The Imagery of Intoxicating Music

Harris, Mark. 2017. 'The Imagery of Intoxicating Music'. In: Sound-Image Colloquium. University of Greenwich, United Kingdom 10 November-12 November, 2017. [Conference or Workshop Item]

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Abstract or Description

In the 1960s, as the styles of counterculture psychedelia came to be incorporated into many parts of mainstream visual culture including advertising, what remained of its initial liberatory promise? In album cover design, light shows, and psychedelic artwork these visual vocabularies of typically hallucinatory experiences were the counterpart to contemporary music, both experimental and popular, that used electronic guitar and vocal effects, as well as tape loops and early synthesizers, to generate sonic qualities evoking the effects of hallucinogens. At the same time, popular and underground music samples were being used by experimental and commercial film, like Bruce Conner’s Looking for Mushrooms, Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider, Barbet Schroder’s More, or Jud Yalkut’s Turn! Turn! Turn! as soundtracks for works with explicit hallucinatory imagery.

How effectively did music and imagery complement one another to facilitate a comprehensive immersion into quasi-hallucinatory experiences or even serve as aids to experimentation with hallucinogens? What were the circumstances for image montage, stroboscopic light effects, and rotating mandala forms to become the visual tropes accompanying drug-referencing music? Alternately, what kinds of music were optimally used to accompany imagery, particularly in films, about drugs? Is it possible to identify an alternative aesthetics developing from within this plethora of immersive music and imagery, given that the abandonment of analytical criticality seems intended?

An unlikely outcome perhaps, without his prior composition Mescaline Mix, Terry Riley’s 1964 In C amplified zones of sensory pleasure newly accessed by LSD pioneers. How was this compatible with the rigorously conceptual compositional structure of In C and the technological focus of the San Franscisco Tape Center where it was first performed? And what was the impact on compositional innovations of the SF Tape Center of the concerns of its members, particularly Pauline Oliveros, for Ramon Sender’s unexpected departure into the radical outer fields of LSD experimentation and commune life? The splintering of tendencies in popular music was in part accelerated by differences of opinion about drug use. Wallace Berman spoke about the stifling effects of heroin on creativity compared with the transformative motivations deriving from hallucinogens, yet his silent film Aleph depicts both drug uses, seemingly uncritically, while featuring imagery of Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones, amongst other musical references. Frank Zappa’s derisory lyrics in ‘Plastic People’ referred to Andy Warhol’s Plastic Inevitable and the Velvet Underground’s proclivity for heroin, although like his sometime musical partner, Captain Beefheart, he was hardly any more tolerant of hallucinogen use. Is it possible to differentiate Zappa’s and Beefheart’s inventive and bizarre customizing of psychedelia in their approaches to music and visual design as a critical aesthetics set apart from their LSD enthusiast peers? Can a difference of aesthetics be discerned between such critical musical positions and the immersive, interminable drift of hallucinatory music, as well as the slump, cacophony and sonic darkness of narcotic-inspired songs, and, if so, what qualities are possessed by their respective imagery archives?

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)


LSD, hallucinatory film, minimalism, sound art, film soundtrack, Timothy Leary, Tony Conrad

Departments, Centres and Research Units:



27 September 2017Accepted
12 November 2017Completed

Event Location:

University of Greenwich, United Kingdom

Date range:

10 November-12 November, 2017

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

16 Nov 2017 09:53

Last Modified:

29 Apr 2020 16:41


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