature are those that appear dramatically different from
normal waking consciousness. Kokoszka, recognizing the lack of information
concerning the range of ASC occurring in everyday life, has divided shifts of
consciousness into Profoundly Altered and Superficially Altered states, so
broadening the application of the concept (19992000: 169). In profoundly altered
states, experience is significantly different from an everyday baseline whereas
superficially altered states have only a slightly different content and/or modalities
of experiencing in comparison with the most common experiences and mainly
include relaxation states. He rightly notes that these states have never been
intensively studied by psychologists of consciousness, who focus their interest on
the most unusual states (19992000: 170), but the choice of the words profound
and superficial inevitably carry connotations of value. Another unfortunate
connotation of the term altered states of consciousness, observed by Bourguignon
among others, is that such experiences are often thought of mostly in relation to
psychopathology and to the drug culture (1973: 3), because a good proportion
of literature on ASC dates from the 1960s and 70s when there was a widespread
interest in consciousness expansion and the effects of drugs on consciousness
(e.g. LSD). In her own work, Bourguignon usefully differentiates between ASC, by
8
Breuer & Freud (1893) Neurol. Central bl. Xii: 10. The O.E.D. cites its subsequent
use in the Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology (1941) xxxvi: 489.

40

Everyday Music Listening

which she refers to a psychobiological level of observation, and trance, which she
reserves for categories of cultural interpretation (1973: 13).
Many authors have developed lists of basic dimensions or characteristics of
ASC (e.g. Tart, 1983; Pekala, 1991; Vaitl et al., 2005), varying from four to twentysix contributing components. Several ways of classifying experiences emerge:
1. Ludwig (1966) classifies states according to modes of induction related
to modifications in central nervous system excitation (Bourguignon,
1973: 7). Thus he arrives at five categories: (a) reduction of exteroceptive
stimulation and/or motor activity (present in situations such as solitary
confinement, highway hypnosis or extreme boredom); (b) increase of
exteroceptive stimulation and/or motor activity and/or emotion (present
in situations such as religious conversion or shamanistic trance states);
(c) increased alertness or mental involvement (present in situations such as
reading, writing or problem solving); (d) decreased alertness and relaxation
of critical faculties (present in situations such as daydreaming, listening to
music, aesthetic experiences); and (e) presence of somato-psychological
factors (e.g. physical or mental disturbances following fasting, when
dehydrated or sleep-deprived). In Ludwigs classification system, the
socio-cultural contexts of ASCs are not distinguished from one another.
Thus, what Bourguignon terms private, individual, unpatterned states
may appear alongside instances of culturally patterned, institutional states
within one category and the method of induction may be sacred in one
society and secular in another.
2. Fischer (1971) classifies states of consciousness via levels of arousal,
represented as a cartography (map) of human experiences that is a blend
of Eastern and Western psychology. He maps arousal along a continuum,
in the centre of which is normal experience (characterized by perception).
Towards the right are low arousal or trophotropic states (characterized by
meditation, culminating in the Yoga state of Samadhi). Towards the left are
high arousal, ergotropic states (characterized by hallucination), culminating
in mystical rapture. He includes reference to those beta, alpha and theta EEG
waves predominating during these states (Fachner, 2006: 17).
3. Tart (1983) posits eleven subsystems of consciousness, placing awareness/
attention at the centre of a conceptual framework in which it is shown to
interact with ten psychological structures to produce discrete states of
consciousness (d-SoC). These are: exteroception (sensing the world),
interoception (sensing the body), input-processing (sensory awareness),
emotions, memory, time sense, sense of identity, evaluation and cognitive
processing (e.g. alteration in thought rate), motor output (physical control),
and interaction with the environment. In an altered state (d-ASC) there is a
perceived qualitative shift of experience in terms of these separate elements
and their interaction.

Conceptualizing Consciousness

41

4. Drawing on the work of Ludwig and Tart, in addition to Silvermans (1968)


dimensions of attention, Pekala (1991) has created a Phenomenology of
Consciousness Inventory, a retrospective self-report questionnaire to assess
and quantify states of consciousness and altered states of consciousness
(1995: 272). It references twelve dimensions: positive affect, negative
affect, altered experience, imagery, attention, self-awareness, altered state
of awareness, internal dialogue, rationality, volitional control, memory and
arousal. Using a mixture of qualitative and quantitative methods, Pekala
aims to show how patterns of correlation between these dimensions, in
addition to intensity ratings of individual dimensions, attach to states
associated with particular stimulus conditions (Pekala, 1991: 171).
5. Having conducted a review of altered states literature, Vaitl et al. (2005)
arrived at a simpler method of classification. ASCs were initially grouped
by origin into: (a) those occurring spontaneously (e.g. daydreams,
hypnogogic states, dreaming); (b) those evoked by physical/ physiological
stimulation (e.g. drugs, starvation, sexual activity); (c) those induced by
psychological means (e.g. sensory deprivation, relaxation, hypnosis);
(d) those caused by disease (e.g. psychotic disorders, coma, epilepsy).
Individual ASCs could then be studied using four dimensions: activation
(relating to arousal levels), awareness span (wide or narrow), self
awareness and sensory dynamics.
6. The dimensions and characteristics of experience identified by Tart, Pekala
and Vaitl et al. in particular, share common territory not only with each
other, but with Gabrielsson and Wiks descriptive system, described earlier,
that was designed to explore the nature of strong experiences with and of
music. Taken together, they provide a useful point of reference/comparison
for data arising from inductively based empirical inquiries concerning
the phenomenology of everyday listening. However, several writers have
objected to the notion of states of consciousness, including Spiegel, who
states that; categories are artificial. We simplify the world by creating
them, but most real phenomena are continuous (2005: 32). State versus
process is a problematic area and deserves a closer examination.
State versus Process
The conceptualization of consciousness as a series of states or as process dates
back to the beginnings of experimental psychology in the 1870s. Wilhelm Wundt
(18321920) sought to launch psychology as a scientific discipline, and he used
chemistry as his model, looking for the:
psychological atoms of experience [using] the principle of association to build up
the molecules, compounds, and higher levels of mental activity. Sensations, and

42

Everyday Music Listening


perhaps feelings and images, were the psychological atoms that could be combined
to form perceptions, ideas and higher mental processes. (Pekala, 1991: 14)

Wundt did emphasize that sensations, for example, were processes and not static
elements, but his focus on a structural approach, encouraged a tendency to treat
mental processes as static bits of consciousness (Pekala, 1991: 15) as did
his pupil E.B. Titcheners comparison of structural psychology to the aims and
practice of anatomy.
At the same time, a functional approach to consciousness was being developed
by William James and James Angell, which emphasized process, rather than
freeze-framing moments of experience, and it is James who introduced the term
stream of consciousness:
Consciousness, then, does not appear to itself chopped up in bits it flows.
A river or a stream are the metaphors by which it is most naturally described.
In talking of it hereafter, let us call it the stream of thought, of consciousness, or
of subjective life. (James, 1890: 239) [my italics]

More recent literature reflects these two ways of conceptualizing consciousness: for
example, a substantial proportion of the literature explored in the previous section
concerned the structure of states of consciousness, sometimes using inventories
of interacting variables. Meanwhile, Singer (1966, 1975, 1981) has adopted a
functionalist/stream-of-conscious perspective to investigate the phenomenon of
daydreaming, largely relying on a retrospective self-report questionnaire. Both
approaches inform the methodological choices and theoretical concerns of the
research discussed in this book.
From a neurobiological perspective the maintenance of everyday consciousness
requires:
intact brain tissue, metabolic homeostasis, a moderate level of arousal, a balanced
interplay of inhibitory and excitatory networks, and midrange environmental
conditions. As soon as one of these is lacking, alterations of consciousness
are likely to occur. (Vaitl et al., 2005: 117)

This suggests that alterations of consciousness are likely to be frequent, and at


times so subtle as to pass unnoticed.9 In fact, Vaitl et al. maintain that the brain is
in a constant state of flux and alteration, and suggest the existence of a hierarchy of
brain states: from brief states (termed micro-states) of under a second, to macrostates ranging from seconds to minutes (2005: 117). This would seem to lend
support to the notion of a potentially rapidly altering continuum of consciousness,
9
Tart acknowledges the existence of borderline cases in which it is difficult to
determine how consciousness is different from normal (1969: 2) and uses the term identity
state to describe such instances.

Conceptualizing Consciousness

43

tempered by the minds natural inclination to group and conceptualize disparate


phenomena, which are then experienced as larger states. Few states, then,
are likely to be discrete, static entities, associated with unique physiological
patterns (Blackmore, 2005: 100), but instead would comprise a number of
stages, constantly in transition. Subjective definition of a point in consciousness
as a specific, qualitative state is more likely to occur if the gradient of change
approaching it is high (Killeen & Nash, 2003: 201). Vaitl et al. similarly argue
that a state of consciousness may not equate with a specific functional brain state
and urge investigators to think in terms of a C-space (consciousness space) and a
B-space (brain space) respectively (2005: 119).
It is worth observing that, in the field of hypnosis studies, many investigators
argue that the search for a single, unitary state of hypnosis, or a state unique to
hypnosis is misguided (Woody & McConkey, 2003: 311). Citing the adoption
of the dynamical-systems conception of a state by physicists and others,10 they
rightly observe that a discrete state could only result from a system without
dynamics (e.g. an object at rest (2003: 311) and conclude that states are better
conceptualised as continuous, rather than categorical (2003: 312). The notion of
a dynamic, fluctuating model of mental states (that unites considerations of state
and process) is thus not new, but there appears to have been little application of
this model to musical experience. Empirical evidence suggests that it is a way of
thinking about consciousness that is particularly relevant to music listening in
situations involving a distributed attention, as I show in Chapter 3.
Why Bother with Trance?
Establishing the Territory
One cross-cultural genre of experience that has been described as both a state and
as a process is trance. Empirical evidence from the research I refer to in this
book and from various ethnographies of music suggests that the notion of trance
constitutes a way of thinking about consciousness that is particularly relevant to
the experience of music especially in situations involving a distributed attention.
Surveying ethnographic, ethnomusicological and altered states literatures, it is
obviously apparent that the word trance is used rather loosely and inconsistently,
as a catch-all term to describe a range of different states. Additionally, the
very existence of trance has been the subject of fierce debate in psychological,
neuropsychobiological and hypnosis research. Why, then, have I not chosen
to simply replace it with the term altered state of consciousness? The most
straightforward reason for retaining it is precisely because of its broad usage in a
range of disciplines: it enables this study to make connections with a diverse body
10
Woody and McConkey cite the work of Abraham and Shaw (1990), and Nowak and
Vallacher (1998).

Everyday Music Listening

44

of literature referencing shifts of consciousness (which happen to be described as


trance), and so to locate itself within that literature. My prime reason for including
the trance construct, however, was because it emerged as an important way in
which participants in my research made sense of their own experiences of listening
to music. Following Becker (2004: 7) I use the gerund trancing to indicate that
trance may be most profitably thought of as a process, not a static thing this
way of thinking about shifts of consciousness is much more difficult to convey
using phrases such as trance state or altered state.
There has been a tendency to use the words trance and hypnosis
interchangeably since the nineteenth century,11 although, strictly speaking,
hypnosis is the narrower construct, and is usually used to describe a context
where one person (the subject) is guided by another (the hypnotist) to respond
to suggestions for changes in subjective experience (Green et al., 2005: 262).
Although clinicians often talk in terms of trance it is a broader concept (Pekala
& Kumar, 2000: 109), is assumed to take place in a wider variety of contexts
(e.g. non-Western shamanic rituals that date back to ancient times), and is found in
written form in the English language from the time of Chaucer, as I indicated at the
start of this chapter The O.E.D. focuses on definitions that seem to accord with a
trophotropic (low arousal) model of trance, and this seems to constitute one of the
most commonly expected versions of trance in the West:
2. An unconscious or insensible condition a state characterized by a more
or less prolonged suspension of consciousness and inertness to stimulus; a
cataleptic or hypnotic condition
3.a An intermediate state between sleeping and waking; half-conscious or halfawake condition; a stunned or dazed state.
3.b A state of mental abstraction from external things. (O.E.D., 1989)

This contrasts with the ergotropic (high arousal) model of strong trance described,
for example, by Becker (2004) and Rouget (1989). Already, it is clear that the term
carries more than one meaning, dependent on socio-cultural context. Different
disciplines privilege different aspects of the phenomenon: thus, ethnographic
studies focus on a variety of cross-cultural contexts and associated behaviours,
i.e. trance as situated, whereas the emphasis in hypnosis studies has been on
isolating elements of the state itself, usually as evidenced in the hypnotherapeutic
setting only in order to offer a psychological explanation of trance. In the following
section I purposely use the words hypnosis and trance interchangeably in order
to emphasize that the former is simply a specific instance of the latter.
James Braid coined the word hypnosis in the 1840s from the Greek word hypnos
(meaning sleep). Braids favoured method of hypnotism was to get the subject to fix their
gaze on a small, bright object thus narrowing their attention , and he regretted the term
hypnosis because of its association with sleep. He tried to substitute it with the term
monoideism, but it never caught on. (Waterfield, 2002: xxx)
11

Conceptualizing Consciousness

45

The State/Non-state Debate


For more than half a century a debate has centred on whether trance involves
so-called special processes or normal psychological mechanisms. Thus,
Gruzelier (representing the state view) maintains that hypnosis is characterized by
three discrete stages, each with a different neurophysiological signature (Heap,
Brown & Oakley, 2004: 17). For instance, the point at which the hypnotic subject
cedes executive control to the hypnotherapist is accompanied by inhibition of
activity in left frontal brain regions (2004: 17). Conversely, Wagstaff (representing
the non-state view), construes hypnosis as a culturally devised role (Heap et
al., 2004: 87), arguing that changes in frontal lobe activity are not limited to
situations involving hypnotic induction all one needs is to be in a frame of
mind to concentrate hard on a competing task or passively accept and act on the
instructions of others (including a computer) (2004: 103).
More recently, there has been some rapprochement between the two sides
(Kirsch & Lynn, 1995). Brown and Oakley (in Heap et al., 2004) have argued that
trance is a special process in that it involves a letting go of higher-level, critical
processes (implying frontal lobe inhibition), but because formal hypnosis is not
needed to achieve this state, it may be considered as involving normal psychological
mechanisms. In many ways the state/non-state debate seems misguided and
unnecessary, arising from longstanding notion of categorical divisions between
normal and abnormal psychology. Indeed trance was labelled as a pathological
condition a form of hysteria by Charcot in the nineteenth century (Waterfield,
2002) and is sometimes regarded with suspicion in modern Western societies. This
type of popular belief stems in part, as I have observed before, from the way trance
has been depicted in literature, film and television as a mysterious abnormal state
in which the subject has no volitional control (Green, 2003).
In the West, the influence of the individual differences approach within
psychology, intended to establish common elements or norms for various
abilities and aspects of experience across large populations, has encouraged
the tendency to categorize various psychological abilities, including mental
functioning, as normal or abnormal. This has resulted in the publication of a
barrage of psychometric tests in addition to reference texts such as The Diagnostic
and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (which first appeared in 1952). The
DSM (the product of over 1000 contributors, currently in its fourth edition, with a
fifth edition planned for publication in 2013), uses checklists of symptoms in order
to identify types of mental experience considered to be pathological. The growing
number of syndromes it has identified over the years has attracted some criticism.
As Davis states:
The DSM-IV has no beginning, no middle and no end but it does have a
plot (everyone is nuts or going there) human life is a form of mental
illness. Clumsiness is now a mental illness (315.4). So is playing video games
(Malingering, V65.2). So is doing just about anything vigorously. We are

46

Everyday Music Listening


here confronted with a worldview where everything is a symptom and the
predominant color is a shade of therapeutic gray The pages of the DSM-IV
are replete with mental illnesses that have been hitherto regarded as perfectly
normal behaviour. (Davis, 1997: 612)

In its defence, the DSM-IV does state that involuntary states of trance are common
and should not be classified as a disorder if they do not cause clinically significant
distress or functional impairment (DSM-IV text revision, 2000: 783).
If we accept that trancing is a psychobiological capacity, available to all
societies (Bourguignon, 1973: 11), then it is reasonable to suppose that it involves
normal psychological mechanisms. If it is a given capacity involving normal
psychological mechanisms, then it is logical to expect to locate instances of it in
everyday life, even if they are not conceptualized in those terms. And in fact, there
seems to be a general consensus in the field of hypnosis research that hypnoticlike episodes occur in daily life: it is merely that they are less likely to be termed
trance, and more likely to be termed absorption or dissociation.
Widening the Arena: Hypnotic-like Phenomena in Daily Life
Wagstaff & Cole have stated that most non-state theorists now integrate work from
both the social and cognitive domains (2005: 14). The authors go further:
The main thrust of the non-state criticism of hypnosis as an ASC has not been
to deny that hypnotic subjects experience ASCs, but rather that the concept of an
ASC unique to hypnosis is unhelpful. (2005: 15) [ my emphasis]

In many ways, research regarding trance has been impeded precisely because in
order to attempt to explain it, it has focused on one instance of it (the use of
hypnosis in a clinical, controlled setting), thereby separating it from, and ignoring,
or even denying other related instances of trancing. Wagstaff is right to protest
against the existence of an ASC specific to hypnosis, and his remark prompts
speculation as to the nature of hypnotic-like phenomena in everyday life. The
first investigation of such phenomena was by Shor (1960; Shor et al., 1962), who
compiled a personal experiences questionnaire (PEQ) designed to examine the
frequency and intensity of hypnotic-like experiences occurring in the normal
course of living (Shor et al., 1962: 55). Shor defined trance as the extent to which
the usual waking orientation to generalized reality has faded into the more distant
background of awareness (1962: 55) and questionnaire items referenced scenarios
such as total involvement in a film or daydream; staring off into space, thinking
of nothing; complete immersion in nature or art; the shutting out of surroundings
via intense concentration and automatic completion of a task. His work inspired
the subsequent studies of absorption (Tellegen & Atkinson, 1974) and imaginative
involvement (Hilgard, 1979a, b).

Conceptualizing Consciousness

47

There is an increasing body of support in the hypnosis literature for the notion
of a type of trance that is not confined to Western hypnotherapeutic settings or
institutionalized Western or non-Western rituals (Deikman, 1982; Battino &
South, 1999; Killeen & Nash, 2003; Ranville et al., 2003; Spiegel, 2005; Krippner,
2005; Green et al., 2005).
As Spiegel puts it:
Hypnosis is not confined to context. Hypnotic phenomena occur with or without
a formal hypnotic induction. The absorption literature makes it clear that
hypnotic-like experiences occur among hypnotizable individuals, whether or not
they have ever been exposed to a dangling watch or a social psychologist. The
Wagstaff argument that you could not slip into a hypnotic state without being
aware of it is tautological and wrong. (2005: 32)

Thus, in Hartlands Medical and Dental Hypnosis, a well-established textbook


on the practice and procedures of the phenomenon, Heap and Aravind state that:
The hypnotic trance is continuous with everyday trance occurrences apart
from the more obvious examples of naturally occurring trances, such as
daydreaming and being engrossed in some thrilling music, we may cite periods of
surprise, shock, anticipation, suspense, confusion, inspiration and insight, when
our customary way of looking and thinking about things has the opportunity to
make a sudden shift. (2002: 10910)

Everyday trances are sometimes defined within hypnosis literature as light,


weak or natural (Heap et al., 2004) and equated with the construct of absorption,
particularly by clinicians:
In this respect, trance resembles everyday experiences when one is so absorbed
in something a book, a film, some music, or ones own daydreams that one
may not even respond to ones name when it is called. (Heap et al., 2004: 11)

In fact, acceptance of the existence of this conceptualization of trance appears to


dissolve the state/non-state debate altogether.
Although this state of absorption and high-level inhibition corresponds
broadly to the traditional notion of trance, it is very much the product of normal
psychological processes (Brown and Oakley, 2004: 174).
In other words, rethinking trance as a situated phenomenon, that occurs
in a variety of contexts clinical, ritualistic, natural via a universally given
psychobiological capacity for trancing, removes the need to frame it in terms of
normal or special/abnormal psychological processes, and instead reclaims it
as a ubiquitous if unnoticed part of everyday functioning.

Everyday Music Listening

48

Trance as Genre
That trance eludes simple definition ceases to be problematic if the search for a single
unitary trance state is abandoned, and trance is considered as a generic term that
may then yield typologies of experience. Becker has suggested viewing trance as a
Wittgensteinian category, a set of similar events that bear family resemblances
to one another (2004: 43). The advantage of the family resemblances method
of categorization is that it does not rely on a singular essence or element from
which the concept is constructed: family members are not identical, but they have
common features.12 This allows for different types of trance albeit with some
shared perceptual elements such as that all trances are processual, and all involve
a selective orientation to reality and different patterning of time sense. As Griffin
and Tyrrell note, [t]rance is clearly a matter of degree. Its characteristics change,
just as water can change solidify into ice or evaporate (1998: 23).
Summary
I observed in Chapter 1 that, although the use of music to effect psychological
and physiological change can be traced back at least as far as the beginnings
of the Upper Palaeolithic period circa 45,000 years ago, the field of music and
consciousness research appears to be in the early stages of its development.
It is not that individual investigations of the interaction between music and
consciousness do not exist, rather that as was the case with music and emotion
studies until recently the field currently lacks a sense of integration. Authors
draw on different vocabularies and theories from the wider, multidisciplinary
field of consciousness studies, they approach the topic from different perspectives
(e.g. ethnomusicology, psychology, hypnosis, music therapy), and definitions
of key terms are not consistent across different disciplines. The concern of this
chapter has therefore been to bring together a broad range of literature, and to
examine ways in which consciousness has been conceptualized, in order to provide
a secure theoretical basis for an empirical investigation of the phenomenology of
everyday music listening.
In conclusion, the following summary and definitions of my use of some key
terms will provide an essential grounding for the discussion in Chapter 3 of the
psychological processes involved in listening to music in everyday life, and to
enable comparison with other studies.
Kinds of Consciousness
Earlier in this chapter I referred to the notion of kinds of consciousness using
divisions proposed by Block (1991, Young & Block, 1996), but widely recognized
See Wittgensteins Philosophical Investigations (1953: 67).

12

Conceptualizing Consciousness

49

in the field of consciousness studies. In Blocks categorization, the kinds of


consciousness particularly relevant to everyday music listening are:
Phenomenal consciousness (pure awareness the raw, subjective feel
of experience, including indescribable or ineffable qualities that are
sometimes termed qualia).
Self-consciousness (a mediated but wider sense of awareness, dependent
on awareness of self in the present, past and future. Experience is coloured
by memory and association).
Access consciousness (an awareness of accompanying mental processes,
as opposed to flashes of insight).
Kinds of consciousness operate simultaneously, but particular perceived qualities
of listening experiences may reflect the dominance of particular modes of
experiencing. For instance, a fascination with acoustic attributes of the music
and/or sensory qualities of the body or environment may emphasize phenomenal
consciousness, whereas involvement that comes from musical reminiscence may
highlight an extended self-consciousness. Also, the process of recall could be said
to filter experience through access consciousness.
Unconscious Perception
Unconscious perception or awareness, in the sense of sensory information that
is processed automatically, below the level of conscious awareness, but that is
capable of influencing reactions and behaviour, emerges as a key component of
my theorizing regarding both motivations for listening to music, and the nature
of the listening experience. Seemingly random choice of music may be prompted
by an unconscious awareness of what feels right in terms of the circumstances
and/or desired mental set. Unconscious perception is widely thought to be non
verbal in nature a characteristic that it shares with music, meaning that music
may be especially effective in interacting with mental set. In addition, shifts
of consciousness involving trancing are considered to involve the ceding of an
executive, conscious function to unconscious processing.
Altered States
My understanding of the term altered state is, following Kokoszka (2000) broadly
inclusive, encompassing qualitative alterations in subjective experience (e.g.
of awareness, sensory perception) that may or may not feel radically different
from normal consciousness, and that the perceiver may or may not be aware of. I
prefer Zinbergs term alternate state since this suggests that different states of
consciousness prevail at different times for different reasons and that no one state
is considered standard (1977: 1). There is confusion in the literature concerning
the interchangeability of the terms trance and ASC, evident in the statement

Everyday Music Listening

50

sometimes made that trance constitutes an ASC. It is necessary to be absolutely


clear here. Trance and ASC refer to the same diverse range of experience, and in
that sense are interchangeable. In other words, trance does not constitute one type
of altered state, but trance and ASC are generic labels meaning that all trances
are ASCs and all ASCs are trances. However, the way they construct experience
differs: for example, the term altered state suggests a fixed form, refers to a
psychobiological level of observation (Bourguignon, 1973), and in its most
common usage suggests a dramatic shift of consciousness. Trance appears less
prescriptive as a term and more open to cultural interpretation.
Trancing
Although the concept of trance has been subject of a substantial body of work
concerning cross-cultural, strong experiences of music, it has been less often
linked to everyday experience. The conception of trance referenced in this book
accords with that described by the clinical psychologist Milton Erickson as the
common everyday trance13 and that I here term spontaneous trance. This is a
more inclusive conception of trancing than that expressed by Becker, in that she
states that before trancing happens, one has expectations as to what is supposed
to happen trancing is seldom spontaneous (2004: 42). Spontaneous trance
attaches to situations in daily life that involve a selective attentional focus such
as being absorbed in an activity (e.g. DIY, looking at a view, shopping) or being
gripped by a strong emotion (e.g. anger). The most fundamental everyday trance
is dreaming (Griffin & Tyrrell, 1998).
To reiterate, and slightly expand the definition of trance, I introduced at the
start of the book, I take trancing-as-process to be an over-arching concept that
subsumes absorption (total involvement) and dissociation (detachment) within it,
i.e. different trancing episodes will demonstrate different degrees of absorption or
dissociation. As I have stressed, there is an inevitable slippage or overlap in terms
used to describe aspects of experience (see for example the relationship between
absorption and dissociation outlined in Chapter 4). For the purposes of this book,
I define trance as a process characterized by a decreased orientation to consensual
reality, a decreased critical faculty, a selective internal or external focus, together
with a changed sensory awareness and potentially a changed sense of self.
Hypnotic procedures simply formalize and intensify this process, and in daily life
the role of hypnotherapist is replaced by the interaction of self with certain internal
and/or external stimuli, the selection of which may or may not occur at the level
of conscious awareness.

Described in Battino & South (1999: 145) and Rossi and Ryan (1985/98: 269). My
definition also draws on a wide range of academic literature relating to hypnosis, including
Rainville & Price (2003: 111), Spiegel (2005: 32), and E. Hilgard (in Pekala & Kumar,
2000: 108) in addition to empirical evidence.
13

Conceptualizing Consciousness

51

Following Becker (2004: 8), I adopt the notion here of trance as a process, not
a discrete state. The differing degrees of absorption and dissociation involved in
this process indicate that trancing may manifest itself in different ways on different
occasions. Trance is taken to be a generic term, yielding typologies of experience
that may not share a singular essence, but do have common features. Abandoning
the construct of trance as a single unitary state dissolves the longstanding difficulty
of finding any constant, unique physiological signature for it, and preserves
the terms trance, dissociation and absorption as useful, widely used ways of
conceptualizing experience.

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Chapter 3

The Phenomenology of Everyday


Music Listening Experiences
Introduction
Can conceptualizations of consciousness usefully inform empirical findings
concerning the subjective feel of individual music listening experiences? In this
chapter I explore the phenomenology of music listening, examining interactions
between people, their environment and musical attributes in a range of realworld settings using first-hand accounts from interview and diary data collected
between 2005 and 2006, before discussing how characteristics of individual
experience might be plausibly related to broader thinking about consciousness.
Phenomenology is a philosophical approach first developed by Edmund Husserl
(18591938) that is concerned with the direct understanding of the world via
subjective experience the thing itself as it appears; that is, the phenomenon
(Ashworth, 2004: 12) rather than an indirect understanding mediated by abstract
concepts and assumptions. Phenomenology begins from the premise that we can
know our subjective experience to a degree, and maintains that consciousness
includes pre-conscious and unconscious perception. Although different branches of
the philosophy have developed, much phenomenological psychological research is
influenced by Husserl, and aims to capture as closely as possible the way in which
the phenomenon is experienced within the context in which the experience takes
place (Giorgi & Giorgi, 2004: 27). Such an aim is clearly relevant to the study of
the psychological processes involved in listening to music in everyday life.
The first-hand reports of everyday music listening episodes referred to in this
chapter illustrate a variety of phenomenological themes, including (in order of
discussion) fluctuations in attentional focus (inwards and outwards); multisensory
blending and heightened awareness; visual listening and filmic narrative;
changes in thought (reduction of thought, analytical thought and concentration);
imagery (filmic influences, associations, reminiscence); perceptions of temporal
compression or stasis and perceived shifts of consciousness. Many themes accord
with those identified by Gabrielsson and Lindstrom-Wik in their study of strong
experiences of music (Gabrielsson & Lindstrom-Wik, 2003; Gabrielsson, 2011),
indicating that mundane experiences of music, while often ephemeral, are not
necessarily evanescent in psychophysiological effect.

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Everyday Music Listening

Telling It As It Is: A Note on Self-report


Introspective, retrospective self-report is by nature both richly revealing and
inevitably problematic. It yields a close focus, detailed exploration of subjective
experience that is beyond the scope of survey studies, but reportage relies on
the potential vagaries of memory: memories may themselves be altered through
reflection, and do not capture real-time experience. Participants may not
always be reliable witnesses of their own experiences, or able to articulate them
(e.g. Zentner & Eerola, 2010) and may limit detail to what they are willing and
able to report (Barrett, 2004). Words themselves may lag behind a phenomenon
whose corporeality, temporality, and multiplicity elude the rational, spatial,
and linear character of the written word (Clarke, 2011: 1978, and there may
be unconscious motivations for individual actions and explanations that do not
feature in the accounts themselves (Bargh & Chartrand, 1999; Nisbett & Wilson,
1977). Additionally, descriptions may run beyond their object taking on a drama
and dynamic of their own (Clarke, 2011: 197). I have endeavoured to address
these issues in various ways. First, experiences were required to be logged as soon
as possible after they occurred (in practice reports were completed within a time
frame of a few minutes after to nearly three hours after experiences happened).
Second, following Pekalas advice regarding retrospective report, individuals
were asked to focus on the content (the what) of experience, rather than to
explain why experiences had occurred (1991: 77). Third, when examining data
I employed a method specifically intended to minimize ungrounded theorizing,
yet offering an opportunity to bring to the surface themes of which participants
might be less aware. Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) involves
the initial identification of emergent themes directly traceable to the words of the
participant. This is followed by an analysis of connections between themes, some
of which will cluster together, forming superordinate concepts. As an approach,
IPA encompasses different interpretative stances, termed empathic hermeneutics
(understanding experience from the standpoint of the experience) and questioning
hermeneutics (identifying themes that seem latent or covert, rather than overt)
(Smith, 2004), encouraging a clear-sighted approach to data. Finally, I do not claim
that introspective self-report can capture the totality of experience. It makes sense
to treat phenomenological reports with caution to recognize their necessarily
partial nature (Clarke, 2011: 198) , but introspective methods still remain as an
important means of gaining understanding of the subjective experience of another.
As Ron Pekala, author of the widely used Phenomenology of Consciousness
Inventory (PCI), notes:
A phenomenology of consciousness is not completely reducible to human
neuroanatomy, neurophysiology, and so forth. Consciousness needs to be
conceptualized on many levels; the phenomenological level is one of these
(Pekala, 1991: 3).

The Phenomenology of Everyday Music Listening Experiences

55

Fluctuations in Attentional Focus


A frequently reported everyday listening experience is that involving a distributed
and fluctuating attentional sense. Within one listening episode, music may at
times be the prime object of attentional focus, and at others barely perceived. This
dipping in and out mode of listening is common when driving, as 57-year-old
Will indicates:
Im soon absorbed in a soaring prelude and a perfectly balanced fugue [Bach lute
Suites]. Its early morning Im really only half awake. My attention wanders
now and then as M25 traffic to contend with. For a time I almost switch it off,
as I start to doubt that Ill get off the motorway in good time but [the traffic]
eases and I can allow the music to flow in and out of awareness.

Prior beliefs about/connections with the music inform the experience, evident
in the programme note-like language he uses to describe the lute suite (soaring
prelude/perfectly balanced fugue). He considers attention to music important
(my attention wanders) and notices distractions resulting from a mismatch of
music and mood (I almost switch it off). A more relaxed mood and circumstance
allows the music to flow.
There may also be an alternation between an inward and outward focus of
attention from preoccupation with internal thoughts and images to scanning
the external environment. Gary, 33, regularly uses leisure time to create musical
playlists that intentionally allow for a switch between an internal and external
focus, and are used to cultivate a narrowed awareness during his daily commute
to London:
A mix between opportunities within the scope of the compilation lets say an
hour and a half to escape, but also moments where youre re-engaging if you
like it has periods of ambience which are really quite dreamy, which are the
escape bits. And then there are the more rhythmic, funky tracks as well. So, the
moments where its dreamy are where I would feel most comfortable with who
I am, because its a space youve created that you can disappear into And
then the rhythmic tracks are kind of bringing you back into consciousness.
And theyre the moments where I would start to pick up an external image
from the journey.

The alternation between inward and outward concerns is dependent on context,


current mood or emotion, as well as arousal and vigilance levels. In his initial
interview David (51) describes a situation on holiday in Venice, where the natural
tendency to focus on surroundings fed into a way of listening to music:
if youve got nothing else going on, or youre not aware of things going on
around you, you can look at things and concentrate more on those things and

56

Everyday Music Listening


take more of it in. If you go to Venice youre not there for the people, youre
there to see the canals, the boats, all the architecture around, and its absolutely
fantastic It was so nice sitting this probably sounds selfish, but the two of
us sat on a bench by the Grand Canal, and I had my iPod on. And she didnt sort
of thing. But we just sat there, with our arms round each other for about an hour
and a half, just watching the boats go by. I dont know what she was thinking
about, but I had the iPod on [Vivaldi by 70s rock group Curved Air] and I was
thinking loads of different things.

There is a sense here in which the external focus acts as a trigger to thought, perhaps
suggesting a widened focus that operates internally and externally simultaneously.
The experience is at once a communal intimate one (arms round each other) and,
through the music, a private one (I had the iPod on). His chosen use of music
appears to act both in the manner of a soundtrack to a film, and as an anchor for
future recall:
I can still picture exactly where we were huge flagstones, on the south side
of the Grand Canal. I can see the sort of picture opposite, the hospital I can
still see it now.

At other times, state of mind can influence the quality of attention:


On the way back [in the car] the renaissance and baroque side is on [Julian
Bream, guitar tape]. Am consciously looking for that beautiful mood but dont
quite find it. Instead, my mind starts to pick out little details of the phrasing
have just been working on the laptop, thinking out a schedule to go into a course
blurb. Am hence probably in nit-picking critical mood from that. However, this
softens as the journey goes on. Chat a little with [7-year-old daughter]. The
music recedes from my awareness, am not focusing much, though like a lovely
picture in a room, its there when I want to look into it. We arrive back in quite
relaxed mood even forgot to drive round to the chip shop for [daughters] treat,
since absorbed in a Scarlatti sonata. [Will]

Initial intention (looking for that beautiful mood) is not enough to effect
an immediate shift of consciousness. There is instead a gradual move from an
analytical (nit-picking, critical) to holistic focus, which affects the way attention
dips in and out of the music. Involvement more easily occurs when the conscious
and effortful desire to find it has been forgotten (reminiscent of the situation
of being able to fall asleep more easily when not actively trying to). Music is
perceived to have intrinsic worth and importance even when it is not being listened
to (like a lovely picture). The picture image serves to legitimize attentional flux:
music is valued and constantly present, but may be intensively viewed at certain
times. At other times, this music-object itself appears to move further away

The Phenomenology of Everyday Music Listening Experiences

57

(recedes from my awareness). Once again, a more relaxed mood leads to a more
absorbed connection with what is being listened to.
Multi-sensory Blending and Heightened Awareness
Because everyday listening episodes often take place in conjunction with another
activity, individual perception tends towards an experience that combines multiple
stimuli, as in this account by 18-year-old Sophie:
Listening to My Morning Jacket,1 bluesy tinges, loads of reverb. In my room
looking out of the window. The sun keeps dipping in and out of the clouds, and
Im willing it to stay out. Drifting into daydreams about long straight roads in
America, just travelling, avoiding work. Sunlight stays feeling happiness as
the guitar solo kicks in and Im absorbed into the moving landscape. Thinking
the bass on these headphones is really good. Start to notice the wind stirring the
trees slightly. Song ends.

Music here enhances sensory awareness, contributing to a pleasant and effortless


experience that fluctuates in intensity, with attention distributed between the
music, surroundings, inner associations and tangential thought (appreciating the
headphones). The affordances of the music and the wider environment blend
together, suggesting a kind of performativity, in which the perceiver herself
informally blends together visual and aural (and at other times olfactory or
gustatory) elements to construct multisensory listening episodes. The process is
reminiscent of that theorized in Cooks (2001, 1998) account of the perception of
music in multimedia works. Importing ideas from the field of linguistics concerning
the concept of metaphor (Lakoff & Johnson, 1980) and the conceptual blending
inherent within metaphorical understanding (Turner & Fauconnier, 1995), Cook
has developed a theoretical model for the analysis of musical multimedia. He
describes how different media may be designed (e.g. in adverts, cover art or
multimedia art works) and perceived to act together in different ways, noting
the possibilities of conformance (congruence), complementation (contrast), and
contest (conflict). The incompleteness of sensory information in aesthetic objects
music, paintings, literature etc. encourages an active and performative stance
to reception, where interpretation can fill in the gaps (Windsor, 2000). Thinking
about other things including associations, memories, noticing certain elements
of the external surroundings rather than being a negative distraction is then
reconceived as an essential part of this sense-making.
Will describes such an experience in the car while listening to the French
singer Esther Lamandier:
An American rock band.

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Everyday Music Listening


Arriving back in Tunbridge Wells to the particular spot where I lived, where
there were some beautiful sights around stopping the car and thinking, I
wont go in for a moment, just going to sit here, listening to the music and
staring and I can still see what I was staring at a particular building at the end
of the road which was lit up in the evening in a particular way And just,
as Im talking to you what Im actually seeing in front of me is the building, not
the words for you linked to the music. So that association was created because
I was absorbed that particular time, and the music and feelings around it all
blending together.

The sense of music blending with the environment is often most obvious when on
the move, particularly during car or train journeys:
Lovely woodlands and Knole Park flashing past, [daughter] in a dream. And then
there is this music [Bach lute suites] somehow drawing together, synthesizing
(in the best sense) these essences some of the best. Pure moments of real
clarity. [Will]

Surroundings and music are congruent (qualities perceived in the music of Bach,
coupled with love of the countryside), and each appears to highlight certain
affordances of the other (synthesizing these essences). At other times,
an apparent incongruity between external environment and music appears to
bring listening into sharp focus, and the two are later remembered together and
associated with each other:
Borodin Polovitzian dances. Only listening to it with half an ear before.
Particularly riveted by Eastern European folk music imitation on clarinet
etched over Tonbridge library roundabout, complete with Poundstretcher
shop. [Will]

This episode, during a car journey, begins with music being perceived as
background (only listening to it with half an ear). The sudden incongruity of
music and place seems to spontaneously throw into relief aspects of each. There is
a suggestion that, prior to being riveted, both music and surroundings were being
monitored by awareness at some level (while engaged in the automatic process
of driving), but that the novel synthesis of the two (forcefully suggested by the
word etched) brings what is being seen and heard to the forefront of attention.
For teenagers Sophie and Imogen, the use of music on the walk to school leads
to an awareness of aspects of the environment normally unnoticed. Perceptions
appear more vivid, as if the volume level of experience has been raised:
Ive walked that way for I dont know, like how many years and its very
boring, so having the music makes me see things that I would see everyday in a
kind of new way like a leaf falling or something. It might be like, Wow, a leaf

The Phenomenology of Everyday Music Listening Experiences

59

has fallen! just because Im listening to that music If its a sunny day and I
have a certain track on it might make the sun come out more when Im looking
at it. [Sophie]
Although cold, it was a particularly bright, yet cloudy day, with a mysterious
light that lingered in the air. The music [Imogen Heap] seemed to open my eyes
to the world around. I did not so much notice the people around me, but more the
atmosphere, the weather and my personal mood. [Imogen, 15]

The perceptual effects of music may be evident for some time after the music
itself has stopped. Will describes an experience occurring immediately after a live
performance by Steve Reich and his musicians at the South Bank Centre, London:
wandering round along by the river, looking at the river and noticing all
the lights on the river And so my awareness had moved onto a different plane
because of the music things that you normally would not take time over, are
being brought into a sharper focus.

On occasion, characteristics of music and an activity may blend together, becoming


a perceptually indivisible whole. Such experiences may be memorable, even
intense, but are not attached to strong emotion. External attention is narrowed:
its like being absorbed in doing a jigsaw when I used to do calligraphy or
craft work where I would have the music on in the background. The music
would somehow synthesize with what I was doing. It might be a particular task,
a particular moment of absorption with the actual task at the same time the
music would be going on and it would become part of that thing. It would be
something that was non-verbal in its nature .

Visual Listening and Filmic Narrative


[music] makes the scene look better than it is the music emphasizes things
it seems like you can be watching a film. I think that people want to find
themselves their own soundtrack, and they want to be in something that is like a
film because it is so perfect. [Imogen]

Visual listening emerges as a common way of listening in everyday life. The


listening episodes of teenagers in particular, indicate that they habitually use
music to give a filmic quality to their surroundings.
Id just been to the gym. It was around 9.40pm I was listening to a quiet track
by The Album Leaf as I walked I started to think about film and I looked at
the glow of the lamppost in the deserted car park. [Sophie]

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Everyday Music Listening

Music triggers thoughts about film, and becomes a soundtrack to the mundane
(a car park), reminiscent of an MTV video. Surroundings appear choreographed,
the glow of the lamp assuming a central, organizing focus against a dark,
unpeopled backdrop.
While listening to Sigur Rs on the train, Imogen constructs a mini-narrative
about a couple opposite her:
She touches his head affectionately. Is this a sign of her love? They are not
talking. Is it awkward? Are they actually lovers or just friends? I often make
up stories about people strangers I know nothing about. Music always seems
to allow the stories to flow creatively and easily.

Music appears to make it easier to assume a dissociative onlooker mentality.


Imogen does not feel that she is prying into the relationships of others. Rather,
music allows her to blank out her presence in the scene (her headphones would
externally advertise her insularity and supposed focus on the activity of listening),
leaving her free to respond to what she sees in a dissociated way. The combination
of music and other stimuli can lead to a high level of present-centeredness and
absorption in the moment.
Visual listening frequently occurs when travelling, due to the influx of images
when moving:
Its more filmic when Im moving faster and listening to music Im not having
to concentrate on something particular, which I might if Im working. So I can
allow my thoughts to go off on a tangent. [Sophie]
one of the things Im always thinking about is the environment and the way
that how something sounds can work with images as well. I guess, my mind, in
travelling on the train, would be thinking about how the train journey itself and
the images of London Im getting on that journey perhaps coincide really quite
nicely with the soundtrack background that Ive got I have this very visual
way of listening to music. [Gary]

In fact, Gary appears to struggle with the format of classical concerts for precisely
this reason:
youre supposed to be paying attention, but what am I paying attention to?
You know, its a sound thing theres nothing to look at, is there really? (laughs)

While visual listening may be autobiographical, locating the individual as


protagonist at the centre of surroundings affectively customized to current
concerns, equally common is the adoption of an almost directorial role in relation
to interaction with the environment, where the individual chooses to distance

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61

themselves from external stimuli. Sophie explains that she sometimes records the
ambient sound around her:
Sophie: and so Ill add to the collection of music that I have, Ill have just
sounds of places Sometimes Ill just like, play the sounds before I go to sleep
so I can be like, somewhere else when going to sleep its more interesting
to listen to sounds out of their context sometimes take the environment into
a different context like filmic sometimes, which is often the way I think
Q: Does that mean youre observing
Sophie: Yeah.
Q: things? Are you in the film, or are you the observer?
Sophie: Im usually the person watching events in the film, not usually a
character in the film.

There is thus a sense here in which Sophie is quite literally out of the picture,
viewing it in a dissociated way through the use of music or ambient sound.
Older listeners, particularly those in their seventies, eighties and beyond,
seem less likely to distribute their attention between music and other stimuli.
For example, 85-year-old Rachels descriptions of listening to music all revolve
around the traditional concert model, where music is autonomously experienced
and is the main focus of attention:
Im not a person who likes a noise in the background when Im doing things.
I like to sit down and listen seriously the fatal thing to do is to pick up a
newspaper or something, which is very stupid, because then the music is
background you dont really hear it properly.

In fact, her reaction to listening situations involving multiply directed attention is


one of genuine puzzlement:
I think its pathetic, people walking about with these things [headphones] glued
to their ears. I think most of them have really been brought up in towns If you
walk in the country youre listening to the birdsong what is more amazing
than waking up and hearing the dawn chorus In towns its alright cutting
out the traffic, but people do it in the country. I wonder very much what music
means to them whatever it is they listen to Ill read on a train, but spend
time looking as well which they dont do, these young people. Ive watched
them. I dont think theyre really aware of the beauty of the country, or the
clouds or the sky. Do you?

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Changes in Thought
Reduction of Thought
A common everyday listening scenario is that featuring the use of music to
reduce or block out thought. Not wanting to think anything emerges as a
valued albeit negatively expressed aim. It may stem from a positive desire
for a focusing period of meditative calm, or, conversely, simply to avoid what
Csikszentmihalyi has termed psychic entropy, where consciousness is adversely
affected by information that conflicts with existing intentions, or distracts us
from carrying them out (1990: 36). In situations of psychic entropy, [t]he mind
begins to wander, and more often than not it will focus on unresolvable problems
that cause anxiety one will seek out stimulation that will screen out the sources
of anxiety from consciousness (1997: 64). Csikszentmihalyi cites watching TV
or reading as quick ways to reduce chaos in consciousness in the short run, but
potentially dissatisfying.
Reduction of thought, once achieved, is variously described, e.g. as a nonstate calming, blank canvas in my mind. The experience may, but not always,
share commonalities with forms of meditation, e.g. lowered arousal. In extreme
cases of thought reduction, a perceived dissociation from self seems to result.
On other occasions the reduction in thought appears to occur via immersion in
highly emotional affordances of music, e.g. a cathartic use of loud, aggressive
music. In addition, the music may or may not possess qualities (repetition,
layered sound loops, slow rate of change) associated with the stilling of thought
that may encourage trancing. The vexed question of whether particular musical
characteristics may trigger shifts of consciousness is one I shall return to, but it is
certainly evident that at a lay level there appears to be some consensus as to what
features of music may be potentially trancey. Temporarily then leaving aside
the debate regarding potential effects of specific musical features, the crucial
factor for individuals is the belief that music will affect them in certain ways, i.e.
they are open to ways of responding suggested to them by received knowledge,
or reception ideologies. The importance of belief-in-effect is emphasized by
Rouget (1985: 324).
Reduction of thought takes different forms. Music may act to reduce thought
while orientation to reality is, in other respects, quite high, e.g. when doing DIY or
walking to school. At other times it may be an eyes-closed experience, providing a
relief from external reality, and serving to control ambient stimulation in a manner
reminiscent of restricted environmental stimulation therapy (REST).2
For Imogen, music can function as a tool to reduce critical thought:
REST was initiated by Donald Hebb in the early 1950s, where ambient stimulation
was controlled in a laboratory setting. In the field of Restricted Environmental Stimulation
Therapy (REST), chamber (darkened room) and flotation conditions have been linked to
relaxation, positive affect, and lowered heart rate, demonstrating increases in EEG theta
2

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63

other times I use music to block out all thought loud music, like the band
Norma Jean, is good for not wanting to think anything, and to get out stress and
anger by listening to it.

