King’s addiction researcher Dr Sally Marlow collaborated with pianist Christina McMaster, artist Teresa Albor and virtual reality designer Batuhan Bintas to explore the use of music and psychedelic images as mood enhancers through a series of interactive ‘lying down’ concerts.
Psychedelic drugs have been used by human beings for millennia. They are currently taking centre stage in mental health discourses as pharmacological mechanisms for improving depressive symptoms, with clinical trials in the last decade showing promising therapeutic potential. However, these drugs are controversial and not without side effects, so what if the positive effects could be achieved without drugs, but instead by drawing on music, visuals and technology?
The Sound Mind project team invited audiences to concerts featuring the music of American minimalist composer Terry Riley – music that has been described as creating ‘a portal to ecstatic states, arrived at by different paths’. The audiences were asked to lie down and listen, rather than be seated in the traditional way. Psychedelic images were projected on to the ceiling or, in the second stage of the project, watched through virtual reality headsets. The idea was that this cross-art form experience would allow the audiences’ imaginations and creativity to run freely in a relaxed setting, stimulating a deeply visceral experience to alter perceptions of time and space as well as the audiences’ sense of themselves and those around them.
Audiences were asked to complete a series of brief questionnaires during and following the concerts to measure the effect on their sense of wellbeing. The team found that as hypothesised, the combination of the music programme and the visuals did indeed increase wellbeing in the moment.
Christina McMaster is continuing to tour Sound Mind, with discussions and talks accompanying her performance, while Dr Sally Marlow is continuing to explore the application of the concept for the treatment of depression and move from testing this in general population samples to testing in clinical samples.
Christina McMaster, courtesy of Carlos Lumiere
Sound mind: exploring the use of music and psychedelic images as mood enhancers is a collaboration between King’s College London’s Department of Psychological Medicine and Christina McMaster. It was supported by the university's Culture team.