Trance is usually achieved at communal rituals, with plenty of loud music and dancing. The specificsthe costumes, music, and dancevary from culture to culture, but the pattern underneath is identical: loud music and vigorous dancing lead to a state of over stimulation that can produce a form of egolessness that is the ground for any sacred exploration.Mickey Hart (Hart, 119)
Two types of music cultures today use community, music, and drugs to achieve a state of trance that aids them in spiritual exploration. These two groups are the newly formed electronic music rave scene of Europe and the United States and the 7000 year-old tradition of peyote ceremonies still practiced by members of the Native American Church. Each culture has very different music and settings for this exploration, but they have similar ideologies for a better life and planet.
Raves are all night parties where people dance to electronic music. The main ingredients are loud music, light shows, selected narcotics, and people (called Ravers). Ravers have an ideology about Peace, Love, Unity and Respect (PLUR), for the raver, that all night party is an escape from what her society wants her to be; material-oriented, financially successful, a consumer, an a work-aholic. Ravers feel deeply connected to all the people dancing around them and revert to a time when play was the most important thing in their lives. In essence, ravers feel that they are living rather than merely surviving (Estiens).
Raves began appearing in Manchester, England and Ibiza (popular English vacation spots) in 1987 and 1988. At the same time, the same type of parties appeared in Germany, specifically Berlin. Soon thereafter, the rave phenomenon was attracting thousands of kids, aged between 16 and late twenties. It also attracted the attention of DJs from the United States. The energy that fueled these parties was so great that American DJs wanted to introduce it to the US, and UK DJs wanted to expand their horizons. The first US raves began in San Francisco, which is long known for its eager acceptance of counterculture, and also in Los Angeles. The scene spread quickly to the east coast in New York City as well as the Mid-West, specifically Milwaukee (Estiens).
The new raves in the US were far from legal. They were advertised on flyers often containing only a psychedelic image and a phone number. Directions to the rave site were not divulged until the day of the party. As little as 50 to tens of thousands of kids would show up for a night of PLUR. DJs would set up their equipment on private beaches or broken-into abandoned warehouses. When (or if) the rave was found by authorities, the dancers and DJs would quickly break down and flee with a speaker in tow to find somewhere else to continue the party. Ravers who were present remember relocating up to ten times in one night. Illicit drugs were also present, the raves in the US began primarily with LSD and marijuana, but ecstasy and amphetamines from the UK scene soon became staples in the ravers drug diet. However, many ravers feel that drugs are unnecessary in order to have a good time; the positive vibe from the rave is more than enough (Estiens).
Raves began in the United Kingdom, but the music has been developing since the 70s when disco was popular. Techno, a broad term for electronic music created with a couple of turntables, a drum machine, an equalizer, and sometimes a synthesizer, evolved from disco and gay clubs in Chicago and Detroit, as well as progressive music from the UK such as Depeche Mode and Kraftwerk. The US and UK traded musical influences for decades and in the late 80s and early 90s, techno was born and began to mutate into many sub-genres such as trance, house, acid-trance, acid-house, trance-house, industrial, hardcore, drum & bass, happy house, jungle, gabber the list goes on (Estiens).
Rave music in general is purely electronic, oriented largely around bass lines and is usually anywhere between 115 beats per minute and 300 beats per minute. Some say that 120 beats per minute is preferred, since it simulates the pace of the heart as heard in the womb. The DJ spins the music at a rave. Spinning refers to the DJ taking multiple pre-recorded techno songs and blending them together to create a multi-layered effect. He may change speeds of the original recordings, add samples (seconds of another recording), and use a synthesizer. Rave music therefore is spontaneous like the event itself, the music is always changing and new genres are constantly being formed (Estiens).
The musical selections on the accompanying cassette represent two contrasting types of techno music. The first selection, Angelic Particles, is an example of the trance genre of electronica. The song sounds very smooth, connected and dreamlike. It is metric like most techno pieces and is played at about 120 beats per minute. It keeps the listener moving, but also deeply entranced at the same time. The bass and treble are equally represented, giving the song a mellow feel. There are no vocals, and the texture is mainly polyphonic. Harmony seems to be present, because nothing about it is discordant, however it is hard to pick out specific chord progressions. This song is intended to be emotionally gratifying, with the listener becoming very involved with the music and feeling its power encircling her.
The second selection Shake that Ass!! is an example of the house genre. It has a lot more repetition in lyrics and is strophic in form. The texture is homophonic with the voice being the melody. Treble is a little more prevalent in house music as displayed by the female vocals. Harmony is apparent and portrays a feeling of happiness. The metric nature of this piece makes it a good dance song, although not capable of enthralling the listener as much as Angelic Particles.
