The following is a presentation I gave to my Music Psychology Course. Some people have expressed interest in reading what I came up with and so I decided to post it here for ease of sharing and to maintain the feeling of the presentation as closely as possible. I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it.
In order to set the stage for the presentation I started by showing this video of William Close playing the earth harp at the Temple at Burning Man in 2011, and spoke about how people bring things and thoughts that they wish to release to the Temple and then watch it burn, and this ritual shared by thousands of people is a powerful ritual for transforming grief and shedding layers. This sets the stage for imagining the cathartic power that is manifested at these events. Allow this music to play in the background as you read ahead.
To encompass the topics of Music and Culture, Technology, and Social Change, my presentation today is about a subject that is very close to my heart. It is an emergent culture that is deeply rooted in combining new technology with ancient wisdoms.
I am sure that some of you are familiar with music festivals in some form or another, whether it is a folk festival, jazz festival, Ska festival, Shambhala, Coachella, or perhaps a culturally specific celebration that involves a time that is dedicated to celebrating art and community through music and
Although I have done research and found evidence that supports my theory that these gatherings have great potential for healing on a personal and collective level, much of what I am referring to is from my personal experience and understandings. In my academic searching I found journal articles that report on Dance/Movement Therapy (DMT) for brain trauma, depression, autism, and palliative care.
I also found a paper from the journal Psychology of Music titled The impact of music festival attendance on young people’s psychological and social well-being, in which they interviewed young adults from Australia on their experiences. In this study they identified functions of music and how they can increase feelings of well being for festival participants.
They also identified four different aspects of the festival experience through their focus groups and surveys that create potential for positively impacting psychological, social and subjective well being.
In this presentation, I am mainly referring to small and intimate festivals. There is a subculture that exists within the broader context of “partying to music” in which personal growth is the goal and there is a focus on community development, permaculture, healing, and various opportunities for self exploration and development. I believe that these festivals with a focus on personal and collective growth have great psychological and sociological benefits to offer.
Much of the magic that is created at these events is tied into the ancient practice of ecstatic, transcendental dance. Dance rituals have been used as community medicine and celebration in indigenous cultures and spiritual traditions from all around the world.
In the Sufi tradition, Dervishes, preforming their Sema ceremony will whirl themselves in circles in a form of an active meditation, which to them is a way of becoming closer to god.
In various native american tribes they have dance ceremonies for many different purposes: to heal a broken spirit, to bring harmony back to a person, to celebrate the tribe or the changing of seasons.
In African traditions dance rituals are used as rites of passage, to make contact with the gods, to invoke fertility, and to treat and heal diseases.
In our modern, individualistic society we seldom have access to this type of context for social cohesion in relation to rites of passage, healing, and ecstatic expression.
I am going to do a little experiment in shifting your experience. I would like to take you, in your minds, out of this classroom context and into the context of entering into an ecstatic dance ritual. So, if I could get you to close your eyes and take yourself to the forest, jungle, desert, or any other natural setting in which you feel connected to nature.
To set the stage for this next section:
The Only Dance There Is – The Human Experience – Earth Harp Sessions
It is the moment of your arrival, before the crowds assemble and the performers arrive. It is a moment of wanting to break the stillness, of waiting to step boldly into the open space of potential laid out before your feet. Bare toes spread as they press into the earthen floor underneath them. As the music begins to fill your ears and travel to your brain, it triggers a cascade of synaptic connections, sending signals throughout your nervous system. As the first steps begin to fall, you move forward into the container for complete freedom of expression that is held between the trees around, the sky above, the earth below, and every other body gathered to share in this ancient ritual of limitless movement. The harmonic overtones building in the air speak to your core as the drums beat a rhythm that is received as a language spoken directly to some inner ear that listens and responds in turn with messages encoded in movements. A primeval force courses through the threads of muscles pulling you through waveforms of vibrations. Together we are swimming in a sea of sound, barely coming up for air as we breath in the frequencies that fill in the spaces between our bodies and our surroundings. The empty spaces begin to fill with more dancers, each moving in their own way, expressing their stories, their pain, their joy, and their authentic boldness. Each dancing their own language, creating an interplay of communication and communion. Wordless connections through which we have been growing together for countless generations, coming together around fires and drums, reawakening an ancient feeling of tribal togetherness, of community. We are coming together in this sacred sea of sound, creating echoes and ripples that resound through the harmonic web of life that connects your breath to the breath of every other being and the frequencies you hear to your core. Here, you remember your roots. Here, you know who you are.
