Belief Neutrality

As I’ve become more engaged in commercial session design, I have realised how many symbols are to be found in sound. When writing sessions for yourself, you can be quite liberal with symbolic content – you know what you’re wanting to experience. But when writing for someone else this becomes a very important consideration.

Every musical instrument has an array of correspondences attached to it. Most of us, upon hearing a particular instrument, will form a mental picture. Didjeridoo – Australian outback desert, solitary Aboriginal. Panflute – South American, Aztec, Amazon, Llamas. Bronze bell, bowl or gong – Asian, wooden temples, koi ponds, reeds, prayer flags, lamas. Piano – upper middle class, classical. Guitar – casual, Western? Spanish? Rock? And so on.

Many note progressions also have meaning. Listen carefully to TV and movie scores – note the plot relationships in the rising and falling pitches, use of sharps and flats, majors and minors to induce emotional/physiological responses in the viewers.

Unless a track has a very specific reason for cultural, regional, ethnic setting, I think it is far better to offer a neutral environment in which to work with personal symbols.

A well structured session will provide a favourable environment for mental activities, leading and/or reinforcing natural cycles of brain activity – acquire, assimilate, associate, act. Optimum use of a session requires a plan – what are you going into the session with and what are you wanting to come out with? What type of material are you dealing with? What broad type of thinking, Venus or Mars, would you expect to be most useful? How intense is the material – short cycles or long cycles? Detail or big picture?

Even when writing sessions strictly for myself I avoid any content that will impose a setting that I may not want to be set in during a future listening. Ordinary music can often be transformed into unrecognisable, other-worldly sounds with spacial effects, reverb, echo, pitch shifts and so on. Simple tones can be converted into crude, association free bells, whistles, percussion and more. Noise can be shaped into wind, water or fire, without the character implying anything about the larger environment.

The religious implications of certain sounds are worthy of consideration. “Meditation” is a practice common to most paths, but the appropriate setting varies widely. I consider a good meditation track to be one which has a rhythm that correctly leads/follows me through my particular meditative disciplines without distracting me with irrelevant imagery.

In many ways this goes beyond “belief” neutrality – what I’m considering here is “world view” neutrality. My ambition is to write sessions that make whatever the listener is doing in their quiet time more effective and more enjoyable.  My hope is that I’m writing for people with HUGE imaginations, who can fill the optimised space with wonderful things of their own.

If I want to be transported to a particular place, I’d rather watch a DVD. If I want to listen to music, I’d rather just listen to music. When I use AVS I am on an inner journey. It has only as much to do with the outside world as I wish it to have for any particular session. Thoughts, memories triggered by outside-world associations within the soundtrack are not helpful.

But, of course, this is just one facet of AVS. Lots of therapeutic and special purpose sessions can be buried in pretty much anything you like. It’s only freestyle brainwork that really needs a pseudo-ganzfeld, or sensory overload soundscape.

Cheers,
Craig

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