There is here the sense of a personal mental space that can become subject to
intrusion from unbidden, non-volitional thought. Imogen uses music to protect
this space, to block out such intrusions. Music appears as a thing-like defence,
seen to occupy a defined space inside the head, the underlying belief being that,
if it occupies sufficient mental territory, there will be no room for thought to coexist. Not wanting to think anything is a valued goal, music serving to flood or
distract the mind, although the experience is also cathartic, functioning to get out
stress. Teenagers are particularly familiar with using music in this way, to detach
from either self or situation.
David describes an instance at a football match in which he similarly uses
music to lower arousal, go inwards, and block out concerns:
Inside the ground pre-match and at half time I use my iPod. I dont listen to
anything in particular as I put it on shuffle Although I am in a crowd of
over 42,000 I can isolate myself by simply closing my eyes and listening to the
music. Its almost like Im alone as Im not really aware of all of the other people
around me. I find this quite calming, particularly at half-time when I have just
spent the previous 45 minutes listening to the crowd.

Music is experienced as a relief from visual and aural bombardment and from
being one in a vast crowd. It seals off an environment (DeNora, 2000: 60)
enabling David to isolate myself its almost like Im alone. The emphasis
here is on external stimulus reduction, resulting in a moment of privacy he finds
quite calming.
David, through repeated experience, has cultivated the skill of listening in a
way that allows him a retreat and time out from current concerns and critical
thought processes. There is an almost ritualistic quality to his repeated use of
certain listening settings for this purpose, and such listening episodes appear to
form a regular if spontaneously undertaken part of his routine, music acting as a
virtual space for inward focus and private meditation. This function is emphasized
by his comparison with time spent in a flotation tank:
David: When were on holiday or Im sitting up at Tonbridge Castle youre
totally shut off and youre thinking about things I think the music is letting
you have that space and time to do that.
Q: Can you take me through the Tonbridge Castle experience?

and alpha waves (Suedfeld & Borrie, 1999: 546), although it should be noted that REST
relies on restricted stimulation of all senses, including the auditory.

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David: Oh, Ive got loads of them got to be a nice day I sit underneath one
of the trees, or where youve got that bank sort of thing and I can sit there for
two-three-four hours I think the records four hours just with the iPod on
its difficult to say what the musics doing to me. I know its shutting me off
its a bit like the time my wife gave me this birthday present an isolation tank,
or whatever you call it flotation tank. A really weird experience, but the feeling
of isolation not isolation so much youre on your own, theres nothing else
that matters, you dont have anything else to worry about its exactly the same.

The setting is, in a sense, symbolic:


its just a nice setting to start it off with could be anywhere really. Its a nice
place to do it, but you dont necessarily have to be there to do it I think. I know
when Ive been sitting there with my headphones on I always shut my eyes
you dont necessarily know that youre there. [David]

Thus, this emerges as a well-rehearsed listening experience in which a solo, not


communal experience is sought, identified as an event by the phrase start it off
with. His description of his transitional state of mind at such times is revealing:
David: Youre going to laugh at this. You know just before you properly wake
up in the morning?
Q: Yeah.
David: But youre not asleep, but youre not really back in the land of the living.
Its almost like that I dont know the word for it, not limbo .

He goes on to compare this with his experience of hypnotherapy, when quitting


smoking:
laying on a sofa at this womans house and you knew she was talking to
you, but you were almost somewhere else yknow? And sometimes I can get like
that with the music its taking you away somewhere isnt it? You get through
the thinking processes [when listening to music]. If you start off thinking about
your problems, eventually you get to the state where you are quite relaxed
and then you are yeah almost in a little sort of dreamworld.

Implicit within the nature of all experiences so far described is a sense of relief
or dissociation from self, the fixation on qualities of sound itself encouraging
a temporary state of non-being. However, there appear to be differences in
dissociative feel relating to perceived valence of individual experiences. In
contrast to Davids adoption of listening as an opportunity for positive recuperation,
there are elements of a negative tactic of avoidance in Garys everyday listening
practices. As with David, the move away from external to internal attentional
focus is central to Garys use of music and customized compilations enable him

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to basically blot out the environment and to be taken somewhere else in your
mind, but he frequently uses the words escape, disappearance and obliteration
to describe this situation:
its actually more about the feel and shape of the sound and what that does
for me in a very practical sense, which is to create a space where I can disappear
somewhere else will almost tap into a subconscious state Its literally about
somewhere to escape to.

He wonders whether this is a consequence of past experience of music:


my specific experience of connecting with music in a really significant way
was through modern dance music, which was a process of, in that vaguely
nihilistic way obliterating yourself and escaping. Thats where you get your
connection with drugs and all the rest of it. So, thats why its important to me
to create a soundtrack even though Im not really using solely dance music
anymore creating a space I can disappear to.

For Gary, the end result of this type of listening experience seems to be a narrowed
awareness to the point of non-thought.
Q: Where do you go when you disappear through the music?
R: I think its quite hard to explain beyond the fact that its just somewhere quite
comfortable I think.
Q: Is it somewhere with more or less thought?
R: Much less. Almost nothing [laughing] which is perhaps not very useful
OK, OK, its not about coherent, cogent thoughts.

Analytical Thought
Three short [car] journeys with my daughter have been accompanied by an old
tape of Davy Graham his first solo album, Folk, Blues and Beyond, that I didnt
know I had find myself absorbed in listening, this time to detail and nuances,
appreciating the skill and talent in new ways. The car becomes, meanwhile, a
more comfortable and enjoyable place. Arrive at the destination, reluctant for a
moment to leave it, listening until the track ends. [Will]

An analytical way of listening is more common among individuals with a formal


musical training. Illustrating the impact of previously acquired habits on current
experience, it at once appears to place the listener at one remove from the
music, and yet proves to be potentially extremely absorbing in its close focus on
individual musical detail and/or performance techniques. Attention appears to be
more actively directed, or effortful, and moves, almost restlessly, between different
musical features. By contrast, reduced-thought experiences seem to point towards

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a different type of involvement, where self and music may appear to dissolve
into each other, less attentional scanning occurs, and such episodes have a more
holistic quality. Phases of analytical listening can form a part of longer episodes
where music is present within awareness to varying degrees.
Max, 46, describes a change in thought processes and arousal levels,
experienced in a transition from half-awake to wakefulness while showering:
Mozart [piano sonata K.570] goes some way to slow process of Monday morning
wake up in groggy mode its a backdrop to the physical challenge of waking,
as opposed to a foreground thing demanding conscious attention. In music heard
as backdrop tunes stick easier and seem more likely to recur during the day
background slowly becomes foreground as brain wakes up and engages with it
what starts as a background blur comes into focus as music asserts itself into
proper consciousness. After gut emotional response, which lingers ad infinitum,
I try to work out what its called, who wrote it, past associations of music to me
showering very automatic once music starts to fill thoughts amazed and
amused by simplicity of [the] music. A long series of questions and answers.
Right hand, then left hand. Go in groggy, come out sparky. Tunes still buzzing in
head for a while. Love simple chord structures and phrasing .

The episode has a fluctuating and dynamic quality. In a half-awake state, Max
first responds to the emotional character of the music. He believes that, on certain
levels, music communicates more directly at these times, i.e. when conscious
attention is not engaged. Certain phrases appear to imprint themselves more
easily (stick easier) in memory, to be recalled later.3 Only when the background
blur comes into focus does a more analytical mode of thought begin (Love simple
chord structures and phrasing). He draws on the metaphors of background and
foreground to describe this process, notably ascribing proper consciousness
to a fully awake state. Such proper consciousness constitutes the crux of the
experience, which is perceived as directly in front of him. Certainly, Max equates
gut emotional response with experience prior to full consciousness, suggesting a
belief in some connection with music that is out of conscious control. In contrast,
proper consciousness involves a great deal of control over ways of responding
and is likely to involve a well-rehearsed analytical involvement.
Concentration
If youre listening to something inspirational, that allows you to think more
openly about things, helps you to run your thoughts together without music
theyre more jumpy from one thing to the next. [Imogen]
3
Kellaris (2003) has coined the term earworms for fragments of music that are
repeatedly, involuntarily mentally recalled. He cites repetition and simplicity as being
crucial to memorability.

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67

Music is used to aid concentration on both physical and mental tasks. In such
situations, the prime focus is on the external task, but the background role of
music does not necessarily mean that it is merely passively present, used only to
seal off the external environment. Music, via both emotional and formal qualities,
may interact at the level of unconscious perception as a prosthetic technology
(DeNora, 2000) to entrain processes of mind or body movements. As in listening
episodes involving reduced thought, both the belief that music has the capacity to
act in this way, and an accumulated habitual use of music in contexts requiring
concentration, have a direct effect on the quality of perceived experience.
More formally trained musicians may tend to use music in conjunction with
physical rather than mental tasks. In such situations the music may be barely
perceived consciously, but is nevertheless entraining and absorbing:
DIY painting walls. Radio 2 on in background. Cant remember a single tune, but
remember brushing and foot-tapping to 101 songs, mind totally vacant. [Max]

Music and activity are clearly fused. DeNora (2000: 104) observes that music
has historically been deeply implicated as a way of specifying not only the time
it takes to conduct work processes, but also in profiling the physical manner
in which such tasks are executed. Repetitive aspects of movement and music
contribute to Maxs feeling of mind totally vacant and a non-verbal absorption
that centres experience in the moment. Such listening episodes do not accord with
the assertion that high involvers [with music] usually listen to music as a main
activity, doing nothing meanwhile (Nagy & Szabo, 2002: 508).
Sophie and Imogen share the belief that music can both trigger and structure
creative thought:
It isnt an exciting, overwhelming feeling I always get through music
sometimes its a prop to make my thoughts easier to clarify. [Imogen]
I find that this kind of music [Mogwai] ambient, folky tints, piano and guitars
helps concentration. I find it much easier to create sentences, and language
becomes more interesting when I am constructing essays whilst listening to
music. Its almost as if it removes me from physical consciousness, and brings
me completely into my mind. I can concentrate on a concept or idea in a pure
way for longer. [Sophie]

Imogen is obviously aware that music can induce exciting, overwhelming


feelings, but is equally used to situations in which musics impact is not
primarily emotional. The image of a prop is ambiguous, seeming to provide two
possibilities: (a) a prop in the theatrical sense (e.g. tables, chairs, items of scenery)
that functions to create a fantasy backdrop, which in this case stimulates thought
and also seals off the external environment; (b) a prop in the sense of providing a
frame or structure, propping up thought and providing a prosthetic technology

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to processes of mind. Both possibilities seem to suggest a more diverse experience


of music as background than might normally be assumed. Sophies experience
appears to accord particularly with (b) (I find it much easier to create sentences).
In this instance, she believes that music effects a mind/body split (removes me
from physical consciousness) that enables a more efficient flow of thought.
Sophie also uses music while learning to drive:
I felt as if my mind was somehow being massaged. The driving seemed easier
the music was Common People, by Pulp, which is a familiar xfm playlist
song. Although Im not a great fan, the music did seem to switch off the fear part
of my mind, without losing concentration.

It is not always clear whether music interacts with the task at hand, or is a way
of occupying a part of the mind perceived to be distractible, i.e. functioning in
the same way as activities such as fingering worry beads, eating or smoking. In
this episode it seems that Sophie perceives music to interact with her mind in
the manner of an anaesthetic: the evocative metaphors of being massaged and
switching off the fear part suggest a lowering of arousal and extraneous mental
activity. A parallel function can be seen in the hypnotic technique of using so-called
confusional language, i.e. phrases that are deliberately confusing and ambiguous,
to reduce critical thought processes, as in the apposition of opposites within the
following phrase: And you can remember to forget, can you not? An ambiguous
surface structure within a phrase is said to set off an internal transderivational
search for meaning by the conscious mind, leaving the unconscious mind to
accept hypnotic suggestion (Battino & South, 1999: 128) This does, of course,
presuppose a particular structuring of consciousness (often contested) that relies
on notions of a separate, guiding unconscious part of the mind. This has been
variously termed as hidden observer (Hilgard, 1979) or primary (as opposed to
secondary) processes (Fromm & Nash, 1992). Once again, this points towards the
presence of an element of dissociation (in this case from self and task), which will
be more fully explored in Chapter 4.
Imagery
Mental imagery has been the subject of enquiry of a small but diverse body of
literature, including the temporal setting, emotions and imagery of daydreams
across a wide age range (Giambra, 19992000) and imagery production in the
contrasting contexts of reading or hearing stories (Nell, 1988). In terms of music,
research to date has often focused on classical music, e.g. studies of the relationship
of music and imagery within the Guided Imagery and Music method of therapy

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originated by Helen Bonny (Bruscia & Grocke, 2002),4 or laboratory studies


of music listening to imaginative versus non-imaginative pieces (Snodgrass
& Lynn, 1989). The difficulty with a good proportion of studies is that musical
content or experimental instructions serve to prescribe the type of imagery that
may arise. Thus the imaginative pieces mentioned above were all nineteenthcentury programmatic works, while in another study, listeners were requested to
make an imaginary journey into the underworld while listening to monotonous
drumming (Szabo, 2004).
The production of dream-like, mental, imagery appears to form an important
part of everyday listening experiences, such inwardly focused activity offering
an escape from mundane concerns. The prevalence of the activity of reminiscing
to music has been well documented (Sloboda, 2005; Zentner et al., 2008), while
for teenagers in particular, the associative references music affords provide the
opportunity to fantasize an idealized life and/or identity. Imagery is particularly
evident in the listening episodes of those individuals with a declared strong
visual sense (professional or recreational). Music becomes an important means of
thinking and being elsewhere (Sophie), and terms such as filmic, soundtracky
feel are often used when describing such experiences. Cook (1998) and Dibben
(2001: 182) have suggested that filmic associations are a major way in which
people ascribe meaning to music. Listening emerges here as a performative, rather
than passive activity, and the nature of such experiences resonates with what
Josephine Hilgard (1979b) has termed imaginative involvement:
These involvements permit a temporary absorption in satisfying experiences in
which fantasy plays a large role. They have little direct relation to the mundane
problems of living, which are set aside Indirectly, however, they bear upon
the quality of life for the person capable of these involvements, and provide one
means of coping with the problems of living (1979b: 483).

Filmic Influence
Max, who works in the film industry, provides clear examples of a filmic way
of listening to music. Hearing a Mozart piano sonata reminds him of the movie
Amadeus and [Mozarts] childlike madness of character and 18th century men in
wigs. Similarly, he finds putting on a CD (while on the train) of the soundtrack
for The Mission by Morricone is a wonderful way of revisiting the film drags
out the memory of the story and visuals, and I find I am revisiting the films story
in minds eye through the music. In fact, he believes that listening to music
necessarily triggers the production of imagery:
The Bonny Method of Guided Imagery and Music (BMGIM) is a specific form
of guided imagery which uses pre-selected programmes of classical music designed to
articulate extra-musical themes such as death-rebirth, grievings, peak experience etc.
(Bruscia & Grocke, 2002: 562).
4

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I actually use music, internally to produce a minds-eye picture of something
just impressionistic things, but they wouldnt be abstract quite often the
music will take me into a visual, minds-eye, virtual place if you have an
emotional response to music it will lead to images, whether you like it or not.
[Max] [my italics]

The following experience, involving music as the main focus of attention, is


typical of the way he listens to music:
On train listen to Shostakovitch Leningrad Symphony. Always loved this for
describing war horror very filmy to me. Really feel hate and pain inside the
music. Stare out of window, book unread, but probably not relating the views
to music much. Internal mental images that I was getting were of horror of war
from news footage. Lots of slow motion for some reason. Lots of thoughts and
pictures about death and destruction mostly, but include frequent images of
Shostakovitchs face with square framed bakelite glasses and suit and tie and
thinking how his appearance and the music seemed so opposite. Artists behind
an artistic work never quite look like what I expect (except in films!). Walk up
from Charing Cross to Dean Street feeling positive and confident.

This listening episode shows Max to be responding both to musical characteristics


and extra-musical associations what Dibben has termed acoustic attributes
and source specifications (Dibben, 2001: 183). The listening is performative,
not passive: meaning is actively constructed, and the listening process would thus
seem to demonstrate a degree of absorption in its emphasis on inward focus and
imaginative involvement. The reference to pace of imagery indicates an exposure
to a commonplace film technique the depiction of violence using slow motion
sequences that is intended to intensify emotion via creating a sense of protracted
time where minute details may be registered by the viewer (Flaherty, 1999: 51).
The episode also suggests a fluctuation even contradiction of experience.
Emotional involvement (really feel hate and pain inside the music) and vivid
internal images co-exist with a tangential strand of thought that seems to lead away
from the music, concerning Shostakovitchs appearance, this in turn triggering
other thoughts about links between a composers (received) image and the music
they produce.
Dibben (2001: 182) observes (following the findings of Francs, 1988) that
filmic associations are accumulated unconsciously, learned passively during
the continuous process of enculturation (2001: 166). Max, while working on
designing sound for the title sequence for a film, shows this process at work:
[horror film] Terribly low budget truly awful but fun to play with sound
on a horror movie Watch through sequence a few times bleached out
Warholesque style three colour screen printy moving shadowy pictures of people
with teleprinter lettering coming and going with titles and credits. Music is

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71

grungy, distort[ed] bass guitary, rapid repetitious, loopy, heartbeaty build up


sustained washy sounds of processed reversed slowed sounds of bats and birds
and human voices also whisper, make noises into microphone am amazed
at power of adding acoustic and reverberation to create atmosphere and mood.

In effect, Max is simultaneously creating (producing) and consuming (receiving)


the soundtrack. He draws on culturally familiar musical codes and, at the same
time, responds to them as a listener, with his own associations:
Am reminded of churches and cathedrals and late night experiences as a youth
of huge empty dark spaces and the fear factor they can have.

Although he consciously employs formulae to enhance the mood of the film, and
is thus separated from it in a directly experiential sense, he finds himself becoming
unsettled: Find myself turning on more lights. Spooked!
Imagery in Eyes-closed Situations
Another of Maxs listening episodes, this time with eyes closed, involves both
associations and memories. It seems to be a clear example of inwardly focused
absorption:
Bubble bath and music to ease DIY aches and pains One of his [John
Taverners] masses for a cappella choir comes on next. Utterly transported by
never ending rising and falling of long drawn out polyphony, purity of human
voices only. Eyes closed aware of monochromatic colourless textures little
variation or contrast but beauty in voices in cathedral acoustic endless phrases
washing around. Partly conscious of how Latin words are mostly soft vowel
sounds. Totally transported to choirboy days & how it felt to sing in a grand
setting. Filmic images of candle light & shadows, monastic/liturgical rituals and
so on attention very much inwards. Have spent an hour in bath! Chilled.

Once again, there is a mixed focus on analytical detail (acoustic attributes) and
extra-musical association (source specification, partly drawing on childhood
memory). The nature of the listening experience is unplanned, relying on random
radio selection. Prior to the Taverner Mass, Max had become distracted from and
annoyed by the performance techniques employed in an authentic sounding
performance of a work by Handel. Hearing the Taverner results in an abrupt shift
of consciousness (utterly transported) marked by an attentional change inwards.
In interview, Max had indicated that he often listened to music with eyes closed:

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Ive always been that way about music. Somebody said that when the eyes are
starved of stimulation, then the ears become the eyes of the mind. I thought
thats so true. Your ears are more focused when your eyes are closed.

Research concerning potential contrasts regarding psychophysiological effects


between eye-open and eye-closed listening situations is, at present, limited.
Kallinen (2003) has tested eyes-open and eyes-closed listening in a laboratory
setting via self-report and EEG data, and found that listening to music with eyes
closed appeared to result in an increase of mental imagery, and led to increased
brain activity in all cortical regions for both high and low involvers, when
compared with the eyes-open condition. However, his subsequent hypothesis
that listening to music with eyes-closed may generate a more focused listening
experience than listening to music with eyes-open, because incongruent visual
information is attenuated (2003: 542) is problematic in that it negates the validity
of multi-sensory listening and is entirely influenced by notions of autonomous
listening. While not disputing the potential for a high level of focus in the eyesclosed condition, it is necessary to remember that this is one type of focus (familiar
from the nineteenth-century western concert-going tradition onwards). Everyday
listening episodes may certainly often involve a fluctuating or sporadic occurrence
of imagery, which interweaves with other, at times unrelated thoughts. However,
such imagery appears to be experienced in eyes-closed and eyes-open conditions.
A more intriguing hypothesis is the notion that excess exteroceptive
(environmental) information can lead to mental overload and fatigue, prompting
a passive state of mind, and an increase in contemplative or imaginative activity,
similar to the dream state (Duchniewska & Kokoszka, 2003: 155). Thus, a person
listening to music when tired or disaffected might be expected to have an increased
propensity towards mental imagery. I return to this topic in the final chapter.
Association and Reminiscence
It would seem that music, more than any other art form, provides a platform
for association and reminiscence. As has commonly been observed, music may
bring to mind a mixture of indexical, iconic and symbolic associations that
may accumulate via the gradual process of enculturation (as with absorption of
musical codes used in films) or be more autobiographical in nature. In addition,
associations may attach to specific pieces or be more generic. Sloboda (2005: 349)
defines such types of association as tight or loose respectively.
Marketing experts have long recognized that personal associations and
autobiographical memory shape peoples current responses, and tap such
associations in advertisements because the higher levels of affect generated
when autobiographical memories are accessed are likely to reduce reliance on
an analytical review of the products features and benefits in making evaluative
judgements (Baumgartner et al., 1992: 58). Music is widely valued in the industry
as a highly efficient way of triggering such associations, and advertisers have no

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qualms in appropriating or exploiting (depending on ones point of view) styles or


specific pieces of music to hook in their target consumers. In the toe-curlingly
glib words of the head of a so-called strategic music consultancy:
Music is a powerful medium that can bring the emotional qualities of products
and services to life and help activate a Brand Promise. The beat of the music can
literally connect with the heartbeat of the customer. (Simmons, 2003)

In contrast, although musicological research has highlighted the prevalence of


musics capacity to trigger associations and memories, detailed exploration of
this area has not occurred, primarily because such responses to music are not
particularly interesting from a theoretical point of view, because they are entirely
driven by idiosyncratic autobiographical contingencies (Sloboda, 2005: 337). In
many ways this is an entirely sensible explanation for why further research would
be necessarily flawed. It is extremely difficult to identify consistently a replicable
link between attributes of the music and specifics of the situation. The mood a
piece of music represents may correlate with circumstance (most obviously a love
song heard early in a relationship that acquires significance), but equally musical
characteristics may not mirror or amplify aspects of a particular situation, and the
remembered piece may function as no more than a contingent mnemonic anchor
to past experience.
At the same time, given that reminiscence and association appear to be such
an important component of many everyday music listening experiences, the
abandonment of this territory seems premature. If, instead of attempting to establish
causal links between specific pieces or genres and details of the circumstance in
which the music was initially heard, the focus is shifted to the exploration of the
psychological characteristics and subjective feel of such experiences, there is
much to be gained. As activities, association and reminiscence feature a narrowed,
inward attentional focus and increase in imaginative involvement that effect subtle
shifts of consciousness in other words, a powerful and yet extremely common
form of everyday trancing.
One of the most familiar types of reminiscence involving music is the
triggering of episodic memories associated with the circumstance in which it was
previously heard, in addition to thoughts and feelings evoked. In this instance,
present musical experience may be self-referring i.e. the music is not acting in the
same way it might were it being heard for the first time:
I see the album sleeve (Charlie Byrd Trio: Blues for Night People) clearly in the
back of my mind as I listen to it. Also think of evenings at college, late evenings,
lying on my bed listening to this and staring at my own abstract paintings on
the wall other times too when this was mood music, felt cool also feeling
of being a budding guitarist, trying to get an idea of what Byrd is doing. [Will]

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Such listening experiences involve an accumulated way of responding, informed


by hearing the same music on several occasions. Such multilayered, pleasant
reminiscence accentuates an inward focus and preoccupation. Feelings of youth
are anchored in the music of both examples, and, for Will, other significations have
come to be an automatic part of the listening experience i.e. that the Byrd style is
cool, mood music, and possesses qualities associated with abstract paintings.
In the following instance, rather than referencing a particular, remembered
context, Will, seems to use a much-played tape of Bach lute suites to recall and so
recreate, a particular frame of mind:
Its as if one were listening to the perfect aural embodiment of grace and balance
an extraordinary metaphor looping together feelings, perceptions and separate
experience.

The music is seen to balance what might be a disparate mix of feeling, perception
and experience present in an externally mundane situation (in this case, driving),
giving them a particular unity and focus. Will traces his involvement with and
particular way of responding to this music, to his student days:
Moments of being very moved by something almost sacred in the music, a
thing I associate with Bach something which has shaped my own thinking
and being.

The nature of this listening episode in the car is affected by prior beliefs that
contribute to the quality of involvement. For Will, music functions as metaphor.
This implies a performative approach to listening, in that the nature of a metaphor
is that it suggests multiple interpretations. The open-ended ambiguity of metaphor
invites imaginative involvement, and thus the listening episode is likely to contain
moments of absorption. To Will, Bachs music has long exemplified grace and
balance as well as something almost sacred. Therefore, he finds that it can
modulate his own state of mind towards a sense of balance. DeNora (2000)
has described how familiar music is often used for the self-regulation of mood.
Interestingly, this can occur unconsciously, without volition through audiation
(hearing music in the head):
Find myself listening to Bach again, this time inside my head. The Sarabande
from the second lute suite am hearing it particularly vividly. Its accompanied by
a mood of profound fatalism a state of balance in fact. I listen, staring vaguely
out of the window and find this music just happening to happen no intention,
no choice. There were no particular triggering thoughts or circumstances, and
yet the music was somehow appropriate to that little free moment, after the
Saturday morning rush to get ready for work. [Will]

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75

The experience is primarily internal and possesses a degree of absorption (hearing


the music vividly, reduced external awareness). Its quality, as previously suggested,
may be affected by an accumulation of associated instances of emotional listening
responses to the work from different occasions. The hearing of the sarabande in
Wills head appears involuntary and yet is adapted to his current state of mind. On
what basis then is music recalled to mind? It is also not certain whether the music
is actually appropriate to the moment, or simply seen to be subsequently. In a
discussion of the ubiquity of metaphorical communication, Griffin & Tyrrell have
argued that such spontaneous occurrences for example breaking into song can
constitute metaphorical expressions of how a person is feeling about a certain
matter (2003:155).
On occasion, individuals seem to use music intentionally to trigger associations
and memories as a means of thinking and being elsewhere:
There was the Orfeo the Kathleen Ferrier I have put that on in the past,
just to notice it had this mysterious effect of making me cry and I realized that
it had a lot of associations for me with the time my sister died, when I was small
and my mother played the recording endlessly. [Will]
early choral music seems to conjure up a series of images and it seems
to take me into a relaxed sort of state thinking about particular churches and
cathedrals looking at a candle in a beautiful cathedral and hearing that strange
kind of acoustic that there is there. [Will]
when I went to America, to Yellowstone National Park, there were a number
of CDs that I was listening to, whilst driving through big mountains and trees
when I hear that music I actually can visualize scenes from what I was
looking at out the window. I think a lot of my CDs are attached to points in time
kind of engrained in that point in time thered be a kind of nostalgia when
listening to some of my CDs. [Sophie]
Youre thinking about something nice Ill think about being somewhere with
my kids or with my wife on holiday. [David]
When I listen to Jan Tearson, I cant help think of France, because its so French,
and I personally want to live in France, so from that Id think of living in France
and think of what it will be like. [Imogen]

At such times, attention is focused inwards, and imagination and music appear to
work together to close off the external world and its concerns. Such listening has
qualities of both absorbed and dissociative trancing, as will become apparent in
the next chapter.
Inward associations and imagery may still occur when occupied in some
external task, e.g. driving:

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Drive thirty miles to Beckenham, where giving a talk. Listen to Bob Dylan Blood
on the Tracks today am listening to combination of the music and voice and
images. Draws me into a pleasant fug some of the time am also considering
tonights talk which is largely unplanned considering it vaguely as Im bathed
in this surround sound. Put it off as I approach Elmers End, needing to focus
on the way home, put on the tape again, but am not in it. Its a mismatch with
my mood. After maybe fifteen minutes of Bob Dylan, I abruptly put it off. Reach
for Josquin mass, sung by The Tallis scholars. Lovely pure sound of the Kyrie
Eleison. Automatically find myself breathing more deeply vague images of
cool cathedral with sunlit patches outlined in gothic window shape its what
I need for a short time and then not. Just at the roundabout where I join the
M25 I switch it off. I am focusing on it no longer and need no more music. [Will]

The listening episode suggests a shifting range of consciousness. On the outward


journey Will is mentally able to dart between visualizing images suggested by
Dylans lyrics, planning a talk and relaxing into a pleasant fug, at the same time
maintaining the level of external vigilance necessary for driving. His engagement
with the music is not solely determined by a liking for it, but whether it matches
his mood (thus the Dylan is experienced in two ways on the same day as initially
pleasant, and as subsequently irritating resulting in an abrupt change to the
Josquin mass on the way back). Internal images are this time stimulated by more
general associations of sacred music with sacred places (cool cathedral with sunlit
patches). The combination of images and music appear to have a therapeutic
function (its what I need). Attention is thus directed inwards (thoughts, mood
and music) and outwards (scanning surroundings) while the process of driving
is automatic, involving procedural memory. On the return journey, the music,
initially closely attended to, recedes from focus to become barely perceived.
Temporal Suspension or Compression
Inevitably, the process of recall alters or colours previous experience to a degree,
but the documentation of individual experience of time appears particularly
problematic in this respect. Reflections concerning the subjective feel of temporality
often relate to how individuals feel after rather than during the experience:
when Im trying to get to sleep and Ill put my MP3 player on sleeptimer
and itll be 30 minutes or something, and it will turn off and it will have seemed
like five minutes, or it will turn off and it will seem like an hour. [Sophie]

Typically, time may appear to feel protracted in the present moment of experience,
but may seem to have passed quickly when that experience is remembered, as an
extract from this interview indicates:

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77

the Steve Reich was both long and short I think it was the first London
performance of Tehillim in the second half with full choir and musicians and
so on. I can see bits of that there seem to be some parts that are drawn out and
quite long in my memory, yet afterwards the sensation of it being quite a short
experience, and yes its all over and youre staring at the river. [Will]

It is possible that this may be due both to a loss of episodic memory (the small
details of experience rather than factual information) and the tendency for the
mind to chunk information into smaller units after an event. Sociologist and timeresearcher Michael Flaherty believes that the sensation of temporal compression
is often a facet of retrospection (Flaherty, 1999: 104). That said, one of the most
commonly declared intentional everyday uses of music notably when travelling
is to literally pass the time:
if Im waiting for a train, its like ten minutes delay, but Ill put on my
music to make the time pass faster a journey can seem very fast because
youre listening to music. And thats because youve been in your own world of
thoughts. [Sophie]
When Im driving, if Im absorbed in the music or absorbed in something
associated with the music I find time passing and suddenly realise that Ive
gone ten, twenty miles along a road without knowing it. [Max]
It makes an activity go faster than it would do if I didnt have it. Ive just been
to work for five hours [cleaning] and Ive had music on the whole way through
it. [Imogen]

Intriguingly, Flaherty does theorize another explanation for the sense of temporal
compression during an experience, rather than retrospectively. He suggests
that situations only requiring habitual conduct (termed situations of routine
complexity) lead to an increase of automatic behaviour and automatic mental
processing. The individual experiences a low level of emotional concern for [their]
capacity to deal with the situation, together with low cognitive involvement with
self and situation which result in a lower density of experience per standard
temporal unit (1999: 1089).
Flahertys arguments are influenced by previous time research (e.g. Ornstein,
1969), which equate increased perceived levels of external information with a
sense of protracted time, although importantly he emphasizes the influence of
mood and circumstance on the experience of time. Thus protracted time is likely
to be experienced in situations of violence or danger where a vigilant attitude
will make it likely that high levels of information are processed in order to aid
survival. Ironically, boredom, which seems like an opposite situation in terms of
emotional arousal, similarly features the high levels of informational processing
(external attentional scanning, internal ruminations) characteristic of situations

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where time passes slowly. Flahertys hypothesis would certainly provide one
reason for the individual experiences of temporal compression just mentioned
because the situations Sophie, Max and Imogen describe all involve varying
levels of automaticity. The unresolved question is, however, whether the low-level
processing Flaherty identifies would be present to the same degree in the absence
of music. It seems unlikely.
For thousands of years music has so often been present in situations of
automatic task completion that it is clear that it affects the experience in various
ways, e.g. via physical entrainment, the triggering of associations and memories
and crucially by affording the opportunity to exist outside absolute or real
time in this case clock time. Perhaps, then, what individuals describe as time
passing faster is actually a suspension of clock time. It is of course important
to remember that time is a concept rather than an objective reality, and cannot
itself be perceived. Rather, time is conceived through the perception of things: the
changing seasons, physical growth, lifecycle processes, event succession. Time
is also shaped by the cultural practices and beliefs of the particular society the
individual happens to be part of (Levine, 1997). Music offers a potent means of
customizing the subjective experience of time of providing a variety of virtual
timeframes, whether achieved through musical attributes (a subject I return to in
the final chapter) or through music affording the means to think and be somewhere
else via imaginative involvement. As Jonathan D. Kramer puts it in his classic text
The Time of Music:
Absolute temporal order does matter, yet that order is only one kind of
relationship in time The subjectivity of time in the modernist world is an
affirmation of the mind. Individuals control, and even create, their own internal
rhythms, successions and tempos. Only in the social arena must we submit to an
external, absolute time (1987: 164).

iPods and MP3 players have aided the construction of personal, alternative,
virtual-time trajectories, sometimes by the careful construction of playlists that
pre-script temporal flow, and sometimes by the shuffle function that may articulate
time in unexpected ways. No longer is the escape from clock time interrupted by
the demands of older technologies:
I do lose sense of time, I know I do. You dont realize youve been there an hour
or maybe two hours, particularly because its the iPod. You couldnt do that with
a CD player cos youre constantly changing the CD.

In conclusion, although detailed reports concerning the subjective experience of


time while listening to music may be sparse, there is no doubting that individuals
use music to achieve what Bull has framed as a new temporal sensibility
[that] reflects an attempt to break away and overcome the structure rhythms of
contemporary life (2007: 146). Additionally, I suggest that this new temporal

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sensibility may afford a sense of psychophysiological self-regulation via subtle


alterations to consciousness.
Perception of Shifts of Consciousness and the Contribution of Belief
One of the factors that prompted my study of the subjective feel of everyday music
listening experiences was the possibility that mundane experiences might share
with strong experiences of music certain psychological characteristics that were
suggestive of alterations of normal consciousness e.g. changed perception
of self or surroundings, sense of temporal compression, or stasis, complete
absorption , but that shifts in consciousness in everyday contexts might manifest
themselves in different or more subtle ways. Research was initially carried out
using semi-structured interviews, but because the interviews were able to draw on
a range of remembered experiences over time, it was impossible to gain any sense
of how common such episodes might be. The possibility remained that listening
episodes involving alterations of consciousness, had simply been more readily
remembered than other experiences. However, the subsequent use of reflective
reports, completed as soon as possible after experiences occurred, indicated that
this is not the case. Subtle alterations of consciousness emerged as an intrinsic part
of a sizeable body of everyday listening episodes. Interestingly, a sizeable number
of everyday listening episodes included instances where music was heard when
already in a subtly altered state, e.g. during transitional states between sleeping
and waking, in conjunction with alcohol intoxication or during or after exercise.
Evidence suggests that individuals often do seem to distinguish between
a baseline, familiar state of mind and an alteration, at times, away from this
baseline when listening to music in daily life, but can find this hard to articulate
clearly, using a mixture of analogy, metaphor, and terms from therapy and popular
psychology. Sometimes, these experiences are described with explicit references
to trance or altered states.
And so my awareness had moved onto a different plane it was like being in
a slightly altered state of awareness, looking at things and seeing the lights in a
different way, because of having been absorbed in that music before for a couple
of hours yeah, like being in a trance of some kind some state of mind that
youve been brought into through the music is actually making you more aware
sharpening your awareness. [Will]

Terms chosen reflect beliefs and expectations relating to both music and mind that
in turn are likely to shape or condition the actual experience. Wills experience
(above) indicates that he believes that music can function to access a range of
less usual conscious states, and indeed when interviewed he noted that one of
the reasons I might put on music is to go into a daydreamy sort of state. He is
obviously aware of the potential effect of prior knowledge on experience:

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for example, listening to Dervish music, I suppose one has to separate out
knowing it was music used for some form of trance and the fact that the music
is very rhythmic, soothing and hypnotizing. Its difficult to separate out ones
knowledge of the fact that its intended to have certain kinds of effects from the
fact that it does seem to have certain kinds of effects if you listen to it. [Will]

Gary also makes use of language that appears to indicate an attitude to the
experience of music. He refers to the effect of a compilation as like a waking
dream. So youre hopefully tapping into a bit of a subconscious thing for yourself.
A main aim of Garys listening experience seems to be, at times, to reduce mental
activity. He speaks (albeit humorously) of a situation where thoughts would drift
in and out of the otherwise blissful nirvana and appears to view music as a source
of escape and dissociation, a chance to disappear. He also mentions a trancelike physical thing when referring to the experience of dancing to music.
At other times, however, written reports of listening episodes appear implicitly
to suggest alteration of consciousness, but this is not overtly apparent in the
language used to describe such experiences. David, for example, appears not to
have speculated greatly on his use of music, but uses it intuitively:
I find that the music almost leads you to closing your eyes and then takes you
away totally in the music. I have a blank canvas in my mind. You cant listen
to this in the car, it would be too dangerous. [David]

Perhaps because of this non-speculative approach he appears to think that some of


the ways in which he uses music are idiosyncratic:
David: I feel like a weirdo.
Q: Why?
David: I dunno, Ive never really thought about it [music] much, thats all.
Sometimes I think am I odd or does everybody else think that? the fact that
I can find some repetitive bit of music really relaxing.

Descriptions of the subjective feel of everyday instances of music listening indicate


that a move away from a baseline, familiar state of mind is often not perceived
in the sense of consciousness as radically different from the way it functions
ordinarily (Tart, 1983: 208). Rather, subtler shifts seem to accord more closely
with what Tart has described as identity states: subdivisions or transitional
stages5 within baseline or altered states. While acknowledging contention within
the literature as to whether trance exists and what might constitute trance or an
ASC, these constructs appear to be of vital relevance to the exploration of the
psychological processes involved in everyday listening, even if accepted merely
5
Although each has an intrinsic identity. Tart draws on Gurdjieffs philosophical
concept of rapidly alternating Is (which in turn is said to derive from Sufism).

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as one way people may choose to articulate a range of phenomena and model
experience.
Summary
The single most commonly described everyday listening experience is one
characterized by a distributed and fluctuating attention that may privilege different
components of this situation at different times. As I noted when discussing
conceptualizations of consciousness in Chapter 2, this points towards a dynamical
systems approach where psychophysiological states are formed of sequences or
stages, constantly in transition, rather than operating as discrete, static entities.
In other words, states are constructions or selective summary statements of
the ongoing processes of consciousness, providing adaptive value as a means
of making sense of and being in the world. Viewed in this way, the listening
experience comprises a system made up of a set of related or interacting variables
(e.g. attention, arousal, sensory perception, changes in thought, sense of self,
temporality) that are more likely to be perceived by the listener as discrete states
of consciousness in situations of markedly raised or lowered arousal (Killeen &
Nash, 2003). The subtle alterations of consciousness that may occur in everyday
life are more likely to pass unnoticed or remarked upon, appearing close to a
base-line state of normal functioning and therefore experienced as indivisible
from it and processual, supporting the view that states are better conceptualised
as continuous, rather than categorical (Woody & McConkey, 2003: 312).
As processes, absorption and dissociation emerge as larger constructs of which
the phenomenological characteristics discussed in this chapter form component
parts. Both are of central importance to everyday music listening, as Ill show.

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Chapter 4

Absorption, Dissociation and Trancing


The occurrence of subtle alterations of consciousness during the process of
everyday living has long been acknowledged, but the subjective qualities of
such experiences have seldom been documented outside the fields of literature
and poetry. The well-known poem Adlestrop, by the early twentieth-century poet
Edward Thomas, offers a vivid illustration of everyday involvement in this case
involvement that features a heightened, present-centred awareness. As a steam
train stops unexpectedly at a small station, the poet records his experience. I quote
verses two and three:
The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop only the name
And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.

More recently, the novelist Andrew Martin has provided a humorous, if darkly
cynical divergence from the original:
The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop only the name
And I just drank beer from a plastic cup
Until the damn thing started again.1

One of the points Martin is making is that, in a goal-driven, 24/7 culture, people may
forget how to engage in moments of reflection or reverie. When making a journey it
is certainly easy to observe this phenomenon. Portable technologies in particular may
be used as constant sources of stimulation that fill the gaps between commitments
in everyday schedules. Laptops and mobile phones allow their users to control
and timetable experience, maximizing down-time for work. However, the use of
1
Time Shift (Documentary Series) Series 8. BBC4 Between the LinesRailways in
Fiction and Film. Presenter: Andrew Martin. Broadcast December, 2008.

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84

a range of technologies in the broadest sense DVD and MP3 players, books
and magazines, for example to facilitate moments of relaxation and absorption is
equally apparent. It is clear that the human mind inevitably reaches saturation point
when engaged in everyday tasks that demand direct, effortful attention. The strategies
for coping with resultant attentional fatigue depend on factors such as culture,
historical context, individual personality and age, but whether looking out of a train
window or plugging in and tuning out courtesy of an iPod, the need for periods of
mental and physical rejuvenation is widely recognized as a psychobiological given
(Rossi, 1991; see also Chapter 9). The extent to which a particular culture chooses
to recognize, promote or value rejuvenatory practices is another matter, however.
The focus of this chapter is on shifts of consciousness sometimes categorized as
absorption or dissociation. Both are recognized as key characteristics of trance in
hypnotherapeutic literature, and both are ubiquitous within a high proportion of
everyday experiences of listening to music.
Everyday Trancing
In the late 1950s, Ronald E. Shor, Professor of Psychology at Harvard University,
instigated an enquiry into what he called hypnotic-like experiences in daily life.
Shors prime intention was to determine whether a proposed predisposition for
such experiences correlated with hypnotic susceptibility in a clinical context.
To assess hypnotic susceptibility formally in a laboratory setting, he developed
(with E.C. Orne) the Harvard Group Scale of Hypnotic Susceptibility (HGSHS:A,
1962), which is still widely used in current hypnosis research. Quasi-hypnotic
natural or everyday experiences were tapped via a 44-item questionnaire entitled
the Personal Experiences Questionnaire (PEQ), many items of which referred to
instances of absorption and dissociation some specifically to music.
Shor was a pupil of the humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow, well known
for his study of intense experiences, and had originally created the PEQ as part
of a quantitative study of alterations of consciousness termed peak experiences.
He recognized that spontaneous shifts of consciousness in everyday life were
worthy of study in their own right, whether profound or superficial. Shor also
embraced the ideas of the influential (and controversial) clinical psychologist,
Milton Erickson, particularly his notion of the common everyday trance,
and was in correspondence with Erickson during the time of his research into
everyday involvement.2

On 19 March 1964 Shor wrote to Erickson: I have come to the firm conclusion that
only two men in the twentieth century have an assured place in the scientific understanding
of hypnosis yourself and [Clark] Hull Hull initiated a continuing tradition of academic
quantitative research: you are by a wide margin the boldest, most ingenious, influential
figure in the clinical tradition. Clark Hull (18841952) was an influential American
2

Absorption, Dissociation and Trancing

85

Concurrently with Shor, Josephine Hilgard, Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford


University, was also exploring correlations between hypnotic susceptibility and
the capacity for involving experiences in everyday life, via an extensive interview
study (1965, 1974). Hilgard divided experiences into three categories, the first
two of which overlap: imaginative, sensory-affective and non-imaginative
involvements. Experiences related to listening to and playing music, aesthetic
involvement in nature, reading, acting, taking part in sports or adventures, science
and religion.
Hilgard observed that the process of involvement was one of active reception,
not passive consumption, and emphasized the importance of imagination, fantasy
and multisensory perception to involving experiences, including the activity of
listening to music. Such experiences were deemed to be effortless, and to possess
positive psychological value:
Subjects do not approach these experiences with a critical, rational detachment or
striving. Nor do they expect them to serve as a background while concentration
is mainly directed toward the solution of troublesome personal problems.
Instead, each experience is inherently satisfying, with immersion and marked
affective involvement. Subjects describe the experiences as gentle, mild and
passive the concentration of attention that accompanies them is high but
largely effortless. (1979: 484)

The types of experience she refers to appear to accord most closely with the
notion of absorption, rather than dissociation, and indeed it was Hilgards research
in particular that informed personality psychologist Auke Tellegens (1974)
subsequent and influential work concerning absorption.
Although both Shor and Hilgards work stressed the ubiquity of absorption
and dissociation in daily life, indicating the need for further study of shifts of
consciousness in everyday contexts, nearly forty years later very little real-world
research has been forthcoming. Of course, as I stated in Chapter 1, absorption,
dissociation and trancing are overlapping constructs labels that conveniently
bundle together different threads of experience. The question is how far are they
useful terms that capture the global essence of subjectively identifiable types of
involvement? In other words, are they artificially imposed labels that serve to
construct experience retrospectively, or do they genuinely articulate qualities of
lived mental experience?
I suggest that absorption and dissociation are best understood as processes that
are subsumed within trance (Herbert, 2009, 2011a,b,d). As I stated in the Introduction
to this book, as terms they function as useful holistic wrappers or shorthands
for the overall subjective feel of certain types of experience arising from the
interaction of a number of psychological processes. In the following two sections
psychologist. The publication of his book Hypnosis and Suggestibility (1933) is said to
have prompted serious modern study of hypnosis.

