© 2023 KMUW
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Musical Space: Psychedelia

This is the song “Mindflowers” from the 1968 album Behold and See by the band Ultimate Spinach. It’s full of echo-y, distorted guitar, it drones on as though trying to make time stop, and the lyrics, like “take a trip to the center of your mind,” allude to some sort of inner discovery. I’m talking today about Psychedelic music because, even though it is mostly a phenomenon of the 1960’s, our musical space is still experiencing flashbacks.

Psychedelic music is mostly a product of hippy experimentation, and purports to raise the listener’s consciousness. It involves a lot of repetition and trippy, distorted sounds - the more fuzz pedals the better. And there’s often an instrument from India playing along, to appropriate a flavor of Eastern wisdom. Thankfully, most of this stuff has gone the way of the Nehru jacket, but I wonder how much we still use music to put ourselves into different psychic states.

Certainly the throbbing beat and harsh synthesizers of a lot of later electronic dance styles like Acid House and Psytrance try to capitalize on a dervish-like delirium. Ambient and new-age music are likewise designed to hypnotize. It seems every genre follows this thread to a certain extent: new sounds are compelling; they invite the audience to listen. And repetition has the effect of dislocating the meaning of the sounds, allowing one to question the context of what they’re hearing. When it works, the listener is put into a receptive state; new thoughts are allowed to flow and new perspectives are discovered. Ideally, all music should do this - put you on an inner journey. If you don’t mind me saying so, good music is “mind-expanding”

(Music: Space Captain, “Landing,” In Memory (2016)

For KMUW, I’m Mark Foley


Listening list:

The Beatles, “Tomorrow Never Knows,” Revolver (1966)
The quintessential psychedelic song

Soft Machine, “So Boot If At All' The Soft Machine (1968)
Influential psychedelic jazz fusion. Listen on headphones to get the full effect of the drums panning between left and right.

Terry Riley. “A Rainbow in Curved Air” 1969,
Here Riley has the audacity to inject psychedelia into modern classical music

Can, “Oh Yeah,” Tago Mago (1971)

Newer stuff:

Slowdive, “Souvlaki Space Station,” Souvlaki (1993)
A example of Shoegaze (British Psychedelic rock from the 90’s. Lots of guitar pedals, washes of sound, etc.)

Infected Mushroom, “Psychedelic,”
An example of “psytrance”
Vague nefariousness trying to transcend the inanity of most EDM

King Gizzard and the Wizard Lizard, “Sleep Drifter,” Flying Microtonal Banana (2017)
They had extra frets put on their guitars between the normal ones to get the strange out-of-tune sounds. They’ve put out five albums in the last 12 months.

Mark Foley is principal double bass of the Wichita Symphony Orchestra and professor of double bass and head of Jazz Studies at Wichita State University.