Now I hope that for at least a few of you, that felt like a good place to be. Perhaps a place where you could begin to be a little bit more authentic in yourself. A place where you could let go of some of the weight that you carry with you from your daily life, from school, from work, from responsibilities. Drop the stressors and just be present with yourself and with nature and with the people who are showing up to do just the same thing.
Like many of the ancient dance rituals, there is an air of ceremony and sacredness surrounding these gatherings. Studies have shown that ceremony and rites of passage contribute to the psychological well being of young people, and this context gives an opportunity for us to craft our own rites of passage and build them as a community.
Here is the opening to Luminosity Festival, where each participant was asked to write a word, intention, or wish on a piece of paper which were then collected and burned to open the weekend.
In this opening ceremony of the Labyrinth stage at Shambhala, the dancers inspire people to use their bodies to their full potential of expression.
And in this opening ceremony of Entheos gathering, Grandmother Karina shares wisdom of the local native tribes and shares her teachings of how we can honour the land and all generations past, present and future.
This type of opening sets the stage for a weekend of togetherness and expression. It often asks participants to shed layers of themselves that no longer serve them and to step more fully into the person they truly want to be in the world. This is typically followed by a long night of dancing, of reunions with best friends, and meeting a whole new set of people who share similar values. The culture that is created fosters optimism, hope, personal development, self expression, artistic expression, playful improvisation and creation.
Now, night has fallen and the culture context has been set, now we get moving into a long night of grooving to the future music sounds crafted out of the intersection of nature and technology. Electronic music gets a bad rep often for being cold or overly robotic, and while I do not deny that there is a fair amount of it that can easily sound like gigantic robots having laser battles with dinosaurs wearing mech suites, there are many artists that draw their inspiration from nature and real live physical instruments and combine this with synthesizers and drum machines to create multilayered audio experiences. Artists recording voices, instruments, even the sounds of trees, raindrops, and silence to create immersive audio landscapes designed to get lost in
Here we see one million MacBooks strong, programs like Ableton, Traktor, and Serrato as tools for expression.
We see hypnotic visual design, hours of audiovisual immersion that allows one to step out of the usual bounds of reality and into what feels like a co-created society in which all expression is celebrated.
And as much as the music and technology is an important part of the culture, the art that is present plays a major role in the experience.
Visual artists using the power of technology to create visionary digital art, while others still use paint, pen, and other creative mediums to create.
If this culture of expression, art, technology and community togetherness were not enough on its own to plant the seeds of social change and encourage participants to step out into the world with a renewed sense of self, and a clearer idea of purpose, there is another factor at play: Workshops. Weekend long opportunities to dive into yoga classes, communication workshops, permaculture teachings, theatre workshops, fermentation, eco-village design, open discussion forums, classes about the universe, ways to honour indigenouss cultures, plant medicine walks, art classes, and classes in the latest music production software.
This fusion of expression, exploration, art, music, community, learning and self reliance fosters an environment in which it is hard to not come out the other side enriched in some way. Participants report long lasting feelings of connectedness, purpose, strength, self knowing and deepened relationships with new and old friends. This cultural ritual of melding technology with natural surroundings, and participatory co-creation provides fertile soil in which to plant the seeds of a future in which sustainability, self actualization, and community co-operation is the practical reality.
References and Resources:
Most photographs curtsy of the wonderful man behind the camera at Pretty Lips Dancy Hips photography
Music Links – Tucked in to the presentation, check them out
Academic Sources – Linked in the article