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I provide definitions of absorption and dissociation and examine the prevalence of


absorbed and dissociative trancing in real-world everyday experiences of listening
to music. The final part of the chapter broadens the discussion to consider the
ongoing debate as to whether absorption and dissociation are best considered as
personality traits or context-related states.
Defining Absorption
Absorption can be understood as an effortless, non-volitional quality of deep
involvement with the objects of consciousness (Jamieson, 2005: 120), as
opposed to attentional engagement that is goal directed and effortful. In other
words, absorption does not describe periods of concentrated, logical, rational,
analytical focus (although these may fully occupy attention), but refers to a
particular mode of engagement one that is less pragmatic, often spontaneous,
and unconcerned with task completion per se. To what extent absorption is an
inherent personality characteristic is debatable. Having initially defined it as a
trait, Tellegen was later concerned to stress the interaction between circumstance
and individual predisposition (Tellegen, 1981). Considered as a trait, absorption
has often been linked to the capacity to be formally hypnotized, although studies
reveal only a modest correlation between the two. Nevertheless, evidence suggests
that the process of absorption, taken together with reduction of the critical faculty
(rationalization) enables low-level holistic processing that appears to raise
suggestibility levels in formal hypnotic contexts (Brown et al., 2001). Absorption
has also been equated with openness to experience identified as one of five traits
of personality by Costa and McCrae (1985), while several studies have related it
to capacities for fantasy prone-ness and creation of mental imagery (Lynn & Rhue,
1986, 1987, 1988). A particularly interesting correlation has emerged between
absorption and synaesthesia, indicating that absorbing experiences may involve
a cross-modal integration of experience that is especially engaging (Rader &
Tellegen, 1981, 1987). In terms of individual experience, Pekala et al. (1985) have
shown that absorption correlates with changes in attentional focus, awareness,
production of mental imagery, and subjective experience of time.
The construct of absorption shares similarities with many other
conceptualizations of experience, such as Hilgards study of imaginative
involvement (1979), already mentioned. Equally relevant is Csikszentmihalyis
notion of Flow (1990, 1997). Flow is a metaphor describing the state in which
people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter (1990:
5). It is a particularly effective term because of its dynamic quality, illustrating
a clear concern with consciousness as process. In a study of so-called ecstatic
secular everyday experiences (1961, 1980), the novelist and journalist (and
committed atheist) Marghanita Laski identified two types of experience that
appear to accord with the concept of absorption. Intensity experiences related
to nature and art (particularly music), and were defined as strongly emotional and

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87

highly arousing, while withdrawal experiences (such as contemplative prayer)


were attained gradually rather than suddenly and described by words implying
down-ness, darkness, floating, dissolving, liquefaction (1980: 15). In a similar
vein, Maslow wrote of peak and plateau experiences (1971), again emphasizing
the widespread reported use of music (this time including dancing) in triggering
strongly absorbing episodes.
Absorption is considered to constitute one element within a three-factor
structure (absorption/imaginative involvement, depersonalizationderealization,
amnesia) that comprises dissociation (Butler, 2004: 63). Whether it is therefore
separable from dissociation is arguable. I choose in the following account to
group experiences by the apparent weighting of these concepts within individual
descriptions. Thus a music listening episode may appear predominately
dissociative, but may also contain an element of absorption (or vice versa).
Absorption and Everyday Music Listening
As indicated in Chapter 1, absorption has already been linked by several authors
to the experience of music, but existing research has largely been divorced
from natural contexts, thus neglecting interactions between experiencer and
environment.
Absorption is often more readily associated with live, often strongly emotional
experiences of music, where music is the main focus of attention:
going to see Led Zeppelin at Earls Court youre so taken it is with the
music, but its also with the whole atmosphere youre just not aware you
just dont think about anything else other than whats going on and what youre
listening to . [David]
I saw Faithless at Brixton Academy and every single person was moving
Everyone was so absorbed into the music and the whole crowd and the music
and the performers were one thing a particularly, almost spiritual experience.
[Sophie]

Importantly, generational listening habits and beliefs about music may


circumscribe or dictate the nature and pattern of absorbing experiences. Older
listeners in particular may expect to give music their direct, undivided attention,
influenced by attendance at live events where music forms the central focus.
Consider the situation of 85-year-old Rachel, for example. Unable now to attend
many live events, she recreates and associates back to the directed listening
environments of such occasions, with a virtual, almost ritualistic, experience of
listening seriously to daily live BBC Radio 3 broadcasts at 7.30pm. She would
not consider listening to music outside this framework (youve got too much to
do unless in bed with flu), but feels her day is incomplete without music (if I

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dont listen to music, the days not right. I have to have it at some point. Very, very
important). Rachel adheres rigidly to a method of listening she first came across
at the age of 17, in the 1938 edition of The Musical Companion:
It tells you how to listen and there are three stages. The first youre just hearing
the music. The second one is concentrated listening, when you are making every
effort to listen intently to the music exactly, picking out the themes that come
in when youve practised that for some time, you reach a stage which this
book calls overhearing which means that you are capable of letting that music
flow through you and be able to absorb it, without the conscious effort you spent
before that.

In the original text, these ways of listening are introduced as types rather than
stages, with concentrated listening (defined as effortful total absorption)
appearing third. Both second and third types of listening involve a narrowed,
directed attention, but it is the second overhearing that accords with features
attributed to the concept of absorption. Interestingly, the author (Eric Blom)
describes overhearing as a blessed state a delight that comes rarely, a gift
of the gods but it must not be expected too often (1934[1940]: 710). The
suggestion is that a close connection with, and rewarding experience of music is
not automatic, but has to be learned. Blom, in accordance with Western high art
music listening practices dating back to the early nineteenth century, is adamant
that music alone must form the sole focus of attention:
As an accompaniment to any other activity except dancing music is pernicious.
Nothing could be more deadening to the imagination and the intelligence than
this duplicating of impressions on the mind, for it means not the redoubling of
agreeable experiences, but the halving (1934[1940]: 708).

By contrast, the ubiquity of portable sound devices in twenty-first-century life has


resulted in the everyday prevalence of a type of low-level absorption that involves
both music and surroundings. Sophie describes one such experience, occurring
after going to the gym:
6.30pm. Walking out of the gym after 40 minutes to an hour of cross trainer/
running. Listening to my CD player. I had to stop at the top of the steps because
the skyline was fascinating. I also had to find the right track on my CD to watch
the sky for a moment. It was The National All the wine, which is quite a calm
song. I listened for about one minute, whilst noticing the birds fly across the light
in the clouds. The music made the experience more like a moment of meditation
than simply looking at the skyline. In other words, I was able to filter out any
unwanted thoughts and be absorbed in the landscape.

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Sophie describes a familiar practice of choreographing her surroundings with music.


In fact, she seems driven to do so (I had to stop I had to find the right track).
Music here blends with environment, so as to elicit a selective external
awareness (birds/light/clouds) and an enhanced visual sense. The multisensory
and absorbing nature of the experience is probably enhanced by her heightened
physiological arousal post exercise , and the whole is compared to a moment
of meditation. Music appears to unify and make extraordinary an experience that
would otherwise be ordinary (simply looking at the skyline).
Kaplan (1995), in a study of the restorative benefits of nature, uses the term
fascination for this form of effortless attention. He makes a distinction between
soft and hard fascination, giving as examples, walking in a natural setting and
watching motor racing, respectively. His comments pertaining to nature would
seem equally relevant to the music listening experience:
Many of the fascinations afforded by the natural setting qualify as soft
fascinations: clouds, sunsets, snow patterns, the motion of leaves in the breeze
these readily hold the attention, but in undramatic fashion. Attending to these
patterns is effortless, and they leave ample opportunity for thinking about other
things. (1995: 174, my italics)

In fact, the incompleteness of sensory information in aesthetic objects (particularly


apparent in the case of music) encourages an active, performative stance to listening,
where interpretation can fill in the gaps. Thinking about other things including
associations, memories, noticing certain elements of external surroundings
emerges as an essential part of this sense-making. The result is a rich multi-modal
yet unpremeditated sense of absorption that may be characterized as spontaneous,
everyday trance.
An effortless, non-volitional quality of involvement is clearly evident in the
following listening episode:
Todays train CD is Earl Hooker, playing blues guitar. Got to Charing Cross
feeling suitably laidback. Was vaguely aware of blandness of listening to a
whole CD of blues-based music and couldnt remember specifically a single
track, but am aware of walking along, playing a few tracks again with 12-bar
rhythm in the brain, avoiding cracks in the pavement. I think avoiding the cracks
was something to do with keeping the rhythm sort of a regular, precise thing.
Normally I dont bother about cracks well not since I was a kid! the mind
was chilled out and empty. [Max]

This is a typical example of a normally hidden mundane, everyday listening


experience, occurring in a transitional gap (travelling to work), or routine period
of empty time (Bull 2003: 370) that would ordinarily be quickly forgotten. Bull
mentions several such instances, with relation to driving, maintaining that music
may act in these circumstances to reclaim and transform a sense of empty time

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(2003: 371). Again experience is multisensory, and its effects are unplanned. A
selective external awareness (pavement cracks) appears to fuse with a physical
entrainment that is linked both to what is heard and seen. There is a repetitive
quality to the music (a cycling, 12-bar structure) and the pattern of the paving
stones. Such repetition appears to function in the manner of a mandala (a repetitive,
usually concentric circular pattern used in meditation), stilling the mind (chilled
out and empty). This element of repetition (musical and/or visual) is mentioned
frequently in accounts of everyday listening experiences in which individuals feel
most absorbed:
End of the week and I am sitting in our back room again. I didnt plan to, but the
room is almost always free in the evening, and if I need some real quality downtime I can just take it. I have a small tropical fish tank which I can illuminate.
I have the main light off and just the fish tank light on. I have my iPod on and
am listening to some fairly quiet music [Steve Hillage]. This music was written
specifically for a festival, years ago, of mind, body and spirit, and has a constant
background noise behind the music of waterfalls and rain. The musics very
repetitive there are only a couple of themes throughout the whole piece. I am
totally switched off and I am just looking at the fish it is very relaxing. There
is a transition process, but its not lengthy it takes between a few minutes to
perhaps 7 or 8 depending on my mood. I am not thinking of anything its almost
like my mind is blank. I would not go so far as to say the music is hypnotic, but
it is almost that, and I am not sure how to describe how I feel. Its as if my whole
body and mind has shut down for a while. After around an hour, I get up out of
the chair, and put the main light on. I feel quite refreshed. [David]

Although unplanned, the episode has a definite aim (to relax) and the process
appears well rehearsed (there is a transition process, but its not lengthy). The
effects resulting in a low arousal experience - also emerge as familiar, and are
cited by David in other listening episodes (almost hypnotic, mind is blank, body
and mind has shut down). As in the previous listening episode, there is a selective
external locus of attention (this time, the fish tank), and the lighting encourages a
sense of enhanced visual focus. Once again, a state of non-thought occurs. The fact
that David knows that the music has been designed specifically to aid relaxation
probably reinforces his reaction to it, and he associates characteristics of repetition
and the constant background noise of waterfalls with a hypnotic response.
Intense and strongly emotional absorbing listening episodes have been fruitfully
related to Maslows well-documented concept of peak experiences. However,
instances of low-arousal absorbed trancing often seem to have more in common
with his less-familiar term plateau experiences, which he characterized as serene
and calm, potentially possessing qualities of casualness and lounging (1971:
336). Maslow himself realized that this undramatic, often contemplative type of
experience was less likely to be remembered or attract retrospective comment.
In an appendix to his classic work The Farther Reaches of Human Nature, he

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stated that he wished to correct the tendency of some to identify experiences of


transcendence as only dramatic, orgasmic, transient, peaky, like a moment on
the top of Mt. Everest. There is also the high plateau where one can stay turnedon (1971: 349).
Defining Dissociation
Dissociation can be defined as a lack of the normal integration of thoughts,
feelings, and experiences into the stream of consciousness and memory
(Bernstein & Putnam, 1986: 727). It involves mentally cutting off from internal
and/or external concerns. Although long recognized as a phenomenon, it was first
clearly articulated by the French psychiatrist Pierre Janet in 1889. Janet, who
worked at the Salptrire hospital in Paris, used the original term dsagrgation
to refer to alterations of mental functioning during hypnosis or episodes of
hysteria. Since the nineteenth century dissociation has often been associated
with pathological conditions such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and
Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID, previously known as Multiple Personality
Disorder). However, there is an increasing body of evidence pointing towards the
presence of non-pathological dissociation in everyday life, functioning to provide
temporary escape from and sense of renewal consequent to internal and external
pressures. In fact, instances of normative or non-pathological dissociation are now
acknowledged to be more common than pathological dissociative experiences
(Kihlstrom, Glisky & Angiulo, 1994; Butler, 2004, 2006; De Ruiter, Elzinga
& Phaf, 2006) and to constitute an integral part of everyday psychological
functioning. Non-pathological dissociation has been defined as an altered state
of consciousness that is not organically induced, that does not occur as part of a
dissociative disorder, and that involves the temporary alteration or separation of
normally integrated mental processes in conscious awareness (Butler & Palesh,
2004: 66). The term normative is intended to indicate an understanding of
dissociation as an intrinsically normal process that may be distorted or hijacked
in pathological dissociative states, often through the effects of trauma (Butler,
2006: 46). In literature in accord with this viewpoint, dissociation is frequently
described as a natural defence mechanism against anxiety and pain (Cardea,
1994: 24) and possibly an innate psychobiological adaptative response (Ludwig,
1983; De Ruiter et al., 2006) that may become maladaptive over time (Putnam,
1997: 74), i.e. severely dissociative symptoms may continue to occur in the
absence of trauma (Butler, 2006: 54). Indeed, De Ruiter et al. have asserted
that normative dissociation may be viewed profitably as a cognitive capacity or
resource, i.e. a general information processing style, associated with enhanced
attention and working memory capacities (2006: 117), rather than pathological
coping mechanism or dysfunction (2006: 116).
To date, discussions concerning the function of normative dissociation have
been largely informal, anecdotal or speculative. Nevertheless, they provide a

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useful series of hypotheses that can inform empirical study. Ludwig (1983)
proposed seven potential functions of dissociation, several of which are relevant
to normative dissociation in everyday life, including automatization of behaviour,
cathartic discharge, and escape from the constraints of reality. Butler (2004, 2006)
confirmed Ludwigs notion of dissociation as affording escape, defining the nature
of such experiences as constituting a form of cognitive involvement in absorbing
activities (or elaborate fantasies) (2006: 55). She added two further functions:
(1) dissociation via daydreaming as a forum for passive, seemingly spontaneous
mental processing (2004: 5; 2006: 54); (2) positive dissociative states marked
by a benign depersonalization and derealization that accompany skilled worthy
activities such as musical performance or sport, thus serving to reinforce the
desire to pursue them (2006: 56).
The process of dissociation would seem potentially highly relevant to everyday
music listening experiences. Curiously, to date it has received little attention,
and the reader may have noticed that dissociation was absent from the review
of music and consciousness literature in Chapter 1. This is simply because the
experience of listening to music is not usually conceptualized in this way. BeckerBleases (theoretical) discussion of dissociative states associated with new age
and electronic trance music (2004) is the only one of its kind I have come across.3
Dissociation and Everyday Music Listening
Dissociation features as a characteristic of an unexpectedly large number of
listening episodes in daily life. Detachment may or may not be perceived as a
definite move away from a baseline state of consciousness. It is not generally
perceived in terms of an unusual disconnection or disengagement however, as
Cardea has asserted (1994: 23). At times, experiences are spontaneous, arising
as a coping response to immediate situations, e.g. before a hospital appointment
or on an overcrowded train. On other occasions, dissociative experiences are
deliberately sought, and participants describe what appeared to be established and
well-rehearsed techniques of volitional detachment, e.g. after an argument or to
block out negative introspection.

Dissociation was included (alongside absorption, fantasy proneness, empathy


and rumination, in a survey study of the relationship between individual differences and
the enjoyment of negative emotion in music (Garrido & Schubert, 2011). However, the
dissociation scale used in the study (the Questionnaire of Experiences of Dissociation
[QED]) was designed to measure pathological dissociation and did not enable the authors
to conclusively establish whether or not dissociation was correlated with the enjoyment of
negative emotion in music. The authors called for future studies to employ dissociation
measures that are more effective in measuring dissociation in non-clinical populations
(Garrido & Schubert, 2011: 290).
3

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External Dissociation
Dissociation most commonly takes the form of cutting off from surroundings and
external activity. Such episodes seem to have a therapeutic function, although
this may not be the deliberate aim of the listener; instead, self-regulation through
music often appears to be an automatic process. The language individuals use to
describe the process of dissociation often implies an alteration away from a state
of consciousness perceived as familiar or normal. While travelling to London on
the train, Max mentally replays a track just heard in the car (Aint No Mountain
High Enough by Diana Ross):
Translate landscapes from train window into birds eye perspective hard to
explain really, basically seeing things from above. Its a combination of things
claustrophobia of a train, staring out of window at blurred, changing views,
repetitive movement & recent music memories running through my head altering
my perception of reality a bit. Takes me away from humdrum internalized
thoughts and worries & gives me a different bigger picture angle on things.
Hard to rationalize exactly whats going on some sort of (slight) out of body
experience thing. Mind kind of declutters itself of internalized thoughts and
drifts into a more open (vacant) minded outward view on life and everything.
The music running through my mind scores the birds-eye visual.

This listening episode is informed by an established belief in a state of mind/


consciousness possibly unfamiliar to others (hard to explain) and represented
visually (seeing things from above) and involves a changing perception of the
world (alters my perception of reality). Maxs use of phrases such as out of body
experience indicates his sense of a move away from a familiar baseline state of
consciousness. He suggests that such an experience is not unpleasant (takes me
away from thoughts and worries) and that it involves standing outside his normal
self to view a bigger picture. Music is seen as a soundtrack to this state (scores
the birds-eye visual). There is an emphasis on a selective outwards attentional
focus, coupled with a sense of balanced detachment or dissociation from what is
seen. Thought is reduced and sense of self recedes. Additionally, the multisensory
combination of music, repetitive movement of the train and blurred changing
views combine to create a state of what seems to be low-arousal absorption. The
sense of a balanced self able to stand outside experience is reminiscent of what
psychiatrist Arthur J. Deikman terms the observing self: the observing self is the
transparent centre, that which is aware (1982: 94). Thus, everyday consciousness
contains a transcendent element that we seldom notice because that element is the
very ground of our experience (1982: 95). (Deikmans views are influenced by his
studies of a variety of eastern mystical traditions.)
Gary provides a clear example of the use of music to aid an intermittent sense
of mental removal from both surroundings and self during a walk into town after
a domestic argument:

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The sounds consist of very little more than looped string sections, which are
layered to allow for slow and quite subtle thematic shifts I have selected
well and this allows me to drift into the comfortable non-state I wander
around town and pop in and out of the quirky little shops, just browsing and
apparently advertising my insularity the whole point is to be as unaware
of my physical self as is realistically possible the music allows for gradual
and deeper dislocation. Like a waking dream I think, where I am the conductor
and the real world activity is really just a game in which I am choosing to
whimsically dabble in. Im lost in the music it is feeding my spacelessness.
This works well until I visit the market and am asked a question as I browse the
CD stall I am roused from my reverie & all of a sudden thrust into the onmode again I wander away and realize that something new has to be chosen.
I will remain disconnected and insular.

Informing the listening episode is the underlying belief that music possesses
qualities that will facilitate an altered state (allows me to drift into the comfortable
non-state). Garys internal involvement in the music still allows him to connect
with the environment (just browsing) while at the same time functioning to
keep surroundings at a distance. This detachment is emphasized by the wearing
of headphones advertising my insularity. He describes an apparently familiar
method of using music to yield the experience of standing outside physical
consciousness (the whole point is to be as unaware of my physical self as is
realistically possible) and to enter a dream-like state of absorption in private
fantasy (like a waking dream). A gap opens up between the subjective world
he has constructed, and the objective world, which, at times, intrudes upon this
(asked a question). Gary is reluctant to leave his subjective world, wishing
instead to maintain separation (I will remain disconnected and insular). The
spacelessness he mentions could refer to a lessened awareness of himself as
physical entity, operating within a defined external space, or to the breaking down
of the perceived divisions between internal mental spaces.
The experienced quality of dissociation appears to be negative or empty in
comparison with Maxs description above. It is described as dislocation rather
than separation, suggesting a quality of malfunction. In fact, Gary is critical of
his habitual use of music to disappear into:
it serves no useful function in helping me to address the residual reason for
wanting to [disappear] in the first place. Hiding in music is nothing more than a
childish solution to an existing problem. Discovered this quite recently!

Here, he seems to believe that his own use of music is merely a childish means
of avoidance that needs to be outgrown. Interestingly, it would appear that it is
primarily this dissociative type of listening that critical theorist T.W. Adorno takes
issue with in his critique of mass culture, arguing that the feebler the subjects
own sense of living, the stronger the happy illusion of attending to what they tell

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themselves is other peoples life (Adorno & Horkheimer, 1973: 56). Bull (2004),
influenced by Adornos approach is similarly critical of listening tactics such as
invisibility and avoidance. There may be some truth in the claim that these are
undesirable listening states. A year on from taking part in my research Garys
listening practices had altered significantly, resulting in experiences that were less
dissociative and more absorbing:
When I took part in the project I was at the apex of feeling dissociated and
depressed generally, so I chose music that didnt demand attention, as a means
of escaping. After a period of counselling I found structure and purpose which
opened up a different way of listening to music more open ended with a
broader range [of musics]. I was happy to engage with the music and more
aware of emotional content.

The Influence of Technology


Technology mediates experience, altering the perceivers relationship particularly
to what is seen and heard. In dissociative terms, the wearing of headphones
offers the opportunity to either block out surroundings or stand outside external
experience and look in, almost as a detached, unseen voyeur:
On train listening to Radio 4. Very happily contained in cocoon like world of
sounds. Aware that I feel more self-content and confident in my detachment from
everything, especially people in carriage dont want to be like THEM! sad
and resigned to the commuting experience. Find myself perhaps overly staring at
people, but feel sort of invisible with phones on. Selfishly imagine they have dull
means-to-living jobs and havent worked out how to deal with mundane bits of
life like getting to work day after day Thoughts wander in and out of listening
to radio (Today programme) and soothed by rambling voices tired, vacant,
non-specific feelings. Become aware that I am totally oblivious to surroundings
possibly half asleep. Train goes into tunnel, [radio] signal goes to audio static, but
keep phones on, comforted, regardless of unpleasant noise. [Max]

Max associates the wearing of headphones with a feeling of detachment from


everything and this increases his sense of personal privacy and individualism.
At the same time the phones make him invisible and able to watch others in a
distant, dissociated way. Headphones offer a clear strategy for dealing with the
mundane bits of life, periods of potentially empty time when one is forced to be
in close proximity to a large numbers of strangers.4 He eventually detaches from
the meaning of the radio interview he is listening to, becoming soothed by [the
4
Bull (2003, 2004) has written extensively on the demarcation of private (and
therefore externally dissociative) worlds within public spaces.

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sound] of rambling voices, and the unpleasant, but comforting audio static
signal creates a sonic wall that both blocks out the external situation and reduces
personal introspection to the point of non-thought and semi-wakefulness.
Dissociation from Activity.
Individuals sometimes use music to dissociate from a particular activity, allowing
it to proceed automatically, while conscious awareness is focused elsewhere. They
may not be aware that this is the case. David describes a listening episode where
he is typing an essay dictated by his wife. He explains that this is to maintain
a focus on typing accuracy. However, his description strongly suggests that the
music also provides a way of absenting himself from the task:
I play Music for Airports by Brian Eno. This is a fairly long piece that has a
repeated theme. I can hear what my wife is saying and I can type it quickly for
her, but I am not actually taking in anything she is dictating I dont have to
think about it I do feel relaxed with the music.

David classifies Music for Airports as one of a number of relaxation tapes


that he plays at home when tired to zonk me out. In this case, he appears to
enter a familiar relaxed state, but at the same time carry out a complex task
(typing) without attention to content. The typing occurs automatically, while the
repetitive nature of the music, the sound (devoid of meaning) of his wifes voice,
plus his expectation of how the music will affect him, all appear to contribute
to a sense of absorbed dissociation. The dissociation in this instance, is strongly
reminiscent of that cultivated in the hypnotherapeutic context between client
and therapist.
Dissociation is, as noted, a separation of normally integrated conscious
processes, and it is possible to see that involvement in one activity can block out,
or keep other aspects of consciousness at bay. Thus Clara describes the activity of
playing the piano:
Its sometimes as if the mind separates somewhat. The same thoughts go round
usually stress, paranoia, bad thoughts generally (as I dont mind the good
ones!) but they dont evoke emotional states so much when Im playing. At the
same time I feel very centred i.e. very me which gets lost in the day- to-day
treadmill. The part of my mind which can never shut down (causing insomnia)
is pushed off into a back corner the pieces I was playing were old favourites
[various sonatinas and Khachaturians Pictures of Childhood] which connect me
closely to my reasonable childhood before bad things happened.

The dissociative nature of this episode is made clear by the phrase the mind
separates. Music provides a distraction on different levels; as physical skill, as
suggesting alternative mood states, and by evoking positive memories of both

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hearing and playing these pieces as a child. Clara is able to detach from aspects
of her day-to-day self, with its habitual preoccupations and concerns, and access
a more positive self-essence (what, following Deikman 1982, I have previously
termed the observing self) that is not defined by external interaction.
Gary uses music to dissociate himself from the process of running:
Im gonna need something aggressive to get me through it, so it has to be
Soulwax crunchy, hard rocking outfit, with a DJ-ing alter ego, who have
remixed themselves into something equally hard, but now resolutely techno
to start with I am very aware of my surroundings milestones which serve to
remind me of how far there is to go and how much pain I am yet to endure. The
whole point of the music is to provide a space into which I can disappear as
soon as I have acclimatised to the pain needs to be the right beat, the right
tempo and quite aggressive, but also hypnotic some visual motifs or vocal
snatches to latch onto as I start a hill climb the legs become leaden and I slow
down although the music no longer matches my progress literally, I am able
to disappear further into the sounds now the keyboard provides a soaring
synthetic rush, originally designed for the dance-floor and to bring on the drugs
which the typical listener would have necked to fully appreciate this music. Not
sure if Im having a flashback to clubbing exploits, or if, in fact, Im just on the
verge of blacking out but nonetheless I am responding to the music now it
feels like I am coming up on my pill!
Wow a natural high

His description points towards an implicit belief that there is right music to match
the activity (Im gonna need something aggressive). He is specific about what is
needed (right beat, right tempo) to create his own disappearance and, in a sense,
pre-customizes his experience via music ( also hypnotic some visual motifs
or vocal snatches to latch on to). As he runs, attention gradually moves inwards,
and while physical entrainment with the music is lost, his mental involvement
allows the dissociation from the task to develop.
As in Davids case, past experiences of the music (designed for the dance
floor and to bring on the drugs), together with expectations of its effect, inform
the present episode, working with the effect of physical exercise to provide a
natural high. In fact, Garys previous use of drugs, and the way he uses music in
general, appear to share certain qualities: both seem to function as commodities
that provide an instant, determinable effect.
Dissociation from Self
At times, music appears to provide a detachment, or dissociation from self,
although it is difficult to know whether such a use is intentional. Here 18-year-old
Sophie discusses her interaction with music in the gym:

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Sophie: If Im on a running machine, I sometimes forget that Im jogging,
because theres like a mirror directly in front of me and I might just be focused
on one thing in the mirror and Ill just be jogging and listening to the music
you have these thoughts where youre not sure about anything anymore
thinking completely outside the box, like who am I kind of thoughts big
thoughts and I forget that Im running cause Ive just been enveloped in this
kind of big thought and music and focused on one point.
Q: What is that point in the mirror what are you seeing?
Sophie: Sometimes just my arm or just past me in the mirror its never my face.

Sophies thoughts here appear to be tangential and random, and she becomes, in a
sense, mentally separated from her own reflection in the mirror.
Max describes dissociation from self as a birds-eye view moment, explaining
this with reference to his eyes-closed experience of listening to a Taverner mass,
while relaxing in the bath:
Its this kind of out of body thing. Im not me looking out for a while. All
the mundane things in your mind your troubles and worries and thoughts
go away temporarily and you kind of see a wider perspective on life and the
simple natural beauty of everything around. The birds-eye thing [with eyes
open] is definitely less when hurtling through suburbs better in countryside.
Music as a drug?

Maxs sense of self is altered (Im not me), and involves an opening up of
experience (a wider perspective). The actual vantage point of experience
changes; instead of looking out (from inside his body, tied to its physical and
mental concerns) Max feels he sees things from above, like a bird. There is also a
sense in which he feels his experience to be altered from that of a normal baseline
condition (out of body, along with his analogy of music as a drug). The episode
takes place while easing aches and pains after physical work (DIY activities),
literally allowing him to separate off from the discomforts of a task involving
an effortful, narrowed attention that he finds irksome, and to access a widened,
effortless awareness in a way that feels restorative.
Gary describes a non-state that he is able to access fairly easily in ways that
strongly suggest dissociation:
I really just lock into it whether I am listening to music or not. The function of
the music is to provide a further mask if you like, to enable a deeper descent.

The non-state emerges as a coping mechanism that he adopts to gain relief


from normal preoccupations. His use of the word mask suggests a detachment
from self, while the metaphor of descent into the non-state is familiar within
the language of hypnotherapists when describing trance induction. One of Garys
listening experiences, on a station platform, demonstrates what seems to be an

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attempt to transform what Bull has termed a routine period of empty time (2003:
370) via an obliteration of the sense of self (aided by alcohol) and a retreat into
fantasy through music:
On my way home from a night out in town nicely tipsy, so consciousness
already altered and Im already swimming in my head time to plug in and
tune out once again. A cursory scan through the files stored on the mp3 player
peaks some interest in Ken Nordine and his Word Jazz. Somehow his Dr.
Seussian ludic punnery seems perfectly apt now. How better to fill a gap in time
for once, words are really important though not for what they mean, but
just how they sound occasionally the free jazz noodling in the background
serves to remind me that this is a performance, but only momentarily, because
soon you are locked back into his voice and tripping off on the mental flights
of frippery. Skits which disappear into the nothingness of my clouded brain the
moment they have been consumed.. And then the tannoy platform 12 for the
Brockley train a brief interlude this one, but more mind food enjoyed and a few
pointless minutes well wasted!

Gary seems to have a clear idea of the type of listening experience he is seeking
(something to emphasize a mildly altered state), and experiences the effects
of alcohol as both a pleasant preface and complement to it (nicely tipsy, so
consciousness already altered). The mood alteration he seeks can be instantly
accessed (time to plug in and tune out once again). Both a gap in time and potential
reality orientation (to the cold station platform) are avoided by an absorption in
immediate qualities, rather than meanings of sounds. The nothingness of my
clouded brain hints at dissociation from self, but at the same time Gary seems
to draw some sense of identity from the Dr. Seussian ludic punnery and free
jazz noodling in the background. The music is described as mind food that he
consumes in a passive way, reminiscent of the abstracted enjoyment of eating a
late-night takeaway. Paradoxically, the episode is both valued, and also described
as time wasted.
Varieties of Dissociative Experience
Implicit within the nature of a large proportion of the experiences Ive referred
to is a sense of relief or dissociation from self, the fixation on qualities of sound
itself encouraging a temporary state of non-being. Much dissociative trancing
functions to provide ways of escaping from the external concerns of an
everyday self operating within the confines of consensual reality, or to block out
distracted, unproductive rumination (what Csikszentmihalyi has termed psychic
entropy (1990, 1997). However, there appear to be differences in dissociative
feel relating to perceived valence of individual experiences: from a negatively
conceived blocking out of unwanted thought and feeling, reminiscent of elements

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of pathological dissociation, to a positive, non-pathological sense of being taken


somewhere else (David). A nihilistic obliteration of self may be sought, as hinted
at on several occasions by Gary (I aim to plug in and tune out), but an alternative
to episodes prompted by the desire to escape, are occasions where a perceived
everyday self appears to be spontaneously replaced by an alternative, observing
self (Deikman, 1982). Such episodes (e.g. Maxs train experience) feature a
crystal clear sharpening of consciousness and an inclusive sense of experiencing
things as they are, reminiscent of the Buddhist practice of insight meditation,
i.e. attention to, yet detachment from, the object of meditation, which may be the
meditators own stream of consciousness (Pekala, 1991: 40).
Such experiences indicate that music appears not just to configure an external
environment by regularizing what sonic stimuli are present (DeNora, 2000: 60),
but to configure inner experience itself. Adorno may have disapproved of types of
listening that are, in essence, dissociative, but empirical evidence suggests that the
conclusion that they necessarily constitute negative ways of interacting with life
and art is misplaced. Such a viewpoint, while not without its merit, reflects ways
of valuing and experiencing music associated with high culture during the first
half of the twentieth century, informed by the concern that works of mass culture
were becoming increasingly standardized and lacked aesthetic depth.
Comparing Absorption and Dissociation
I stated earlier that absorption is considered to be one of three dimensions that
contribute to a sense of dissociation, suggesting that it might be inseparable from
it. That said, it is still the case though that some individual music listening episodes
are experienced as primarily absorbing or dissociative, i.e. they differ slightly
in emphasis. Absorbing experiences commonly occur when individuals feel
focused, balanced or pleasantly dreamy. Episodes demonstrate a preoccupation
with/immersion in sensation, and alterations of consciousness are noticed
retrospectively. Dissociative experiences often occur when individuals feel tired,
emotionally overloaded, subject to external discomfort or internal rumination.
The prime concern (unconsciously or consciously) is with the dulling of
consciousness by use of an activity to numb or flood it: to hold consciousness
at bay (Gass, 1972: 2689), leading to a position of third-person dissociation
from the experience rather than a fascination with the stimulus (and thus the
experience) itself. The temporary absence of habitual ways of perceiving triggers
the sense of surroundings being unreal or preternatural, and a sense of transformed
consciousness is frequently an integral part of experience as it unfolds.

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Quantifying Experience
Any exploration of the psychological processes of everyday involvement would
appear to be best accomplished using qualitative methods in real-world settings.
Yet the bulk of published research relating to quasi-hypnotic experiences,
absorption and dissociation has been quantitative in emphasis, concerned with the
measurement of frequency and intensity levels of experiences using questionnaires
(often called scales). Thus absorption has been tapped via the Tellegen
Absorption Scale (TAS), dissociation by the Dissociative Experiences Scale
(DES, Bernstein and Putnam, 1986, Carlson & Putnam,1993), and quasi-hypnotic
experiences by Shors Personal Experiences Questionnaire (PEQ, 1960; Shor
& Orne, 1962). Although such questionnaires constitute the product of detailed
research, drawing on clinical data and interviews, and employing factor analysis
to ensure relevancy of individual question items, they are never atheoretical,
objective testing instruments. All seek to compare psychological abilities across
broad populations, thus identifying common dimensions or norms, rather than
examining the qualities of individual experience. Thus the use of questionnaires
reflects a nomothetic rather than idiographic psychological stance; concerned with
generalization as opposed to in-depth analysis of unique, subjective experience.
Integral to a nomothetic approach is the notion of dispositional tendencies or
personality traits. In themselves, concepts of trait and state are constructions
deriving from implicit (common-sense) and formal trait theories of personality.
In this division of experience a trait is defined as a characteristic that endures over
time, and that will be expressed in different situations, whereas a state is transient
and dependent on particular situations and mood. Trait theories are attractive
because without this underlying idea of consistency the notion of personality
seems to vanish (Thomas, 2002: 295), but it is important to appreciate that there
is no firm consensus within psychological literature that traits must always be
in evidence from birth. To what extent aspects of personality are heritable is
unclear, but traits are commonly considered to arise from a process of interaction
between environmental and innate predispositions that occur from the moment
of conception.
In published specialist literature, absorption is frequently overtly conceptualized
as (or covertly assumed to be) a trait. Dissociation is less often referred to in this
way, perhaps due to the identification of the term with the disruption of previously
normal psychological functioning in extreme situations (e.g. the post-traumatic
stress as a result of war, accidents, abuse, punishment etc). This has led to the
more recent viewpoint that only non-pathological (normative) dissociation should
be considered a trait.
What might be gained by adopting a trait view of absorption and dissociation?
First, in accordance with the concerns of individual differences (nomothetic)
personality theory, the trait view raises the question of whether these processes
may be considered to have an adaptive function in evolutionary terms. Certainly,
it is possible to theorize that both may be adaptive behaviours: a small but

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persuasive body of research has linked absorption to psychobiological selfregulation (Rainville et al., 2002; Ott et al., 2005), while dissociation may function
as a means of psychophysiological self-defence from potentially overwhelming
situations. Second, individuals scoring highly on questionnaire measures of trait
absorption or dissociation might also be expected to experience frequent absorbing
and dissociative episodes in daily life. In the final part of this chapter, I assess the
usefulness of the trait/state divide, taking absorption as a case study.
Absorption: Trait or State?
Absorption is an important component of everyday music listening experiences,
and yet conceptualizations of it within existing literature are unclear. Roche and
McConkeys observation (1990: 92) that some confusion exists as to whether
absorption refers to a trait of the individual, a state of the individual, or both
still holds true within absorption literature. The title of Tellegen and Atkinsons
original article (1974) identified it as a trait, but, as indicated earlier, Tellegen later
asserted that absorption is inherently interactive with situations (1981). Despite
this, existing studies tend to rely solely on the completion of questionnaires
within a classroom situation, thus only tapping trait, not state dimensions, with
no reference to particular contexts or occasions. Additionally, many studies focus
once again only on the experience of undergraduate psychology students and
involve a majority of female participants. Questionnaires may be complemented
by interviews that aim to locate the experience of absorption in particular contexts,
but interviews will always be subject to the vagaries of retrospective recall. It is
still the case that, as Roche and McConkey observed sixteen years ago, Very little
research has been conducted on the stimulus situations that are necessary for the
experience of absorption to occur (1990: 98).
A recent study (Kreutz et al., 2008) examining the influence of individual
preferences and absorption on the induction of emotion via music, is a case in point.
Unquestioningly assuming absorption solely to be a trait, the authors actively
sought to rule out the influence of confounds associated with participants
situational moods (2008: 106) in order to produce a systematic investigation.
Ninety-nine adults listened to 25 pre-selected excerpts of classical music chosen to
represent happiness, sadness, fear, anger and peace. The research team attempted
to justify the use of a laboratory setting with the statement that participants scoring
high on absorption [having completed the TAS] should be less disturbed because
of their ability to forget their surroundings (2008: 105). Unsurprisingly, the
findings regarding absorption were disappointingly limited (absorption was found
to correlate with arousal), and the authors admitted that the mode of presentation
in this study namely the short duration of the musical pieces, the interruption by
the rating phases and the continuous change between different emotions may not
have permitted strong absorption in the music (2008: 119).

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In my own research I have assessed links between trait and state absorption
via a comparison of questionnaire scores (measuring trait absorption) with
immediately reported experience (tapping state absorption). A small sample group
of twenty individuals logged experiences relating to music and a range of nonmusical activities for two weeks, and subsequently completed a modified version
of the TAS (henceforth termed MODTAS Jamieson, 2005). The scale was given
the more neutral-sounding title Personal Attitudes and Experiences, and its
completion was purposely separated in time from the previous log submissions in
order to minimize contextual bias.
Establishing a consistent link between trait and state absorption proved
problematic because experiential reports of participants with scores below the
mean did not predict low scores for trait absorption, either in terms of frequency
or intensity of absorbing episodes. For example, the lowest scoring participant
described an established (twenty year) practice of imaginative involvement
(creating and reviewing novels in the head). The most obvious reason for this
disparity was the possibility that the MODTAS did not provide a complete
phenomenology of absorption, and indeed this does appear to be the case.
Jamieson (2005: 1267) has identified five overarching factors represented
within the MODTAS: aesthetic involvement in nature (factor 1), altered states
of consciousness (factor 2), imaginative involvement (factor 3), extra-sensory
perception (factor 4) and synaesthesia (factor 5). He notes that factor 1 items are
predominantly visual in modality (indeed, in my research, the highest scores were
attained by those who had declared a particular interest in the visual arts), raising
the question of whether corresponding scales should be developed for other sensory
modalities (2005: 126) and acknowledges that these primary factors may not
exhaust the entire domain of expression of the higher order factor [absorption]
(2005: 133). In fact, Nagy (2002) has developed a 29-item scale designed to tap
musical involvement (only five items on the MODTAS reference this) drawing
on the findings of Tellegen & Atkinson, 1974; Hilgard, 1979; Csikszentmihalyi,
1997; Sloboda, 2001; and student report. Unfortunately, the scale is problematic
on several levels, particularly because it only concerns strong experiences of
music (participants are asked to recollect listening to a musical piece that has
a great effect on you), thus ruling out involving experiences that might not be
marked by extreme arousal or emotional affect.
It is entirely likely that the use of different questionnaires may reveal
different correlations between trait and state. For example, because Shors
(older) 28-item Personal Experiences Questionnaire (PEQ), on which the TAS
draws, is designed to assess the extent of hypnotic-like experiences in everyday
life (i.e. not solely absorption), it possesses a slightly different emphasis. The
more inclusive brief refers to a wider concept (of trancing), relating more
specifically to vacancy, flow and automatic task completion, and dissociative

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and absorbing items intermingle more extensively than in the TAS.5 The TAS
contains some reference to dissociative experience (I have previously stated that
these constructs are inextricably linked), but the most widely used questionnaire
in current circulation concerning dissociation features a marked bias towards
pathological, rather than normative dissociation (Carlson & Putnam, 1993).
Fifteen out of 28 items relate to dissociative disorder, making it unusable for the
study of non-pathological dissociation.
Recognizing that all scales must inevitably function as methodological artefacts
that construct the evidence to a greater or lesser extent, it is still possible to argue
that further adjustments to the MODTAS, or even a completely new absorption
scale, might reveal correlations between trait and state absorption. Another option,
however, is to ignore trait and state divisions altogether and to construct the
evidence in an entirely different manner.
If absorption is viewed not as a discrete trait, but as a form of attention, or
way of employing attention, it does emerge as a given: a fixed, specified process
utilized by all human beings. This way of managing attention (effortless and nonvolitional) is present in childhood (easily observable in the way babies interact
with their surroundings) but may be concealed/lessened in adult life due to the
influence of culture and personal circumstance. Although a given, it will be
influenced by factors such as motivation, involvement in particular skills, and
crucially perceptual habits. Becker (in Juslin & Sloboda, 2010) has adopted
Bourdieus notion of habitus to describe the situatedness of experience, describing
it as an embodied pattern of action and reaction in which we are not fully conscious
of why we do what we do (2010: 130). The contexts in which a person is likely
to experience absorption will be influenced by this embodied pattern of action
and reaction together with how conscious they are of the occurrence of such
experiences. Additionally, as everyday absorbing experiences are often instantly
forgotten, an individual may well not be aware of their capacity for absorption.
Acknowledging that perception is influenced by situation and prior learning
may help to explain why levels of absorption fluctuate at different points in life,
but when taken to extremes it can be problematic, i.e. it can suggest that people of
differing educational level and social origin must experience the world in entirely
different ways. Thus, in a well-known and exhaustive French study of taste
(Bourdieu, 1979), when shown a photograph (untitled) of Lacq gas refinery at
night (which emerged as an abstract pattern of lights) only 6% of manual workers
declared it to be beautiful as opposed to 50% of higher education teachers.
Bourdieu concluded that manual workers were far more likely to conceptualize

There are various versions of the PEQ, which date back to a 149-item scale from
1960. John Kihlstrom, who worked with Shors colleague Martin Orne between 1970 and
1975 has kindly supplied me with the 28-item version, but advises against using it (personal
correspondence). While the TAS has a far tighter internal construction, I do not consider
that either it or the MODTAS have superseded the PEQ in all aspects.
5

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105

external objects in a representational manner that focused on function rather than


aesthetic appreciation:
When faced with legitimate works of art, people most lacking the specific
competence apply to them the perceptual schemes of their own ethos the
very ones which structure their everyday perception of everyday existence.
(1979[1984]: 44)

In this case, context (being asked to look at a photograph and asked whether it was
beautiful) was likely to have influenced response, because aesthetic contemplation
may have been an unfamiliar and therefore unnatural method of interaction for
some participants. Looking at the actual scene (not a reproduction) without the
instruction to make judgements concerning beauty, reported experiences might
have been quite different.
Evidence suggests that brief, often subtle and easily forgotten episodes of
absorption are a common feature of daily life, and that, while some individuals
may display a seemingly greater trait capacity for absorption, it is more fruitful
to consider it as an attentional given that is informed by an interactive process
between organism and environment. If that is the case, the emphasis on trait
studies in absorption research may simply be an extensive and enduring example
of what attribution theory terms the fundamental attribution error:6
When interpreting other peoples behaviour, human beings invariably make the
mistake of overestimating fundamental character traits and underestimating the
importance of situation and context. We will always reach for a dispositional
explanation of events, as opposed to a contextual explanation the fundamental
attribution error makes the world a simpler and more understandable place.
(Gladwell, 2001: 160).