The DJ plays the most important role at the rave, since he has to feel out the crowd and respond accordingly. Ravers talk of a mutual energy that flows between them and the DJ, the crowd receives inspiration from the DJ to do new fantastic dance moves, or simply a feeling of utter joy; in turn the DJ feels the renewed energy surging through the crowd and he creates new unbelievable sounds for the ravers. The DJ leads the dancers into a trance like state of bliss (Estiens).
The ideology of the raver for the rave community is one of PLUR, Peace, Love Unity, and Respect. Peace refers to an inner peace that is gained by being entranced by the music. When in a trance-like state, the raver becomes egoless; this egolessness assists in inner peace, a peace that can be spread to others. Love is given a more broad definition and left for more interpretation, but Peter Douglas (a raver) sums it up well; It means people not only call out to you “Are you okay mate?” when they hear you heaving your dinner in the toilet cubicle, but they care about the answer. Unity is something left to be desired in the rave community, and exemplifies an ideal rather than a reality. There is tension between fans of different sub-genres, a were better than you attitude. The ideal of unity is that the rave community as a whole can teach society about their ideals and the validity of their culture. Respect is just that, the idea that people can accept others beliefs and live harmoniously with them. Peter Douglas also states that he envisions the day that a club can have coat hooks where people can leave their stuff and actually find it there at the end of the night (Douglass). These are the ideals of the rave community, and like any ideals, one should remember that just because people envision these ideals, they are not necessarily present. For many people, PLUR is a personal commitment, and the ravers try to bring these values to their everyday life.
Rave ideology centers around the writings of anarchist philosopher Hakim Bey, specifically his writings on the Temporary Autonomous Zone (TAZ). The TAZ is spontaneous and temporary. It is a place where no federal or state law, no religious norm, no societal taboo or expectation exists. People are allowed to become egoless and forget about everything that they are expected to do. In the case of raves, 18-year-old girls are allowed to suck on pacifiers, pants can be as big as possible, hugs are exchanged with total strangers, and people share water and candy (Estiens). These conditions must be temporary because eventually the real world authorities will break the TAZ up. Hakim states that they must be temporary because if they are allowed to perpetuate, authority will manifest itself from within the group. Raves in essence are a TAZ, as well as other historical examples such as pirate ships and even the first utopian communities in the United States (Bey).
In comparison peyote ceremonies are all night vigils at which Native American Church (NAC) members partake of the psychedelic cactus peyote. The people feel that by eating the cactus, they will learn how to live correctly. Their belief system is a syncretism of ancient Mexican peyote religions and Christianity brought by Europeans (The Peyote Foundation). During these ceremonies members play peyote songs, where many chant and play rattles and water drums in order to help them along the Peyote Road (Titon, 55).
Peyotists and their songs are can be traced back to the Tarahumare and Huichol Indians of Mexico. Many Navajo Indians in the United States reflect their culture in ceremony and song. The tradition is ancient because peyote caches aging up to 7000 years old have been found in caves in Texas (The Peyote Foundation). Traditionally, only Native American men were allowed to participate in the ceremonies, except for the Water Woman who brings water at midnight and in the morning. More recently, however, more liberal communities of peyotists allow women and non-Indians who show sincere interest to participate. There are two types of ceremonies; Half Moon, traditionally more native, and the Cross Fire, traditionally more Christian (Morgan).
Peyote ceremonies are staged when a member of the church feels that it is necessary, either at the time of a funeral, wedding, or illness of another member. The ceremony is then mainly concentrated on that purpose and prayers are offered all night in accordance. The all night ceremonies are held in a circular tipi or hogan that has been made or designated for that purpose. The tipi is symbolic of the womb and the drum played throughout the night is symbolic of the fetal heartbeat. In the center of the structure is a crescent altar that opens to the east. Inside the crescent is the sacred fire; on the top of the crescent is an indented groove that represents the path of ones life. The beginning to the curve represents birth, childhood, and maturing. The peak of the curve marks the middle point of ones life before travelling down the curve to aging and death. The four directions are constantly symbolic in all aspects of the evenings events (Smith, 77-101).
