Shpongle’s extraterrestrial electronica brings psychedelic music full circle
Four decades ago, Pink Floyd unveiled what was arguably history’s first psychedelic trance song: a synthesizer-driven instrumental called “On the Run.” Listening to that piece today, it isn’t difficult to imagine Pink Floyd as electronic music’s answer to Marty McFly, the time-traveler who played rock music for a pre-rock and roll audience in Back to the Future. “In times ahead, psychedelic music will be played on electronic instruments,” the band seemed to be saying. “Your grandkids are gonna love this stuff.”
Many moons later, electronica has become the music of choice for the psychedelic community, as anyone who has attended Burning Man can attest. As if to announce that we are now fully immersed in the future that Pink Floyd envisioned, the psychedelic trance band Shpongle has chosen to end its latest album, Museum of Consciousness, with “Tickling the Amygdala,” a spacey piece whose midsection mimics the rolling 16th-note synth sequence from “On the Run.”
Simon Posford, the “hallucinogenius” who guides Shpongle’s tonal travels, isn’t surprised to see the psychedelic counterculture embracing digitally generated music. “I think that when you are in a psychedelic state of consciousness, the appealing sounds are otherworldly, alien and unique,” he offers. “You don’t really want to hear a singer warbling about love lost, love gained, or earthly matters; you want to be lost in the universe among the cosmos and surreal dimensions whilst reality shatters around you. Electronic sounds, by their very nature, aid that experience.”
Posford, who got his start as a recording engineer, is known for his innovative production style. Making imaginative use of elements like layering, effects and panning, he crafts soundscapes so thick and multidimensional that even after many listens, there are still new treasures to be found.
Shpongle incorporates cutting-edge electronic technology into its visual presentation as well as its sound. At live shows, Posford performs inside the Shpongletron, a DJ booth surrounded by screens and surfaces adorned with video-mapped images. At Shpongle’s Catalyst gig on March 11, he and his band will show off the Shpongletron 3.0, which makes use of LEDs, projection mapping and infinity mirrors (mirrors set up in such a way as to create an endless series of reflections). Posford feels that this king-sized trip toy is Shpongletron creator Peter Berdovsky’s best work ever. “Together with the music, it creates an immersive psychedelic world,” he notes.
Conspicuously absent from the “10 or 11” musicians who comprise Shpongle’s current lineup is Posford’s longtime collaborator Raja Ram, one of the pioneers of psychedelic trance music. “He doesn’t like to tour,” Posford explains. “He’s 73 years old—the last thing he wants to do is sit on a tour bus playing six shows a week. He did it all in the 1960s. He’d rather be with his granddaughter and play special shows like Red Rocks in Colorado.”
Truth be told, Posford would just as soon follow Ram’s lead. Asked if insufficient technology is holding him back from fulfilling any of his artistic ambitions, he playfully notes, “It would be nice to have a clone to send out on tour while I stay in the studio.”
As long as we’re dreaming up sci-fi scenarios, perhaps Posford had some thoughts on what the psychedelic music of the future will sound like?
Not one for false humility, the DJ ventures, “Shpongle?” Then he stretches his imagination a little further: “Who says we’ll be listening to music in the future? Maybe we will just be brains in a fish tank immersed in an ocean of consciousness, beyond sound and beyond color.”
Shpongle plays at 8 p.m. Tuesday, March 11 at The Catalyst, 1011 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. $18/adv, $23/door. For more information, call 423-1338.