Summary
Subtle alterations of consciousness have received little research attention in
comparison with more extreme or profound shifts of consciousness, yet evidence
suggests that they are central to many experiences of listening to music, and that
everyday instances of absorption and dissociation are particularly prevalent.
Although everyday absorbed trancing may be strongly emotionally arousing
and intense, more common is a low arousal type of experience that is commonly
multimodal in nature: where the listener engages spontaneously in a performative
The term was originated by Lee D. Ross, Professor of Social Psychology at Stanford
University, and refers to situations in which people tend to see the behaviour of others as
linked to what kind of person they are, as opposed to being a response to demands of a
particular circumstance.
6

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blending together of sights, sounds and activities. This confirms that the use of
music in contexts where attention is divided between various activities or stimuli is
not necessarily superficial: descriptions of music in such scenarios as functioning
as sonic wallpaper that is barely perceived (North et al.,, 2004), may simply be
missing the point that music has the capacity to become one of several impacts
that, when combined, yield experiences that are potentially richly involving.
Dissociative trancing via music emerges as a common but unacknowledged
strategy with which to deal with the demands and vicissitudes of everyday life,
and considered together with absorption suggests a hidden uncommentedupon practice of self-regulation via music that often seems to operate at the
level of unconscious perception, such that the overt purpose of listening appears
not to match the emergent, underlying need. Because many everyday listening
episodes are subtle and evanescent experiences, not necessarily attached to strong
emotions, they are easily forgotten, and thus not available to consciously reflect
upon or learn from.
Following Josephine Hilgards work (1974, 1979) that linked imaginative
involvement with a tendency to become involved with some, but not other
pastimes, several studies have correlated high levels of absorption and (to a
lesser extent) dissociation with engagement in particular activities. It is, of
course, misguided to assume therefore that some activities are inherently more
absorbing or dissociative than others (although that is what some published
studies claim). To hypothesize a hierarchy of activities possessing greater or
lesser degrees of immanent fascination would be to ignore the contribution of
the individual experiencer to sense-making. Yet, given that a diverse range of
activities encourages such shifts of consciousness, it is still profitable to ask what
(if anything) might be specific to the interaction between listener and music, not
least because such an enquiry has the potential to yield insights that relate to
broader questions of musical meaning and effect.
Clarke & Clarke (2011: viii) have suggested that music may have a special,
close or transparent relationship to consciousness for several reasons. Because
music is not the prime means of communication in any culture it perhaps
escapes formalised social controls, arguably remaining closer to a less obviously
ideologically regulated imprint/reflection of what it is like to be a human. In
addition, as an embedded, and crucially, as a temporal activity, music has the
capacity to interweave seamlessly with everyday life, able both to reflect human
subjectivity and to be a powerful element in constituting it (Clarke & Clarke,
2011: viii). The question then is whether empirical evidence suggests that music
when compared with a range of other involving activities is a particularly
effective agent in the mediation and customization of experience, and if so how
and why. These are the topics that the following two chapters address.

Chapter 5

Musical and Non-Musical


Trancing in Daily Life
Introduction
The topic of involvement whether approached via the constructs of trance,
ASC, aesthetic involvement, flow, peak or plateau experiences etc. has itself
constituted a source of fascination for many scholars. Apart from an exploration
of the character and general processes of experiential engagement, a small number
of discipline-specific studies of involvement exist. In the case of absorption,
this includes music (Snodgrass & Lynn, 1989; Kreutz et al., 2008), religion
(Levin, Wickramasekera & Hirschberg, 1998), nature (Kaplan, 1995; Brown &
Katcher, 1997), dancing (Bachner-Melman et al., 2005), reading (Nell, 1988),
film (Cohen, MacMillan & Drew, 2006), and art appreciation (Combs et al.,
1988), while studies of dissociation have also referenced reading (Nell, 1988) and
music (Becker-Blease, 2004), in addition to film (Butler & Palesh, 2004) and pet
attachment (Brown & Katcher, 1997). A disadvantage of practically all existing
studies is that they are either laboratory- and/or questionnaire based, and are thus,
in the former scenario, divorced from the context of involvement, and in the latter
instance, reliant on memory rather than immediate experience. Additionally, none
of these enquiries is cross-disciplinary in focus, so that the assumption that certain
activities are intrinsically particularly involving cannot be substantiated. If pet
attachment and religion afford absorbed or dissociative trancing, then why not
eating chocolate or shopping?
Obviously, as Csikzentmihalyi (1997, 1990) and others have observed, a
diverse range of activities may afford engagement. The interesting question is
why people appear to be drawn towards the idea of a hierarchy of involvement in
the first place. Is it possible that certain activities do have the capacity to function
as richer sites of involvement than others? Alternatively, is this simply to buy
into a transcendent/trivial dualistic outlook, in which some objects and activities
are said to have greater depth, profundity, complexity regardless of individual
experiential interaction and are therefore prized above others? Exploration of the
example of eating chocolate likely to be categorized as trivial by many may
provide some answers.
TV adverts and chocolate wrappers often rely on a network of imagery and
associations in order to market the idea of a complex chocolate experience. For
instance, a now classic Toblerone advert features the chocolate consumer (female)
recumbent, floating in a gondola while surrounded by fantastic and improbable

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reveries that metamorphose into each other in a dream-like way. The advert as a
whole is captioned by the dissociative slogan, Get lost in the Toblerone triangle.
Meanwhile, Nestl have promoted a milk truffle bar entitled Heaven, which
states on the wrapper:
Its time to slow down relax and indulge in this gorgeous moment of
Heaven this dreamily delightful Swiss milk chocolate experience is yours
for the taking. Dont wait any longer .

The message of such adverts is cleverly ambiguous. We are not really expected
to believe that chocolate consumption triggers dramatic shifts of consciousness
(the imagery used is deliberately overblown and the approach is tongue-in-cheek),
yet there is still a suggestion that eating it just might give us temporary respite
a moment of out-of-the-ordinary escapism from the vicissitudes of everyday
life. What qualitatively, then, might be the difference between the involvement
experienced during the activity of consuming chocolate, and that potentially
present when pursuing other activities such as listening to music or contemplating
a beautiful view? Certainly, in physiological terms, eating chocolate may be likely
to be a pleasurable experience (if liked by an individual in the first place, that is)
because it satisfies an adaptive nutritional need for sugar and fat, one consequence
of which can be a brief uplift of mood and energy levels. Beyond this, however,
enhancement of psychophysiological processes would seem to be circumscribed.
Although listening to music, appreciating nature or eating chocolate all
potentially afford spontaneous trance, the quality of absorption may differ
because music and nature are more complex stimuli. Chocolate consumption and
listening to music can both feature a present-centred focus with the emphasis on
simple awareness on taste, texture and smell in the case of chocolate, and on
acoustic attributes in the case of music , but the power of chocolate to specify
things beyond itself is limited. To be sure, associations and reminiscences may
be bound up in the experience, but not much more. As philosopher of art Denis
Dutton has observed, smell (and he could just as well have included taste) has
failed to develop into an artistic medium because of its failure to evoke or
express emotions beyond those of personal association and nostalgia. Smells,
unlike colours, do not have names of their own: they are always identified by
what they smell of (2009: 211). Chocolate, like music, may well form part of a
multimodal experience for instance, attributes of both may blend with a visual
stimulus, whether watching television or looking at surroundings. Eating while
watching or looking at or studying things is, after all, one of the most common
sources of everyday, spontaneous trancing, easily confirmable by observing the
behaviour of those around us (and perhaps our own habits). However, in the
case of music, the nature of involvement seems to be qualitatively different;
characteristics of music are far more likely to interweave seamlessly with other
stimuli, contributing to a multilayered interaction with what is seen that alters
experience in both cognitive and affective terms. It seems plausible, then, that

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109

individuals might be more likely to lose themselves or genuinely experience


a gorgeous moment of heaven (whatever that may signify in individual terms)
while listening to music, rather than when munching a milk truffle bar.
Cross-comparison of engagement in musical and non-musical activities
reveals three core categories of absorbing and dissociative trancing, each
characterized by a set of associated phenomenological criteria that may be more
or less present in any single experience. Of course, any partitioning of conscious
experience is inevitably problematic because it has the effect of dividing up or
fragmenting what is a dynamic process and so runs the risk of manufacturing
apparently discrete states. I should therefore emphasize that the categories I
list below are necessarily overlapping, not mutually exclusive. They arise from
interpretative phenomenological analysis of a broad range of reports concerning
individual experience and are also influenced by a broader literature concerning
consciousness and altered states (Ludwig, 1966; Silverman, 1968; Pekala, 1991;
Vaitl et al., 2005). The trancing categories and associated phenomenological
criteria are as follows:












1.

Reduction in density of thought or internal dialogue (attentional focus


external, internal or fluctuating):
a. relaxation of critical faculties
b. decreased activation
c. altered sense of experience or self

2.

Change in sensory awareness (attentional focus external or fluctuating):


a. enhanced sensory awareness
b. sharpened awareness and increased activation (alertness, arousal)
c. multisensory experience
d. blending (stimuli perceived to interact with/affect each other)
e. changes in awareness span (narrowed, broadened, equanimous)
f. altered sense of experience or self

3.

Imaginative involvement (attentional focus internal or fluctuating):


a. imagery
b. association, daydreaming and reminiscence
c. altered sense of experience or self.

In this chapter I consider the first two categories. Imaginative involvement (no. 3)
is key to a large number of everyday trancing episodes, as well as being central to
engagement with the arts, and I devote Chapter 6 to discussion of it.

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Absorbed Trancing Marked by Reduction in Density of Thought


or Internal Dialogue
Activities in this category include active or more goal-directed occupations, such
as administrative tasks, as well as more apparently passive pursuits, e.g. having a
massage, looking and staring, listening to music as a prime focus.
The following is a typical example of external absorption in which music
and surroundings blend, serving to reduce critical thought (i.e. thought that is
primarily evaluative and analytical in nature), replacing it with a vivid awareness
of the moment:
Riding bike cross-country. Listening to music on headphones (Paulo Nutini).
The music was quite slow a relatively melancholy track which I find quite
peaceful. Id glimpsed that the path ahead was clear and edged forward on seat
to look at the ground in the warm sunlight. The constant temperature and the
mellow colour of the pebbly ground as it moved under me mesmerized me
and I experienced a type of freeflow, forgetting that I was the power behind
the movement and feeling as though I was hovering and rolling over ground;
unaware of space around and above me and any conscious effort at the physical
pedalling and existence of solid bike was very blurred. The music seemed to
confirm the sense of warmth and fluidity the tune had a winding/undulating
tone cancelling out the rhythm of the pedalling. [Gabrielle]

Experience of movement is central to this very short episode (logged as c.10


seconds). The music is perceived to move (winding/undulating), Gabrielle moves
forward (pedalling), although she experiences herself as hovering and the ground
moving under her. The multisensory qualities (visual, aural, kinaesthetic) and the
regularity of stimuli (constant temperature, pebbly ground, repetitive pedalling) of
the episode seem to contribute to a low-level absorption expressed by a visually
narrowed focus that could be termed one-pointed. The absorption in attributes
of the surroundings (rather than associations they might give rise to) makes the
experience present-centred, reduces thought, and also suggests an element of
spontaneous dissociation (present here as the forgetting of self) although not
in the sense of cutting off from preoccupations, but rather of the mind being
flooded/occupied by sensation. Music appears to bind together the separate
elements of the experience and is cited as important in confirming a changed
sense of self, distancing it from the physical activity (cancelling out the rhythm
of the pedalling). Gabrielle experiences a momentary disorientation from reality
that she terms free-flow, which leaves her feeling drowsy (as indicated on her
experience response sheet).
It is interesting to compare this experience with an externally absorbing
episode that does not involve music:

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111

Sitting/lying back on banana (reclining) chair, staring at things light and


shadow patterns of pine chest and rich red walls, the amazingly crinkled leaves
of the fig plant, the blues of pots and plates no music, just a chance to sit for
a few minutes being absorbed in the moment. [Will]

Once again, the experience is present centred (in the moment) and involves
enhanced sensory awareness of colour, line and texture that occupies the
mind, stilling extraneous thought. The scene is more static (neither Will nor
his surroundings are moving), but the eye journeys around the surroundings,
suggesting a flexible and mindful rather than one-pointed attention. The cutting off
from current concerns echoes the dissociative quality of Gabrielles experience,
but this time dissociation is not spontaneous, instead actively sought as an escape.
The fact that Will states no music was present suggests that, on occasion, music
would be an unwelcome mediator of experience, precisely because it would
provide a barrier to direct perception.
Multi-distributed Attention
At times completion of an external task can prompt a lessened density of, or
changed relationship with thought. Repetitious tasks are often linked to this type
of absorption:
Getting 200 leaflets and flyers into envelopes. This is done in four stages:
firstly putting leaflet and flyers together, secondly put leaflet into envelope,
thirdly add labels, fourthly the stamps. Each task starts awkwardly and then
becomes smooth and mechanical, giving me space inside to review thoughts
and emotions flashing by. Colours of leaflet become sharp and clear. Addresses
jump out sometimes places Ive been to, vague or vivid recollections of scenes
and people mere passing tastes glimpsed because the rhythm of the activity is
dominant. Getting to the end of it the rhythm wants to continue an addictive
quality have to tear myself away. [Will]

The episode features a narrowed attention on restricted stimuli (the leaflets etc., but
also on rhythmic movement). There is a heightened sensory awareness (sharp and
clear) and a relaxed critical faculty that allows thoughts and emotions to flash
by in a manner reminiscent of mindfulness meditation. That outward attention
is narrow, and inward attentional focus broad (but unfocused) points towards an
element of dissociation of self from surroundings.
Music
Internally absorbed trancing featuring a reduction of thought and lowered arousal
levels often seems to involve music. Relaxation may be spontaneous (stopped me
in my tracks [Chaz]), or actively sought (I want some time on my own [Hazel]).

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Participants often note a suspension or compression of time (time seemed to


stand still [Chaz]), Intellectually I realize that I must have listened for half an
hour, but viscerally it was a few minutes (Hazel). Such experiences are variously
described as drifting for a while into smile-inducing vacancy (Max), lose myself
in the music I just dont think of anything else at peace, but very in control
(Hazel), while professional hypnotherapist Chaz suggests that music acts in the
same way as a hypnotherapeutic induction:
The music stopped me into a calm place the one in my mind. I have trained
myself to access it whenever I need it.

Individuals often seem to assume that music is a stimulus, capable of specific and
direct effects on mood and arousal levels, and that, in relaxing situations, such
effects rely on the acoustic attributes of music, rather than any extra-musical
associations (the sounds themselves this is what is so, so relaxing [Hazel];
textures, timbres, rhythms for their own sake with no particular rational attempts
to make associations [Max]). Although a diverse range of musics affords everyday
trancing, in situations concerning relaxation of critical faculties and reduced thought
there are clear expectations and beliefs (expressed by both listeners and composers)
of a causal relationship between music and psychophysiological state. For example,
a large number of websites promotes CD compilations targeted at use in therapy
settings (including hypnotherapy) and/or the home, claiming to effect shifts of
consciousness, e.g. the music of John Levine, designed to access the so-called (and
controversial) alpha state, which has been linked to feelings of calmness and
relaxation. Thus, individuals may talk of certain tracks hitting the trance, being
hypnotic, and mention specific features (fascinating textures very dreamy
love the hallucinogenic quality of sustained notes and chords with endlessly
repeating rhythms [Max]). By contrast ecological perceptual theory emphasizes
the interaction between immanent qualities of a stimulus with such expectations
and beliefs: affordances (perceived effects) are seen as the product both of
objective properties and the capacities and needs of the organism that encounters
them (Clarke, 2005: 37) points that are at variance with folk view of musics
effect. Perception (representation) and induction (feeling) are not always easy to
separate, and Scherer and Zentner have observed that listeners may confuse the
emotions expressed in the music with what they actually feel (2001: 379). It does
appear that knowledge of the ways in which trance might be represented in music
(based on a history of association of musical materials with narrative and social
contexts) creates expectations that specific types of piece will induce hypnotic
states. In other words, motivation and belief make it more likely that processes of
representation and induction would be inseparable, as Max indicates:
50 per cent experiencing them as hypnotic, and 50 per cent noticing that they
had hypnotic qualities. The latter impinges on the former.

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Dissociative Trancing marked by Reduction in Density of Thought or


Internal Dialogue
Repetition, Restricted Stimuli and Movement.
As stated in Chapter 4, absorbed trancing is characterized by an occupation with
sensation and it is preoccupation with the stimulus itself that encourages a positive
sense of absorption. In the following group of episodes, however, the prime
aim (consciously or unconsciously) seems to be to dull consciousness either by
numbing or flooding it, i.e. to stand outside or detach from experience:
11.30pm. Previously had slept 2 hrs, then watched TV switched on PC
and loaded Sibelius feeling quite disconnected and spaced out. The blue on
the background of Sibelius caught my attention and I just stared at it, almost
submerging myself in it. Could only hear the whir of computer and the roar
of silence in my ears. My head starts to fill with the song I am supposed to be
inputting La donna e mobile it goes round and round in my head trying to
break through the silence. I eventually come out of my trance-like state and put
on some music comforting stops me being alone with my thoughts. [Louise]

Louise is already in an altered state due to the prior activities of sleeping and
watching TV1 (the experience response sheet shows her to be very tired, drowsy and
detached), which she describes as disconnected and spaced out. Her attention is
focused on the quality, rather than meaning of restricted and unchanging/constant
stimuli (the blue of the screen, the roar of silence). The word submerge suggests
a dissociation from self, which disappears into, rather than being surrounded by,
the point of attentional focus, and visual awareness is one-pointed (staring).
She is separated from what is around her (the internal song in her mind cannot
break through into the external silence). The phrase trance-like suggests that
perception has been altered, and although she chooses to come out of this state,
she maintains a separation from/reduction of thought by protecting herself with
comforting music.
A restricted external awareness, coupled with repetitive movement, can also
encourage a reduction in thought and dissociation from self:
Waiting for appointment at hospital it was very quiet and no music on, which
was enough to send me crazy. I could feel my heart beating and it gradually
increased in pace as my mind whizzed through all the things I generally like to
keep in a box at the back of my mind. I had a fixed gaze at the floor. In order

Aric Sigman (2005) has noted the capacity of television to exhaust direct attentional
response, while Csikszentmihalyi (1990, 1997) cites TV watching as contributing to
psychic entropy, a disruption of psychic energy that is the reverse of the channelled focus
that can lead to Flow experience.
1

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to try and block out these thoughts I begin to realize I am spelling the words
Studland Reception over and over and writing the words in the air with my
finger very minimally happened before I consciously realized it, but I have
used this tactic before. Time seems almost to have paused and yet life is flitting
by. I feel very detached. [Louise]

Once again Louise seeks something to occupy consciousness. The activity itself is
neither intrinsically negative nor positive; it is mental state that colours experience
i.e. Louise is anxious (heart beating) and the perceived contents of consciousness
are unpleasant. Her method of self-regulation is to dissociate from thought (keep
[thoughts] in a box): she expresses this with a spatial metaphor (back of my
mind).2 She normally uses music for this purpose and the lack of it is enough to
send her crazy. The episode features a narrowed one-pointed attention (gazed
at the floor) involving a preoccupation with making minimal movements. The
repetitively traced words lose their meaning, functioning instead as visual (and
perhaps internally audiated) mantra.3 The activity also serves to suspend the sense
of time passing, and to dissociate Louise from surroundings (life is flitting by).
Over-stimulation can provide a trigger for dissociation. Experiencing an
overload of emotion, due to a row with his wife, subsequent dissociation acts as a
coping mechanism to reduce Garys density of thought and arousal levels:
I just sit there on the bed, staring into space. Seeing nothing at all, Im basically
in a trance disappearing further into my head, thoughts vaulting around quite
a bit. Then the thoughts run out. Without influences, I realize my inner world is
empty. No self sounds a bit dramatic, but thats how it felt. Im 5 per cent aware
of the stuff going on around me ambient noise generated on a Sunday morning
in London passing cars, the clock ticking kind of awake but not very. The
silence assumes a menacing quality because it reminds me that everyone and
everything else has purpose and function I just disappear into the trance in
this state I feel very cocooned and safe from responsibility.

Internally and externally the attentional field becomes visually and aurally
increasingly restricted (5% aware) and this, in turn cancels out a sense of self
(I just disappear) because of the belief that self exists, or is revealed only in
the interaction with thoughts/surroundings. Garys term trance (as opposed, for
example, to using the word relaxation) suggests that the experience is slightly
out of his control: it happens to him, rather than being a conscious method of
self-regulation. However, his diary reveals that he regularly and consciously uses
music to aid the transition, or disappearance into a dissociated state.
2
Spatial metaphors abound when describing the location of conscious and
unconscious thoughts, e.g. front/back/above/below/height/depth.
3
A mantra (the term derives from Hinduism) is an individual word or phrase that is
constantly repeated for the purpose of inward meditation.

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The previous three examples seem to lie on the boundary between normative
and pathological dissociation because they concern the need to escape from
a negative state of mind or situation. Reports also offer instances of positive
dissociative experiences involving restricted stimuli, repetition and movement:
A combination of the massage and slow, ambient music send me to another
place. I end up feeling completely relaxed and detached from reality. I dont
think about anything its as if the contents of my brain have been drained
my only awareness is hands moving skillfully over my back, neck and shoulders,
but even thats only at the beginning. Definitely mentally switched off [Tilly].

Tilly uses two contrasting metaphors to describe her reduction of thought: the
phrase contents of my brain have been drained suggests a gradual dissociation
from and reduced density of thought, which ends in a complete separation
from mental concerns (switched off). In addition, she indicates that a further
dissociation from physical self occurs quite early in the experience, following
tactile absorption in the repetitive and rhythmic hand movements of the masseur,
which are echoed by what she describes as slow, ambient music (Caf Del Mar).
Music
Detachment from self and/or surroundings emerges as a common coping
mechanism with which to decrease activation, thought levels and critical
awareness, and reports indicate that music does appear to be an efficient mediator
of this type of experience. Because music is not semantically exact it does not
require an effortful attentiveness in order to decode meaning and can thus be used
when too tired or emotionally distracted to engage in a focused/semi-prescriptive
activity, e.g. reading:
Listening to Chopin Ballades does help to calm me while waiting to hear about
Grandmas operation. The music is so beautiful it acts as a mild tranquillizer
with a dose of euphorics thrown in. Things seem a bit fuzzy slightly out of
focus; a bit like when I havent got my glasses on. [Clara]

As in a significant number of participant accounts, interaction with music is


compared to drug consumption, which in this case functions to intoxicate in a way
reminiscent of the effect of alcohol. Clara is distanced from her concerns, which
are now fuzzy, out of focus, and dissociation is articulated as a blurring of the
edges of external reality (although it is not clear whether this applies in a literal
sense to visual perception of surroundings).
Another way in which music is used to reduce thought or cut off from
unpleasant situations is via the active re-creation of pieces of music in the mind
(audiation). In the following example, it is not only the act of imagining the sound
of the music that is used to reduce external awareness, but the motor movements

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(procedural memory) associated with playing it. Such so-called mental imaging
(Robertson, 1999: 36) is widely believed to utilize the same areas of the brain as
when actually performing the activity, and there is therefore a sense of multiple
involvement that enables a detachment from surroundings and physical body in its
current location (a crowded train):
Panicking on packed train. I dont like strangers touching me and I also get
claustrophobic, so not good combination! Running through the piano part of
Rhapsody in Blue to calm me down gave me something to focus on and tune
out all the people; I never close my eyes in a potentially threatening (to me)
situation. Less awareness of surroundings was comforting I felt detached.
Effectively leaving my body as nearly as I could its like meditation I know
how to do it but I need a focus and this was music in this situation. [Clara]

Clara likens her experience to that of meditation, although the focus is a process,
rather than an object, i.e. an aural or visual mandala. She suggests that music
is not the only means of achieving this detached state, but an easily accessible
option, given the circumstance described. Mental re-creation of a piece is a more
structured, linear activity than, for example, daydreaming, and possibly more suited
to her current state of mind (panicking) than a primarily creative distraction.
Reduction of Thought, Decreased Activation and Critical Awareness: Summary
This category of trancing seems to be aided by repetitive or monotonous stimuli
that are heard (constant beat/figurations/texture, slow rate of change), seen
(e.g. pebbly ground) or felt (e.g. constant temperature or touch), or take the form
of actions (pedaling, filling envelopes). Thus, movement of self, of something
outside self (perception of music moving, physical trace of movement on skin or
surroundings appearing to pass by) is a marked source of fascination.4 Repetitive,
automatic tasks function to either still the mind or change relationship with thought
(watched thoughts and emotions flashing by), suggesting a dissociation from self.
The suspension of critical faculties that result, encourage in turn a heightening of
the senses, as if the volume level of experience had been temporarily increased
(e.g. silence roaring, vivid blue of computer screen). This selective attentional
focus can either be very narrow (one-pointed) or more extensive (mindful), but
in both cases the replacement of critical thought by an awareness primarily of
sensation features a preoccupation with attributes, rather than meaning of stimuli,
4
In an extensive discussion on the relationship between music and motion,
Clarke remarks that because subjective engagement with music is strongly corporeal,
proprioceptive, and motional [it] may on occasion provide listeners with experiences of
impossible worlds that have the attraction of other forms of virtual reality (2001: 229).
The engagement he describes accords well with the notion that such experiences may
involve shifts of consciousness.

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i.e. perceiving (e.g. shape, colour, crinkled outline) rather than conceiving (a fig
tree leaf). Interaction with music shows this perceptual process clearly (textures,
timbres, rhythms for their own sake, the sounds themselves, thats whats so
relaxing), and music perhaps offers relief/freedom from thinking in ways shaped
by verbal language, i.e. an alternative mental space in which to function. This
same semantic ambiguity also allows for a variety of attentional loci, e.g. qualities
of sound itself, associations and reminiscences or mood suggestions, any of which
may constitute a source of fascination.
Absorbed Trancing Marked by Change in Sensory Awareness
This category of everyday trancing involves acting upon or shaping external
stimuli, in addition to mental interaction with surroundings when on the move or
from a physically static, contemplative vantage point. Activities in this category
are diverse: from appreciating art or architecture, surroundings or nature to life
drawing, watching live sport, gardening and mundane tasks such as washing up.
Enhanced Sensory Awareness and Awareness Span
The following is an instance of externally absorbed trancing that features a
changed, more vivid and multisensory perception:
Arrive at my sitting point, far end of lake and stare vacantly across water
broken by fascinating intersecting lines of ripples left by ducks pleasantly
exercised [bike ride] and remote from recent disturbances the geese honk,
the coots croak, seagulls wheel around I gaze around placidly, enjoying a
bit of distance. Music would be an intrusion here. I wouldnt want it because
I wouldnt hear the silence which is not a silence at all of course, since I can
hear the traffic up on the flyover ripping and roaring along, plus birds [Will]

Experience seems to open out from a one-pointed focus (stare vacantly) on the
water, to a broader awareness of sights and sounds (gaze around) suggesting a
meditational mindfulness involving both equanimity and flexibility of attention.
Interaction is contemplative, which Will terms placid; his words suggest that
he is an onlooker outside the scene in some ways, as if viewing a painting in a
gallery. As in category one, movement (of the water, and of the birds) is one source
of fascination, and in the case of the water involves perception of repetitive
patterns. Sounds appear intensified and an intrinsic part of the experience (Music
would be an intrusion). There is an element of ritual present (my sitting point)
and the episode charts a familiar method (relaxing in attractive surroundings) of
escaping from everyday concerns.
At other times, external absorption can occur spontaneously and briefly, in
quite mundane situations. Liz (an artist) provides several examples of this:

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As I slice the first carrot, the rounds fall onto the cutting board and I drink in the
vivid orange colour, which always reminds me of summer, and watch the circles
fall into a random pattern, some stick together, others roll across the board I
enjoy the sensation of the knife cutting through the crunchy texture and feeling
the coldness of the bright circles as I scoop them up and drop them into the metal
steamer. Their colour is reflected in the metal and each round makes a lovely
banging noise as it hits the metal. [Liz]

The experience is obviously multisensory visual, aural and tactile , the various
modalities combining to provide a present-centred, close absorption in shape, colour
and texture. With the exception of the associative reference to summer, the episode
centres on simple awareness, rather than thoughts and feelings (i.e. the contents
of consciousness) and so indicates a dissociation from self via deautomatization
of thought, i.e. an undoing of the automatic processes that control perception and
cognition (Deikman, 1982: 137). The term deautomatization was first coined by
Hartmann (1958) in his discussion of motor behaviour, and, as a concept, was
developed by Gill and Brenman (1959) with relation to hypnosis. As Deikman
puts it:
Emotions, thought, impulses, images and sensations are the contents of
consciousness likewise, the body, self-image, and the self-concept are all
constructs that we observe. But our core sense of personal existence the I is
located in awareness itself, not in its content (1982: 10).

In a wide-ranging discussion of the adaptive value of art, Dissanayake (1988)


refers to its dishabituation function, meaning that artistic engagement may
encourage unusual, non-habitual way[s] of responding (1988: 69).
Individual descriptions of experiences commonly reveal instances where
sights and sounds are perceived afresh as if through the eyes of another, resulting
in a sharpened awareness and absorption in sensations. This sense of seeing things
afresh or differently is often one of the concerns of poetry. One could even argue
that poetry may be taken to document perceptions gained when consciousness has
shifted in some way, e.g. towards a state of absorption. Of course, aesthetics, as
Bourdieu observed, is founded on a refusal of aisthesis (sensation), the simple,
primitive form of pleasure reduced to a pleasure of the senses a surrender to
immediate sensation (1979: 486). Schopenhauer thus criticized Dutch paintings of
still life which by their deceptive likeness necessarily excite the appetite for the
things they represent this is just an excitement of the will, which puts an end to
all aesthetic contemplation of the object (1819[1883]: 2689). Proust, however,
highly recommended viewing the eighteenth-century artist Jean-Baptiste-Simeon
Chardins paintings of simple still lifes and unsentimental domestic interiors,
and his own writing contains many instances of profound aesthetic experiences
deriving from everyday life.

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A restricted awareness span, i.e. an attentional focus that is both narrow and
in close physical proximity to the experiencer, enhances the sense of effortless yet
intense absorption present in such episodes, as in this description of the simple
task of watering the garden:
The water appears to break into droplets as it leaves the rose, only to form
straight back into a stream of water, landing on the tree in droplets again
I can feel the rushing water through the handle of the can and I enjoy the soft
sound of the drops I lift the can to make the cascade more dramatic, but the
can empties. [Liz]

Repetition and Restricted Stimuli


Gardening, unsurprisingly, is a common source of externally absorbed trancing.
Involvement is shaped by physical interaction with surroundings at close range,
often centring round a repetitive task:
I had to prune a tree called Salix Babylonica [twisted willow]. The secateurs
were nice and sharp and as I looked up to reach the higher branches of the tree,
the twisted contorted shapes stood out strongly against the cold wintry blue sky.
I realized that I was singing to myself. [Lilia]
I found a small handfork and went into the back garden to dig up some
chionodoxa to put in a pot I made no conscious decision to do any more
gardening. Before I knew it, I looked at my watch and it was five oclock
whole hour later. I remember the warm sunshine, but not much else other than
concentrating on the weeding. I could see where all the time had gone because I
had weeded quite a patch of border by then but I hardly remember much at all. I
had few thoughts outside of the weeding. [Hazel]

Pruning and weeding are both mechanical tasks and experience response sheets
completed by Hazel and Lilia indicate that they felt extremely relaxed by the end
of these activities. Lilia describes a sharpened sensory awareness of shape and
colour, while concentration on restricted stimuli encourages temporal compression
in Hazels case. Both women experience a forgetting of self.
The same type of involvement (narrow focus, restricted stimuli) appears to be
present in the following example, but this time the experiencer is static, rather than
interacting physically with surroundings:
Standing alone on the front of our hired canal boat as we move forward, I
am struck by the silence of the early morning. All I can hear is the tiny ripple of
water being made by the bow of the boat as we move slowly through it. I cannot
take my eyes off the completely flat water ahead of me. [Liz]

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As in the gardening episodes, movement is crucial to the sense of involvement,


but this time it comes from the movement of boat and subsequent ripples of water.
At other times participants create a sense of movement, allowing their eyes to
follow the shapes/line of inert objects:
Im staring at the ceiling which is artex and has lots of different patterns on it
I am following the circular lines with my eyes when Im trying to keep my
mind in check I often start looking at things more intensely so it takes my whole
concentration, like counting bricks. [Louise]

For Louise, repetitive patterns can fill up or flood consciousness, thus preventing
unwanted thoughts. Her experience moves away from being a positively
absorbing one, to one that perhaps borders on the negatively dissociative. She
wishes to dull consciousness (keep my mind in check) and prizes the possibility
of an attentional shift from self to surroundings. Nell (1988) has observed the
same tendencies in some keen readers. Although recognizing that reading style
may relate to current concerns and not necessarily constitute a personality trait
he arrives at the possibility of a Type A reader for whom reading is a killtime,
rather than a pastime who will be likely to read voraciously and will probably
focus on formulaic material to keep consciousness at bay, i.e. to dissociate from
self (1988: 231).
As several episodes have already indicated, absorption and dissociation are
overlapping concepts. In this study, I have chosen to group episodes by whether
written descriptions primarily emphasize involvement/engagement (absorption)
or a cutting off from internal or external stimuli (dissociation). At times, however,
there is a flow between the two:
Lying on bed daydreaming. Woke up maybe 20 minutes ago so am a bit drowsy
looking out of window and watching the wind blow the trees in the distance. A
bird clings to a branch, hopping to another when there is a lull in the wind. Quite
hypnotic, the to-and-fro of the branches. Low hum of the TV in the background
not taking in any specific audio. Noise is always comforting to me. I go to
sleep with music on otherwise mind wont behave. Fleeting thoughts what
I should be doing rather than lying in bed. Kind of enjoying the detachment from
reality. Eyes go a bit blurry after staring at sky for so long shut eyes and sleep
some more. [Louise]

The mixture of restricted stimuli (branches/bird/hum of TV) movement, together


with not being fully awake combine to create what initially seems to be a state
of low-level absorption, but the comment mind wont behave points also to a
dissociative blocking out of unwanted thought that has a negative, rather than
meditative quality and matches Nells description of the Type A reader.

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Sharpened Awareness
Though not common, a particular type of sharpened awareness can form a source
of fascination; not merely an enhanced sensory awareness, but a sudden sensory
and mental awakening, as it were:
Walking past Capital Radio building on Charing Cross Road on way to
work feeling inevitably vague and hear loud cries of seagulls. They seem
incongruous in central London but remind me of previous occasions when Ive
heard them at exactly the same spot! I have thoughts of the film The Birds and
an old wifes tale of when the seagulls come inland bad weathers coming
unusual event, figuratively slapped my cheek. [Max]

Prior to the experience, Max had felt quite detached.5 The unusual, unexpected
and momentarily disorientating qualities of this short episode make him very
alert. The external stimulus is dramatic and at the same time prompts imaginative
involvement. The awakening or opening up of pure awareness is evident in the
language he chooses to describe it (figuratively slapped my cheek).
Aural stimuli seem particularly suited to such sudden shifts of consciousness,
and Will describes two instances where music encourages a sharpened awareness.
In the first, he is listening to the third string quartet by Philip Glass while driving
on the motorway:
At this precise moment I am sharply aware of the sun gleaming on the damp
surface of the road, the crisp clear colours of the cars.

He likens it to the moment when a person might shake out the water trapped in
the ear after swimming and suddenly hears the sounds around more clearly
and loudly. In this case, the blend between music and surroundings seems to act
to turn up the entire volume or intensity level of experience. Such experiences
occur spontaneously, tend to be fleeting and are difficult to describe, as the second
instance indicates (again occurring while driving):
Traffic snarled up around the station and Im more or less stationary for a minute
or two. Become absorbed in a [Bach] sarabande I dont know the emotional
quality as well as the timbre and texture; the gestalt if you like. I stare at a
large hoarding advertising wall tiles and take in nothing about the business, but
everything about the pale, almost insipid terracotta tile pattern juxtaposed with
a rich dark blue that was part of a logo on the display the colours and their
qualities were the thing.

5
Maxs level of detachment prior to this episode was indicated on an experience
response sheet.

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The stimuli of Bach sarabande and tile advert would seem to be incongruent, and
yet provide affordances that blend to provide an unexpected moment of absorption
that has nothing to do with semantic understanding, i.e. the emphasis is on qualities
rather than meanings of what is perceived.
Mental Involvement
Individual reports reveal several instances of a primarily external sense of
absorption that is coloured by intense mental involvement in an external activity.
David is absorbed by the sights, sounds and emotions present when watching a
live rugby match:
You cant compare the live experience to the TV. For a start you can see the
whole pitch, not just the bit the TV camera is focused on I find sitting at
home watching games very difficult. I cant influence the game at home and I
cannot show my emotions. At a game I can have some influence by shouting my
support. With a rugby crowd there is almost a camaraderie I also used to play
rugby (very badly) so I have a different perspective on the finer points in the
75000 crowd the atmosphere is very powerful I have just leaned back into my
seat before and thought wow! The 80 minutes have flown by. This is probably
a daft way of explaining it, but if you follow Star Trek youll have heard of The
Borg they operate as a mass collective where everyone thinks and acts the
same. Watching major sporting events is a bit like that for me. [David]

Visually and aurally Davids senses are flooded, and affected by the emotional
arousal of the crowd (in a similar way to the experience of a pop concert in a
large stadium). Part of the sense of this high arousal absorption comes from the
opportunity to be able to interact with the event (shouting and singing) and thus
be part of it, rather than passively viewing it. Mental involvement is also crucial;
if David had no idea of the rules of rugby, he might still be absorbed by the
nature of the event but his attention would be differently distributed. Knowing
the finer points encourages a flexible, but focused attention; unlike a televised
match, he can choose where to direct his attentional focus, and the game gains a
dramatic and engaging sense of narrative that leads to a subsequent impression
of temporal compression. Thus, part of the fascination is with process. David
cannot be sure what will happen next and has to scan the situation. It could be
argued that such scanning accords with a normal baseline rather than absorbed
state of consciousness. If David was describing a battle that he was fighting
in, rather than participation in a spectator sport, this might well be the case.
The difference here is precisely that David is a spectator, and so in one sense,
stands outside the activity. His experience accords with what Kaplan (1995: 172)
classifies as hard fascination, e.g. watching motor racing, as opposed to the
soft fascination of taking a country walk, which would allow mental room for
other thoughts to occur.

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123

David also experiences a temporary loss of self-boundaries, as he becomes


one of the crowd (mass collective). Crowd behaviours are often discussed in
terms of emotional contagion expressing feelings/acting similarly to others
present (Barsade, 2002), which may arise from an often unconscious tendency
to mimic and thus synchronize expression, posture and movement, leading to
empathy with others (Hatfield, Cacioppo & Rapson, 1994; Scherer & Zentner
[in Juslin & Sloboda], 2001). Davids analogy with The Borg (a fictional race of
cyborgs6 featured in the television series Star Trek) is revealing, as these creatures
are collectively aware, but not aware of themselves as individuals. Consequently,
they never speak in singular pronouns, referring to themselves as, merely third of
five for instance (Aliens, 2006), and are able to be totally focused at all times,
due to the management of attention at group level (so avoiding individual fatigue).
Movement and Restricted Stimuli
Perception of patterned or regular movement, often in a multisensory way
(via sight, sound and physical feel) can function both to induce and maintain
externally/internally absorbing experiences in which attention is divided between
external and internal concerns:
Enjoying repetitive rhythm of the train lulling and soothing and its a
combination of the sound and physical sensation that I submit to. Because the
trains relaxing it gives me the opportunity to reflect. [Tilly]

The sense of induction (to a calm state of lowered arousal) via repetitive stimuli,
is clear. To Tilly, this transition appears to be actively effected by the train rhythm
itself, to which she passively and inevitably submits, rather than a proactive
interaction between perceiver and object. The episode below describes another
induction-by-train that leads to a state of low-level absorption involving a
fluctuating attentional sense:
On a train. Sat and stared out the window the window was open and the wind
made a whooshing sound as we chugged along the track. Ive made this journey
quite often but noticed buildings I hadnt seen before. Awareness of lovely open
spaces clear sky and peacefulness I was completely unaware of what or who
was in the carriage with me. Id been looking out the window at the sky for about
five minutes before I was aware of the mother and her child. I drifted between their
chatter and reminiscing its the start of the Easter holidays and this Mum had
probably taken her daughter to one of the museums, as I did 20 years ago with my
daughters I found this journey very relaxing, stress-free. [Tina]
6
The Borg are implanted at birth with bio-chips that link their brains to a collective
unconscious (Aliens [2006], Startrek.com). Cyborgs are organisms created from a fusion
of organic and synthetic parts.

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The perception of movement (seeing, hearing and feeling it) initially encourages
a contemplative, external awareness that is not effortfully directed. The act of
looking is passive in one sense because it is the movement of the train that provides
a frame for seeing: Tina is being moved, but herself remains static, although
also scanning and choosing what she looks at to a degree. Her selective external
awareness at this point (completely unaware of what or who was in the carriage
with me) indicates a degree of absorption. The experience has a clear processual
quality, as external focus begins to alternate between objects perceived outside the
window and the conversation of people inside the carriage, which in turn drifts
towards an internal attentional focus (reminiscence).
A selective external focus on moving objects can be equally absorbing if the
perceiver is not being physically moved or moving themselves:
Mundane task of washing up. Let hands drift momentarily in warm, soapy
bubbles. Looked out of window to see fine wispy clouds moving quite quickly
across a very blue sky. Wondered exactly how fast they were going and what/
who they would be casting shadows over as they moved. How long before my
washing up droplets would be up there again? Several moments of blankness
and gazing at movement. Very still and felt doubly still because clouds moving.
Slightly ethereal sense of distance. [Gabrielle]

This is a typical example of a brief (40 second) normally hidden i.e. forgotten
everyday experience that was nevertheless richly absorbing at the time.
A sharpened sensory awareness (warm, soapy bubbles, very blue sky) initially
combines with random analytical thought, which is then replaced by moments of
blankness and gazing. A narrowed, one-pointed attention is riveted by movement
that affects physical sense of self (very still) and perhaps suggests a dissociative
dislocation from physical self (ethereal sense of distance). Gabrielles sense
of being doubly still is dependent on the perception of movement external to
her, akin to the feeling of giddiness, when having spun rapidly around, external
surroundings appear to move.
An even briefer episode (c.10 seconds) shows how experiences of selfmovement and being physically moved by an external object can interact to alter
perception:
Worried about missing train and run for it; so not only am I literally catching
my breath, but have a heightened sense of seconds passing and space and time
as controlled by the moving train. I am (unusually) completely unaware of the
carriage around me. Gazing out of window, find myself counting windows
on buildings they shine as if moving, while the rest of buildings are flat
definitely related to me being still, but trying to keep up with the movement of
the train in some way. Count seven, then eleven, then five. Really bizarre and
not sure if it constitutes daydream. The process is restful in that I dont know
why I started, but becomes more challenging and conscious. Realize they are all

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prime numbers then start thinking that the age we test children falls on prime
number ages. Remember its Bank Holiday and pick up book to distract myself
from thoughts related to work. [Gabrielle]

The sudden change from running to being still, yet on a moving object, is
momentarily disorientating, affecting Gabrielles experience of time, i.e. the normal
perception that the passage of time is synchronized with the flow of standard
temporal units (so-called clock time) is temporarily disrupted. Instead, she is
aware of each second time is stretched out or protracted and her time sense
briefly entrains to a different measurement altogether: time as controlled by the
movement of the train. Gabrielles sharpened alertness (due to the narrowed, goaldirected attentional focus on catching the train) and raised arousal level contributes
to this changed time sense, in addition to what she sees and the way she sees it.
The narrowed attentional focus already set up transfers itself to a focus on shining
windows and the activity of counting seems to link both to the rhythm of the train
and the rhythm of the perceived passage of time. The activity is effortless and nonvolitional (Find myself counting ) and is compared to a daydream. Absorption
ends as the process becomes more conscious and analytic thought processes return.
The episode appears to function as a brief and unconsciously instigated period of
recovery, but Gabrielle is unaware of it as such and consciously begins a period of
relaxation by distracting herself with a book.
Sensory Recall
At times, an actual experience may be almost immediately replayed in memory,
and perceptions from the two occasions fuse to provide a vividly absorbing
sensory virtual reality. Similar in some ways to a reminiscence, the differences
arise because of temporal proximity to the initial experience, meaning that the
memory is highly detailed and aspects of it that were not seemingly at the forefront
of awareness at the time are available for exploration, as the following indicates:
On train on way back from London. Just been to see the Jerwood Painting
Prize near Waterloo [mixture of figurative, abstract, conceptual art]. Relaxing
rhythm of train gives me an opportunity to reflect and I go on a revisit of what
Ive just seen and experienced. Close my eyes and Im back in the exhibition
space looking at the work. I always enjoy this moment after Ive been to an
exhibition probably more than the actual experience which is fairly fleeting
and sensuous getting absorbed in the shapes, colours and textures is a sensual
experience for me when I look at anything thats how I see things its a
kind of scanning process and very absorbing. During the exhibition, my initial
response is to enjoy the physical qualities of the work before I look any further.
As I visually search the work I really want to touch it BUT I cant I have to
do that through my senses this adds some mystery to the experience its a
subjective sensuous thing. After the initial journey over the work I then stand

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back from it and explore it more objectively looking for meaning which may
be a message or metaphor the station tannoy snaps me out of my trance and I
drowsily face the walk home. [Tilly]

The unchanging external stimulus (rhythm of train) allows awareness to focus on


changing internal stimuli (multisensory imagery). Recall does not place Tilly at
a distance, but positions her in the centre of the memory (back in the exhibition
space), i.e. the memory literally absorbs her; swallows her up, so as no longer to
exist apart (OED, 1989).
She describes her sense of absorption when actually at the exhibition as
twofold: it derives from a scanning process of physical qualities, i.e. attributes
such as shape, colour, texture, followed by a search for meaning. The first stage
may be close-focus, involving a flexible, selective attention to individual details
and is considered to be subjective; the second stage appears more holistic,
involving standing back both literally and figuratively and is represented by
a more contemplative attention that is considered to be more disinterested and
objective.
Clarke (2005: 20) has pointed out that the act of perception is naturally
exploratory and that aesthetic engagements may alter this instinctive perception
action cycle. For Tilly, the experience is actually heightened by wanting to but not
being able to touch the work, because she has to do that through my senses, i.e.
visually, but crucially also via imaginative involvement that can add mystery
to the experience. Aesthetic contemplation can thus be framed as a particular
type of trancing (often present in the mode of receiving high art forms of the
West). The exhibition experience in memory allows both modes of exploration
(sensory attributes and meaning) to continue, and in particular, develops the latter.
Interestingly, Tilly describes viewing the exhibition as a fleeting experience
when compared with the more satisfying contemplation of it in imagination, but
nevertheless identifies the former as the actual experience and the latter as the
moment after.
Concentration
Although the activity of painting and drawing demonstrates a fluctuation of
attention inwards and outwards (i.e. an engagement with imagination, increased
mental involvement plus external involvement with the required medium [canvas,
paint etc.] and physical process of creation [production of shape, line, texture
etc.]), individual reports often tend to highlight external processes. In life-drawing,
however, there is a definite balance of attention outwards and inwards and a stress
on concentrated mental involvement:
Music is not played in life-drawing sessions. Life drawing is usually conducted
in a specific room rather than in the studio and there is a definite difference in
the expected behaviour of the students. Everyone is expected to be very quiet

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the code is implicit As a result, life sessions are quiet with an atmosphere
of intense concentration and you can hear others charcoal or pencil scratching
away at the paper. As easels are up, you cannot see much of what others are
doing either, so that tends to further focus ones attention on looking and
drawing after a life drawing session you feel very mentally used the first
few marks may determine whether the drawing is in proportion or not. Every
mark from then on becomes a balancing act as you try to make the image
work as a transcription of what you see, and then as an aesthetically pleasing
drawing. A lot of time is spent looking at the model, analyzing the angle of an
arm, the relationship in form between one part of the body and another, even
the spaces [Mary].