People accustomed to the ways of the Peyote ceremony are given specific roles to play throughout the night. These are not paid clergy, nor are they formally educated in the ways of the ceremony; all aspects of the ritual are learned from observing and imitating elders. The Roadman plays the central role in the ceremony, leading the participants in song, prayer, and consumption of their sacrament. He leads the participants in trance-like observance down the Peyote Road of correct living. The Roadman sits to the north of the opening of the lodge (which is on the east side). The Drum Chief sits on the right of the Roadman and accompanies singing with his drum, driving the prayers to the east. The Cedarman sits on the left of the Roadman and is responsible for placing cedar on the fire to create a pleasant aroma. The Fireman or Fire Chief sits opposite the Roadman and tends the fire throughout the night. The Water Woman brings water in the morning, representing Peyote Woman, who is traditionally thought of as the first person who discovered the religious sacrament. The other participants are expected to direct their energy towards prayers for the intent of the ceremony (Smith 77-101).
Peyotists believe in many Christian values, such as abstinence from alcohol, the Ten Commandments, and the relationship between God, Jesus and Man. Grandfather peyote is considered a means of communication between God, Jesus and Man. It is said that God gave humans peyote in order for them to appreciate and understand the world He had created for them. It is considered their sacrament and will lead them down the Peyote Road to better living and understanding. Peyotists believe in living in harmony with all creations of the earth (Smith 77-101).
Undoubtedly, the concern about the negative effects of the federally illicit drug has remained controversial. However, few negative effects are found, occurring only when the drug is combined with an existing condition of poor health or used without supervision. Anthropologists have documented many positive effects in behavior and health after consumption of the drug (Smith, 109-113)
The peyote songs that are sung during the ceremony have distinctly native and European elements. Native elements include the peyote rattle and water drum that accompany the singers. The rattle symbolizes the earth and the people speaking from the inside. The decor on the outside of the rattle represents worldly possessions. The vocals in the songs are all vocables, rather than a translatable language. These syllables are from native tradition, but are arranged in a distinctly European style, using the strophic structure of Christian hymns (Titon, 56)
The Navajo Peyote Song recorded on the accompanying cassette presents general features of the sacred songs. The singer in accompanied by rattles and a water drum, and although there is only one singer in this recording, oftentimes there are multiple singers. The song is metric, played at a relaxing but inspiring pace, about 120 beats per minute. It could be considered homophonic since the singer is accompanied, but the song would lose meaning without the drum and rattle, so it should be considered polyphonic. Melody and rhythm are present, but there is no harmony. It should be noted that the last he ne yo we is very similar to Christian hymns ending in amen.
The drugs used by these cultures help their participants to define and experience their ideologies. Ecstasy, the most prevalent drug at a rave, helps the raver become egoless and more in tune with people around them. Those who have experienced this drug feel that communication with other people becomes easier and their ideas are more readily conveyed from one mind to another. Others have stated that while rolling (being under the influence of ecstasy) everyone in the club feels like a best friend. The ideology of the rave scene reflects this feeling of community. Peyote is a hallucinogen that makes peyotists feel connected with nature. Some feel that peyote helps one explore their own mind and therefore they can examine their actions and determine which are right and which are wrong. The ideals of harmony with nature and choosing the right path for your life are prevalent in NAC ideology.
In both of these music cultures, there are three main elements, music, people, and drugs. Its fascinating how people in both cultures are involved with mind-altering substances and music in order to achieve a state of trance and spiritual guidance. The drugs consumed assist in making the listener more entranced with the music. In the peyote tradition the drug is administered in a controlled and supervised manner, which is now protected by the constitution under freedom of religion. Next to the traditional pow-wow, peyote ceremonies are the most popular Native American ritual practiced today. However, traditional minded Indians, as well as most government narcotics officers, oppose the use of the psychedelic cactus. Many people also oppose the use of the drugs consumed by ravers. All of which being illicit, these drugs are not administered in a supervised way, nor is the purity of the narcotic guaranteed. Another controversial issue is the remarkably young age of those attending raves, in contrast to a seemingly older, more informed generation of peyotists.
Other striking similarities between these two cultures are the use of a spiritual guider. Ravers view the DJ as a person who helps them down an incredible path of ecstasy, reassuring and challenging them with music. Peyotists view their Roadman as the same type of spiritual assistant, and through the drum, the Drum Chief helps maintain connection with the worldly plane while participants are entranced. In general, both cultures also seem very accepting of all kinds of people, although there are exceptions. References to the heartbeat as heard in the womb are surprising, reminding us that at either extreme, primitive or modern, we are all still human.
Underneath the worlds extraordinary musical diversity
Is another deeper realm in which there is no better or worse,
No modern or primitive, no art music versus folk music,
No distinctions at all but rather an almost organic
Compulsion to translate the emotional fact of being alive
Into sound, into rhythm, into something you can dance to.