Today marks the release of the sonic masterpiece Music for Psychedelic Therapy by musician Jon Hopkins. After attending a live ceremonial concert where I imbibed this creation (read about that experience here first) I had a chance to speak with Jon about sound, healing, and sacred frequencies.
It’s great to connect with you Jon. After attending your ceremonial concert in Austin, the trip report that I wrote about it demanded that it emerge from me right away. Have you had a chance to read it?
I did, and I have to say it is extraordinary. Because it’s beautifully written, firstly, but also the experience you had is kind of equivalent to the experience I had when I finished the album. It never really felt less like it was from me than on that day. I had this final ketamine road test when I was pretty much done with it, and I was just like, “Where the fuck did this come from?” You really put into words what it felt like for me as well.
Thank you, and yea that’s incredible. It must have felt like giving birth to something that you can just barely begin to comprehend.
Yeah, and you know, there’ll be lots of people who listen and say “Oh, yeah, that’s that’s a relaxing album” or “it made my brain feel nice” or “I have it in the background when I’m working,” and I’m really delighted with all of that. But for me, it’s an epic and intense experience, especially because I don’t really understand how it appeared or remember that much about the process.
Currently I listen to it as little as possible so that it retains some of that strangeness for me. I don’t want to over-listen. But I’ve just started mixing it in multi channel sound, which is the ultimate goal of this. Moving from stereo to like 13 channels, you wouldn’t believe the differences, it’s so amazing. So I’m very excited. Next time we do an event equivalent to the one in Austin that you attended, there’ll be, you know, a fully immersive audio situation going on. But we did pretty well there.
I can only imagine. Yeah, it was beautiful. It seemed like the perfect venue for it.
Yeah, it was a very special night for me. And, you know, I don’t do public speaking. I was nervous about that. I was essentially showing the rawest most pure possible thing that I’ve ever made or channeled to a roomful of people who are in a receptive state all at once. It was a wild ride.
I’m curious, this process of creative channeling, is it something that you have been building up to and cultivating over time, or did it happen in a totally new way with this album? Was it intentional or emergent?
I think it is both, which is probably the annoying answer. In order to make this album, I had to have a certain skill set. I imagined making something like this when I was younger, but had no idea how to actually do it. There’s two elements at play, there’s the channeling, and there’s the actual technical know-how of creating these sounds, placing them and mixing them. And both had to be present.
In my personal life, one significant factor was that I went through a heartbreak, which was the first one that went truly, truly deep. I was devastated and living a very solitary life during this crazy pandemic. Everything in London was shut down and there was nothing else going on. The music started coming and coming and coming and I didn’t place any importance on anything else. I didn’t look after myself properly, just eating and drinking whatever, and all that felt important to me was to keep going on. I had moment after moment of this ridiculous euphoria, like tears every time I would work on parts of the second half of the album. I just could not help but be overwhelmed by emotion.
I don’t consider myself special for having made this, I just feel as if I had the right combination of experiences. It was the right place and the right time and everything aligned. I see it largely as the intelligence of nature communicating through the music and having a desire to be heard in its own way. It’s really not about me at all.
I would love to talk to you about sound healing. If you look at ancient monumental architecture across the world there are a lot of similarities in terms of proportion, astrological alignment, and even acoustics. A recent Stonehenge study showed that it was a kind of acoustic amphitheatre, and many have suggested that other structures in Egypt and the Americas had acoustic elements to them. Do you have any intuition on what ancient sound healing might have entailed?
We know that atoms are not solid, they are vibration and space, and so perhaps music is a bit more important that we thought.
There’s this structure called the Integratron near Joshua Tree in California. It’s this purpose built dome that resonates perfectly with the frequencies of a crystal bowl player. There was this woman playing crystal bowls in the middle, and everyone was laying in circles around her. Every note she plays resonates with a different part of the body, or a different chakra or energetic center. When I was there with my friends, some people fell asleep and had powerful dreams, while others had full on psychedelic experiences. We were so blissed out, everyone’s mood changed so radically.