Several factors point towards the potentiality for absorption to occur: firstly, the
activity occurs within a ritualistic setting removed from everyday life (a specific
room) with a specific acoustic ambience (very quiet). This situation can possess
a disorientatingly artificial/dream-like quality; group of people engaged in shared
activity (drawing) with shared attentional focus (staring at naked human being),
but required to be silent and socially isolated. Secondly, the activity involves either
a close-focus one-pointed, perhaps sequential attention on the model, or a more
whole-pattern but still selective contemplative awareness that focuses on formal
shapes, spaces and movement: everything is seen all at once. In both cases, what
is seen is then transferred via visualization (including literal recall and imaginative
translation) to the drawing board. Thirdly, the action of moving pencil/charcoal
across the paper creates a narrowed focus/physical sensation conducive to an
absorbed state. Lastly, such physical movements are reinforced by the aural echo
of others charcoal or pencil scratching away.
Music and Sound
Sounds or music are integral to a substantial number of descriptions concerning
multisensory absorbed trancing. Everyday sounds that might normally be ignored
appear to be amplified in awareness (carrots dropping into steamer, the ripple
of water, birdcalls). Sound can be a means of increasing involvement in an
experience (shouting or singing the National Anthem at a Rugby match). It can
also aid dissociation from self, e.g. the TV hum that Louise describes as helping
her mind to behave. I have already described how music blends with aspects of
surroundings, altering or enhancing how they are seen. In addition, emotional and
physical entrainment to music can encourage the selective attentional focus that is
the basis of absorption:
6.30am. Leaving the house for work. Am aware of spectacular birdsong and
beautiful red sky sunrise. iRiver goes on and play XTC songs an 80s band
strong rhythmic drive and catchy tunes the happy rhythms and beat and
instant familiarity/nostalgia of the tracks roots my mood and state of mind into

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something positive and assured 10 minutes sneaked time hanging around
outside my front door taking in the environment before I drove off. In car [still
XTC] naughtily drive with phones on feel energized and find myself doing
everything in rhythm to tracks. [Max]

Music also emerges as a particularly efficient mediator of internal and external


experience, i.e. in externally absorbing situations that simultaneously reference
internal imagery.
Internal images often blend with details of external surroundings when
driving. Stuck in a traffic queue listening to an Ali Farka Toure CD (Savanne,
guitar and West African instruments), one participant (D.A.) sees an image of
African musicians sitting in a circle, the music barely disturbing the warm West
African air. Images simultaneous with a little more focus on the music. Languid
rhythms match the pace of the slow-moving traffic. Another (Max) becomes
nicely emotional with Mars (Holst, Planets suite):
Its a full moon and theres an unnatural light about which enhances the sense
of dramatic mood. Vague movie-like images enter mind. Whats around the next
corner etc. music and environment combine to create a scary mood in me.

Dissociative Trancing Marked by Change in Sensory Awareness


As in primarily absorbing experiences, a selective, sharpened external awareness
of surroundings may be present in dissociative trancing:
Driving car back from Bournemouth. An acoustic track comes on with moody,
thoughtful feel. I now feel quite spaced out and low. No specific thoughts going
through head, just feel body slumping into seat start noticing the things you
usually take for granted and dont really acknowledge like that car in front is
slowing down, that person is waiting to cross road, that tree is swaying in the
wind things you would not necessarily voice in your head very strange.
When I zone out I do tend to notice the smallest of things more. [Louise]

Music affords a reduction in activation levels, which divorces Louise from


empathy with things around her (body slumping/no specific thoughts/zone out).
Automatic processing is disrupted (start noticing things you usually take for
granted), leading to the sense that events are happening in slow motion.7
Music appears to have the capacity directly to encourage a changed perception/
dissociation from surroundings, as in the following episode when Will listens to
Steve Reichs Music for 18 Musicians, in the car:
7
The experience was recorded at a time when she was looking after both her parents,
who were seriously ill.

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Reaching the roundabout on a dual carriage way, the sharp clarity of the yellow
and black chevron pattern shouts at me to appreciate it traffic slows as
we approach Orpington outskirts and I feel curiously remote. Stare at some
pedestrians at a junction and realize I feel almost too distant. They look paper
thin, almost alien, I have no connection with them: or rather, I do have a
connection but am observing it and them. [Will]

He has become absorbed by certain qualities afforded by the music (a fascination


with abstract emotionless patterns) that blend with and heighten visual perception
of the surroundings (sharp clarity of black and yellow chevron patterns). This
then extends to a sense of being detached from experience and moving into a
position of third person dissociation,8 i.e. like Jimi (above) he watches through
the eyes of another (I do have a connection, but am observing it), which alters
his relationship with the people he sees (alien, paper thin). A change of music
dramatically alters this perceptual interaction:
Compared to the bleached out abstractions and distance of the Reich, the Bach
(cello suite) seems so laced with warm human emotion see people not so
very different from those seen earlier, yet now I notice that I feel more connected
and compassionate aware of them as people, not abstractions.

Will now perceives himself to be connected not distanced, and he cites


the compassionate qualities of the Bach as being responsible for this sudden
contrast, one that he is particularly struck by, indicating that his response was
not consciously managed.
I have described how emotional overload can trigger a detachment from
self. Sensory overload can also trigger a feeling of dissociation from external
surroundings, as in Davids account of having a drink before a football match:
Get to the bar I normally use before the match [Wetherspoons], in the Kings
Road in London. Its extremely packed the sound of a couple of hundred
conversations is almost overwhelming. As I am on my own, I find myself
standing in the middle of the bar with a pint in each hand, watching Sky Sports.
You have to watch only as you cannot hear the TV above the din I find that I
am less and less aware of the throng around me, and the sound of conversation
almost disappears I drift off into another world. I am aware of the TV screen,
but not really what is happening, I can just see lights and shapes. I think that the
intensity of the place I am in makes me more focused on what I am thinking
about. Its almost like I am making an effort to shut everything out. I have done
this before on a number of occasions and I find it easier to do each time.
8
A term used in Neuro-Linguistic Programming. The use of the third person pronoun
can serve to distance a person from their actions and is often cited as being used by young
children, i.e. he [rather than I] has been naughty.

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External awareness visual and aural is gradually pared down. At the same
time David starts to disconnect with the meaning content of what he sees on
television, moving to a more abstract engagement with lights and shapes. He
believes that it is the intensity of the place that aids his changed focus, and the
process of dissociation emerges as a well-practised defensive technique (easier
to do each time).
Changes in Sensory Awareness: Summary
Absorbed or dissociative trancing featuring changes in sensory awareness
demonstrates an attentional focus that is either narrow and one pointed with a
close focus awareness (e.g. when weeding), or more flexible and extensive with a
contemplative, broad awareness (looking at a temple in the distance), or fluctuates
between the two. As with experiences characterized by reduction of thought,
critical awareness and lowered arousal, a focus on restricted stimuli, together
with repetitive qualities either of activity (e.g. digging) or of stimulus (circular
patterns of an artexed ceiling) provide an obvious source of involvement via
selective, restricted attention. Regular movement or movement with a slow rate
of change, whether seen (e.g. clouds moving). heard (e.g. music) or felt (being on
the train), is also cited by individuals as having the potential to induce an absorbed
or dissociative state. Rate of movement (particularly when the perceiver is static
on something else that was moving, e.g. a train) has the capacity temporarily
to disrupt temporal synchronicity and to encourage restricted mental activity
(e.g. counting windows when on a moving train). A substantial number of
individuals describing shifts of consciousness featuring changes to sensory
awareness report either an amplification of everyday sounds (including music),
or a changed awareness where sounds normally ignored appear amplified (e.g. the
hum of a TV or computer) sometimes to the point where they seem to replace
thought, leading to a dissociation from self. Trancing experiences appear to fall
into four broad categories:
1. A simple awareness of heightened multisensory sensation (e.g. vivid
colours, textures, sounds, acoustic attributes of music) rather than thoughts
or feelings. This is marked by a feeling of seeing things afresh or in a new
way, suggesting an element of dissociation from self via deautomatization
of thought (Deikman, 1982: 137). Such involvement tends to occur in
conjunction with everyday tasks and is often spontaneous.
2. A heightened, multisensory awareness, as described above, but also
coupled with raised arousal/alertness levels and/or a strongly affective
tone, giving a feel of sharpened awareness. This type of experience often
involves sound or music in conjunction with vision (e.g. the disorientating
sound of seagulls in an unexpected context (central London) prompting a
figurative slap on the cheek).

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3. Sensory overload (e.g. noise and visual impact of a crowded bar) resulting
in a gradually narrowed external focus where external stimuli gradually
lose their meaning (e.g. seeing TV images of people as shapes and colours)
before receding from awareness (dissociation from surroundings).
4. A multilayered involvement (external and internal absorption) deriving
from a combination of heightened or changed sensory awareness plus
an element of mental or imaginative involvement. I have noted a large
number of diverse experiences in this group such as the combined effect
of mental, visual and emotional involvement in a live rugby match, the
combination of mental, motoric and visual involvement present in a lifedrawing class (involving outwardly and inwardly directed attention, plus
alternation between restricted and contemplative awareness) or the use of
imaginative involvement to heighten visual experience. Prior knowledge
or imagination are crucial in terms of both the construction and intensity of
such experiences, as the next chapter will demonstrate.

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Chapter 6

Imaginative Involvement
Introduction
The philosopher of art Denis Dutton has argued for the existence of what he terms
an art instinct, traceable to an array of evolved psychological adaptations. To
make his case, he advocates an approach that begins by treating art as a field of
activities, objects and experiences that appears naturally in human life (Dutton,
2009: 50). What this means is that, instead of attempting to arrive at a single allinclusive definition of art, he is able to put forward an idea of art as consisting
of twelve cluster criteria that refer both to stimulus properties of works of art
themselves together with qualities of experience related to interaction with varied
art forms. Two observations arise from Duttons theorizing that are particularly
pertinent to everyday engagement.
First, he stresses that many of these aspects of art are continuous with nonart experiences and capacities (2009: 52) an observation that resonates with
findings arising from the empirical comparison of subjective qualities of musical
and non-musical experiences. Second, of the twelve criteria he lists, four are
directly relevant to any discussion concerning psychological processes present in
musical and non-musical experiences involving transformations of consciousness.
They are: direct pleasure; special focus (a move away from ordinary everyday
concerns); emotional saturation and imaginative experience. Of all twelve criteria,
he suggests that imaginative experience is arguably the most important (2009:
103). The importance of the imaginative faculty to the perception of art has of
course long been recognized, but as I outlined in Chapter 4, it was Josephine
Hilgards pioneering study of links between everyday involvement and hypnotic
susceptibility that produced the first empirical evidence to support the notion of
the ubiquity of imaginative involvements in daily life. Individual free descriptions
of musical and non-musical trancing confirm that imaginative involvement is a
particularly prevalent component of everyday experiences featuring apparent
shifts in consciousness. In such episodes, inner mental representations imagery,
associations, memories either supplement or substitute engagement with external
stimuli and concerns. The imaginative faculty constitutes a reality-simulator, acting
as an arena for creative possibility, enabling the rehearsal of future behaviour, and
facilitating access to alternative subjective virtual worlds. The evolution of the
capacity to imagine is linked inextricably to the origins and development of art a
theme that I shall explore in Chapter 8, but the current chapter serves to establish
the subjective qualities of absorbed and dissociated everyday trancing episodes in

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which imaginative involvement plays a central part. As in Chapter 5, I examine


absorbed trancing and dissociative trancing in turn.
Imaginative Involvement and Absorbed Trancing
Absorbed trancing characterized by imaginative involvement can be prompted by
active, goal-directed occupations such as running and walking, overtly creative
pursuits such as writing or telling stories, more apparently passive yet still creative
involvements such as listening to stories, listening to music, daydreaming, reading
and imagining fiction, plus circumstances such as travelling on a train or being in
a crowded place.
Repetition, Reminiscence and Daydreaming
Repetitive activities are often linked to internal reminiscence or daydreaming:
When I got to the allotment I had to put manure onto two of the small plots we
have and then dig it in. I am not used to physical work the thought of doing
this does actually make me fairly tense. Very shortly after starting the task I
drifted off into my own little world. One minute I was looking at the end of a
fork digging mud and the next I was dreaming. I did think about my daughter
a lot what we had done together when she was growing up places wed
been to. The repetitive nature of the digging allowed me to detach myself from
everything else aware of the rhythm of the digging, but nothing else. [David]

The repetitive movement encourages a narrowed attentional focus and the regular
rhythm appears to calm or occupy part of the mind, allowing other thoughts to
occur. From his other accounts, it is clear that this type of imaginative involvement
is a coping mechanism that David often uses when in unwelcome situations and
thus contains an element of dissociation (from surroundings). Repetitive tasks
facilitate a variety of experiential responses. Absorption may relate to a close
focus on either immediate external surroundings or internal reveries, and internal
imagery arising may or may not relate to main activity. In Davids account,
reminiscence appears as spontaneous and random and has not emerged from an
association with the task at hand. At other times, surroundings provide the trigger
to memory, as in 70-year-old Lilias case. When potting up plants she accidentally
spills some gravel, which trickles into her shoes:
I smiled to myself grit and gardens they are just inseparable my mind
went back to Villandry in France in the summer of 2003 the very hot one
grit everywhere, snaking yellow rivers to be navigated if one wanted to get close
to the plants. The heat reflecting up from the gravel was extraordinary it still

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managed to get into my shoes and as I bent down to clear them a small lizard
darted across my hand.

The memory is absorbingly detailed and multisensory, and in turn leads to a far
older memory from Lilias honeymoon:
at the palace of Versailles. I had a pair of canvas wedge heeled shoes that
laced up the leg the grit just went everywhere, but I was on my honeymoon
and it didnt seem to matter.

Thus, quite mundane detail becomes a vivid shorthand trigger for a larger and
poignant reminiscence (Lilias husband had recently been moved to a nursing
home) that is intensely involving, in the same way as a remembered taste or
perfume. For Lilia, reminiscence while gardening emerges as a well-practised
technique that has a self-regulatory function:
I have a library of these [memories]. I value them, I store them theyre like a
Pandoras box which you dont really open in public. I get them out of the store
often when gardening usually triggered by something they transport you
completely.

Familiar tasks often seem to be seen as giving permission (perhaps partly by


relaxing critical faculties) to explore what might otherwise seem self-indulgent
thoughts. The activities are not always simple ones, but are well practised,
automatic and draw on procedural memory, as this example from a reflexology
session illustrates:
As I set to work on the feet I found myself drifting into an almost hypnotic state
the movement over the feet is a very repetitive action with the thumb making
small movements in straight lines starting across the area between the metatarsal
heads and the base of the toes working in an upwards direction a reflexology
session is the same each time, so this is something that doesnt need thinking
about Im able to use the time to go into my own little world. [Tina]

Though obviously a healthy form of self-regulation, Tinas report reveals that she
sometimes has mixed feelings about occupying time in this way:
I like it when Im able to go somewhere else although I often use these quiet
moments to plan something thats needed so that they become useful sessions
rather than just reminiscing or other thoughts. [Tina]

Music, as has often been noted, is a prime example of an art form that can provide
evocative anchors to past experience. Notably, individuals do not offer self-

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criticisms of just reminiscing when listening to music, suggesting that music


in some ways provides a legitimate forum for the exploration of past experience.
My sister bought a CD by Yes for my birthday. The CD is a live one and four
of the tracks on it were recorded in 1971 at Crystal Palace concert bowl. This
was the first concert I ever went to. I was 16 at the time. Playing the music, I
can recall an awful lot of the concert. Its very much reminiscence. I went with
two school friends I had quite forgotten about. I did actually picture us sitting on
the grass I remember the Hare Krishna guys coming and talking to us. At the
end of the listening episode I sat and smiled to myself nice memories its a
shame we get older. [David]

Content and Process


Just as prior knowledge can organize external stimuli in meaningful ways that can
contribute to a sense of absorption, so can creative involvement. As John Berger
famously noted (1972), seeing may come before meaning, but meaning leads to the
ability to construct experience; to see as. The following example, concerning the
creation of a film soundtrack, gives a clear instance of this. Max, (a film recording
mixer) finds the nature of his work, where he is, in effect, creating a virtual reality
via a combination of visual and aural elements, more involving than listening to
music alone (Im in partial control of peoples imaginations). Although actually
creating the soundtrack, he is drawn into it as well:
Have tingly moment over sequence where I warped soundtrack away from
normal expectations opening of film is beautiful tracking shot round ropes of
a boxing ring. It is in a pitch black room with just the ring in light. I used bear
growls and slowed/reversed jewellery tinkles plus other ingredients to evoke a
dream-like/disorientating feel the eye is deprived of concrete information so
the ear can give clues and hint as to what might be going on.

The restricted visual stimulus and use of lighting prompt a narrowed, focused
attention, and the lack of concrete information in what is seen encourages a sense
of imaginative involvement, which the ambiguous sounds actively encourage. Max
views the shot in a windowless studio that is foam padded to seal off extraneous
sound. The setting emulates a cinema, aiding attentional focus and the sense of
detachment from outside reality. He is totally alone, which he considers essential:
akin to being a painter or writer you sort of have to be alone to help you
concentrate on the detail and immediacy of what you are building up. I have to
be a bit lonely to free up my imagination to get carried away by it.

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The solitary nature of much imaginative involvement is also evident in a sizeable


number of experiences describing aspects of the associated processes of reading,
writing or imagining (daydreaming) fiction.
Content of a book, coupled with whether the reader is near the beginning
or some way through it, can determine whether he/she experiences a sense of
absorption. On the train home, Max begins to read The Lighthouse by PD James:
Nicely transported into spooky Cornish island mystery. Journey very quick. Im
totally focused on the book, but not as yet totally absorbed. Focus equals man
on a mission to get to grips with details concentrating, remembering lots
of characters, preamble, mini-sketches of their lives and environments pre all
strands being sucked into main thrust of story. Absorbed equals not able to put it
down story drags me along.

Although Max states that he is not absorbed, his words suggest otherwise:
time passes quickly, and his attention is drawn inwards, away from everyday
surroundings (nicely transported, totally focused). Nell, having extensively
studied the process of reading, advocates adopting what is really a two-level model
of absorption one that the description above supports. Thus some reading merely
absorbs us, whilst other kinds of reading matter work the far stronger spell of
entrancement, transporting us to other places and transfiguring our consciousness
to make other people of us (1988: 199). He goes further:
This formulation allows us to view the ludic readers absorption as a state no
more mysterious than that of the clerk adding a row of figures, of the child
engaged in imaginative play, or of the driver negotiating a busy intersection.
But the ludic readers entrancement characterized as a deepened form of
absorption, with analogues in other altered states of consciousness, retains its
mystery (1988: 78).

Overall, there is a suggestion here that fiction will be potentially more absorbing
than fact, which, elsewhere in his book, Nell gives support to by noting that
difficult factual works (e.g. some academic articles) slow reading speed1 and
comprehension, thus decreasing involvement. However, he maintains that a broad
range of easy-to-read literature can be deeply absorbing, because its undemanding
nature gives space for effortless imaginative involvement. He also notes that
newspapers function as a form of storytelling or faction. One reason Max, while
reading PD James, is absorbed but not entranced is clearly that he is at an early,
information-gathering stage of the book. His experiential relationship with the
text might have been different if he had been reading a short story, or a brief,
1
Reading speed decreases to below c.200 words per minute. Nell cites a neuromuscular limit of 800900 wpm, and that of 200400 wpm for college students reading
scientific texts of moderate difficulty.

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metaphor-rich poem. In other words, aspects of structure and genre may act to
shape and direct attention. For example, journalistic devices, such as the onedrop opening (shocking, disorientating opening sentence) can provide an instant,
narrowed attentional focus for the reader, while in literature the technique of in
media res (literally starting a story in the middle) provides a similar opportunity
for attentional immersion.
Maxs description contains many references to movement and his account is
processual. He has first to grip detail before the threads are sucked into the main
thrust of the story, enabling the story to drag him along. The movement described
is narrative movement and the role of suspense is crucial in fixing the attention via
a preoccupation with what is to come, so encouraging an absorbed state. Individual
accounts of imaginative involvement refer to a variety of narrative activities
daydreaming, dreaming, telling stories, listening to some types of music, watching
TV, and it is interesting to observe experiential differences between them.
As Nell, drawing on previous work by Holt (1961), has noted (1988: 201),
dreaming and daydreaming can be seen as an analogue of reading. He suggests
useful categories of active fantasy and passive fantasy. In reading and dreaming,
whatever work takes place it is subjectively effortless (1988: 205).
Particularly when reading before bedtime, the experience may resemble, or merge
into a hypnogogic state, i.e. one that borders on sleep. This cognitive passivity
contrasts with the activity of fantasy production found in storytelling or writing, as
the following account of reading a book in a waiting area, indicates:
Turned to The White Castle by Orhan Pamuk had struggled initially to
get into it but themes of book (identity, experience) began to draw me in.
Conversation receding into background as I read on dream-like quality and in
fact dream motifs in the writing, plus hints of plot development felt deeply
soothed and alert, awake and yet dreamy. [Will]

The selective attentional focus and narrowing of attention span are indicated
by the phrases drawn in and conversation recedes and the (previously noted)
paradoxical sense of passivity, and yet heightened arousal are made clear by the
final sentence.
This contrasts with the experience of working on a novel. Joy (46), a
professional novelist, describes periods of absorption that occur on and off over
a three-hour period:
My first writing session in the morning is concentrated; sometimes I wont get
up from the desk except to press play on the CD player, or to make a cup of
tea. Im extremely ordered when I write. So much so that people who have an
outsiders view of creative people cant quite believe this is real creativity
the imaginative process in my head tends to be filmic, in which I see the
action and I hear the conversations as if they were on the soundtrack it feels
like a relaxed, enjoyable and full experience.

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Joy describes a process involving periods of active concentration, where she


is ordering material, and episodes of internal absorption that are experienced
filmically and that are multidimensional (full) in the sense of a virtual reality. She
is not at the beginning of creating the book, and so it is possible that absorption
may occur more often. It could be argued that the construction of a factual
document would be unlikely to involve equivalent shifts of consciousness, and
would remain closer to a normal baseline state,2 due to the lack of free fantasy
and, potentially, a need to break off from writing to consult necessary sources.
However, individuals sometimes describe phases of flow (Csikszentmihalyi,
1990, 1997) when working in this way, e.g. as when Liz works on an essay:
I flick through, finding a quote about loss and grief in Tennyson I feel excited
at its potential to provide other modified ideas suddenly my essay title and
structure appear fully formed in my mind. I write furious notes, with a rushing
feeling in my stomach and the need to get as many details on the page as I can. I
feel slightly sick at the pace Im shocked to notice I have already worked for
an hour it feels like ten minutes. [Liz]

An initially flexible and extensive/scanning attentional focus becomes narrowed,


as separate elements are synthesized suddenly into a whole pattern. Arousal and
momentum levels increase, in addition to density of thought, and the end of the
experience is marked by a sense of temporal compression. The episode ends when
her neighbour puts on loud music and Tennyson evaporates like mist.
In the above example, a sense of absorption was only possible when separate
ideas/facts were synthesized. This is reminiscent of Maxs account of getting to
grips with details when reading a detective novel, and familiarity with material
emerges as an important component of involving factual reading experiences:
The Rise of the Novel, a book I am about halfway through. I begin reading, but
feel a bit disorientated, so turn back to the beginning of the chapter. As I re-read,
the ideas make sense, and I find myself reading faster it is as though a channel
has been opened and the ideas are flowing like water down it. Exhilarating
fifty minutes have gone past, but I feel that I have only read a page or two
wonder why I have been so productive and feel a bit puzzled as to why I cant
do that every time I sit down to read. [Liz]

This is a clear description of the concept of flow (even using the flow metaphor),
marked once again by increased arousal level and a sense of effortlessness and
temporal compression. In order for the experience to occur the ideas have to make
sense, i.e. Liz has to engage with them internally. Ideas, like metaphors, are rarely
specifically prescriptive, and thus involve a strong component of imaginative
2
As noted elsewhere, the notion of what constitutes a normal baseline state remains
problematic, and any definition will be subject to cultural and individual differences.

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involvement (although participants would be unlikely to describe experiences of


gaining understanding in this way).
One participant describes the experience of constructing novels in her head.
The process seems to involve active and passive fantasy it is marked by a feeling
of both effortful creation (as when writing) and effortless reception (as when
reading). The process occurs any time Im at a loose end or when things arent
working out too well in everyday life and is described as my place to go its like
being in a constant daydream, but the stories are not about me, i.e. the content
is not autobiographical:
I have three novels in my mind which I play through in my imagination. Two of
these have been with me for years [ten and twenty years; the third (five years) is
described as comparatively recent] and each time I go over them I amend them
slightly. During a journey, or last thing at night I will mentally play through a
chapter or episode. I drop in and dot about sometimes replaying, sometimes
reworking. Its a story, but not just a word story a set of visual happenings.
[Mary, 45]

The experience involves a selective, inward attentional focus (constant daydream)


and (as in Joys description of writing a novel) is multidimensional, involving
seeing the story filmically, but also conceiving it in terms of words (Mary states
that she will change the tenses that she uses).
In a sense Marys novels form mental hypertexts in that they share a
similarity with multimedia works such as graphic novels or interactive first
person adventure computer games that make use of video, still images, audio
and traditional text that may be read in different orders. A variety of media are
involved and she can drop in to her story at any point, rather than running it
sequentially, sometimes replaying, sometimes working on it. The mixture of active
and passive involvement, coupled with perception of a virtual reality, appears
particularly absorbing. Mary, unlike Joy, is not working towards completion of a
physical object/artefact (a novel) that will be shared with others; instead it is the
creative process itself that is perceived as rewarding and that is at the core of the
activity. At one point she experimented with the idea of writing some of it down,
to get rid of it, but then I was thinking about it all the time. The activity is both
paratelic (pursued as an end in itself, without external reward) and private: Its not
as if Im even interested in showing them to someone else; you dont tell anyone
else about them. You feel youre revealing something if you share it its open
for criticism. This is a sentiment often voiced by individuals in connection with
everyday trancing experiences involving associations and imagery.
Blending and Imagery
Imaginative involvement is not restricted to experiences featuring a predominantly
inward focus. Absorbed trancing in daily life often draws on the capacity of music

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to blend with aspects of surroundings, as well as internal imagery, as in this


episode concerning a recording of Mozarts Andante and Variations in G (for two
pianos) heard in the car:
Tone of low notes a dark, rich colour (chocolate brown without the sickly
taste of chocolate) evoked in the mind in passing. Outside crisp clarity as if
one had suddenly focused a lens or cleaned the windscreen so that the colours
and the textures in the music shone out we go into the fish and chip shop in
happy car trance. [Will]

Involvement comes from a selective external attention (crisp clarity) to


surroundings coupled with synaesthetic internal imagery (chocolate brown low
notes) that is informed by the music, but reflects back onto the aural perception
of it. The equation of colours, textures and taste with what is heard, evident in the
language Will uses, emphasizes the blurring of modalities within the experience.
This type of episode is obviously not unfamiliar to Will, as he labels it happy car
trance. While considering listening to the spoken word in the car to be equally
involving, he notes similarities and differences between the experiences as follows:
The recording (Thomas the Rhymer by Robin Williamson) absorbs me in a way
thats different from pure music, because I am seeing the vivid and extraordinary
pictures in the story. Ive just been telling stories so am in this mode and
suitably tired. Just as with music, however, I note things in passing, especially
an unusual carving part of a bleached wooden beam, vertical beside the road,
its swirled patterns suggesting something Celtic but not quite.

The phrase pure music points towards a belief in autonomous sound that does
not specify imagery.3 Music may bring associations to mind, but they are not
as vivid and extraordinary, i.e. sharply specific as those evoked by words. He
considers his absorption to be partly a carry-over from the imaginatively involving
activity of telling stories previously. As in the previous example, attention can
paradoxically be at once inwardly and externally focused and attributes of story
and external surroundings blend together (the beam takes on something Celtic
in its patterning).
Performance in front of an audience maintains this fluctuation between
inwardly and outwardly directed attention, but contributing components of the
experience are rather different:
Telling a story to 911-year-old children involved in able writers workshop.
This is The Queens Palace, a variation on The 3 Wishes that I created and have
improvised on extensively over the years they go with me quite easily since

Wills diary overall suggests that he associates such purity with the music of J.S.

Bach.

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all are imaginative and receptive I am also looking inwards in the same
way, as well as looking outwards, professionally monitoring attention levels.
I see thirty faces turned towards me, thirty pairs of transfixed eyes. Sense of
blending with the group, melting of barriers, a thing that happens when the story
is flowing I have to tear myself away from this state. [Will]

Sturm (1999: 1), drawing on Charles T. Tarts framework of altered and


baseline states of consciousness, has asserted that many listeners do experience
a qualitatively different state while listening to some stories. He cites lack of
awareness of surroundings/other mental processes, engaged receptive channels
(visual/auditory/emotional), placeness (sense of going somewhere else),
sense of the story as real and time distortion as being key elements within the
storylistening trance. These factors would certainly seem likely to be present
within the (transfixed) childrens experience. In addition, Will himself (as
storyteller) is able to be inwardly imaginatively absorbed, but maintains a flexible
external awareness that is necessarily broader than that of the children because he
is scanning the audience. The intensity of their attention enhances his experience,
and leads him to experience a momentary alteration of self (blending with the
group) that he has to tear himself away from. The whole episode reveals that it
is coloured by a sharpened sensory awareness, due to expected increased adrenalin
levels, common in a performance situation.
Lilia describes a visit to the Neolithic temples of Haga Qim and Mnajdra in
Malta. The initial emphasis this time is on external absorption, but this is mediated
by the imagination, and solitude appears as a prerequisite for this to occur:
I waited until no-one else was around just a man and his dog guarding them
[the temples]. You dont want other people with their handbags and toffees you
want to reach through to the past. It was the approach to the place that caught
me a long path through fields. The temple uprights stand like huge dinosaur
teeth, worn limestone peaks bright against the vivid sea and sky Wow! I was
in awe of the place you just couldnt help but imagine what it was like 56000
years ago. [Lilia]

A broad-focused, contemplative awareness of surroundings interacts with internal


thoughts and images to produce a richly absorbing experience, enhanced by the
visually arresting unfamiliarity of the landscape.
Imaginative involvement is equally integral to the process of viewing paintings
particularly representational art, as evidenced by Lilias account of seeing
Caravaggios Beheading of St. John the Baptist at Valletta Cathedral:
Had to search for it and then I walked around the corner into the oratory and
there it was suddenly the picture got me huge, 15 metres by 12 metres, dark,
fierce, arresting. I was rooted to the floor. Constructed in thirds on the left
John the Baptists head, in the middle the severed tendons, the right pitch black.

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Wherever you walked across the picture your focus was drawn to the light on
his head it was magnetic. This picture is never moved, you knew the artist
had stood there and painted it. When I came out (after half an hour) I felt quite
exhausted and said [to friend] Im not going to talk you missed the chance
of a lifetime recovered with a coffee in the square where life just filters by.

The episode shows a narrowed attentional focus, and absorption in visual detail,
while at the same time accessing imaginative reveries (about the painter and the
subject). The combined force of painter intention and viewer imagination makes
the experience strongly emotional and quite unlike daily life that just filters by.
Physical Entrainment
Walking the bridle paths around Penshurst. I love strong reggae rhythm when
striding out. I walk fast, usually on my own to counteract hours of sitting at a
desk writing. Effect is relaxing and energizing if no ones around I might do a
bit of a dance Im walking further each time and exploring new routes since
I started listening. A mixture of attention on things around and internal imagery/
thoughts. I always look around quite closely, but if Im honest though, Im doing
that less with the music. I enjoy creating elaborate daydreams about what I might
do, or where it will happen, and who with, all with the music as an integral part of
the scene for someone who lives a great deal in her head, its these optimistic
scenarios that recharge me as much as the physical walking. [Joy]

The use of music in conjunction with exercise may appear, at first sight, to be a
straightforward example of physical self-regulation (fast walking raising arousal
levels to counteract sedentary activity) via entrainment to a regular beat (strong
reggae rhythm). However, equally valued is the mental refreshment gained through
elaborate daydreams of optimistic scenarios to which music is integral. The
sense of absorption thus derives from more than one source, i.e. it is physical
and emotional. Joys experience is grounded in repetitive elements of music
and activity that, complemented by a flexible awareness of surroundings, allow
attentional room for other thoughts to occur. She talks of creating daydreams,
but there is an effortless, non-volitional sense of process (a composite of inwardly
and outwardly directed attention) that appears qualitatively different from the
more managed process of writing, and that accords with Kaplans (1996) notion
of soft fascination (used to articulate the restorative benefits of nature) referenced
in Chapter 4. Music acts to alter sense of time passing (I walk further since
I started listening), to increase internal imagery (less attention to surroundings)
and to encourage an exploration of unfamiliar surroundings (new routes) that
complements the random/dream-like mental exploration of optimistic scenarios.

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Imaginative Involvement and Dissociative Trancing


Participant reports show that, in addition to being intrinsically absorbing,
reminiscence can be used to detach, either spontaneously or volitionally, from
external surroundings. Such dissociative experiences are often positive in nature:
The Forum is a very dark place virtually black. There are spotlights (red, blue
and white) but the lighting is very basic. I am standing on my own at this point
I find that the darkness and sounds make me remember back to when I used to
go to the Marquee Club in London many years ago, to watch bands that played
similar music. I am able to close my eyes and drift away slightly. This helps me
picture the old Marquee very clearly. During this, I was not really aware of the
people around me. [David]

David has previously watched his sons band play a set at a small venue that
features amateur or semi-professional bands. While mildly interested in the band
who play after them, the ambience of the setting (darkness and sounds) prompts
a vivid memory of attending gigs at a legendary London music club.4 An inward
focus of attention blends with a selective external awareness of the sound of the
music, allowing substitution of the current (mundane) surroundings with a virtual
representation of the famous Marquee Club.
At other times, reminiscences may function as a defensive and automatic
response to unpleasant external circumstances, and share no common features
with them:
I just manage to squeeze onto the train and have to tilt my head to get on as I am
in a small space by the door. I close my eyes immediately as I want to blank out
the rest of the passengers. I think about the holiday I had with my wife last year
when we hired a narrow boat for the week and travelled down the Oxford Canal.
This gives me a picture of wide open spaces, rather than the enclosed space I am
in. I did not try to think of this it just happened. [David]

It is notable that external dissociation commonly occurs when in close proximity


to a group of people, and functions to create a more amenable, managed private
space (wide open rather than enclosed) within an uncontrollable public context.
Attention here is entirely inwardly focused and the rich, probably multisensory
memory serves to flood awareness.
Some of the most intensely dissociative experiences reference both imaginative
involvement and sensory awareness. The sense of resulting dislocation can be at
once self-regulatory and disorientating:
4
The Marquee clubs (now demolished) best-known venue was 90 Wardour Street, a
fairly intimate and dark space whose residencies included The Who and Pink Floyd.

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When walking home after school the music became a soundtrack to my life
(bluesy track by Rattle Snake Guitar called Looking for somebody). I could
imagine the opening scene of a film with me walking, seen from my right side.
Felt quite sad and lonely (seen subtly in my expression) and this song playing
in the background. My steps began to fall on the beat of the music, something I
do subconsciously. I was focused on the music, the pavement in front of me and
my steps. I was also aware of my body moving in time with the music The
street was completely empty. It reminded me of times in my life when I have felt
as though I was dealing with things on my own and didnt fit in anywhere. I
think about things I would otherwise hide away in my mind (family issues and
my brothers depression). I think about things and my mind is empty. A rock
song came on which made me determined to get up a steep hill. I almost didnt
know where I was on my typical route home I couldnt remember what had
come before or what would follow. [Jimi]

The episode begins with what seems to be a double awareness of surroundings.


An effortless, non-volitional selective external concentration on the pavement
fuses with a physical entrainment that is linked both to what is heard and seen.
Both music and pattern of the pavement possess a repetitive quality, and so far the
experience appears to be primarily absorbing, rather than dissociative. However,
Jimi also sees himself via a broader, imagined external awareness, from his
right side as if in a film, i.e. rather than being totally immersed in the episode, he
watches himself in a detached way through the eyes of another; for example, he
knows he is sad and lonely because he looks at his own expression. An acute
awareness of physical and mental self eventually collapses, to be replaced by
an empty mind and external disorientation and partial amnesia concerning his
journey. Music appears to offer a contained space in which to think about things
normally hidden away, but at the same time offers dissociative safety in that
Jimi can watch this process at a distance. Such watching is reminiscent of the
dissociative rewind technique used in short-term therapy, where the client will
imagine a previously, personally traumatic situation to be displayed initially on a
TV or cinema screen, thus creating the impression that they are outside, rather than
immersed in emotionally arousing events.
Imaginative Involvement: Summary
All trancing marked by imaginative involvement features a restricted awareness
span, but the locus of attention during episodes varied, with three main types of
experience emerging:
1. An external attentional focus on an automatic or repetitive task and initial
physical absorption (e.g. digging) can prompt internal reminiscence/imagery
that might or might not be linked to that task. Seemingly inconsequential

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triggers (gravel) can act as a shortcut to extensive reminiscences. On


one level, imaginative involvement provides a relief from such mundane
occupations, and seems to be a coping mechanism for such situations. At
the same time, simple tasks seem to calm or occupy a part of the mind,
allowing mental space or even granting permission for other thoughts to
occur via a relaxation of a more restless, critical awareness.
2. Attention can be inwardly focused from the start of the point of involvement
(stemming from a volitional desire to detach from surroundings) as when
imagining novels in the head, or daydreaming.
3. Attention can be divided throughout between inwardly generated imagery
that is linked to or blended with external surroundings (especially when
on the move). Such multilayered experiences can constitute richly positive
involvements (as when a piece by Mozart heard in the car enhances the
crisp quality of surroundings, as well as prompting synaesthetic internal
images of chocolate brown low notes), but can also, paradoxically, result
in a sense of dislocation from both self and surroundings (as when Jimis
walking entrains to what he hears [blues music] and literally sees externally
[pavement cracks], but the experience is simultaneously internally viewed
as a lonely autobiographical movie in the head).
Imagery
Imagery appears to be influenced by the nature of particular activities. Images
experienced when reading tended, unsurprisingly, to feel more prescribed or guided
when compared to the less sharply specific imagery triggered by music (although
this was not true in the case of reminiscence/strong association).5 However, when
listening to stories or spoken word, internal imagery can incorporate elements of
external surroundings (e.g. when listening to Thomas the Rhymer, the swirled
patterns of a bleached wooden beam suggesting something Celtic) just as when
listening to music. The most involving imagery is multidimensional, and often
described as filmic (I see the action, I hear the conversation a full experience).
One example in particular (the process of creating and reviewing a novel in the
head) referenced a complex imaginatively involving mixture of film clips, stills
and words that functioned in the manner of an interactive hypertext to create a
non-sequential, dream-like, alternative virtual world.
Nells (1988: 201) advocation of a distinction between what he terms active
fantasy present in writing and storytelling and passive fantasy found in
reading is instructive: evidence indicates that these two categories overlap to
an extent, but are still useful when describing the phenomenology of imaginative
involvement. Particularly involving creative experiences seem to move between
5
Imaginative involvement when reading is not restricted to fiction. For example,
ideas presented in factual documents are rarely specifically prescriptive, often employing
metaphors that demand imaginative decoding.

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the two, with periods of effortful concentration (active fantasy) and moments of
absorption where material is internally reviewed (passive fantasy) providing the
spur to continue.
Imaginative Involvement and Music
As in Chapter 5, music emerges as an effective mediator between internal
and external experience, affectively colouring and fusing together perceptual
elements that could otherwise remain separated. Of course, at times music may
merely be a habitually adopted, ritualistic accessory to imaginative involvement
(as when reading a book in the pub), but a substantial number of episodes show a
more managed and precise interaction with activity (e.g. writing a novel) where
carefully chosen, familiar tracks act to reduce critical awareness, induce an
inward focus, specify mood, setting and character, as well as adding momentum
to the creative process. In addition, fusion of physical movement and music
(entrainment) can provide a double source of absorption that creates attentional
room for other thoughts (e.g. optimistic daydreams) to occur. Dibben (2001:
161) has shown the diverse array of cultural and musical sources that music may
specify (physical source, physical space and proximity, genre, musical function,
emotional attributes and social context) and indicates that music may easily be
customized, i.e. heard in particular ways according to the listeners needs and
preoccupations (2001: 183).
Towards a Re-evaluation of Mundane Experience
Building on the phenomenology of everyday music listening discussed earlier in
the book, the focus of chapters 5 and 6 has been on documenting varieties and
qualities of spontaneous and volitional shifts of consciousness present in musical
and non-musical engagements. The next step is to return to the question posed at
the end of Chapter 4: what interactions (if any) between stimulus and perceiver
are particular to music, i.e. what is music contributing? The concern of the next
chapter, therefore, is to compare stimulus properties and perceptual affordances of
musical and non-musical activities.

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Chapter 7

Musical and Non-Musical Trancing:


Similarities and Differences
Theorizing Involvement
Perspectives on perception and meaning from ecological theory and semiotics
indicate that experiential involvement comes from an interaction between
perceiver and properties specified by external objects/activities. Such perspectives
attempt to overcome the destructive dualism of immanence versus subjective
construction, and enable meaning and therefore experience to be seen as at
once actively constructed, dependent on context, and at the same time determined
by selected qualities or properties of particular stimuli. Music, for example, as the
anthropologist Georgina Born has observed, never stands alone, and the notion
of autonomous musical experience is illusory. Instead, the listener is entangled
in a musical assemblage (2010: 88), a network of interactions between sounds,
technologies, perception, individual habitus, environment etc. that can serve to
mediate and so transform experience.
Experience is clearly situational, relational and personal. It does not follow
that it is entirely idiosyncratic, however. Studies of the different types of meaning
that people perceive in music (i.e. the way in which music may be said to specify
physical, musical and cultural sources and emotional attributes) reveal that
individuals demonstrate some degree of shared understanding of materials and
meanings (Dibben, 2001: 185) together with some common consensus regarding
experiential affect. Could it then be possible to identify basic attributes or specified
properties common to both musical and non-musical activities/stimuli that are
perceived by individuals as particularly involving? And do certain activities/
stimuli impact upon or shape the nature of subjective experience? In other words,
do different kinds of conscious experience attach to different involving activities?
These are the questions that inform this chapter.
Creation, Replication and Reception: The Entry Points of Involvement
In broad terms, the comparative study activities reported in chapters 5 and 6
demonstrated a range of behavioural modes of engagement, i.e. creating, making,
doing, contemplating or receiving, suggesting perceptual differences attached to
the entry points of involvement. I referred earlier to Nells distinction between the
quality of imaginative involvement present when reading as opposed to writing

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a novel or telling a story, which he terms passive (non-volitional) and active


(volitional) fantasy respectively. This may seem an awkward division (after all,
any imagery production constitutes an active process that might be both effortless
and effortful), but it is useful in that it articulates an underlying difference: when
reading, imagery is prompted and guided by the text, rather than freely evolved. In
fact, activities may be grouped along a continuum, from those that are primarily
creative, internally driven and non-prescriptive, (developing something that does
not already exist) to those that are primarily replicative, externally driven and
prescriptive (attaching to an existing stimulus) and consequent differences in
perceptual process affect the nature or quality of involvement.
At one extreme of the continuum lie activities such as composing a piece of
music, writing a book, or painting an abstract painting, which connect predominantly
to internal resources of mental and imaginative involvement. At the other extreme
are replicative, automatic activities such as driving, digging, washing up, which,
although not absorbing in themselves, because not fully occupying the conscious
mind, appear to act as potential platforms for enhanced sensory awareness and
imaginative involvement that may or may not be connected with the initial activity.
Towards the centre are activities such as musical improvisation over an existing
chord sequence, representational painting, and life drawing, undertaken with the
aim of producing an end product and involving an active creative interaction
between internal processes and external stimulus. Activities involving reception
(of books, music, art and surroundings) also lie near the centre, feature a strong
component of imaginative (and therefore creative) involvement, but are not
undertaken with the intention of producing a specific outcome. In the comparative
study, acts of creation tended to feature increased mental involvement, raised
arousal levels and fluctuating levels of absorption, whereas passive activities
featured heightened or lowered arousal levels.
Similarities and Differences
Ive already drawn attention to the ways in which monotonous, replicative or
automatic activities such as washing up, driving or digging can encourage a
selective, restricted focus, and narrowed awareness that may lead to a changed
orientation to reality. Because they do not fully occupy the conscious mind such
activities can act initially as inductions to spontaneous trance (as defined in
Chapter 2), after which absorbed or dissociated trancing appears to continue in
one of two ways:
The activity remains at the core of the experience, the restricted focus
prompting a reduction of thought and simple absorbed awareness of pure
sensation.
The activity recedes from conscious awareness, acting as a platform for
imaginative involvement often unconnected with the original stimulus.

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I want now to turn to examples of activities that afford multilayered sources of


involvement in themselves, outlining specific involving properties of the stimulus,
qualities of experience connected with shifts of consciousness, comparing each
with musical engagement. I should emphasize that the activities I discuss can still
encourage trancing episodes that lose connection with the original stimulus, as just
outlined. In addition to specific properties of the stimulus, the mood, motivation
levels and beliefs of the perceiver are a vital part of the trancing process. There is
no suggestion that stimuli are intrinsically involving regardless of situation; rather
that certain features may afford shifts of consciousness.
Reading, Writing, Hearing and Imagining Stories
Individual reports show that reading involvement is characterized by a selective,
inwardly focused attention, imaginative involvement, reduced external awareness,
and altered time sense. If external sights and sounds impinge on the experience,
they form only contingent links with what is being read. The experience may be
primarily dissociative (what Nell [1988] has termed a Type A reading experience
[as mentioned in the previous chapter], undertaken to dull consciousness or cut
off from consciousness or an external situation, i.e. literally escapist in nature), or
absorbing (what Nell terms a Type B reading experience, undertaken to heighten
consciousness). Nell has described the latter as entrancement (1988: 227).
Reading demands utilization of consciously acquired, specific skills, e.g. ability to
decode a symbol system, and to extract meaning from it; additionally, involvement
relies on a reading speed of at least 200 wpm. Of course, involved listening to
music also draws on a broad skill base, but, as Sloboda has noted, this type of
knowledge and experience is acquired unconsciously, i.e. an informal absorption
of syntax and style via exposure to the dominant musical models within a specific
culture (1999: 450). It is not necessary to read a score to be able to decode music,
and a score where one exists does not usually constitute the prime means of
knowing music (for the bulk of the population at least).
The imagery experienced while reading is semi-prescriptive as opposed to
the freer, wide-ranging imagery described by individuals when listening to music
, and the most vivid imagery accesses several modes, e.g. sight, sound, touch.
Readers are able to manipulate the stimulus by re-reading extracts, skipping
material, or altering reading speed. Chosen material, because of its exact semantic
content, is far more likely to be unfamiliar than when listening to music. The
process of reading a book generally takes longer than listening to a piece of music
and is usually broken into separate episodes. The cumulative involvement in
reading a short story or poem would seem to equate more closely to the process
of absorption in music listening. Specifically involving properties appear to be
the triggering of internal, passive fantasy and sense of narrative suspense that
is variously described as moving, dragging, transporting the reader onwards.
Free descriptions indicate that writing shares many of the perceptual qualities
of reading, but, as a primarily creative process, relies on active rather than

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passive fantasy (such periods of imagery production are more akin to the process
of daydreaming), although writing sessions may move between active creation
and more passive review. There tend to be periods of absorption, rather than a
cumulative involvement, and the experience is more likely than reading to feature
a managed and precise interaction with an external stimulus, e.g. where music is
used to induce the creative process, maintain its momentum and specify mood,
setting and character.
The experience of hearing a story seems to be more closely comparable to
listening to music and the balance between internal and external foci appears to
fluctuate to a greater extent than when reading. The narrative pace, or sense of
movement a prime source of involvement, as already noted is set by another
(the storyteller or music itself) rather than by a combination of reader and author.
Additionally, sound in itself (vocal qualities) divorced from informational,
referential meaning, may provide a focus for absorption. This is recognized by the
Modified Tellegen Absorption Scale (MODTAS), which includes this phenomenon
as item 30 (the sound of a voice can be so fascinating to me that I can just go on
and on listening to it). Internal imagery can incorporate/blend with elements of
external surroundings, as in instances of musical involvement, and, if attending a
live storytelling event, increased alertness or mental involvement may arise from
focus on a dynamic or charismatic speaker (as recognized by Ludwig, 1966:
226). Finally, the mixture of passive and active fantasy evident when creating
and reviewing novels in the head (and described as a continuous daydream)
resembles a complex mixture of film clips, stills and words that functions in the
manner of an interactive hypertext to create a non-sequential, alternative world
that is particularly involving. (It is no accident that computer hypertexts or first
person games are often described as addictive.)
Looking at Surroundings; Looking at Art; Creating Art
The experience of involvement when looking at surroundings can be characterized
by a one-pointed, close-focus, or more extensive, mindful and contemplative
attention. An enhanced sensory perception may feature a simple awareness of
physical attributes, such as colour, texture, shape, smell (similar to a focus on
acoustic attributes when listening to music) or a selective external awareness
that is shaped by imaginative involvement (similar to a focus on associations and
reminiscences prompted by music). Looking at surroundings, unlike art, appears to
be an instantaneous process that does not rely on having learned a series of visual
codes relevant to particular styles and eras, although all perception is informed by
the situation and prior learning (what Bourdieu (1979[1984]) has termed habitus)
of the perceiver. Unlike music, the focus of attention is, in itself, non-temporal
and non-narrative.1 All elements are present at once, and one finds (consciously
or unconsciously) ones own attentional path through an environment rich
I acknowledge that not all forms of music possess a linear, narrative organization.

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in possibilities. Specifically involving properties seem to be the heightened


multisensory and imaginative perceptual opportunities in such scenarios, together
with a tendency towards whole pattern perception that emphasizes qualities of
shape, line, texture and movement.
By contrast, the intentional composition/structure of artworks guides the eye
and imagination to an extent: edited, selective versions of experience, they are
designed to fascinate. Attentional focus is aided by one-point and multiple-point
perspective systems and a particularly involving element of art appears to be its
ability to suggest motion. As Cleaver and Eddins note in a work referencing the
mechanisms of visual perception:
Line may be used in at least two ways: it may represent or suggest things that are
capable of motion, such as rippling waves, or it may imply motion by its form
or by its relation to other lines. Our experience of gravity causes us to feel that
vertical and horizontal lines are stable, whereas unsupported diagonal lines often
seem to move in the direction in which they are leaning. (1977: 6).

Shapes can also specify motion, becoming more dynamic as they draw out
attention in a specific direction (Cleaver & Eddins, 1977: 10). Both shape and
line, used to form repetitive figurations, are central to visual mandalas (meditative
aids designed to promote a one-pointed attentional focus). A preoccupation with
movement thus emerges as one of the most often mentioned sources of involvement
in individual accounts relating to both art and surroundings. It is also a common
feature of absorbing or dissociative episodes featuring music, as I shall indicate in
a later section.
Notably, interest in the motional capacities of both visual art and music has led
to the accumulation, from the early twentieth century, of a rich body of abstract
film, originating in the adoption by artists of the newly developed technique of
animation to bring movement to their artworks. This has now established itself as a
genre known as visual music and includes linear, time-based visual interpretations
of a specific musical composition or set of sounds (Walt Disneys film Fantasia
is a high-profile example) as well as new linear time-based compositions created
visually that synaesthetically translate musical attributes (e.g. smooth or sharp
melodic contours, texture, affective quality, speed) and that may be, but do not
have to be, silent.2 Conventional (non time-based) abstract canvases are also
Ox and Keefer (2006) give a useful overview of the field, which originated with
the early twentieth-century work of Italian Futurists Ginna and Corra, and became more
widely known with the German Absolute Film movement of the Twenties, particularly
in the works of Oskar Fischinger. It incorporates a diverse body of work, including the
European avant-garde of the 20s and 30s, the Californian School of Color Music, and
computer graphics and video synthesis work, and has also influenced the development of
so-called cross platform media players, such as real-player (commonly used to play music
and DVDs on personal computers), that use the amplitude and frequency of audio data to
2

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taken to qualify as visual music if the elements have a strongly motional quality
(Ox & Keefer, 2006), for instance as in the work of Paul Klee.
Involving episodes relating to the creation of art contain the same, visual
fascination with movement and line, but in a more intense, close-focus way that
also featured an absorption with the physical act of creation (what Arnheim has
described as gambolling on paper [1974[1954] 171], and which he cites as the
entry point of involvement when first creating pictures as a child). Life drawing in
particular offers a situation where a complex of factors is implicated: the ritualistic
setting, removed from everyday life with an unspoken, expected code of silence,
seems to afford a disorientatingly dream-like quality; a variety of attentional
modes occur, from a singular, close focus on details of drawing or model, to a
more contemplative, whole-pattern awareness of the composition as a whole;
mental involvement alternates with periods of internal visualization, where literal
recall and imaginative translation mingle.
In a study examining absorption and appreciation of visual art Combs et al.
advocated the possibility of a broad relationship between absorption and the
appreciation of abstract forms of art (1988: 454), but such a statement must be
viewed cautiously, partly because the (laboratory based) experiment was flawed
(prescribing the works of art to be viewed, only displaying them as slides for
c.10 seconds, and priming participants by testing for trait absorption before the
experiment took place via the TAS) and partly because of questionable assumptions
at root level, i.e. that classical music and abstract art share a greater complexity,
making greater demands than, say, popular music (1988: 453).
Gardening
Involving episodes featuring gardening appear to accord with the two main types
of experience that I mentioned at the beginning of this section. In the first, an
automatic or monotonous activity (e.g. digging, pruning) remains at the core
of the experience. Specifically involving properties are: repetition of a physical
task, which prompts a restricted external focus, leading to a reduction of thought,
lowered arousal and simple absorbed awareness of pure sensation; and an
enhanced sensory awareness of shape, colour, texture, tactile sensation and smell,
i.e. a fascination with the physical attributes of the garden itself.
In the second type of involving experience, the activity recedes from conscious
awareness, acting as a platform for internal imaginative involvement often
unconnected with the original stimulus. Both access the restorative benefits of
nature noted by Kaplan: namely that the garden environment, like music, is
rich enough and coherent enough to constitute another world and provides
enough to see, experience and think about so that it takes up a substantial portion
of the available room in ones head (1995: 173). At the same time, however, such
generate changing graphical patterns that appear (if desired) as screensavers to accompany
chosen tracks.

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involvement with nature constitutes a soft fascination in that attention is held, but
in an effortless way, allowing opportunity for other thoughts to occur (1995: 174),
as they also may do when listening to music.
The potential, evident in individual descriptions, for surroundings in general
to prompt a singular/one-pointed, close-focus or extensive mindful contemplative
attention has long been exploited within Western and non-Western traditions
of garden design. More than any other art-form (perhaps with the exception
of architecture), gardens may be intentionally designed to function as sites of
involvement, created to manipulate conscious experience in specific ways.3
Unlike paintings, gardens do have a third spatial dimension (Clarke, 2005:
137) that permits multisensory exploration, while often utilizing objects and
plants that within the specific culture have symbolic connotations that provide
a platform for imaginative involvement. In a sense, then, formally designed
gardens could be said to constitute perceptual maps, specifying potential routes
towards contemplative involvement. As Nitschke notes in an extensive study of
the structure and meaning of Japanese gardens:
The question is, why were the gardens first created, and do we still create them
for the same reasons? No animal makes a garden, although animals nests and
shelters are a primitive form of architecture. The garden could be said to stand
at the crossroads of nature and culture, of matter and consciousness. It is neither
purely the one or the other; it discloses both in the form of human art. (Nitschke,
1999: 238)

In the case of Japanese gardens for example, the early water gardens of the Heian
period (7941191), comprising a series of islands connected by vermillion bridges,
encouraged a panoramic wide-focused contemplation of landscape. Additionally,
such landscapes were part of a miraculous world of make-believe, complete with
boats carrying musicians intended to provide representations of paradise on earth
(Nakagawara, 2004: 89) and so demanding high levels of imaginative involvement.
Nakagawara argues that the later, smaller gardens of the Kamakura (11911333)
and Muromachi (13331547) periods, influenced by the growth of Zen Buddhism,
feature a move away from a permanent sweeping of the visual field where the
range of vision expanded out and wide to a different way of seeing that took the
form of a breath-taking close-up, invading the beholders consciousness with its
proximity (Nakagawara, 2004: 94):

3
The potential of gardens to facilitate contemplative involvement has been
extensively promoted by the Quiet Garden Movement (www.quietgarden.org), initiated
by the Anglican priest Philip Roderick in 1992. Over 300 gardens in 18 countries (including
the USA, Israel, Brazil, Cyprus and Haiti) now belong to the scheme, which fosters the
provision of garden space intentionally set aside for sanctuary, refreshment and solitude:
www.quietgarden.org/associate.html, accessed 12 June 2011.

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If Heian gardens were extrovert sanctuaries, imbued with the significance of the
mythical, the gardens of Muromachi Zen monasteries are secluded, introvert
sanctuaries, labyrinths for a mental, solitary journey. We are witnessing the
creation of a distinct culture of the private usually associated with the concept
of modernity (2004: 99).

This is explained by the miniaturization and simplification of gardens, which


became symbolic representations of mountains (groups of stones) and water (raked
gravel) that constituted an inherently interactive form of art, where the beholder
is permanently summoned up to participate in the creation of meaning (2004:
97). Focus is narrowed and landscape is no longer intended to evoke memories
of places seen. Instead, contemplation shifts from an outward to inward realm
(2004: 98), and, at times, the garden paradoxically becomes an aesthetic object:
a work of art something to be seen, and not a place to exercise or relax in.
Most older Japanese are likely to have memories of being scolded by their
mothers on the score: Get out of there. The garden is not a place for playing!
(Astushi, 1990: 161, in Nakagawara, 2004: 87).

Watching Sport
By contrast, involvement when watching sport is characterized by hard fascination
(Kaplan, 1995), i.e. a vigilant preoccupation (external attentional focus) with
details of the game that does not encourage extraneous thought, and that features
an increase in mental involvement and raised arousal levels. Specifically involving
features are the restricted attentional foci, movement of players/ball and narrative
process of the game. Involvement relies on being able to read (understand
the codes) of a particular sport, and in this respect is similar to the absorption
experienced when gripped, for example by a good detective novel.
Listening to and Playing Music
The potential for involvement with quite dissimilar musics to produce similar
experiential phenomena (light trance/absorption/dissociation) and for the same
piece of music to elicit a varying experiential response on different occasions was
noted in Chapter 3. In attempting to identify the properties specified by music that
make it capable of contributing to shifts of consciousness, the perennial question
of musics effect is raised.
Since Rougets seminal work on music and trance (1985), the norm within
academic writing has been to assume that there are no common features of music
causing trance, due to cross-cultural variation. Music does nothing more than
socialize it [trance] and enable it to attain its full development (Rouget, 1985:
326). Yet, when discussing specific cultural settings, several writers (including
Rouget) list musical characteristics likely to afford trance that would seem to

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have a wider, cross-cultural validity. For example, Fachner (2006: 22), when
considering obsession rituals, mentions the use of accelerations in tempo, volume
increase, repetition and simple variation and slow rate of change and, occasionally,
a complex, polyphonic texture. He chooses his words carefully: certain musical
features are described as often present and to be seen as supporting trance, thus
avoiding any suggestion that they cause it. In many ways, this is a necessary
and entirely sensible observation to make, and one that was first put forward by
Rouget. Such an observation banishes notions of music as acting purely on a
neuro-physiological level, or functioning as a mysterious stimulus with immanent
powers, producing the same, replicable effect regardless of context. At the same
time, however, it seems to play down the potential effect of properties specific to
music, as well as overplaying the futilities/dangers of cross-cultural comparison.
Becker clarifies the situation somewhat when she sensibly notes the contribution of
both physiological effect and cultural expectation to such shifts in consciousness:
Sound properties of music accompanying trancing can be both biological and
cultural (2004: 38). It is worth noting that communication of musical affect does
not require the mediation of cognition, and that interaction between the perceiver
and stimulus properties of music may occur outside conscious awareness (Panksepp
& Bernatzky, 2002). This has prompted the suggestion that in such cases meaning
must be derived from the stimulus itself and that certain qualities will induce
similar affective experiences in all listeners, cross culturally, and independent of
context and personal biases or preferences (Coutinho & Cangelosi, 2009: 1). The
suggestion is still not, however, that music must induce an affective response in all
listeners who are within earshot of it; rather that certain psychoacoustic features
such as loudness and tempo specify aspects of affective response.
Certainly, the use of techniques such as repetition and simple variation in
connection with trancing are to be found in a diverse range of musics worldwide,
operating as common organizational principles behind quite different sound
worlds. Moreover, such principles are not specific to the generation of music,
but abound in secular and sacred visual art, architecture and gardens designed to
encourage, or reflect meditative and other altered states of consciousness.
At a lay level there appears to be far more consensus as to what features of
music may be potentially trancey, albeit a marked bias towards the music as
stimulus viewpoint. A large number of websites promote CD compilations
targeted at use in therapy settings (including hypnotherapy) and/or the home,
claiming to effect shifts of consciousness, e.g. the music of John Levine, designed
to access the so-called (and controversial) alpha state that has been linked with
feelings of calmness and relaxation (Radunski, 2004). In addition, various trance
software sampling programmes, based around the popular genre of trance music
are available, e.g. the Megaton Trance Bomb, which is advertised as delivering
everything you need to create trance From the soaring melodies of Goa, to
the pounding machine rhythms of Berlin construction kits, drumloops, synth
arpeggios: everything you need to bliss out right now! (Big Fish Audio, 2004)

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The OED, reflecting this general interest in music and trance, has carried both
broad and generic definitions of trance music since 2002:
Any of various types of music characterized by rhythms and sounds which are
intended to be hypnotic or trance-inducing; spec. a type of electronic dance
music derived from Acid House and Techno.

Individual descriptions of musical involvement commonly make reference to


music with overtly trance-like features. These include the music of minimalist
composers such as Steve Reich, psychedelic popular music of the 1970s,
popular trance genres, other vernacular styles drawing on the style of such genres,
Javanese gamelan music and Turkish Mevlevi music. However, these are not the
only musics listened to in episodes demonstrating features of absorption/light
trance and dissociation: non-trance-like music also seems to contribute to a shift
in consciousness.
Additionally, in such situations, the musical properties of individual pieces
appears to be extremely diverse, potentially giving support to Beckers statement
(following Rouget) that given the right cultural expectations, any kind of music,
vocal or instrumental, can be associated with trance (2004: 25). Actually, empirical
evidence suggests that between these two extremes of music as stimulus
containing a catalogue of features supportive of trance, or, conversely, as possessing
no immanent core and therefore open to idiosyncratic use lie a subtle range of
possible types of involvement or ways of trancing. Compared with other activities,
music appears to offer a particularly diverse range of entry points to involvement:
1. Trancing/involvement can, at times, focus on the acoustic attributes of the
music, such as repetitive loops, timbres, a pronounced repetitive beat, slow
rate of change, or a circular movement present within a layered/polyphonic
texture. Headphones may mediate involvement, triggering a fascination
with virtual spatial features, i.e. a perceptual sense of being surrounded
by sound, sound moving from left to right or between foreground and
background. Thus, while music does not literally provide a third spatial
dimension that may focus attention (as gardens do, for example), it may
specify an equivalent virtual acousmatic space (Clarke, 2005: 68) that may
act as a platform for involvement. This is the type of experience most likely
to be described and recognized by individuals as trancey. This same
fascination with physical attributes of a stimulus has been shown to be one
mode of involvement when looking at surroundings/art or when painting/
drawing. It usually features a reduction of thought and heightened sensory
perception/sharpened or simple awareness and interruption of temporal
synchronicity. A sense of temporal compression or suspension and of being
perceptually hooked by movement are common to the experience of a
range of involving activities, but music is able to articulate such phenomena
particularly clearly, perhaps because it is more transparent as a medium,

Musical and Non-Musical Trancing

2.

3.
4.
5.




159

i.e. not a carrier of semantically exact meaning and literally invisible. As


Kramer puts it, music has the power to create, alter, distort or even destroy
time itself, not simply our experience of it (1988: 15). Non-linear music,
which is not primarily shaped by cause and effect or progression towards
a major goal (even though it may possess unceasing internal motion, as in
the case of minimalist music) creates a sense of stasis that Kramer defines
as vertical time and that he equates with a state of being rather than
the sense of becoming implied by teleological listening. Provocatively,
Kramer links ways of listening to cultural belief suggesting that most of us
tend to listen teleologically horizontally given the prevalence of tonal
music and linear values in our culture (1988: 55). Such a proposition may
seem intuitively attractive, but, of course, the danger of proposing such
homologous relationships is that they are often too sweepingly generalized
and not supported by empirical evidence, as DeNora notes (2000: 6).
Trancing/involvement can, at times, focus on source specifications of the
music, e.g. associations and memories. Comparative study findings indicate
that listening to music, above any other activity, seems to legitimize the
process of reminiscence for individuals (which might otherwise have
seemed an irrelevant distraction or mental luxury). Associations and
memories might be triggered by extra musical references in the music
(words or non-musical sounds), or involve the contingent anchoring of
music to a remembered context. Such experiences tend to be inwardly
focused, featuring an increase in imaginative involvement. The closest
parallels with other activities are found in reading, writing and hearing
stories (although imagery is more closely prescribed by verbal text), but
I have previously indicated that imaginative involvement is an important
component of the majority of involving experiences.
Trancing/involvement can, at times, focus on physical entrainment to
music. This mode may blend with the two scenarios above.
Trancing/involvement can, at times, focus on emotion induced by the
music. This mode may also blend with the two scenarios above.
Trancing/involvement can, at times, focus on a fusion of modalities (aural,
visual, kinaesthetic), e.g. composites of :
a. music and movement of self (e.g. repetitive activity such as walking/
running/dancing/craftwork/playing an instrument)4
b. music and movement of other objects (e.g. blurred, changing views
on train)
c. music and external surroundings (blending, heightened sensory effect).

All examples involving playing an instrument occurred when alone. The value of
such autotelic experiences has been aptly characterized as holicipation by Killick (2006),
indicating a multilevel form of trancing where the player is at once performer and sole
listener. Such experiences may feature external absorption in the physical act of playing,
the sound produced, in addition to the potential for internal, imaginative involvement.
4

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Interestingly, there is a shared territory between the categories above, and the
seven psychological mechanisms (i.e. types of information processing) identified
by Juslin & Vstfjll (2008; Juslin et al. 2010) as being responsible for the
evocation of emotion.5 The evolutionarily ancient brainstem reflex is a mechanism
that would logically appear to be implicated in trancing featuring a focus on
acoustic attributes (trancing category 1 above). Visual imagery, episodic memory
and evaluative conditioning are all mechanisms that are key to imaginative
involvement (see trancing category 2 above), while the mechanisms of rhythmic
entrainment, emotional contagion and musical expectancy accord with trancing
categories 3 and 4 respectively.
Empirical findings from free phenomenological reports show that a significant
number of experiences of musical trancing feature a fusion of modalities
(category 5), indicating that music is a particularly effective medium with which
to integrate different aspects of experience; its embeddedness makes it particularly
suitable to contributing to shifts of consciousness involving a fusion of modalities,
as well as binding together internal with external perception. Its very lack of
informationally exact content, its invisibility and portability make it easily
customized. As Cook puts it, rather than thinking of music as representative of
gross emotional qualities (unnuanced emotion), if viewed as a cluster of semiotic
potential (2001: 179) it can convey emotionless nuance that individual listeners
can attach to their own situation and needs.
The Mediation of Technology
Technology serves as a common mediator of experience for individuals, altering
the perceivers relationship with what is seen and heard. Qualitative differences
emerge between experiences of listening to recorded and live music, watching
sport on TV or witnessing a live match, reading a story and listening to spoken
word. As Walter Benjamin has noted:
The technique of reproduction detaches the reproduced object from the domain
of tradition in permitting the reproduction to meet the beholder or listener in
his own particular situation, it reactivates the object produced. (1970: 215)

So, via technology, music and spoken word become instantly portable, can be
detached from original performance contexts, and customized/reactivated
(consciously or unconsciously) to inform experience, particularly when on the
move. Such experience may become richly multimodal, connecting properties
of the stimulus to elements of external surroundings, i.e. less aesthetically
contemplative and more performative in essence. Alternatively, as Clarke has
5
See Chapter 1 for a discussion of the psychological mechanisms proposed by Juslin
et al., as being fundamental to the induction of emotion while listening to music

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noted, the abstracted solitariness of acousmatic listening engages a reflective or


contemplative kind of consciousness (2007: 68) that focuses on sound divorced
from source, i.e. music is experienced as an autonomous medium. Additionally,
the use of headphones serves to advertise an individuals insularity/invisibility
to others, as well as allowing the wearer to stand outside/dissociate from
external experience, facilitating the luxury of non-reciprocal looking, denied
since childhood. By this I mean the manner in which a child may freely stare at
others while appearing to remain unnoticed or at least uncriticized! As well as
potentially heightening experience through sealing off external aural distractions,
they define a sense of alternative virtual space: the perceiver is positioned in the
middle of experience, surrounded by sound, and the movement of sound (right
to left, foreground and background) is emphasized. The sense of aural proximity
and distance may translate into perceived levels of dissociation or absorption. For
example, in some hypnotherapeutic sessions, the client may hear the therapists
voice (and music) through headphones, suggesting paradoxically at once a more
intimate, close-focus absorbed inter-relationship (the sound is very close to the
head), but also a distant and dissociated one (sounding as if prerecorded rather
than actually happening, with no sense of physical location in a particular space
via ambient aural clues, or of the actual presence of the therapist).
Television appears to offer a far more prescriptive mediation of experience
than devices that reproduce sound alone. Camera work directs and channels visual
attention, and although unusual camera angles, a bombardment of images plus
soundtrack can be extremely involving, a performative interaction is restricted.
This restriction is particularly obvious when watching sport live, rather than on TV
(you can see the whole of the pitch, not just the bit the TV camera is focused on).
Choosing what to focus on draws on active mental involvement knowing the
game and the resultant quality of what Kaplan terms hard fascination (informed
of course by the emotional contagion of the crowd and the chance to interact with
events rather than viewing them from a distance on a screen of limited size) leads
to a more intense, immediate sense of absorption.
Summary of Involving Features
Across activities, absorbed and dissociative trancing are commonly characterized
by imaginative involvement (including internal imagery prescribed by the
stimulus, relating more loosely to source specification or arising freely) and
multisensory engagement. The multileveled nature of such experiences provides
numerous entry points to involvement. This is strikingly evident in the case of
music, where attentional focus may be on acoustic attributes, physical, cultural or
personal sources specified by music, physical entrainment or emotional attributes.
Music is also likely to interweave with other aspects of experience, the use of
mobile technologies in particular allowing for what Georgina Born has termed

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an aesthetic of the simultaneous or multiple music and movement and place


(Born, 2010: 86).
In terms of stimulus properties, movement emerges as a focus for involvement
across activities (as seen, as heard, as felt) in several ways: from movement
suggested by music, to movement as narrative process in literature and sport, or
movement of natural objects (e.g. clouds), self-movement or being on a moving
object (e.g. a train). In addition, music may intensify the sense of movement
present in other perceptual modes. Repetition and pattern of action, of sound
or visual stimuli are also common foci for involvement, often occurring in
conjunction with a restricted attentional focus on a small number of stimuli. Two
questions emerge:
1. Why should movement, pattern and repetition prove so appealing to the
mind?
2. Given that the same involving attributes are to be found in non-artistic
everyday experiences, why do people still seek engagement in the arts, and
are art and non-art experiences qualitatively different in subjective terms?

Chapter 8

Experiencing Life and Art:


Ethological and Evolutionary Perspectives
on Transformations of Consciousness
Aesthetic Experiences in Daily Life
The notion that the phenomenological dividing line between life and art may
sometimes be blurred and that mundane objects may provide the basis of
informal aesthetic experiences is not new. Many people experience instances of
involvement that relate to various art forms (music, visual art, books, film, theatre,
dance) as well as non-artistic activities. However, the prevalence of the aesthetic
mode1 in everyday life tends to be underestimated (Zentner et al., 2008: 515),
in part because such instances are not documented and subsequently forgotten.
Both life and art provide opportunities for perceptual involvement and can feature
similar alterations to dimensions of experience (e.g. selectively focused attention
or awareness, enhanced sensory or imaginative involvement, reduced levels of
thought etc.).
It is therefore tempting to speculate about similarities and differences between
engagements with art and everyday life. Are humans primed for trancing, including
aesthetic experiences, and if so why? This chapter accordingly adopts a more
theoretical, speculative stance to musical and non-musical trancing, contextualizing
the empirical data of previous chapters within the broad fields of ethology and
evolutionary psychology. In particular, it explores a range of evidence suggesting
that the arts may be particularly efficacious catalysts for consciousness change,
and that trance itself may profitably be construed as a psychobiological capacity.
Individual, subjective reports of alterations of consciousness in conjunction
with musical and non-musical stimuli indicate that the properties specified by
different activities (movement, repetition, restricted stimuli) together with ways
of responding (internal imagery, multi-sensory affective engagement) identified as
particularly involving, are not specific to the arts. What, then, might be the difference
1
In accordance with the phenomenological accounts of involving experiences
discussed in this book, an aesthetic mode is understood as a way of experiencing that may
include not only an appreciation of form and content the attributes of an object but the
contributory impacts of emotional affect and preference (see Juslin, Liljestrm, Vstfjll &
Lundqvist, 2010: 6367, for a discussion of the relationship between these components of
experience).

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perceptually between contemplating ones surroundings and experiencing a work


of art? If there is no difference, and instead the whole of life can be an occasion
for the aesthetic sensibility (Dissanayake, 1988: 190),2 why do the arts still exist
and what are they doing for people?
The Definition and Purpose of Art
These longstanding questions have been re-examined fairly recently by John
Carey (2005) in a wide-ranging and refreshingly blunt critique of attitudes and
assumptions concerning the arts in Western and non-Western societies and what he
terms psycho-neuro-aesthetic explanations of how art achieves its effect.
Carey repeats the often made point that, in pre-industrial eighteenth-century
societies, the definition of art (in its modern sense, i.e. as an abstract, capitalized
Art, with its own internal but general principles (Williams, 1976: 41) did not
exist. Instead, art was an activity spread through the whole community (2005:
8), bound up with everyday occupations and concerns (2005: 10). In such
settings, the activities that could constitute art were diverse (including body
ornamentation, for example), often multimodal (aural, visual, kinaesthetic) and
functional still the case in various non-Western contexts.
For Carey, the separation of art from life in European culture (which served
to raise the question of arts purpose in the first place) began with the mode of
disinterested contemplation promoted by eighteenth-century aesthetics, in the
writings of Baumgarten, and particularly Kant:3

The argument that anything may be perceived as a work of art (the fundamental
tenet of conceptual art) is specific to western European thinking and its origins are often
traced back to Duchamps exhibition of a urinal (entitled fountain) at the Exhibition
of the Society of Independent Artists in 1917. It gained new life with the exhibition of
Warhols Brillo Box Sculptures in 1964, and its implications (e.g. the contributing
roles of author and observer to artistic experience) have been extensively reviewed by
Danto (1997, 2003). For reasons of space I do not pursue this argument here, except to
note that conceptual artworks, as intentionally incomplete stimuli, demand high levels of
imaginative and sensory engagement, and thus, theoretically, have the potential to act as
rich sites of involvement. Whether they actually do is another matter (even leaving aside
value judgements about good and bad art). Active, performative meaning-making may
be unattractive to someone who expects to be guided by or receive art even though in
everyday life, free from expected ways of responding, that same person may employ such
a mode of experiencing effortlessly. As the philosopher John Dewey notes:
When we are only passive to a scene it overwhelms us we must summon energy and
pitch it at a responsive key in order to take in. For to perceive, a beholder must create his
own experience. (Dewey, 1934 in Wilkinson, 1991: 240).
3
The works are Alexander Baumgartens Aesthetica (175058) and Immanuel Kants
Critique of Aesthetic Judgement (1790).
2

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For Kantians, the question What is a work of art? makes sense and is answerable.
Works of art belong to a separate category of things, recognized and attested by
certain highly gifted individuals who view them in a state of pure contemplation,
and their status as works of art is absolute, universal and eternal. (2005: 14)

Acknowledging that for some viewers discovering that an object has an


unanticipated aesthetic dimension4 may be precisely what turns it into a work of
art (2005: 21), Carey offers his own, more inclusive definition of art:
Anything can be a work of art. What makes it a work of art is that someone
thinks of it as a work of art. For Danto [American art critic and philosopher], that
someone must be a member of the art-world. But no one, except the art-world,
believes that anymore. (2005: 29)

This definition seems to relocate art firmly within the centre of life, and yet at
the same time denies art-as-concept any differentiating special qualities, thus
negating the need for its existence, which is surely not what Carey intends. Rather,
what seems to be being said is that anything can promote what could be termed
an artistic response, i.e. one in which sensations, emotions and/or intellect are
engaged in a more richly involving way than in normal everyday functioning.
In addition, a defining characteristic of some (but not all) engagements, in
accordance with the modern concept of art, may be that they are not goal driven, or
designed to achieve something specific (in other words, they can take the form of
a disinterested, aesthetic response). The question then would be whether such an
artistic response is necessarily accumulated through encounters with the arts. In
other words, is it an initially art-specific learned behaviour formed by the process
of enculturation that then influences how life may be perceived, or a more general
mode of experiencing life that is then brought to bear on the arts?
In fact Carey despite his relaxed definition of art does seem to believe that
the arts function differently from home-made aesthetic experiences (although he
never overtly states this); both may effect transformative shifts of consciousness,
but art is taken to do this more effectively or efficiently than do life-triggers,
particularly if the art-form happens to be literature. Carey (who is unsurprisingly a
Carey is quoting Danto, who maintains that perceiving an unanticipated aesthetic
dimension to surroundings or objects does not transform them into works of art. Several
aestheticians acknowledge that there is an aesthetic dimension present in all experience, as
exemplified by the following remark by J.N. Findlay:
I do not doubt that cats, cows, birds and other less exuberant animals may at times fall
into a zestful, purring meditation which I should not hesitate to call aesthetic. Aesthetic
attitudes are not, therefore, the special perquisite of a long-haired class produced in
certain relaxed societies; they are latent wherever consciousness is; they are, if you like,
consciousness itself, in its purest, least instrumental self-activity and self-enjoyment.
(Findlay, 1967, in Wilkinson, 1991: 302)
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literature academic and literary critic) sees literature as superior to the other arts
(2005: 173) because it stocks your mind (2005: 208), is a mind-changer and an
escape but develops and enlarges the mind as well as changing it (2005: 210)
and has the capacity to cultivate and enfranchise the readers private, individual
imagining (2005: 213). There is the sense here of a stimulus (literature) that is
somehow custom-made to fascinate and stimulate the human mind in a way that
life is not, but if so, precisely in what ways or how is art special?
Origins of the Arts
One logical approach to locating the potential differences in the way art and life are
experienced is to examine the origins of art itself: why it arose when it did and what
purposes it served. Art in its broadest sense is commonly said to have originated
in the transition between the Middle- and Upper Palaeolithic era, which in western
Europe occurred between 45,000 and 35,000 years ago (Lewis-Williams, 2002:
40).5 Sometimes termed the Creative Explosion, it was at this point that Homo
sapiens began to replace the Neanderthals: new behaviours of modern humans
were established and suddenly, so it seems to many researchers, art appeared and
human life became recognizable (Lewis-Williams, 2002: 40). Identifying even an
approximate start date for art is problematic, however. Evidence arising from the
study of artefacts may be fascinating, but also tantalizing because it is inevitably
incomplete. Thus, although the earliest musical instrument still in existence a
bone flute from Geissenklosterle, South Germany is acknowledged to date from
c. 36,000 years ago during the period in which modern man arrived in Europe
(Richter et al., 2000), musical behaviours and instrument making may have
been established far earlier (Cross & Morley, 2009). Meanwhile, while present
evidence suggests that representational art dates back 30- to 40,000 years (Mithen,
2005; Lewis-Williams, 2002), fragments of ochre featuring geometric engravings
considered to be c. 100,000 years old have been discovered in the Blombos cave
in South Africa (Henshilwood et al., 2002; Watts, 2009). Watts has suggested that
body painting, employing red ochre to create abstract designs, is likely to have
occurred in rituals that date from at least 143,000 years ago (Watts, 2009: 90).
If art is examined not from the perspective of object or artefact, but as an
activity or behaviour, it would seem entirely logical that its origin is likely to far
pre-date any surviving material remains. Ethologist Ellen Dissanayake has offered
the hypothesis that art has its roots in earlier, less differentiated, genetically
determined behaviour and tendencies (1988: 8), which, she posits, date back
to the pre-Palaeolithic period c. 300 million years ago. It seems plausible, then,
The dates are approximate. More accurately, as Mithen observes, the creative
explosion was not so much a single big bang as a whole series of cultural sparks that
occurred at slightly different times in different parts of the world between 60,000 and
30,000 years ago (1996: 172).
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that identification of the broader behaviours that shaped artistic creation and
response may provide some insights as to psychological characteristics present
in contemporary engagement with the arts, together with reasons for artistic
involvement. Ethology, as a discipline, seeks to study the relationship between
animal behaviour (actions and habits) and environment, focusing particularly on
behaviours that appear to carry adaptive value. It will therefore be helpful briefly
to review key evolutionary hypotheses regarding the adaptive value of the arts
before proceeding further.
The Arts as Adaptations
An adaptation is an inherited physiological, affective or behavioural characteristic
that reliably develops an organism, increasing its chances of survival and
reproduction (Dutton, 2009: 9091). Additionally, such predispositions may be
expressed in a variety of cultural and individual manifestations (Dissanayake,
2008b: 245). Evolutionary psychology which views the processes of mind
as largely constituting an array of psychological adaptations is of particular
relevance to the study of the ways in which the arts are experienced. Emotions,
theory of mind (understanding the actions and emotions of another individual) and
memory constitute examples of species-specific adaptations, but so may be the
capacity for altered experience, e.g. during trancing or dreaming. Psychologists
recognize that experience is never unmediated, that subjectivity is a construction
deriving from the influence of a range of personal and socio-cultural factors.
From an evolutionary perspective, innate preferences that were adaptive in the
ancestral environment may similarly mediate immediate experience (Tooby &
Cosmides, 2001).
A distinction is made between the proximate and ultimate benefits of an
adaptation. Proximate benefits concern the declared or overt motivation for the
behaviour and immediate, often feel-good psychological effect; ultimate benefits
concern selective value physiologically and culturally in survival/reproductive
terms (Dissanayake, 2008b: 246). It is worth noting, therefore, that any study
of everyday life experiences in the twenty-first century can provide inevitably
only empirical evidence regarding proximate benefits of particular behaviours.
Evolutionary theory is nevertheless relevant to the study of the way in which the
arts are perceived in the here and now because, as already intimated, it facilitates
a broader, more widely informed view of individual experience. As Cross and
Morley note (albeit discussing the specific case of music):
Human behaviour seems to be as much motivated by acquired cultures as by
inherited biology, and most musical scholarship and research has treated music
solely from cultural perspectives. However, over the last fifty years cognitive
scientific research has approached the perception of music as a capacity of the
individual mind, and perhaps a fundamentally biological phenomenon The

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problem of reconciling cultural and biological approaches to music, and
indeed the mind itself, remains. One way of tackling this problem is to view
music from an evolutionary perspective (Cross & Morley, 2009: 61).

From the early 1990s there has been an increase in theorizing concerning the
evolutionary function of the arts in general (e.g., Dissanayake, 1988, 1992, 2000,
2008a, 2008b, 2009; Miller, 2000a), as well as subject-specific discussions of the
adaptive function of music (e.g., Cross, 2003, 2008, 2009a, 2009b; Mithen, 2005;
Dissanayake, 2008, including contributions from these authors and others to edited
volumes such as Wallin, Merker & Brown, 2000; Malloch & Trevarthen, 2009), in
addition to studies of literature or narrative (e.g., Carroll, 1995, 2004), and visual
art (e.g., Coe, 2003). Reasons often given to support the notion of the potentially
adaptive function of the arts are their universality, long historical lineage, the way
they articulate important aspects of life (through both subject matter and function),
the large amount of time and resources devoted to them (unlikely to occur if
the arts were non-essential to life), the appearance of proto-artistic behaviours
in infants, and the fact that, like other adaptive behaviours, they afford pleasure
(Dutton, 2009: 30; Dissanayake, 2008b: 243). Theories proposed for the general
adaptive value of the arts and specific adaptive value of music necessarily overlap,
so I shall treat them together, focusing on the three most established hypotheses,
highlighting what they imply in terms of experiential involvement.
Three Adaptationist Hypotheses
Sexual selection Darwin noted that the highly coloured plumage and complicated
songs of some male birds might logically seem to curtail rather than enhance
chances of survival. He proposed that such apparently extravagant and unnecessary
features acted to advertise sexual fitness and desirability (Darwin, 1871). Miller
(2000a) has argued that the arts operate in a similar way to provide displays of
skill, intelligence and vitality that are inherently interesting to the receiver, and
that musical behaviours communicate a range of signals relating to well-being,
intelligence, fertility etc. This theory is attractive in that it offers reasons as to
why the arts may serve to hold and focus the attention of the perceiver. However,
it could be that appreciation of qualities such as creativity and virtuosity elicit a
response that is primarily emotional and that this experience of emotion might
not be a product of sexual selection (Cross & Morley, 2009: 65). Elaborate artistic
displays of costliness (specialness) might signal the importance of the content
they communicate and/or the occasion they attach to, rather than personal fitness
(Dissanayake, 2008: 51). It seems likely, then, that fascination with particular
characteristics of art may occur for a variety of reasons.
For example, the field of evolutionary aesthetics endeavours to account
for the sensory and cognitive appeal of certain shapes, forms, colours, sounds
etc., as originating in an adapted ability spontaneously to assess aspects of the
environment as advantageous or dangerous in terms of all-round survival, rather

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than sexual selection alone (Voland & Grammer, 2003). Attributes or qualities that
are admired may thus not be specific to the arts. Finally, with respect to music, the
presence of music is not specific to courtship, which may anyway occur entirely
successfully without it (Patel, 2008: 369).
Group cohesion This is perhaps the most commonly stated and, at first sight,
most plausible hypothesis for the adaptive value of the arts. From its earliest
appearance, art has been associated with ritual, serving to unify the separate
elements of ritual occasions and to increase psychophysiological impact, so
encouraging group cohesion. As Dissanayake notes, both art and ritual provide
a language in which otherwise incommunicable things can be said (1988: 89),
referencing worlds and ways of being beyond the ordinary and everyday, and
enabling beliefs and traditions to be disseminated (Coe, 2003) a particularly
crucial function in non-literate societies. The multi-modal impact of rituals
may have afforded consciousness-change, e.g. alternate states of consciousness
involving a reduced sense of self that could be construed as possessing survival
value in that they would promote an unquestioning adherence to the values of
ones society (Dissanayake, 1992: 133).
In terms of music, Dunbar (2003) has proposed that group singing fulfilled the
function of grooming at a distance, similarly triggering the release of endorphins
and enabling larger group sizes. Music may have enhanced group cohesion by
inducing a uniform emotional state in group members (Roederer, 1984) and
entraining action (Clayton, Sager & Will, 2005). Cross has hypothesized that
musics ambiguity of meaning (what he terms its floating intentionality) would
encourage collective experience involving a shared intentionality, i.e. shared
goals and understandings (Cross, 2008: 148), but simultaneously preserve
individual sense-making and experience, with no conflict between the two (Cross
& Morley, 2009: 70).
Cognitive and social development As well as promoting group cohesion, musics
capacity to afford a floating intentionality can be theorized to possess implications
in terms of individual fitness of group members. Specifically, Cross has suggested
that proto-musical behaviours may have possessed adaptive value in integrating
separate domains of behaviour and cognition in young infants (2003: 27), and that
the multivalent nature of music might continue to promote cognitive flexibility
across the lifespan, perhaps even being adaptive in the emergence of Homo
sapiens. Proto-musical motherinfant interactions are also commonly thought to
facilitate emotional bonding and primary intersubjectivity (Dissanayake, 2008a,
2008b; Trevarthen, 1999).
Difficulties in connecting Adaptationist Hypotheses to Involvement with the Arts
Theories concerning the adaptive value of the arts (in general and taken individually)
provide a range of hypotheses regarding ultimate causes of engagement that can

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usefully (if speculatively) inform understanding of present-day fascination with


making and receiving art. At the same time, they inevitably have their limitations.
First, the joint criteria for judging adaptive value survival and reproduction
have served to circumscribe the territory of enquiry (Dutton, 2009: 86) in
a way reminiscent of the reductionist bias of many wildlife films that suggest
that life consists of no more than eating, being eaten or procreating. Such a
view does not easily accommodate activities that merely improve quality of
life including the arts, in addition to non-art activities such as daydreaming,
dreaming, and other ASC.
Second, theorists commonly locate the occurrence of adaptations in a distant
ancestral environment the so-called environment of evolutionary adaptedness
(EEA). Literature scholar Joseph Carroll has observed that evolutionary
psychologists tend to regard the EEA as a relatively static condition in which the
human mind was fixed and finished sometime before the past 100,000 years or
so (Carroll, 1998: 478), which is problematic in that certain cognitive capacities
deemed to possess selective value appear to have evolved in more recent times
notably the imaginative faculty, crucial catalyst for the development of the arts.
Third, the emphasis on ultimate causes regarding adaptive functions of the
arts has sometimes led to the notion that modern interactions with the arts and
by implication, quality of experience are impoverished or lacking in some
way. For example, Magrini (2000) has argued that in the modern industrialized
West, individuals passively consume rather than actively participate in music. It
is indeed difficult to connect the social, communal, overtly pragmatic adaptive
advantages proposed for music to solitary, technologically mediated twentyfirst century listening, let alone to the autonomous armchair-listening tradition
apparent in the reception of Western high art music from the nineteenth century
onwards. Thus, although Dissanayake allows that modern listeners who respond
to music primarily as abstract patterns of sound may gain some adaptive social
benefits even if they listen passively and privately (2008a: 183), in addition to
stress reduction and personal neural rewards (2008a: 182), she also implies that
solitary involvement is at best a shadow of former musical practices, and at worst
represents the aberrance of modernity (2008a: 183).
Another problem that arises when relating adaptationist theories to the arts is
that adaptations are required to be specific, i.e. physiological, psychological or
behavioural functions that evolved for a particular purpose not served by any other
feature of an organism. This requirement seems fairly clear-cut when thinking in
terms of beaks, claws, body organs and the like, or processes such as homeostasis
or the fight-or-flight response, but is far less easy to assess in terms of engagement
with the arts. Thus, neuroscientist Aniruddh Patel has concluded that, as yet, there
is insufficient evidence to prove that music is a direct target of natural selection.
In other words, no adaptive features particular to music (with the potential
exception of beat-based rhythm processing) have currently been identified. Rather,
a capacity for music is seen as building on more generalized selected abilities,
such as language and auditory processing mechanisms. On this view the musical

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abilities of infants are discounted as indicators that humans are primed for music
because they may be byproducts of those generalized abilities (Patel, 2008: 385).
In addition, Patel notes that, unlike language, there is no critical period for the
acquisition of musical skills, and that normal mental development, courtship and
social cohesion can all occur in the absence of music.
Interestingly, the shared territory between music and language that Patel (2008:
3712) identifies babbling, vocal learning, the anatomy of the vocal tract, and
the FOXP2 gene (which supports both speech and music rhythm) provides some
support for the notion of a common origin for music and language (Brown, 2000;
Mithen, 2005). If such a protolanguage indeed pre-dated music and language, the
case for the adaptive potential of music would necessarily be strengthened. In fact,
difficulties in making the case for the adaptive value of music appear to be most
apparent when theorists reference a Westernized, narrow conception of music as
a commodified set of complex sound patterns produced by the few and consumed
by the many (Cross, 2009a: 8), i.e. where music is regarded as an exceptional trait
rather than general capacity. If music is viewed in ethological terms as a socially
inclusive, multimodal behaviour that in the ancestral environment was inseparable
from other art-forms (Dissanayake, 2008a), its selective potential, as one of a suite
of adaptations comprising a broader art behaviour, may be easier to ascertain.
A final difficulty in connecting adaptationist hypotheses to involvement
with the arts is that evolutionary terminology is not conceptually neutral. Terms
intended to articulate how physiological, psychological and behavioural functions
originated, inevitably also carry connotations to do with judgements of the
potential value, importance and status of such functions in life today. Thus, the
term by-product suggests an incidental, unimportant side-effect that does
not have a life of its own but is essentially about the thing that produced it
(Dutton, 2009: 91). Less prosaic, but occupying the same territory, is spandrel,
an architectural term appropriated by Steven Jay Gould (1979) that describes the
triangular space arising from the meeting point of rounded arches or windows
and the ceiling or dome of a building. Although in themselves inconsequential
automatic by-products of other decisions, such spaces may be subject to elaborate
decoration, so becoming beguiling foci of attention. Over time, spandrels may or
may not come to qualify as exaptations: features that now enhance fitness, but
were not built by natural selection for their current role (Gould & Vrba, 1982:
4). Meanwhile, Aniruddh Patels phrase transformative technology, is designed
to avoid what he terms a false dichotomy between notions of music as either
biological adaptation or frill (2008: 400). On this view, music is one of many
technologies written language, fire, aeroplanes, the internet etc. invented by
humans that transform life in various ways.
It is clear that different terms reflect different evolutionary stories (Huron,
2009: 1567), and that their utility in enabling understanding of why and how
people continue to become experientially immersed in the arts is consequently
circumscribed. Does it matter if features in their initial manifestations (including
a capacity to participate in and appreciate the arts) are conceptualized as by-

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products, spandrels, or products of indirect selection, if via co-option they become


exaptations that constitute a subsequent (and evolutionarily crucial) utility?
(Gould, 1997: 10755) As Dutton observes, a vocabulary of adaptations versus byproducts cannot make sense of the ancient origins and present reality of aesthetic
and artistic experience (2009: 102). More useful is the adoption of an approach
that draws on insights from evolutionary psychology and evolutionary aesthetics
to connect current experience to aspects of adaptive preferences (Dutton, 2009:
101). That is the approach I have chosen to take in this chapter.
Universals and the Arts
The psychologist Steven Pinker believes that the arts (with the exception of
narrative) are a by-product of other adaptations, namely the hunger for status,
the aesthetic pleasure of experiencing adaptive objects and environment, and the
ability to design artefacts to achieve desired ends (Pinker, 2002: 405). At the
same time he acknowledges that whether art is an adaptation or a by-product or
a mixture of the two, it is deeply rooted in our mental faculties (2002: 405), and
universal.
It is necessary to keep in mind that there are different levels of universality.
Absolute universals are those identified from the ethnographic record as occurring
across all peoples. Near universals allow for some exceptions (e.g. not all cultures
keep dogs), while conditional universals constitute an if-then group (e.g. calluses
may be common if certain activities feature within a culture). Lastly, statistical
universals describe cross-cultural features that occur at a rate well above chance
(Brown, 2004: 489). Universals may or may not qualify as adaptive traits, but
they are certainly relevant to any consideration of the origins of absorbed and
dissociated trancing because they highlight the relationship between the arts and
transformations of consciousness.
Thinking specifically in terms of the arts, Dutton (as mentioned in Chapter 6)
has identified a set of universal characteristics, some of which relate to stimulus
properties of art, and others to different qualities of experience, including direct
pleasure, emotional saturation, intellectual challenge and imaginative experience
(2009: 519). The anthropologist Donald Brown (1991) has published an extensive
list of behavioural universals, drawn from a broad survey of ethnographic
literature.6 Those relevant to the arts and trance include music, ritual, belief in the
supernatural/religion, dance, dreams, emotions, magic and mood or consciousness
altering techniques and/or substances. Music in particular has been identified as a
key component of ritual and means of linking with the supernatural (Nettl, 2005).
Crucially, Nettl identifies as a statistical universal the use of music to provide
some kind of fundamental change in an individuals consciousness music
6
These have been reproduced by Steven Pinker (a proponent of evolutionary
psychology) in his book The Blank Slate (2002).