We don’t really have the language to explain what’s going on with this, but I think we used to have the capability to do this at larger scales. In The Pyramid Code, there’s an Egyptian who says that the pyramids were used to generate consciousness and for sound healing. There were specific chambers where you would go to have the energy directed at different parts of your body. Now of course we don’t know, but there is definitely something going on there, and a vast territory to explore in terms of intentional sound journeys and altered states of consciousness. In modern times, with electronic music combined with MDMA or ketamine, people are having profound experiences at the intersection of music and consciousness. My intuition says there is so much to explore here.
Terence McKenna talked about the Archaic Revival, and pointed to the rave scene where drugs and music and communal entrainment and dance were echoes of a primordial human need for group transcendence.
Yea I come from the rave scene you know, and I’ve gone all the way out the other side a little bit I guess, but there are elements of this that stay with me. I’ve replaced the rhythmic bass with a drone, but they both do the same thing and induce a different state of consciousness.
On the topic of sacred sounds, I’ve come across things like binaural beats and the “heart frequency” and so on. What’s your take on these?
I haven’t engaged much with binaural beats myself yet so I can’t really speak on that. I’ve heard about the earth frequency and the heart frequency, and some conspiracy theories about some frequencies being “wrong” or “off” and being used to disrupt the planet. Some people have tried to use cymatics to prove that, but it’s all been debunked. All frequencies and their harmonics are sacred, there’s no good ones and bad ones.
Are there any particular scales or proportional relationships in music that you feel are special?
There’s the harmonic series, which is the kind of the Fibonacci sequence of music, essentially like a musical spiral of overtones. A good example is Tibetan throat singing, where there is the bass note, and then elements of the harmonic series that stretch out above the bass note. You find this in throat singing and not coincidentally, in the making of techno music when you open and close a filter. A low pass filter on a synth with resonance will bring out the same harmonic series. I like to think of it as nature’s scale. It’s baked into all sounds.
And I’ve been playing around with psychoacoustic sounds, that give the impression of depth or spatial location. Even just with a stereo playback, you can create the illusion of sounds coming from behind you and things like that. There’s fun trickery there for sure.
Since I got a copy of the album, I’ve only listened to it one other time since the performance. I’m treating it like a 200 year old vintage that isn’t for everyday use. I shared it with my wife in our camper van that has a nice sound system in it. We laid down in the bed and listened to the whole thing and she was profoundly moved too. I felt that I needed to listen to it a second time before I did my final edits of the trip report and so that helped me finish the article.
One of my favorite records, ( ) by Sigur Ros which came out in 2002, it was so emotionally powerful for me that I can only listen to it like once or twice a year, and it had to be only at specific moments in my life. I know that people will approach my album in different ways. There will be people that have it on in the background quite happily. And I think the Ram Dass piece will have its own life as a meditation piece, and hopefully it will find its way to people in different forms. But yeah, the deep listen is kind of the ultimate really.
Yeah, having this on in the background to me sounds like sipping Ayahuasca at a party.
I’ve been at a party in Melbourne where someone was just like casually, vaping DMT. Like, I just can’t compute that.
My last question, I’m super curious, what comes after this?
At some point I will definitely make a second volume to this album, I just don’t think it will be the next thing I do. After the intensity of this album, I feel like making something slightly lighter. I like the idea of making some dance tracks to jump around to.
But I am curious what a new project could lead to, because with this album, the caves and the plants really felt like they were trying to speak through the music. That sounds crazy to a lot of people, but it’s how it feels to me, and it might lead to getting to write music based on other spaces or other sacred places. I love the idea of getting involved with some kind of purpose built nondenominational temple. There’s a need for a kind of modern church that isn’t really to do with a man made religion, but it’s to do with actual truth. What’s the musical side of that? I would love to see that sort of thing happen.
That sounds quite enticing. Well Jon, again thank you so much. I feel like I can’t really say much more than I wrote in my trip report, but just know that I have an incredibly deep appreciation for you for undergoing this process and birthing this into the world. I think it’s so special.
Well, thank you so much. Your piece is the first review that I had of it, so it can only be downhill from here. It’s encouraging because, you know, I need that energy to make more stuff, and it’s really helpful to have that kind of feedback. So thank you for writing.
Music for Psychedelic Therapy is out now and can be purchased here.