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transforms experience (2000: 468). Could it be that a universal capacity to make


and receive art and a universal capacity for consciousness change are inextricably
linked? That is the thesis put forward by ethologist Ellen Dissanayake, via her
theory of making special, the topic of the next section.
The Arts and Consciousness Change: Making Special
Dissanayake has suggested abandoning the search for why people have or create art:
Rather than ask why people have art (that troublesome word), or why they create
fictions, make music or paint, the more fundamental evolutionary adaptive
question is to consider why our ancestors intentionally began and continued
as we continue today to make things special or extraordinary (Dissanayake,
2008b: 256).

Although her theorizing in this area dates back over twenty years and has been
widely cited (e.g. Pinker, 2002; Dutton, 2009), it has received little detailed
scholarly assessment. In accordance with the aims of ethology, Dissanayake
considers art as a behaviour, seeking to document why and how people artify
aspects of experience. She terms this process making special, meaning that
in all instances of this behaviour ordinary experience (e.g. ordinary objects,
movements, sounds, utterances, surroundings) is transformed, is made extraordinary (2008b: 255). The definition of art as behaviour rather than product erases
any sharp division between life and art, and it is possible to conceptualize many
contemporary instances of everyday absorbed or dissociated trancing similarly as
examples of the artification of the mundane:
In both functional and non-functional art an alternative reality is recognized and
entered; the making special acknowledges, reveals and embodies this reality.
Both artist and perceiver often feel that in art they have an intimate connection
with a world that is different from if not superior to ordinary experience, whether
they choose to call it imagination, intuition, fantasy illusion, make-believe
the unconscious or some other name (1988: 945).

Making special involves a deliberate intent to place [an] activity or artefact


in a realm different from the everyday that in the past would have been a
supernatural or magical world, as opposed to, for example, a purely aesthetic
realm (Dissanayake, 1988: 92).
Dissanayake considers the proclivity to experience something that is outside
order and the ordinary a psychological need (1988: 134), stating that the desire
for being boulevers, carried out of ones mind, seems to be provided for in
most societies and can be traced, in theory at least, back to very early times
(1988: 135). If this is the case, it is entirely possible that everyday, subtle shifts of

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consciousness, as well as dramatically altered states, may fulfil this psychological


need. As Killeen and Nash observe (with relation to the field of hypnosis studies):
If the hypnotic state were a chronic condition the individual would be profoundly
compromised in her adaptation to the rigours of reality. However, if mastery
of the physical and social environment is enhanced by brief, but compellingly
absorbing, forays into such a state hypnotisability might well improve the
fitness of the individual who possessed it, and of the society in which she lives
(2003: 222).

For Dissanayake, the process of making special is of adaptive value because it


can enliven routine but necessary tasks, so making it more likely that they will be
repeated. It also serves as the basis of rituals, facilitating the sharing of concepts
and beliefs, often of a sacred or spiritual nature for which language alone would be
inadequate,7 and in doing so, binding the community closer together.
Apart from making special, Dissanayake discusses many other potential
functions of the arts, identified by previous authors that point to reasons why
(a) the arts might have adaptive value, and (b) why they have the capacity to
function as rich sites of perceptual involvement. Thus, art utilizes forms, colours,
sounds and movements that have intrinsic sensory and cognitive appeal (2009:
537); it can be therapeutic; it allows direct, thoughtless (or unself-conscious)
experience, a kind of apprehension that has atrophied in modern times (1988:
66). Museums or concert halls can be seen as spiritual gymnasia where people
can stretch and develop their consciousness on works of art, and art can prepare
people for the unfamiliar because it exercises or trains our perceptions of reality
(1988: 67).8 Art can assist our ability to tolerate ambiguity (1988: 68), help to
give order to the world (1988: 69), and act to dishabituate perceptual response.
Antecedents of the Arts
In ethological terms, the proclivity to recognize and celebrate an extraordinary
as opposed to ordinary dimension of experience is not the only biologically
endowed need to have encouraged the making and receiving of art (Dissanayake
1988: 197). Dissanayake believes that the antecedents of the arts lie in the less
differentiated behaviours of both play and ritual. For over two hundred years, the
notion has been advanced that the roots of art lie in play and make-believe, i.e. that
art is an adult extension of childhood play (Schiller, 1795; Spencer, 1857; Freud,
1908; Huizinga, 1949). Of course, as Dissanayake observes:

7
As Feld notes, art and ritual both provide a language in which otherwise
incommunicable things can be said (in Dissanayake, 1988: 89).
8
The references are to Mandel (1967) and Dewey (1934) respectively.

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The line may be hard to draw between certain activities as art (involving work)
or play for example, in gardening, cooking, chess, or in playful doodles that
are later seen to contain the germ of an important artistic creation (1988: 79).

Like art, play might appear to have no survival value, to occur when basic needs
have been met, to involve a metaphorical dimension (an object symbolizes
something else, e.g. a box becomes a dragon), to be related to a desire for novelty
(change), and entertainment (shifts of consciousness involving absorption and
dissociation).9
Music, painting, literature etc. may be thought of as instances of a more general
artistic behaviour in the same way that territorial defence may be one instance of
the broader genre labelled aggressive behaviour. Viewed in this way, the behaviour
of art is considered as comprising what Dissanayake has termed filaments that are
integral to human nature (manipulative, perceptual, affective, symbolic, cognitive)
(Dissanayake, 1988: 108). Of course, such capacities rely on an interaction with
the environment physical and cultural in order to materialize10 and develop as
the following examples will illustrate:
The huntergatherer way of life could be said to have encouraged the
faculty of imagination, because of the necessity to remember and plan ahead
unlike a forager or grazer who eats more or less all the time (1988: 110).
The making of tools would encourage powers of symbolization,
abstraction, and conceptual thinking (1988: 113).
The need to make sense of the environment and impose order upon it would
encourage patterning tendencies and consequently a predisposition to
take pleasure in formal shapes and patterns (1988: 114).
The need for novelty (or neophilia) has been shown to be present in nearly
all species of animals, and that creativity is one consequence of the desire
for adventure (1988: 125).
Dissanayake maintains that it was the coalescence of such filaments (imagination,
symbolization, abstraction, conceptual thinking, patterning tendencies and
neophilia) during relatively recent stages of human evolution that prompted the
ability to make and receive art. In fact the underlying suggestion seems to be that
art, because of the desire to make special and experience alternate realities, was
an inevitable consequence of the development of such abilities. Although it is
impossible to confirm these hypotheses via the archaeological record, empirical
As a general behaviour, in adaptive terms, the benefits that have been claimed for
play include role play of life situations, socialization, and a way of increasing physical and
mental fitness.
10
Cross expresses this well: to adopt an evolutionary perspective is not to buy into
a view that behaviour is determined by our genes; a more rounded account interprets mature
adult behaviours as shaped by both biology and culture (2003: 24).
9

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176

studies of infant development (e.g. Papousek, 1996; Trehub, 2001) have provided
persuasive evidence that the capacity for aesthetic response is innate.
Infant Experience and the Proclivity for Artistic Involvement
Studies of infant development indicate that the effects of evolution are most
evident in infant rather than mature, enculturated behaviours (Cross, 2003: 24),
and a range of work points towards elements present in infant experience that
can be said to constitute proto-aesthetic responses, including that of Howard
Gardner. Gardner has argued that physical functioning is intrinsic to early mental
constructions of experience, and has represented this in a theoretical model of
physical modes and vectors (1973). Modes concern actions to do with spatial
interaction, such as investigating, grasping, pushing, while vectors concern
time and quality, such as quick versus slow, regular versus irregular. Because
these experiences are pre-verbal, experience can be categorized as direct or
unmediated by an abstract conceptual system. Dissanayake has related Gardners
thinking to aesthetic response, observing that [l]ater experiences of nonverbal
phenomena, particularly the kinds of devices that are traditionally used in the arts
seem especially akin to the[se] processes (1988: 146).
In other words, the arts may tap into pre-verbal, somatic ways of experiencing
pattern, intensity, rhythm, texture etc., and this immediate way of knowing (typically
described by individuals in terms of pure sensory awareness) may be therefore
innately fascinating. Complementary to somatic forms of engagement would seem
to be Daniel Sterns notion of vitality affects (1985), which proposes an amodal11
mode of experience in which infants gain knowledge of the external world through
a channel of abstract forms of feeling (Juslin & Sloboda, 2001: 79), defined as:
a set of elusive qualities related to intensity, shape, contour and movement.
These characteristics are best described in dynamic terms such as crescendo,
fleeting, explosive, diminuendo, etc. (Juslin & Sloboda, 2001: 79).

In her more recent work (2000, 2008a, 2008b), Dissanayake has proposed that
proto-musical bonding interactions, involving visual, kinaesthetic as well as vocal
signals that evolved gradually between ancestral mothers and infants as early as
two million years ago (2008: 172) contributed to an evolved neural propensity
to respond cognitively and emotionally to dynamic temporal patterns that is
evident in various contexts of affiliation, including the arts (2008: 169). Protoaesthetic features, then (e.g. repetition, elaboration, exaggeration, subversion
Stern states that amodal perception is the capacity to take information received
in one sensory modality and somehow translate it into another sensory modality The
information transcends mode or channel and exists in some unknown supra-modal form.
It is not, then, a simple issue of a direct translation across modalities (1985[1998]: 51).
11

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177

of expectation), formed a behavioural reservoir from which early humans


could draw when at a later point in evolution they deliberately began to artify
(Dissanayake, 2008b: 257).
The important point here is that research concerning both ethology and infant
development implies that we may be psychobiologically primed for art both to
receive and make it , and that there were clear reasons for the so-called creative
explosion or Transition c. 35- to 45,000 years ago. If art arose to meet psychological
needs and reflected the capacities of the human mind, it is unsurprising that it may
function to effect shifts of consciousness. What remains to be explained is why the
coalescence of abilities (themselves in part genetic and in part shaped by interaction
with surroundings) that led to the creative explosion happened at the time it did.
The emerging filaments described by Dissanayake suggest that the beginnings
of art relied on basic changes in brain functioning, and it is these changes that
evolutionary psychology and cognitive archaeology have addressed.
Cognitive Catalysts for the Arts: An Evolutionary Perspective
Theories put forward by Mithen (1996) and Lewis-Williams (2002) concerning
the origins of art also offer clues as to how and why the arts may function as
particularly efficient sites for perceptual engagement and shifts of consciousness.
The work of both authors may be located in the developing field of cognitive
archaeology, meaning that they use material remains to make inferences as to the
belief systems and thought processes of past minds, informed by perspectives
from evolutionary psychology.
Mithens theory is founded on a central tenet of evolutionary psychology,
namely that intelligence consists of a collection of cognitive domains (also referred
to as mental modules, multiple intelligences). The minds of early hominids12
are presumed to have operated in a domain-specific way, i.e. information was
not transferable between intellectual domains, whereas the Homo sapiens mind
features an interaction between domains (termed cognitive fluidity). Mithen
argues that cognitive fluidity was a consequence of language and that it was
language that allowed metaphor-making a pre-requisite of artistic creation to
occur. Thus for example:
a Neanderthal or pre-sapiens Homo in Africa could not have taken their
knowledge of a lion (from natural history intelligence) and combined it with
knowledge about human minds (from social intelligence) to create the idea of
a lion-like being that had human-type thoughts a type of anthropomorphic
thinking that is pervasive in all modern minds. (Mithen, 2005: 264)

12
In other words, primates classified with modern humans as part of the Hominidae
family (Mithen, 2005: 122).

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The Case of Music


In 2005 Mithen expanded his theory of cognitive flexibility and the origins of art
to include music. He suggests that there was a single precursor for both music and
language, dating from c. 1.8 million years ago (2005: 257),13 capturing the qualities
of this proto-language via the acronym Hmmmmm which stands for Holistic,
manipulative, multi-modal, musical and mimetic (2005: 253).14 Hmmmmm is
said to have declined during the creative explosion, which was marked by the
differentiation of music and language, referential language taking over the role of
information exchange, while music became a prime communicator of emotions
and symbolic, metaphorical meaning (2005: 266).
Mithen states that there is therefore a compulsion among modern humans
to communicate with music (2005: 272) that dates back to early times, and that
(echoing Dissanayakes construct of making special), music became a way of
articulating supernatural or other realities whether by beating the shamans
drum or through the compositions of Bach (2005: 272). If this is the case, it
is possible to argue that, from the beginning of its history, music was used as
a means to access alternate realities and effect consciousness change. Musics
adaptive value, then, was in encouraging cognitive and social flexibility because
of its floating intentionality (Cross, 2003, 2009) and lack of declarative meaning
(2003: 27). Mithen characterizes music as potentially one of a variety of material
symbols that may function as cognitive anchors or extensions of mind, which
enable conceptualization of ways of being in and thinking about the world beyond
the everyday.
A rather different explanation of the appearance of art has been put forward by
David Lewis Williams. Criticizing Mithens theory for its reliance on the existence
of mental modules, he maintains that the Western emphasis on intelligence has
marginalized the full range of human consciousness in human behaviour (2002:
111), and adopts instead the notion of a spectrum of consciousness (2002: 122) as
the framework on which to build his hypothesis. Key to Lewis-Williamss theory
is the phenomenon of sleep in particular, the dreaming process.
13
Mithen chooses not to use terms such as protolanguage or musilanguage because
neither is a user-friendly term; indeed the use of the part-word language is misleading
(2005: 26).
14
Infant-directed speech (IDS), represented typically by the prosody evident in
motherbaby interaction, may constitute the closest thing to Hmmmmm that we can
find in the world today (Mithen, 2005: 275). Hmmmmm is described as holistic because
it is hypothesized to have involved whole phrases, rather than specific units of meaning;
it is manipulative because a general essence rather than occasion-specific meaning is
communicated via an arbitrary phonetic sequence (2005: 254); it is multi-modal because it
included gestures, body language and mime; its musical nature included sound synaesthesia
(imitating animal calls and sound of movement), and such mimicry extended to imitation of
physical movements, i.e. iconic gestures (2005: 253/4).

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Dreaming, Imagining, Artifying


Until recently, it was assumed that sleep was particular to vertebrates (e.g. mammals
and birds), but research over the last decade has identified sleep-like periods of
inactivity in fish, flies and worms (Allada & Siegel, 2008; Zimmerman et al., 2008).
Sleep therefore appears to be evolutionarily ancient and, at least in warm-blooded
vertebrates, constitutes the most fundamental alternate state of consciousness,
conjectured to have adaptive value in rejuvenating the immune response (Opp,
2009). Very few creatures exist without it (cave-dwelling genetically blind fish
are one intriguing example). There is a crucial difference, however, between the
sleep patterns of cold-blooded vertebrates and invertebrates when compared with
those of warm-blooded vertebrates. The former do not dream indeed, the limited
nervous systems of invertebrates are incapable of accommodating such higher
functions (including the process of thinking). By contrast, the neurophysiologist
Michel Jouvet has indicated that birds and mammals all experience periods of what
he terms paradoxical sleep (commonly known as REM or dream sleep), ranging
from between 5 and 15 seconds in the case of birds, to 100 minutes in humans
and 200 minutes in cats (Jouvet, 1999: 55). Dreaming can either be considered
in reductive terms as an epiphenomenon of neuro-physiological evolution a byproduct of consciousness or (more usefully) as an adaptation (albeit a very early,
non species-specific one).
The selective value of dreaming has been the subject of considerable
speculation, the detail of which is beyond the scope of this book. Biologically
informed theories include Jouvets notion that instinctive behaviour may be
programmed and modified during REM sleep (Jouvet, 1978); so-called brain
conditioning (where dreams function as the equivalent of a CD or DVD cleaner
whose use maintains optimum function, but where content is irrelevant); the
function of dreams as virtual reality simulators that enable problem solving
(Barrett, 2001); or the rehearsal of behaviours to surmount threats in waking
life (Valli & Revonsuo, 2006); the dreaming process as deactivating unfulfilled
expectations that have triggered arousal of the autonomic nervous system in
waking life (Griffin & Tyrrell, 2003). Whatever the potential adaptive value of
dreams, a key difference between the dreaming process in humans and that in
other warm-blooded vertebrates is that humans have the capacity to recall their
dreams. Lewis-Williams draws on Edelmans (1994) description of higherorder consciousness (which like Damasios notion of extended consciousness
emphasizes the ability to conceive of past, present and future and to experience
an autobiographical self), to emphasize that long-term memory made possible
the recollection of imagery witnessed when dreaming or in altered states arising
during rituals (2002: 190). Such visions were then fixed artified through being
painted or engraved on cave walls either when experiencing visual images in a
lightly altered state of consciousness, or when recollecting them at some other
time (2002: 195).

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Lewis-Williamss notion that the beginnings of artistic creation arose from the
fixing of imagery witnessed in the altered states of dreaming or ritual trancing,
points towards an affinity/shared potential perceptual territory between art,
imagination, shifts of consciousness and the REM stage of sleep, when dreaming
is said to take place. Nathaniel Kleitman, the pioneer of sleep research who first
identified the REM state, maintained that the REMnon-REM cycle of sleep also
informed the rhythms of waking life (a topic I return to in the final chapter). It is
therefore possible to conceptualize the process of imagination as a waking entry
to aspects of the REM state (Griffin & Tyrrell, 2004: 148), and daydreaming
constitutes a common instance of this. The psychiatrist Ernest Hartmann, who
has specialized in the study of dreams and daydreaming, suggests the notion of a
continuum of consciousness from focused waking activity to somewhat looser
thinking that characterizes much of our lives, then to clear-cut daydreaming or
reverie, and finally to dreaming at the other end (2004: 260). Looser thinking
and day-dreaming constitute instances of spontaneous everyday trance (as defined
in Chapter 3). Although these phenomena occur in a variety of circumstances, it
is notable that individuals often choose consciously or unconsciously to use
various art forms (particularly music) to accompany, shape or condition individual
experience at such times, suggesting that the arts act as convenient and particularly
efficient enabling mechanisms in terms of promoting or framing such shifts of
consciousness in daily life.
Whether the beginnings of referential language or long-term memory were
the capacities that enabled art to occur, both Mithens and Lewis-Williamss
theories stress the importance of the imaginative faculty as essential to the
production and perception of the arts. What might be the adaptive purpose of
such imaginative trancing?
Imagination and Absorption: Intersections between Mind and Environment
Involvement in fictional, imagined worlds appears to be a cross-culturally
universal, species-typical phenomenon (Tooby & Cosmides, 2001: 7).

Imaginative involvement is often considered in relation to narrative and there is


widespread support for the adaptive value of fiction (Carroll, 2004; Dutton, 2009;
Pinker, 1997). Via fiction individuals may rehearse behaviours, gather information,
and gain entry to the complex intellectual and emotional world of another. As
Dutton states, stories provide low-cost, low-risk, surrogate experience (2009:
110). The notion that human minds have been shaped by natural selection for
imagination is supported by the emergence of pretend play in toddlers at around 18
months old. What, though, of other types of apparently non-utilitarian, non-verbal
artistic and non-art aesthetic experiences also mediated by imagination?
Evolutionary psychologists John Tooby and Leda Cosmides observe that:

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we have a number of words, such as fun, beautiful, amazing, diverting,


fascinating, absorbing, recreational that refer to rewarding states of mind
that are elicited in involvement in certain non-instrumental activities (2001: 8).

They believe that such aesthetic reactions may have an underrated adaptive
value, as part of a set of actions produced to cause fitness-enhancing changes
to the brain/mind (2001: 14), including play, learning and dreaming. Their
theorizing is based on the premise that the information and structure necessary
for the proper development of an adaptation may be stored in the world as well
as in the genome (2001: 15). Aesthetic behaviours occur when the adaptation is
still at a developmental (organizational) rather than functional (operational) stage,
when mind is being calibrated with environment. In accordance with the tenet
from evolutionary aesthetics that features advantageous in terms of survival will
be perceived as intrinsically interesting, the authors suggest that:
many invariant natural phenomena stars, fire, faces, complex skyscapes and
landscapes, harmonically resonant acoustic phenomena, pure tones and colours,
fractally invariant sounds such as wind, rain, and running water are experienced
as beautiful because their invariant properties allow them to function as test
patterns to tune our perceptual machinery (Tooby & Cosmides, 2001: 17).

On a utilitarian level, then, genetic templates are unconsciously compared with


environmental realities, but on a subjective level all we experience out of this
nonconscious process is the peaceful pleasure of relaxed attention (2001: 18), i.e.
a sense of absorption. Viewed in this way, the arts can be seen as functioning as
specific manifestations of a broader-based aesthetic behaviour, i.e. the aesthetic
mode of experiencing functions primarily as a means by which humans may locate
themselves within and attune themselves to external surroundings, but may also
find subsequent expression via engagement with the arts.
A Note on the Arts and Imagination
Tooby and Cosmides advocate a broad understanding of what might qualify as
fiction, including any representation intended to be non-veridical, whether story,
drama, film, painting, sculpture etc. (2001: 7). Understood in this way, it becomes
possible to query the assertion that, of the arts, only narrative possesses adaptive
value primarily because of its capacity to communicate information, and to prompt
the imaginative faculty to rehearse emotional and behavioural responses that may
later be utilized in real life.
Information-gathering about the world via imaginative involvement is clearly
not the preserve of verbal forms of fiction. Different musics, for example, also
afford opportunities for vicarious experience: to try out unfamiliar and familiar
moods, emotions and types of consciousness. Music provides a versatile platform
for imaginative involvement via the evocation of personal associations and

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reminiscences, and musical codes or topics may act as short-hands that bring
to mind a range of historical and cultural references. In fact a range of art-forms
affords ways of knowing and being-in-the-world. The difference is that such
experiences are unmediated by words (leaving aside words about the art form/
experience of course). Un-verbalized, un-intellectualized, sometimes occurring
beneath the level of conscious awareness, non-verbal mentation constitutes
perhaps the most immediate, direct form of experiential involvement possible.
Differences between Experiences of Life and Art
The previous discussion of ethological and ethological perspectives concerning
the origins of art has revealed that the ways in which art and life are experienced
are inextricably linked, and so feature perceptual similarities. We return then to
the questions posed at the start of this section, namely how (or if) experiences of
life and artworks differ, and whether art is special in some way? An example
explored earlier in this book the difference perceptually, between contemplating
surroundings and viewing a painting will serve to clarify these questions.
The incomplete sensory information provided by a painting encourages the
viewer to complete the experience via heightened mental and/or imaginative
involvement. As Clarke observes (2005: 1378), because paintings lack a third
spatial dimension, the viewer cannot literally physically enter and explore the
picture (interruption of perceptionaction cycle) and a passive sense of aesthetic
contemplation (i.e. a particular form of trancing) is likely to result. Additionally, a
painting itself, through its overall composition and detail, could be said to provide
an organizing frame for experience.
Most obviously perhaps, the experience of art may be seen to be primed;
viewers approach paintings knowing that they are works of art (therefore there is
a definite something to see, in the same way that the tourists interest is directed
to landmarks on a guided tour). Thus they may have preconceptions as to what
to expect to look for, e.g. they might be likely to focus on specific details and
perhaps notice the relationship between these and a larger form or narrative; they
might try to pick up the emotional feel that they imagine the painter intended to
project. Their experience could be said to be directed by both stimulus properties
and personal preconceptions in a way that experiences of daily life are not.
Following on from this, the viewer might expect to adopt a certain role when
viewing a painting observer contemplating artwork which encompasses learned
assumptions as to behaviour appropriate within an art gallery (e.g. periods of being
static in front of the painting, moving closer or further away or from one side to
another). Different artistic contexts involve different behavioural rituals (e.g., the
behaviour just described might be inappropriate at a traditional Western concert or
when watching a play) that in turn impact upon and shape quality of experience.
Such ways of engaging with art may not be so prevalent pre-adolescence although
a child of seven or eight may be cognitively able to appreciate art because

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concepts of art have not been established, and involvement stems primarily from
art as process or activity (Gardner, 1993: 141). Results from interviews conducted
by Gardner with 121 children ranging in age from 4 to 16 revealed that at 4 to 7
years old children had no notion of art as being different from other aspects of
the world (1982: 105). By ten years old children were beginning to define the
properties of different art forms and to recognize style, but did not expect to be
able to assess art-works critically. Gardner cites the response of one child who
explained that people who have thought longer have better opinions (1982: 107).
The observations just made can attach to a greater or lesser degree to a
range of art forms, suggesting that the arts can function as pre-packaged forms
of involvement, prescribing specific behavioural forms of engagement that satisfy
a desire for shaped experience, as opposed to the individually manufactured/
customized involvements of daily life.15
Steven Pinkers well-known negative assessment of the purpose of music
serves inadvertently to articulate this difference between experiences of life and
art. Developing his metaphor of music as auditory cheesecake, an exquisite
confection, he states that:
Cheesecake packs a sensual wallop unlike anything in the natural world because
it is a brew of megadoses of agreeable stimuli which we concocted for the
express purpose of pressing our pleasure buttons (1997: 5245).

Leaving aside Pinkers reductionist bias represented by the belief that the enjoyment
art may offer is merely a non-adaptive hijacking of the pleasure circuits of the
brain (1997: 524), it is the intentional arrangement and concentration of stimulus
properties by another (author, painter, composer etc.) in a way designed to focus
human attention that seem to mark out art as potentially different.
Summary: The Origins of Experiential Involvement
what evolutionary aesthetics asks for is to reverse-engineer our present tastes
beginning with those that appear to be spontaneous and universal in order to
understand where they came from (Dutton, 2009: 101).

The conjectural stance of evolutionary psychology and evolutionary aesthetics


might seem remote from, and even at odds with empirical study of the psychological
processes involved in contemporary everyday experiences of listening to music
That is not to say, therefore, that art is intrinsically more involving than life. If it
does not suit the perceivers taste, mood or current needs it can be instantly ignored. Prior
to the nineteenth century, as I have observed, art was more closely tied to function and
therefore not necessarily the object of aesthetic contemplation. Rather it was potentially
involving in a different way, i.e. through active participation (Williams, 1976: 41).
15

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and of engagement with other art-forms. However, given the substantial


amount of evidence indicating that mind is shaped by biological inheritance and
environmental interaction, it seems reasonable to consider the impact of both
personal and socio-cultural influences and innate preferences upon subjective
experience, even if observations regarding the latter must remain speculative.
The following propositions, which draw on evolutionary perspectives, seem
particularly pertinent to modern-day instances of everyday trancing in conjunction
with the arts and life:
Trance appears to be a psychobiological predisposition
Anthropological, evolutionary psychological and ethological evidence supports
the notion that humans are biologically predisposed to trance. Transformations
of ordinary experience are universally sought, and all cultures employ mood- or
consciousness-altering techniques (e.g. Brown, 1991). ASC can be seen as optimal
behaviours that afford selective benefits at individual and group level for several
reasons. In terms of individual wellbeing they may promote psychophysiological
renewal, innovative thought and creative possibility, together with insulation or
relief from trauma and pain. At group level, sacred and secular rituals may unite
individuals through the shared experience of particular types of consciousness,
whether taking the form of high-arousal emotional contagion or low-arousal
meditative states.
The Arts are linked inextricably to Transformations of Consciousness
The emergence of the Arts appears to be an inevitable consequence of the
evolution of the imaginative faculty. Apart from aiding the rehearsal of behavioural
outcomes, imagination made possible the contemplation of alternative realities
and possibilities beyond everyday experience. The Arts provided a channel of
expression for such insights, and, above all, a medium by which the contents of
individual minds could be shared, thus aiding cultural fitness.
The capacity to imagine, likely facilitated by the development of long term
memory and language, is intimately connected to the process of dreaming the
most fundamental ASC and the process of creating or receiving art has been said
to possess a close affinity to the REM state of sleep (Griffin & Tyrrell, 2003: 14).
Objects of art essentially provide an imaginative experience for both producers
and audiences (Dutton, 2009: 58), i.e. interactions with the arts necessitate a move
away from a baseline or ordinary state of consciousness that may be considered
a form of trancing. Dissanayake has underlined the close association between
the arts and consciousness change, traditionally evident in many cultures. Art,
understood as a behavioural process, is used to make special or artify activities,
thus making ordinary experience extra-ordinary (Dissanayake, 2008b: 255).

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Broader, General Behaviours inform Experiential Involvement in the Arts


The same perceptual processes and abilities, originally found in ritual and play,
that are recognized by ethological theory as the catalyst for the creation of art
(imagination, which allows symbolization and metaphor to occur; pattern
recognition; the tendency both to impose order on and seek novelty within
surroundings) necessarily remain as key activators of perceptual engagement, and
are reflected in the properties of art considered to have the potential to trigger
involvement. The arts are thus custom-made for the capacities of the human
mind, and so may function as particularly effective sites of involvement.
From an evolutionary perspective, the aesthetic mode of experiencing originated
as a means by which humans could locate themselves within and attune
themselves to external surroundings. It subsequently came to inform experiential
involvement with the arts.
a. Involvements may, at times, accord with pre-literate ways of knowing
evident in infant behaviour (proto-aesthetic behaviours, somatic knowledge
of the physical world, amodal experience). Such ways of knowing employ
a pure multi-sensory awareness, in relation to both life and art-works.
b. From the perspective of evolutionary aesthetics, the sensory and cognitive
appeal of various attributes of the arts particular shapes, forms, colours,
sounds etc. originates in the adapted ability to assess aspects of the
environment as advantageous or dangerous in terms of survival. This
suggests that the so-called non-utilitarian disinterested aesthetic or
artistic response derived from a broader mode of experiencing that is
simultaneously utilitarian and intrinsically fascinating.
c. From an evolutionary psychological perspective, one reason why absorbing,
aesthetic experiences may also be conceptualized as utilitarian and adaptive
is if they are regarded as opportunities that afford perceptual attunement to
invariant features of the environment (Tooby & Cosmides, 2001).
Taken together, these three viewpoints suggest that human beings could be said
to be primed for art, and it therefore has the potential to be innately fascinating to
them.

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Chapter 9

Everyday Music Listening


Experiences Reframed

We trail the entertainer, ever ready to take a book, turn a dial, buy a ticket pay any
bribe to hold consciousness at bay. (Nell, 1988: 64)
The best things in life have a soundtrack. (iPod Nano marketing literature)

Reassessing Multimodal Listening Experiences


Everyday music listening episodes in the industrialized West often take the form
of technologically mediated solitary experiences that feature a distributed and
fluctuating attention, where music is just one of an array of stimuli that impact upon
experience. The characterization of this type of listening as necessarily passive,
superficial and distracted has been challenged in recent years (e.g. Dibben, 2001;
Clarke, 2005; Bergh & DeNora, 2009; Bull, 2007; Born, 2010). Instead, listening
is increasingly understood as a performative process, in that the listener actively
draws music into relation with other things (Bergh & DeNora, 2009: 107). The
interaction between perceiver, music and other things may take various forms:
from an informal blending of sensory impacts, to an interaction between music,
elements of external environment and internal concerns, or an entirely inwardly
focused experience where music triggers imaginative involvement. In this reflexive
model of listening, the listener is indeed also a composer/performer; she is like
the craftsperson who finishes off an object, or a picture framer/hanger or arts
curator who situates a musical item (Bergh & De Nora, 2009: 106).
A substantial number of phenomenological reports of everyday listening
experiences that highlight the frequency of attentional flux, also describe single
experiences that feature both an attentive focus on musical attributes, and moments
of multiply directed attention. This is interesting, in that it indicates that ways of
listening to music in daily life may be qualitatively more varied than listening
studies to date might suggest. Of course, at times, everyday listening experiences
may be entirely functional and superficial not about the music, but about what
it can provide in terms of mood regulation or aiding task completion etc. However,
on other occasions experiences may be characterized by an autonomous focus on
sounds themselves (including the way they are structured) and/or an heteronomous,
multimodal focus, which is highly involving. Importantly, as Clarke observes
(2005: 135), both autonomous and heteronomous ways of listening may be highly

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integrated and intensely concentrated. In other words, multimodal, heteronomous


listening does not always equate to casual listening, but may have revelatory
potential by virtue of the worlds that it brings together (Clarke, 2005: 146).
The simplistic notion of concentrated concert-hall listening versus inattentive
(multiply directed) everyday listening thus appears redundant, at best functioning
as a crude marker of external behaviour, as opposed to internal experience. Despite
this, as I noted in Chapter 1, it is still not unusual to find musics experiential
role in everyday life described metaphorically in terms of a sonic wallpaper,
background, accompaniment or soundtrack, in listening literature.
To assume the existence of an attentional foreground or background in the
first place is to imply as these metaphors do that subjective experience is
always determined by the conscious cognitive process of selective (narrowed)
attention (also frequently described metaphorically as a zoom lens (Eriksen &
Murphy, 1987), or spotlight (Posner, 1980), rather than a distributed attention
that can be equanimous in the sense of constituting a broad, extended awareness
embracing all the things in a single grasp (e.g. contemplating the horizon) (Vaitl
et al., 2005: 114). By contrast, advanced everyday mobile technologies, such
as Apples iPad, promote a mode of experiencing that is at once multi-impact,
multimodal and characterized by attentional flux. Individuals increasingly expect
to be able to run several computer applications (software packages) at the same
time, enabling media multitasking that allows them to experience different media
simultaneously, or flip restlessly between a range of attentional foci (e.g. listening
to music, accessing the web, interacting with virtual realities, sending emails,
watching TV programmes). Such devices can also create a selective attentional
focus by backgrounding certain applications particularly those that offer the
facility to listen to music:
Now you can listen to audio from compatible third-party apps while checking
email, surfing the web, playing games, and performing other tasks. So when you
want to follow a ball game or listen to music, your productivity never skips a
beat. (iPhone marketing literature)

It is tempting to argue that the sensory and informational bombardment provided


by mobile communication devices triggers attentional exhaustion, trivializes,
devalues or desensitizes experience, and accentuates the use of music as barely
perceived sonic wallpaper. It is true that the total acoustical environment or
soundscape (Schafer, 1977) encountered by individuals on a day-to-day basis,
impacts on ways of experiencing music, contributing to what Becker has termed a
habitus of listening i.e. a culturally situated, yet often unconscious predisposition
to listen in particular ways that is accumulated over the years through learned
interactions with our surroundings (Becker, 2010: 130). Listening practices of
many individuals certainly seem to be informed by the multimedia nature of film
and television and the ability, through personal control of technology, to dip in and
out attentionally of such experiences. Due to the ubiquitous nature of the media in

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everyday life, some listeners may be uncomfortable with the notion of silence,
choosing instead to customize, or normalize their sonic backgrounds with music
at every opportunity a practice of so-called ubiquitous listening (Kassabian,
2001). Thanks to technology, music can be used to saturate the process of dayto-day living, posing as a quality of the environment (Kassabian, 2001, para.
16) and people especially children who have known no other scenario may
become so desensitized by the presence of a constant soundtrack to all activities,
that music literally passes by unnoticed.
However, free phenomenological report, as this book has shown, tells a more
complicated story about everyday music listening. Not everyone appears to
experience (or desire) wrap-around surround sound 24/7, or to feel uncomfortable
in the absence of technically mediated solitude, or to crave connection to some
kind of networked, electronically omnipresent shared subjectivity (Kassabian,
2001) not even all teenagers. Instead, different listening stances emerge.
For some people, listening to music may be intrinsic to particular everyday
life scenarios, but at other times they may actively choose not to hear music, and
therefore music is not ubiquitous within their lives. Concentrated and directed
and casual and distracted ways of listening do not map neatly onto special
(unusual) and ordinary (mundane and habitual) contexts nor relate consistently
to general levels of musical engagement. Music may be experienced with an
absorbed attentive focus one moment and a bare awareness of its presence the
next, whether it is listened to in a concert hall or at a bus stop, and whether the
person doing the listening is a professional musician or only mildly interested
in music. Using factors such as experiential context, activity and preference for
music, to distinguish modes of listening commonly termed everyday in listening
literature (low intensity, easily forgotten, linked to habitual actions, focusing on
extra-musical factors, marked by distraction and flux (Sloboda, 2010: 495) from
apparently non-everyday modes of listening (high intensity, memorable, music
as main focus of attention, autonomously experienced), can be misleading.
I have stressed that distributed, fluctuating attention does not have to signal
inattention, i.e. a situation where listening to music is not the sole focus does not
necessarily indicate that it is perceived as a form of acoustic furnishing accessory
in the way that some authors have suggested. For example, music may synthesize
with an (often non-verbal) task, i.e. become part of that thing [Will]; alter
perception of the environment, e.g. make the sun come out more; or encourage
seeing in a kind of new way like a leaf falling [Sophie]. In fact, it could be
argued that, even when listening to music is the main activity, music may never
be consistently autonomously experienced (e.g. it may be connected to a visual
stimulus, or evoke fleeting or enduring indexical, iconic or symbolic extra-musical
references), and attention can fluctuate, involving a mix, at times of internally and
externally prompted thought.
Such a viewpoint is supported by Dibbens (2001) identification of two ways of
listening, to acoustic attributes and source specification (in a broad, culturally
inclusive sense), that may sometimes overlap. It is possible that these two ways

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may contribute to forms of everyday trancing in a variety of ways, e.g. absorption


or relaxation resulting from a focus on the sounds themselves, or an inward
concentration of attention, where thoughts concerning the source are triggered,
resulting in a dissociation from external surroundings.
The variety of everyday ways of listening that individuals experience include
the following scenarios:
Music may be barely perceived and attention is focused externally on the
completion of some task. Awareness may be narrowed, but orientation to
reality is high.
Music may be experienced as indivisible from, or blending with the
environment. The focus of attention is still outwards, but music encourages
a selective, often heightened awareness and a change of reality orientation.
Music, as a main source of attention, may trigger associations and/or
memories, involve analytical listening, or a reduction in thinking processes
(through focus on sound alone) to the point of non-thought. This favours a
narrowed awareness, inwardly focused attention, and a lessened orientation
to reality. It is sometimes (but not always) an eyes closed situation.
The activity of autonomous, directed listening has not always constituted the
norm, being fairly recent even within the Western classical concert model. In
his cultural historical account of Parisian concert life, Johnson (1995) has drawn
upon a diverse range of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century sources (including
novels, newspapers, personal correspondence and architectural plans) to show
listening as moving from the multi-sensory and iconic to the privately emotionally
absorbing and symbolic, influenced in part by socio-cultural change and notions
of individuality.
In the main, however, the phenomenon of listening with a multiply directed
attention has been identified and discussed with reference to non-Western
contexts, e.g. the Javanese attentional notion of ram (meaning busy) evidenced
by the multimedia, multi-impact, lively scenario of a wayang golek performance
(Sutton, 1996). The topic of multimodal listening in contemporary twenty-firstcentury life in the industrialized West has only received academic recognition
within approximately the last decade. Why might this be so? The obvious answer
is that the proliferation of portable sound devices in recent times means that music
is currently used to interweave with and mediate a more diverse range of contexts
and activities than ever before. Another reason is that non-Western multimodal
experiences of music are often located within specific live, ritualistic contexts, and
are seen to possess clear function and value (e.g. serving to reinforce communal
beliefs, and effect particular transformations of consciousness that encourage
group cohesion), whereas everyday multimodal experiences in the industrialized
West are private, individually customized experiences that lack the institutional
framework that would make their function overt, often occur spontaneously, and
are soon forgotten.

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Experiential episodes characterized by a distributed and fluctuating attention


accord with an understanding of consciousness as dynamic and processual, where
psychophysiological states are not actually static or discrete, but constantly
in transition. Rather than necessarily indicating inattention and superficial
engagement, the multifaceted nature of distributed listening may afford trancing
because:
1. It simultaneously mobilizes and synthesizes different modes of experience,
e.g. listening, seeing, doing, imagining, tasting, smelling (formal clinical
hypnotherapeutic inductions are designed to operate in a similar way),
leading to a heightening or alteration of cognitive and sensory awareness.
2. It effects a disjunction between original musical context and current listening
space that encourages a sense of derealization or depersonalization.
Trancing and Everyday Experience
Subtle shifts of consciousness are an integral, if seldom studied, feature of everyday
life. The free phenomenological reports of subjective experience referred to in this
book suggest that individuals experience a range of mildly or superficially altered
(or alternative) states of consciousness on a day-to-day basis, in connection with
a range of activities, including listening to music. Comparison of these everyday
instances of trancing makes it possible to advance some conclusions regarding
behavioural/phenomenological characteristics common to engagement in musical
and non-musical activities, together with observations concerning the nature of
experiential involvement:
1. The mode of engagement affects the nature of experience. State of
mind, motivation, belief, habitual ways of responding (behavioural and
perceptual), interact with properties specified by the stimulus to determine
perceived level of involvement. For example, the perception (representation)
of certain music as trancey (based on a history of association of musical
materials with narrative contexts), is difficult to separate from the induction
(feeling) of trance. To enable shifts of consciousness to occur, there
must be compatibility between the environment and ones purpose and
inclination (Kaplan, 1995: 173), explaining why stimuli act in different
ways at different times and why the same activity can constitute a simple
occupation on one occasion and a source of involvement on another.
2. The quality of involvement, or type of trancing is shaped by the mode
of interaction, i.e. whether creating, making, doing or receiving. For
example, interruption of the perceptionaction cycle encourages the mode
of aesthetic contemplation (Clarke, 2005), the favoured trance model of
Western High Art reception.

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3. Activities provide different entry points for trance. Involvement may


centre on physical attributes or source specifications of the stimulus, in
addition to a fusion of modalities (where perceptual affordances arising
from different activities combine). This would explain why the same
stimulus may be perceived to act in different ways at different times, but
also rules out the notion of entirely arbitrary effect.
4. Technology can channel involvement. Headphones may define a virtual
three-dimensional space, or music that attaches to a particular time and
place may be resituated in a completely different context, altering the
perceivers relationship with their surroundings. Recordings also allow
individuals to shut out the external environment and retreat into all kinds
of different worlds with their own affordances moving/dancing, structure
following, emotional responding, close listening, reminiscing, visualising
(Clarke, 2010: 13). Film and TV channel involvement more prescriptively,
e.g. camera work may direct visual attention or create sensory overload via
a bombardment of images.
5. Descriptions of individual experiences indicate that common points of
involvement across different activities include: a focus on actual, virtual or
narrative movement, restricted stimuli, repetition, multi-sensory actual or
imaginative involvement.
6. Absorbed and dissociated experiences can occur when already in an altered
state, e.g. having exercised, at the onset of sleep, or when not fully awake,
in conjunction with alcohol intoxication or if suffering from the effects of
depression.
7. Absorbing and dissociative experiences differ slightly in emphasis:
absorbing experiences demonstrate a preoccupation with/immersion
in sensation, whereas in dissociative experiences the prime concern
(unconsciously or consciously) is either to escape from ordinary
consciousness via the use of an activity to numb or flood it, or to closely
observe yet simultaneously detach from self and surroundings, leading to
a position of third-person dissociation from the experience rather than a
fascination with particular elements of perceived stimuli. Alternatively,
dissociative episodes may be characterized by a sharpening of awareness
and an inclusive, vivid, even preternatural sense of experiencing things as
they are, yet at the same time feature the feeling of standing outside or at
one remove from immediate experience.
8. Experiences across a range of activities attest to the importance of
imagination and fantasy to the trancing process, and imaginative
involvement commonly occurs even when occupied by straightforward
everyday activities (e.g. washing up or digging). The Arts are intrinsically
imaginative, i.e. they require the perceiver to contribute actively to sensemaking, and thus can be seen as offering particularly effective potential
sites for trance. From an evolutionary perspective, the emergence of
art was an inevitable consequence of changes to the way consciousness

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functioned. Evolutionary hypotheses that either long-term memory or


language favoured the development of the imaginative faculty (including
the ability to think metaphorically and symbolically) suggest that the arts
are custom-made for the capacities of the human mind. Ethologically,
the access to alternative realities (shifts of consciousness) that the arts
afford, is viewed as an endemic function, enabling abstract thought and
psychobiological regulation, and offering adaptive value via the sharing of
concepts and beliefs, so binding communities together.
9. Absorption is most profitably viewed not as a trait but as a form of
attention. It is thus a fixed, specified process utilized by all human beings
that may be present to a greater or lesser extent at different times of life and
is dependent upon context, motivation, mood and perceptual habits. The
emphasis on trait studies in absorption research may simply be an extensive
and enduring example of the fundamental attribution error (F.A.E.) that
stresses the importance of personality traits rather than interactions with
context.
Trancing and Everyday Music Listening Experiences
At the end of Chapter 7 I suggested that music, in comparison with other activities,
provides a particularly broad range of entry points to trance. The question then is
whether the qualitative nature of music listening experiences featuring absorbed
or dissociative trancing displays fundamental differences from transformations
of consciousness experienced in conjunction with non-musical activities. Is it
possible to speak of a kind of consciousness (or consciousnesses) that are specific
to interaction with music? The notion of a musical consciousness is at once
alluring and potentially confusing. One of the reasons for this is that the phrase
kinds of consciousness can be understood in two rather different ways.
Sense 1. In consciousness literature kinds of consciousness are understood in
the sense of generic forms of consciousness, e.g. Blocks (1991) categories of
phenomenal (pure) and self-consciousness, which roughly equate to Damasios
(1999) core and extended types of consciousness, or Edelmans (1992) primary
and higher forms of consciousness all of which distinguish between forms of
present-centred awareness and a self-awareness informed by memory. A single
experience is likely to feature more than one kind of consciousness, whether
simultaneously or in flux. The focus here is on processes of mind, including what
Husserl (1913[72]) termed noeses, meaning the subjective intentional acts of
consciousness, i.e., perceiving, willing, imagining, etc. (Pekala, 1991: 34).
Sense 2. It is also possible to conceive of kinds of consciousness that are specific
to particular activities. This does not mean that there are specialized processes of
consciousness that come into play only when hearing music, or reading a book

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etc. a notion that would be both illogical and bizarre. Rather, the phrase kinds
of consciousness is really most profitably understood as a shorthand for kinds of
conscious and nonconscious experience which appear qualitatively different to the
perceiver because they are mediated by different phenomena. The emphasis is on
the contents of consciousness what Husserl termed noema (objects or data), i.e.
the specific feelings, visualizations, thoughts, transformations of consciousness that
arise as a consequence of interaction with particular stimuli. A single experience
is likely to feature more than one type of generic consciousness, i.e. experiences
that are mediated by the activity of listening to music (an example of musical
consciousness) may include a fluctuation between a raw, pure awareness, an
analytical access consciousness, and an extended consciousness.1 Experiences
of different stimuli may demonstrate some degree of shared phenomenology, as
the comparison of musical and non-musical experiences in this book indicates.
For example, an episode of contemplative, primarily non-verbal absorption
featuring a focus on stimulus attributes rather than associated meanings, can occur
when listening to music or taking in a beautiful view. That said, the example
Ive just given also introduces a broader, primary difference regarding ways of
experiencing: namely, the qualitative difference between those experiences that
are mediated by language and those that are not.
The referential function of language restricts direct, unmediated perception,2
substituting the meaning which is what is seen with the meaning of what is
seen (Bortoft, 1996: 55), so constructing a consensually agreed reality of distinct
objects and concepts, i.e. the experience of the world as a series of condensed
meanings (Bortoft, 1996: 53). Because verbal language is associated with an
autobiographical or extended consciousness where acquired knowledge,
memories and previous physical and emotional experiences shape perception
(Damasio, 1999), words might seem to be a prime means by which people locate
themselves in the world, but as Damasio has stressed language is a translation
of something else, a conversion from nonlinguistic images which stand for entities,
events, relationships, and inferences (1999: 107). As Zbikowski observes with
relation to music:
Differences between attending to music and language reflect the different
memory systems exploited by music, systems which are for the most part much
more focused on the salient features of dynamic processes than on lexical
knowledge or relationships between objects and events (2011: 190).

The memory systems he identifies as implicated in musical consciousness are


connected not only to audition, but to emotion and motor function, serving to
trigger a cascade of mental images that are not primarily verbal. Damasio
These terms were defined in Chapter 2.
Some Eastern philosophical traditions, e.g. Buddhism, seek to deautomatize

1
2

thought, thus reinstating a direct, unmediated present-centred awareness

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(1999: 337) states that such non-linguistic mental patterns or images may occur
in any sensory modality auditory, kinesthetic, visual, olfactory, gustatory. Any one
(or a combination) of these modalities may yield wordless thought.3 Notably,
verbal language is not a prerequisite of core consciousness (sense of self in the
here and now). Instead, core consciousness provides the unvarnished sense of
our individual organism in the act of knowing (Damasio, 1999: 125). Clarke notes
that core or primary consciousness of music direct awareness of and perceptual
engagement with the acoustic attributes and dynamic processes of music is
pre-linguistic, both developmentally and phylogenetically (Clarke, 2010: 195.
As a consequence it is embodied in overt behaviours such as physical movement,
singing, attentional focus, and covert behaviours such as changes in heart rate,
breathing, pilo-erection, sweating, endocrine balance and muscle tone (Clarke,
2010: 195). Instances of strong trance mediated by music provide a vivid example
of core consciousness in action, and Beckers theory regarding the suspension
of extended consciousness at such times (including inner languaging) appears
entirely plausible. Importantly, a primary consciousness of music includes
interactions between perceiver and music that manifest below the level of
conscious awareness and are therefore inaccessible to language.
Of course, extended or higher-order consciousness also impacts upon musical
experience. Musics frequent coupling with words, together with its irrevocable
intrinsic worldliness, and its capacity to specify extra-musical personal, physical
and cultural sources, makes it an effective medium for processes of imagining,
reminiscing and reflecting that may or may not possess a partially linguistic
quality. The musical consciousness evident in multimodal listening would seem to
be necessarily multifaceted because it is created from the simultaneous mediation
of experience by multiple stimuli. In fact, in such scenarios it may be incorrect to
think in terms of a musical consciousness at all. Instead, multimodal experiences
can be conceptualized as a composite of different types of conscious and nonconscious experience (visual, musical, imaginative etc.), any one of which may be
more dominant at a certain moment.
Core consciousness and extended consciousness appear closely intertwined
in many experiences of listening to music (Clarke, 2010: 202). Certainly, free
3
The discussion here is necessarily limited to forms of consciousness experienced
when listening to rather than performing music. Ideally, forms of consciousness arising
from the creation and reception of music would be considered in tandem. Jerrold Levinson
(2003) has proposed that the experience of performers in a range of temporal art forms
e.g. music, mime or dance may be primarily wordless, i.e. that there are different forms
of thought, of which language is just one manifestation. Musical improvisation in particular
emerges as a clear instance of what Levinson terms intrinsic musical thinking. Given the
connection often made by scholars between verbal language and extended consciousness,
it is reasonable to argue that an intrinsically musical form of thought, unfolding in real
time, might similarly serve to mediate experience and be associated with particular forms
of consciousness.

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descriptions of the subjective feel of everyday experiences frequently describe


abrupt shifts from a present-centred absorbed focus on sounds, colours, textures,
to contingent associations, recall of memories, daydreams and imaginative
fantasies. Clarke has observed that the fluctuation of attentional focus between any
number of the multiple perceptual possibilities afforded by music accords with the
philosopher Daniel Dennetts multiple drafts model of consciousness in which
perceptual and cognitive activity proceeds in constant and overlapping parallelism,
with different streams of this parallel processing reaching consciousness at
different times (2010: 207). Far from signalling distraction, then, multimodal
listening would seem to be an inevitable expression of the processes of mind.
In sum, although it is incorrect to speak of a specifically musical kind of
consciousness (in terms of processes of consciousness entirely dedicated to the
perception of music), music would appear closely aligned to the processes of
consciousness because of its dynamic and temporal nature, because it escapes
formalised social controls (Clarke & Clarke, 2010: viii) because it can access a nonverbal self and a non-verbal way of knowing, and perhaps most fundamentally
because of its transcultural association with consciousness transformation.
Free descriptions of everyday trancing suggest that differences between
musical and non-musical involvement seem to stem from the musics adaptability
to circumstance due to its very lack of prescriptive content. Because it is not
a prime means of communication, but a semantically malleable, embedded,
portable and literally invisible medium, music is easily customized, and therefore
intimately connected with notions of personal identity and mental self-regulation.
The following conclusions regarding everyday musical trancing may be advanced:
1. Music offers a notably wide variety of attentional loci sound, association,
reminiscence, mood , and a persons primary focus can be on acoustic/
physical properties, meaning (including source specification), emotion or
fusion of modalities, suggesting that it facilitates a wide variety of ways of
trancing.
2. Music is a particularly effective mediator of experience, able to bind/
blend together elements of external awareness that might otherwise be
perceptually separated, and to link internal thoughts and associations with
external concerns, and so emerges as an activity especially suited to shifts
of consciousness involving a fusion of modalities.
3. Music can offer a freedom from verbal language an alternative mental
space where the interaction between perceiver and stimulus does not have
to constitute an effortful decoding of informationally precise meaning. This
makes it a prime way to dissociate from self or surroundings if tired, ill
or upset, or to access a positive, enduring self-essence that is not defined
by external interaction. Free descriptions of subjective experience indicate
that music is particularly likely to feature in spontaneous or actively sought
experiences involving a reduction of thought and relaxation of critical
faculties, or in situations involving dissociation from self. This does not

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mean that effortful decoding is never part of the experience of art, but that
it constitutes just one way of engaging with it. The viewpoint that music
(and other media) can function as mental spaces providing freedom from
words may be contentious, but substantial support for it is provided by
research in the diverse fields of music therapy, infant behaviour, ethology,
cognitive archaeology and beyond. In particular, Mithens (2005) theory of
a preliterate system of communication consisting of an inherently musical
proto-language resonates with aspects of pre-verbal communication
between mother and infant documented by Stern (1985) and others
(e.g. Papousek, 1996; Cross, 2003).
4. Music provides a way to legitimize reminiscence by offering a temporal
window for reflection, and by prompting association and recall while at the
same time allowing attentional room for exploring internal imagery.
5. Music, through its internal organization, can effectively disrupt temporal
synchronicity, allowing the perceiver temporarily to stand outside clock
time via entrainment to a different time frame. It is because music replaces
one time frame with another that it is so efficient, enabling listeners to
use musics internal momentum to change or maintain mental/physical
momentum in conjunction with various tasks. This precisely managed
articulation of psychological time (Kramer, 1988) is qualitatively different
from the general percept that time has passed quickly or stopped because
it is the perceived elements of flow or stasis themselves that constitute a
source of involvement.
Consciousness Change and Cultural Context
The principal focus of the previous two sections has been on the characteristics
of experiences of absorbed and dissociative trancing. The final part of this chapter
locates these everyday individual experiences of shifts of consciousness in a
broader context, highlighting in particular the impact that cultural practices and
values have on subjectivity. The framing of shifts of consciousness as altered
states implies a move away from a baseline normal state of functioning, i.e.
that similarities of conscious experience outweigh unique aspects of subjectivity
a viewpoint that references nomothetic/idiographic approaches adopted in
personality research. Pinker has asserted that innate universal mental mechanisms
can underlie superficial variation across cultures (2002: 37). The notion that
differences in external behaviours may mask underlying commonalities to do with
mental processing seems sensible. It is less easy, however, to concur with Pinkers
remark (arising from a comparison of Western emotion of anger with Ifalik
(Micronesian) song, that the stimuli and responses may differ, but the mental states
are the same, whether or not they are perfectly labelled by words in our language
(2002: 39). While neuro-psychological processes may be universal (because as
humans we share a common biology), the contents and raw feel of subjective

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experience may appear very different. Because of this, while individual reports
undeniably describe alterations in perception (implying change from something
else), at a phenomenological level of analysis it may be useful (following Zinberg,
1977: 1) to term these alternate, i.e. different states of consciousness, that occur
at different times for different reasons. This then avoids the difficulty of defining
or quantifying a baseline norm or range of ordinary states of consciousness.
Just as the notion of clock time is a culturally determined construct that
developed for social convenience, ordinary consciousness is a malleable concept,
subject to variation across individuals, and informed by a range of factors,
including evolution, age and culture. For example, the conscious experience of
children differs from that of adults: for very young infants perception is amodal,
and un-channeled by the medium of language, while older children may spend
a substantial part of their daily lives in pretend-play activities seemingly
unconnected to external reality. Piaget, among others, has stressed the importance
of fantasy and make believe as a tool for the child to assimilate the external
environment (Rhue, 2004: 116), and J.R. Hilgard believed that, because of this,
children are easily able to access hypnotic or alternate states without induction.
Indeed, measurement of hypnotic response via hypnotic scales has shown that, at
seven years old, children show measurable hypnotic ability, which peaks at the
age of twelve (Rhue, 2004: 120). The subsequent decline is linked to the need for
teenagers to develop reality-based competencies (2004: 121).
The altered states theorist Charles Tart has emphasized how the gradual process
of enculturation inevitably shapes subjective experience, resulting in the creation
of what he terms consensus reality:
the world we spend most of our time perceiving is a highly socialized part of
the physical world which has been built into cities, automobiles, television sets.
So our perception may indeed be realistic, but it is so only with respect to a very
tailored segment of reality, a consensus reality, a small selection of things we
have agreed are real and important. (Tart, 1983: 39)

For Tart, the medium of language is a prime means by which consciousness is


shaped to fit such a selective reality (1983: 45). In terms of Western culture, he
observes a subsequent impoverishment in terms of opportunities to learn about
and experience transformations of consciousness:
Most of us know how to do arithmetic, speak English, write a check, drive an
automobile Not many of us, though, were trained early in childhood to enter
a d-ASC [discrete altered state of consciousness] where we can be, for example,
possessed by a friendly spirit that will teach us songs and dances, as is done
by some cultures. Nor were most of us trained to gain control over our dreams
Each of us is simultaneously the beneficiary of his cultural heritage and the
victim and slave of his cultures narrowness (Tart, 1983: 41).

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In a similar vein, Judith Becker has observed: We have no reputable trance states
no summer camps for learning to trance (2004: 13).
It is not that people in the industrialized West are totally unaware of ways
in which consciousness may be altered, or do not, at times, seek to relinquish
mundane ways of experiencing as an evening stroll through the centre of any
town at the end of the working week, visit to a theme park, or attendance at a
stadium rock concert is likely to illustrate. Many individuals are familiar with,
or practise various forms of meditation and meditation (more so than trance)
has for some time been a legitimate topic of enquiry for Western scholars. People
intentionally seek to relax (often styled as down-time or me-time by the popular
press), acknowledge that they daydream, talk about going off into a trance, and
may be taught by personal trainers how to access the zone or achieve flow.
However, shifts of consciousness particularly those occurring in daily life
often lack contextualization within a larger institutional/ritualistic framework,
which affects the extent to which they are publicly recognized or understood.
Erika Bourguignons (1973) meta-study of ethnographic literature relating
to the presence of altered state in 488 societies world wide has confirmed the
distinction between individual and institutional contexts for trance. She observes
that cross-culturally, alterations of consciousness may take the form of private
individual, unpatterned [non-prescriptive, secular] states and those that occur in
culturally patterned institutionalized [prescribed, sacred] forms (Bourguignon,
1973: 8). Bourguignon includes highway hypnosis, panic states and rage
reactions among other examples in the first category, and experimental sensory
deprivation states, brainwashing states, religious conversion and spirit possession
states in the second (1973: 8). She suggests that private, informal and secular
experiences (category one) are less likely than category two experiences to
be framed as trance by the perceiver. Thought of in musical terms, everyday
instances of solitary involvement with music playing and listening, at home and
on the move accord with Bourguignons first category, while strong experiences
of music at live concerts, church services, nightclub events, etc. appear closer
to the second.
Notions of Normal and Abnormal Experience
Another factor that illustrates the situatedness of subjective experience is the
way in which different cultures promote and value particular kinds of experience
including notions of what constitutes a normal (normative, culturally sanctioned)
or abnormal (pathological) state of consciousness ([DSM-IV-TR], 2000: 783).
Thus, in the West, trance itself has often been considered a pathology (Becker,
2004: 13), a viewpoint given its initial impetus by the nineteenth-century physician
Charcots belief that hypnosis was a form of hysteria (Waterfield, 2002: 221),
and which was subsequently given popular currency by depictions of trance in
literature and film and television.

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A significant number of the individuals who took part in my research expressed


a concern both when interviewed and in their written reports that their
experiences were odd or different in some way from those of other people.
This concern was typically couched defensively, e.g. I know this seems strange
but, or as a question, e.g. Im weird arent I?, perhaps hinting at a desire
for experience to be verified as normal in some way by an outsider (myself).
Towards the close of the project, all participants were invited to comment on a
draft write-up of the research, in order to control for interpretative discrepancies.
One unpremeditated consequence of this was that the participant checking process
prompted individuals to compare personal experiences that would ordinarily
remain unvoiced and private, so providing a rare opportunity to normalize
subjectivity. As one commented:
I felt nicely comforted to know others have similar experiences to my own in all
sorts of ways. No man is an island kind of thing Ive never been one for trying
too hard to understand the processes, conscious or unconscious, of my own
mind, so its reassuring to see your own experiences reflected in others. [Max]

Notably, a small number of reports referenced what appears to be an extreme


form of spontaneous dissociation where both self and surroundings recede from
awareness. This state was recognized by William James (1890: 404), who termed
it vacancy or absence.
Most people probably fall several times a day into a fit of something like this:
The eyes are fixed on vacancy, the sounds of the world melt into confused unity,
the attention is dispersed so that the whole body is felt, as it were, at once,
and the foreground of consciousness is filled, if anything, by a sort of solemn
surrender to the empty passing of time. In the dim background of our mind we
know what we ought to be doing: getting up, dressing ourselves, answering
the person who has spoken to us but somehow we cannot start it is not
sleep; and yet when roused from such a state, a person will often hardly be able
to say what he has been thinking about. (1890: 404)

Phenomenological reports of spontaneous vacancy were frequently connected to


administrative work tasks which were not perceived as intrinsically stimulating.
The change of awareness (to a dissociated state) happened effortlessly, and the
sense that there had been an absence of consciousness only emerged at the end
of the episode, when individuals abruptly noticed themselves (as if momentarily
detached from physical body) acting in unconsciously determined ways (staring
aimlessly, or tapping rhythm of music on a pen). Such episodes were described

Everyday Music Listening Experiences Reframed

201

as reveries or daydreams although differing from daydreams in their lack of


internal content:4
As I sit at my desk I am filled with a sense of dread as I realize I have been
staring aimlessly at the document I was supposed to be scrutinizing for errors.
As I awaken from my reverie I reassure myself that it cant have been as long
as it seemed it always seems like you have been away for a long time my
next thought is always about how frequently I have these daydreams most days
at some point and if they signify a deeper malaise. [Gary]

Garys concern that such episodes may signify a deeper malaise suggests that
he has some preconception as to what might constitute normal and abnormal
states of mind. In a society that is target driven, prizes efficiency and places work
at the defining centre of life, such mental absences are likely to be considered
undesirable and therefore odd, and indeed findings from so-called pace of life
studies support this view.
Social psychologist Robert Levine has examined what he calls the tempo
of culture via an empirical comparison of working speed, walking speed and
interest in clock time across thirty-one different countries. He concludes that [p]
eople are prone to move faster in places with vital economies, a high degree of
industrialization, larger populations, cooler climates, and a cultural orientation
toward individualism (1997: 9). By contrast, the slowest nations, Mexico, Brazil
and Indonesia, all have hot climates, a collective cultural bias, less attachment
to clock time, and consequently tend to accept periods of rest and time-freethinking during the working day as the norm (1997: 46).
In fact, because experiences of spontaneous vacancy seem to occur when tired
or understimulated, it is possible to speculate that, rather than being abnormal,
they might constitute a natural means of self regulation at the level of unconscious
perception. Could it be that everyday trancing with and without music arises in
part as a behavioural response to a psychobiological need for brief periods of
rest and recuperation? Ill end this section by reviewing briefly a select body
of evidence from the field of chronobiology (the study of biological temporal
rhythms), examining the relationship between subjective experience (specifically
consciousness transformation) and the sleepwakefulness cycle.

Experiences reference items included in Shors 28-item Personal Experiences


Questionnaire (1960, 1962, 1970), which taps hypnotic-like experiences in daily life,
using the results to assess potential hypnotizability. Item 8 refers to staring off into space,
actually thinking nothing, item 11 to staring at something and for the moment forgetting
where you were, and item 20 to experiencing everything becoming blurry and strange.
4

202

Everyday Music Listening

Transformations of Consciousness: A Psychobiological Perspective


In 1953, the widely acknowledged pioneer of modern sleep research Nathaniel
Kleitman (in collaboration with Eugene Aserinsky) discovered that periods of
rapid eye movements occurring at roughly 90-minute intervals during sleep,
corresponded with the times when dreaming took place. This phenomenon was
defined as the REM state, and constitutes an example of ultradian cyclicity,
i.e. a physiological or behavioural cycle that occurs more than once during a 24hour (circadian) period. Kleitman proposed that this 90-minute cycle of REM
non-REM stages of sleep,5 which he termed the basic restactivity cycle (BRAC),
also manifests itself in waking hours (Kleitman, 1963). He later employed
evidence from ultradian studies of animal and human behaviour, sensory function,
physiological arousal and rhythmicity, to support his hypothesis (Kleitman, 1982).
Although the notion of a waking equivalent of a REMnon REM sleep cycle is
at present insufficiently substantiated, Kleitmans theory is widely respected and
continues to inform the field of ultradian studies (e.g. Lloyd & Rossi, 2008). Rossi
(1991) has proposed that instances of everyday spontaneous trance constitute
manifestations of the rest phase of the BRAC, and can be understood as an
ultradian healing response.
The psychologist and altered-states theorist Andrjez Kokoszka has taken a
particular interest in Kleitmans ideas concerning the impact of biological rhythms
upon subjective experience in waking life. He notes that, even though findings
from several physiological studies have suggested that biological rhythms are
integral to consciousness change, psychologists have largely ignored the territory
of ultradian studies (2007: 94). Kokoszka also observes that mildly alternate
states of consciousness, which he terms SASC (superficially altered states of
consciousness), have been little studied in comparison with more extreme or
profound shifts of consciousness (PASC). Yet 96 per cent of a survey sample
of 174 Polish students reported the occurrence of SASC, more than half of them
experiencing them often (Kokoszka, 199293). A further survey, conducted among
Polish tourists aged between 15 and 72, revealed that mildly alternate states often
involved staring off into space, thinking of nothing, being absorbed in a book,
film or TV, or engaged in a monotonous activity (19992000: 1745).
Kokoszka has adopted the psychiatrist Antoni Kpiskis model of information
metabolism a metaphorical device that makes an analogy between information
processing and energy metabolism to explain the pattern behind such shifts of
consciousness. He theorizes that there are optimal thresholds for interoceptive and
exteroceptive stimulus reception (1993: 169), which accord with the resting and
active stages of the BRAC. The active phase corresponds with periods of goal-

5
Absolute consensus on the length of the BRAC in sleep and wakefulness has not
been achieved; a substantial number of ultradian studies are supportive of its existence,
although indicating that Kleitmans figure of 90 minutes is not definitive.

Everyday Music Listening Experiences Reframed

203

directed, externally focused attention, while the rest phase involves a passive,
inwardly directed focus featuring spontaneous, imaginative activity.
In an empirical study aiming to confirm the BRAC hypothesis and to establish
whether a restactivity pattern of consciousness was detectable, Duchniewska and
Kokoszka (2003) used diary and questionnaire methods to track thirty participants
(aged between 19 and 52) three times per day (at noon, 5pm and just before sleep)
over two consecutive days. Rest episodes occurred on average eight to nine times
per day and were common in the following situations: staring at something while
not mentally occupied by a main activity (e.g. when travelling, in the bath, in a
queue); stretching, yawning and walking round the room after a period of activity;
during an activity pursued for a period of time (e.g. when entering data on computer,
during housework or exercise); or when receiving a large amount of information.
Kokoszka (1990a, 1993b, 2007) argues that these rest episodes exhibit natural
and cultural protective mechanisms that counteract the detrimental effects of
information deprivation or overload. Natural protective mechanisms include the
phenomena described above, while culturally protective mechanisms include the
use of nicotine, alcohol, drugs, relaxation techniques, and cultural customs of
taking breaks for tea, lunch etc (Kokoszka, 2007: 96), sometimes termed takea-break periodicity. Of particular relevance to the absorbed and dissociated
experiences described in this book is a type of culturally protective mechanism
that is described as purposeful overstimulation:
This leads to disorganization of the information metabolism and seems to be the
most popular way to achieve rationally explained spontaneous vivid imagination
states including reading the newspaper, listening to the radio, watching television,
etc. while tired. Some other popular forms of rest may be sightseeing and
aesthetic and sexual experiences. (Kokoszka, 2007: 96)

Duchniewska and Kokoszka maintain that one of the difficulties of assessing the
presence of the BRAC in waking life, is that in the industrialized West it may often
be suppressed:
Due to social pressure from the goal-oriented activities of the day, natural
phenomena related to the rest phase of the BRAC (deeply passive state of
mind, high spontaneous activity of imagination and deep contemplation) are not
commonly accepted in the current culture the rest phase of BRAC can have
indirect expression in experiences accompanying some culturally accepted
behaviors (Duchniewska & Kokoszka, 2003: 155).

It is therefore possible that hobbies, for example (including music listening), may
function at one level as external justifications for periods of mental and physical
recuperation, behavioural masks that serve to validate a need for rest and
rejuvenation, used in a culture where merely to sit and stare (certainly in public)
might be considered at best a waste of time with no measurable end-product,

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and at worst offensive.6 The existence of the BRAC in waking life remains
hypothetical, but the phenomena that Kokoszka and Duchniewska cite recur many
times in phenomenological reports of subjective experience, in conjunction with
both artistic and mundane activities.7 Such a notion provides additional (albeit
speculative) support for the adaptive value of the arts.
Conclusion
Writing twenty years ago, Nell observed that the huge and immensely lucrative
entertainment industry has consciousness change as its entire stock-in-trade
(1988: 3). In fact, the arts can be seen as functioning as performative vehicles that
afford different types of trancing, dependent upon the context in which they are
experienced. In Western European civilization, broadly speaking, the separation of
such creative products from function (leading to a thing-like conception of Art,
deriving from eighteenth- and nineteenth-century thought)8 highlighted certain
ways of engaging (trancing via close-focused attention on art-object) as opposed
to involvements deriving from a more distributed, multi-sensory attention (e.g. the
art-in-context setting of a Javanese Wayang Golek performance). Paradoxically,
technology, while isolating art from its original context, has provided the means
to re-situate it in a variety of new settings, leading once again to multidimensional
engagement, though the subjective meaning and purpose of such experiences has
often remained hidden, ignored, devalued or misinterpreted, by both perceiver
and researcher.
The constructs of dissociation and absorption are implicitly present within
existing empirical studies/reports of everyday experience (e.g. Bull, 2003, 2004,
2007; DeNora, 2000), but have not previously been identified as such, or framed
as trance. Doing so highlights the self-regulatory nature of such episodes, enabling
them to be more highly valued, adds phenomenological depth to documentation
that has to date been primarily behavioural in emphasis, and importantly allows
linkage and comparison with a broader literature, e.g. ethnomusicological studies
of trance in other cultures, in addition to the large and diverse body of knowledge
relating to ASCs and hypnosis.

6
Sitting and staring is often masked behind the alleged main activity of having a cup
of coffee/beer etc. Headphones provide a similarly defensive cover for the listener.
7
Although representing only some of the phenomena associated with some types
of trancing in the current study: those of a trophotropic (meditative) rather than ergotropic
(ecstatic) nature (cf. Fischers [1971] cartography of states of consciousness).
8
Williams notes that, although modern notions of Art began to be formulated in
the mid- to late eighteenth century, it was in C19 [sic] that the concept became general
(1976: 41).

Everyday Music Listening Experiences Reframed

205

While it is misguided to maintain that some activities are more intrinsically


absorbing or dissociative than others,9 empirical exploration of the precise
ways in which an individual stimulus affords opportunities for consciousness
transformation is useful in that the similarities and differences identified provide
valuable insights into the nature of the stimulus itself revealing in the case of
music, its particularly close relationship to the processes of consciousness. In
addition, studying the phenomenology of real-world involving experiences with
and without music exposes a common, but often unrecognized experiential mode
the process of trancing in everyday life.
We have a need for trance it is as if, for all of us, our consciousness the
constant switching of attention that enables us to see reality in multi-dimensions
as much as possible is a real burden we carry around perhaps, without
realising it, we are all looking for experiences where we can put the burden
down (Griffin & Tyrrell, 2003: 734).

Particularly if questionnaires are the only method of evidence-gathering. Thus, in a


study of pet attachment, Brown and Katcher state: people with high dissociation and low
absorption may be attached to companion animals, while those with low dissociation and
high absorption may find more benefit by spending time in nature (1995: 128). Keen dog
walkers might be forgiven for feeling more than a little confused by such a conclusion.
9

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Index

absorbed trance/trancing 47, 105, 11012,


113, 150
and imaginative involvement 13443
and multisensory perception 11718,
130
repetitive tasks 119
and sensory overload 12930, 131
absorption
as attention focus 104, 105, 193
and creative involvement 1367
definition 5, 867
and dissociation 87
comparison 100
overlap 120
and experience 86
external 110
non-musical 111, 11314, 11718
and flow concept 86, 139
fluctuations 104
and hypnotic susceptibility 267
low-level 1234
and movement 1245
repetitive 1234, 1245
music listening 75, 8790, 102
and reading 1378
and repetition 111, 119, 120
and selective focus 124
and self-movement 124
and sports watching 1223
and synaesthesia 86
trait/state 1025
and trance state 47, 105, 11012, 113,
119
and writing 1389
activity, and music listening 67
adaptation
and aesthetic behaviours 181
arts 16772
cognitive/social development 169
group cohesion 169

hypotheses 16872
limitations 16972
sexual selection 1689
benefits
proximate 167
ultimate 167
definition 167
Adorno, T.W. 94, 100
aesthetic
behaviours, and adaptation 181
contemplation mode, trance/trancing
191
experiences, in daily life 1634
aesthetic mode 185
definition 163n1
aesthetics
basis 118
evolutionary 1689, 172, 181, 183, 185
experiment 1045
altered state, definitions 39, 49
see also ASC
ancient sites, imaginative involvement at
142
art
as behaviour 173
Carey on 1646
creation, and fascination 154, 170
definitions 164, 165
and Japanese gardens 156
Kantian notion 165
and life, relationship 163, 1823
literature as 166
looking at 153
origins 1667, 177, 204
and play 1745
and psychological needs 177
responses to, by children 183
and rituals 166
arts
adaptive value 16772

228

Everyday Music Listening

cognitive/social development 169


group cohesion 169
limitations 16972
sexual selection 1689
antecedents 1746
cognitive flexibility 1778
and consciousness change 1736, 184
evolutionary function 168, 185, 1923
and ritual 169
and technology 204
and universals 1723
ASC (Altered States of Consciousness) 23,
25, 3841
characteristics 4041
definition 39
meta-study 199
and music listening 79
negative connotations 39
profound 9, 39, 84, 105, 202
and relaxation 40
superficial 9, 39, 84, 202
trance, distinction 40, 4950
see also dreaming; trance/trancing
associations, music listening 723, 75
attention focus
absorption as 104, 105, 193
divided 146
example 119
music listening 557, 61
and state of mind 56
see also concentration
awareness, sharpened, and music listening
1212
Becker, Judith 5, 158, 199
behaviour, art as 173
behaviourism, and consciousness 32
Benjamin, Walter 160
Berger, John 136
The Borg, collective consciousness 123
Bourdieu, Pierre 10, 104, 118, 152
Bourguignon, Erika 199
BRAC (basic rest-activity cycle) 2024
Brown, Donald 172
Bull, Michael 8
Butler, Lisa 6, 87, 91, 107

car travel, and music listening 14, 55,


578, 76
Carey, John, on art 1646
children
hypnotic responses 198
responses to art 183
chocolate consumption, and music
listening, comparison 1089
Clarke, Eric vii, 2, 54, 106, 112, 116n4,
126, 155, 158, 16061, 182, 1878,
191, 192, 195, 196
Claxton, Guy 32, 35, 36, 37
clock time see time, clock
cognitive archaeology 177, 197
common everyday trance 5, 50, 84, 1913,
1967
concentration
music listening, as aid 668
painting 1267
see also attention focus
consciousness
attitudes to 313
and behaviourism 32
change
and arts 1736, 184
and cultural context 197204
collective, The Borg 123
conceptualizing 3151
definition, problems of 33
everyday, requirements 42
extended 194
and flow concept 42
functional approach 42
kinds of 31, 335, 1934
access 33, 49, 194
core 345, 195
extended 34, 35, 194, 195
phenomenal 334, 35, 49
self- 34, 49
and language 198
Leibniz on 356
and music 219, 48, 106, 178, 194
and music listening 34, 53
phenomenology of 54
and psychic entropy 62
and sleep 179
state, versus process 413
study of 323

Index
and trance 34, 43
and unconsciousness 32
see also trance/trancing; unconscious
perception
consensus reality, Tart on 198
Cook, Nicholas 15, 57, 69, 160
creative involvement, and absorption
1367
Cross, Ian 166, 1678, 168, 169, 171,
175n10, 176, 178, 197
Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly 12, 62, 86, 99,
107, 113n1, 139
Damasio, Antonio 20, 34, 35, 36, 179, 193,
194, 195
day dreaming, and repetition 134, 146
deautomatization, of thought 118, 130
Deikman, Arthur 47, 93, 96, 100, 118, 130
DeNora, Tia 8, 11, 13, 14, 17, 63, 67, 74,
100, 159, 187, 204
DES (Dissociative Experiences Scale) 101
Descartes, Ren, Meditations 22
Dibben, Nicola vii, 14n3, 17, 69, 70, 147,
149, 187, 189
DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder) 91
Dissanayake, Ellen 173, 174, 175, 176,
177, 184
dissociation 6
and absorption 87
comparison 100
overlap 120
definition 912
from activity 967
from the self 979
and music listening 929, 11516, 145
normative 912
and over-stimulation 114
positive 115
and psychic entropy 99
studies 107
varieties of 99100
dissociative trancing, and imaginative
involvement 1445
dreaming 39
adaptive value of 179
human ability to recall 179
see also day dreaming
drumming, and hypnotic states 25

229

DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of


Mental Disorders) 456
Dutton, Denis 108, 133, 172, 180
ecological perception theory, music
listening 1718, 25
Edelman, Gerald 179, 193
EEA (Environment of Evolutionary
Adaptedness) 170
emotions
aesthetic 20
definition 20
and music 16
refined 20
enjoyment, and music listening 13
Eno, Brian, Music for Airports 96
environment, and music listening 589,
889, 190
Erickson, Milton 5, 84
ethology 5, 163, 167, 173, 177, 197
evolutionary aesthetics 1689, 172, 181,
183, 185
evolutionary psychology 5, 35n5, 163, 167,
172, 177, 183
exercise, and music listening 143
experience
and absorption 86
categories 85
James on 38
packaging of 19
quantifying 100101
technology mediation 16061
Fachner, Jorg 25, 40, 157
fascination 100, 116, 117, 121, 168, 192
and art creation 154, 170
definition 89
degrees of 106
hard 89, 122, 156, 161
and music listening 129
and nature 89
soft 89, 122, 143, 155
and use of headphones 158
feelings, definition 20
fiction, adaptive value 180
filmic influence, music listening 6971
flow concept
and absorption 86, 139

230

Everyday Music Listening


and consciousness 42
as downtime 199
and music listening 68, 88, 110
and reading 139
and story telling 142

Gabrielsson, Alf 2, 8, 20, 23, 24, 41, 53


gardening, contemplative involvement
1546
gardens, Japanese 1556
and art 156
Gardner, Howard 176, 183
GEMS (Geneva Emotional Music Scale),
studies 1617
GIM (Guided Imagery in Music) 25
Greasley, Alinka 10, 12, 13, 15
Griffin, Joseph & Ivan Tyrrell 48, 50, 75,
179, 180, 184, 205
group cohesion, and music 169
Guided Imagery and Music therapy 689
habitus concept, definition 104
Handbook of Music and Emotion 20, 21,
22
Hartlands Medical and Dental Hypnosis
47
Hartmann, Ernest 180
Harvard Group Scale of Hypnotic
Susceptibility 27, 84
headphones
music listening 57, 64, 94, 95, 110,
158, 161, 192, 204n6
use, and fascination 158
Hilgard, Josephine 26, 85, 106, 133, 198
Husserl, Edmund 53
hypnosis 45
origin of term 44n11
and trance 46, 47
see also trance/trancing
hypnotic states, and drumming 25
hypnotic susceptibility
and absorption 267
measurement 84
IDS (Infant-directed Speech) 178n14
imagery
active/passive fantasy 1467, 14950
influences of activities 146

multidimensional 146
music listening 6876
reading 151
imaginative involvement 1457
and absorbed trance/trancing 13443
repetition 1346
at ancient sites 142
and dissociative trancing 1445
and music listening 141, 147, 1612,
1812
and narrative 180
in story telling 1412
viewing paintings 1423
infant development, proto-aesthetic
responses 1767
information metabolism model 202
involvement
hierarchy 107
and movement 162
studies 107
IPA (Interpretative Phenomenological
Analysis) ix, 54
iPod, music listening 8, 56, 63, 64, 78, 84,
90
James, William
on experience 38
stream of consciousness concept 42
The Varieties of Religious Experience
20
on vacancy 200
Janet, Pierre 91
Jouvet, Michel 179
Juslin, Patrik 11, 12, 13, 15, 16, 19, 20, 21,
22, 104, 123, 160, 163n1, 176
Kaplan, Stephen 89, 107, 122, 143, 154,
156, 161, 191
Kassabian, Anahid 189
Kihlstrom, John vii, 91, 103n4
Killick, Andrew 159n4
Kleitman, Nathaniel 180
on REM state 202
Kokoszka, Andrjez 202
Kramer, Jonathan D., The Time of Music 78
Lamont, Alexandra 7, 10, 12, 13, 15, 21
language

Index
and consciousness 198
music, relationship 171, 194
referential function 194
Laski, Marghanita 86
Leibniz, Gottfried, on consciousness 356
Levine, John 157
Levine, Robert, on tempo of culture 201
Lewis-Williams, David 21, 166, 177, 178,
179, 180
life, and art, relationship 163, 1823
Locke, John, An essay concerning human
understanding 22
mantra 114
Maslow, Abraham 84
The Farther Reaches of Human Nature
90
meditation 25, 40, 62, 63, 90, 116, 199
animal 165n4
insight 100
mindfulness 111
moment of 88, 89
M.I.S. (Musical Involvement Scale) 278
Mithen, S. 177, 178
mobile technologies 1612, 188
MODTAS (Modified Tellegen Absorption
Scale) x, 102, 103, 152
movement
and involvement 162
repetitive, and absorption 1234,
1245
music
as biological phenomenon 1678
and cognitive/social development 169
and consciousness 219, 48, 106, 178,
194
and emotions 16
as extension of mind 178
and group cohesion 169
and hypnotic susceptibility 26
language, relationship 171, 194
meaning in 149
as metaphor 74, 75
Pinker on 183
and psychological mechanisms 1617
and sound 1278
therapy 25
and time 159

231
trance/trancing 25, 1567, 158, 191
visual 153, 154
Music and Altered States 25
Music and Consciousness 25
music listening
absorption 75, 8790, 102
acoustic attributes 189
and activity 67
aftermath 59
analytical 656
and ASC 79
associations 723, 75, 190
attention focus 557, 61, 188, 190
and car travel 14, 55, 578, 76
and chocolate consumption,
comparison 1089
concentration, aid to 668
and consciousness 34, 53
directed/undirected 2
and dissociation 929, 11516, 145
distributed attention 12, 18, 191
ecological perception theory 1718, 25
and enjoyment 13
and environment, blending with 589,
889, 190
everyday 89, 1011, 1719, 89, 188,
189, 190
and everyday experience 15
and exercise 143
eyes-closed situations 716
and fascination 129
filmic influence 6971
and flow concept 68, 88, 110
function 1213
headphones 57, 64, 94, 95, 110, 158,
161, 192, 204n6
imagery 6876
and imaginative involvement 141, 147,
1812
iPod 8, 56, 63, 64, 78, 84, 90
laboratory experiments 28n17
multimodal 4, 105, 108, 160, 164, 171,
18791, 1956
and multiple stimuli 57
and passing the time 77
performative 70, 74, 187
phenomenology of 53
as prop 678

232

Everyday Music Listening

in Proust 7, 9
and relaxation 12, 14, 25, 90, 157, 190
and reminiscence 14, 69, 734, 136,
159
repetition 8990
Salter on 1
and self-regulation 1314
self-reporting 54
and sharpened awareness 1212
source specification 189
stages 88
studies 1016, 219
subjective experience of 17, 20
and technology, influence 959, 192
and thought reduction 625, 80,
11516
time
compression 768
suspension 78
and trance/trancing 1937
and travelling 12, 95
and unconscious perception 37, 49
visual 5961
music listening study
data sources ix
episodes ixx
participants ix, x
musical multimedia, model for analysis
of 57
musical preference, studies 10n1
narrative, and imaginative involvement 180
Nell, V. 146, 149, 151
Ornstein, Robert 77
painting
aesthetic contemplation 182
concentration 1267
Pavlicevic, Mercedes 19
PCI (Phenomenology of Consciousness
Inventory) 54
Pekala, Ron 54
PEQ (Personal Experiences Questionnaire)
84, 101, 103, 201n4
perception
act of 126
amodal 176, 198

see also unconscious perception


phenomenology
of consciousness 54
definition 53
of music listening 53
Phenomenology of Consciousness
Inventory 28, 41
Piaget, Jean 198
Pinker, Steven 172, 197
on music 183
Proust, Marchel, A la recherche du temps
perdu, music listening 7, 9
psychic entropy
and consciousness 62
and dissociation 99
and television watching 113n1
PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) 91
reading
and absorption 1378
dissociative 151
and flow concept 139
imagery 151
Type A 120, 151
Type B 151
Reich, Steve 158
Music for 18 Musicians 1289
relaxation 36, 125
and ASC 40
and music listening 12, 14, 25, 90, 157,
190
and simple tasks 146
and technology 83
and trance/trancing 109, 111, 112, 114
REM state 179, 180
Kleitman on 202
in waking hours 202
reminiscence
and music listening 14, 69, 734, 136,
159
and repetition 1345, 1456
repetition
and absorbed trance/trancing 119
and absorption 111, 119, 120
and day dreaming 134, 146
of movement, and absorption 1234,
1245
and reminiscence 1345, 1456

Index
and thought reduction 120
REST (Restricted Environmental
Stimulation Therapy) 62
rituals 29, 169, 184
and art 166
behavioural 182
non-Western 44, 47
obsession 157
and trance/trancing 23
Rossi, Ernest 5, 50n13, 84, 202
Rouget, G. 23, 24, 25, 62, 156, 157
Salter, Lionel
on music listening 1
The Years of Grace 1
SASC (Superficially Altered States of
Consciousness) 202
self, the, dissociation from 979
self-movement, and absorption 124
self-regulation, and music listening 1314
SEM (Strong Experiences of Music) 19
studies 20
and everyday listening 21
sensory recall 1256
sexual selection, and adaptation 1689
Shor, Ronald E. 84
sleep, and consciousness 179
see also REM state
Sloboda, John ix, 8, 10, 1112, 13, 14, 15,
1819, 20, 21, 22, 69, 72, 73, 103,
104, 123, 151, 176, 189
sound, and music 1278
spontaneous trance 4, 5, 50, 89, 108, 150
sports watching
and absorption 1223
hard fascination 156
Stanford Hypnotic Susceptibility Scale
28n18
Stern, Daniel 176
story telling
and flow concept 142
imaginative involvement in 1412
listening to 152
surroundings, looking at 1523
synaesthesia 7, 21, 103
and absorption 86
Tart, Charles 39, 40, 42n9, 80

233

on consensus reality 198


TAS (Tellegen Absorption Scale) 26, 101,
103
see also MODTAS
technology
and arts 204
experience, mediation 16061
and music listening 959, 192
and relaxation 83
see also mobile technologies
television watching
experience, mediation of 161
and psychic entropy 113n1
Tellegen, Auke 26, 46, 85, 86, 102, 103
Thomas, Edward, Adlestrop 83
parody 83
thought, deautomatization of 118, 130
thought reduction
and music listening 625, 80, 11516
and repetition 120
time
clock
cultural construct 198, 201
disruption of 125
elasticity, and music listening 769
and music 159
subjectivity of 78
vertical 159
Tooby, John & Leda Cosmides 18081
trance/trancing 438
aesthetic contemplation mode 191
ASC, distinction 40, 4950
categories 109
and consciousness 34, 43
definitions 5, 24, 312, 43, 44, 46, 158
dissociative 105, 11317, 204
and changes in sensory awareness
12831
everyday 5, 50, 84, 1913, 196-7
experiences 13031, 1456
as genre 48
and hypnosis 46, 47
as hysteria 45
as mental disorder 456
music 25, 1567, 158, 191
involvement 15860
and music listening 1937
musical-/non-musical 14962

234

Everyday Music Listening

need for 205


as pathology 199
possession 35
as process 44, 50, 51
as psychobiological predisposition 184
and relaxation 109, 111, 112, 114
and rituals 23
shamanic 35
as situated phenomenon 47
spontaneous 4, 5, 50, 89, 108, 150
symptoms of 24
see also absorbed trance/trancing;
hypnosis
travelling, and music listening 12, 95
Tyrrell, Ivan see Griffin, Joseph

unconsciousness, and consciousness 32


universals
absolute 172
and the arts 1723
behavioural 172
conditional 172
statistical 172

unconscious perception 358


and music listening 37, 49

Zbikowski, Lawrence 26, 194

vacancy, James on 200


Williams, David Lewis 178
writing
and absorption 1389
active fantasy 1512
Wundt, Wilhelm 412