Amos Gaynes photo courtesy of moogfest

Free Your Mind

Amos Gaynes experienced an unexpected spiritual awakening in the middle of a field in the summer of 1999. Around that time, Gaynes had been hanging out at his friend’s farm just outside Asheville, when his friend was contacted by a group of psych-trance party organizers from Winston-Salem looking for private land on which to throw a large event called Spiritual Awakening. Artists from all over the country convened for an open-air, twenty-four-hour summertime psychedelic trance party experience. The party turned out to be aptly named, as far as Gaynes was concerned.

“It was very activating, exciting, and I discovered that dancing for hours continually in an ecstatic group experience to this very inspiring, consciousness-entraining music had a real and noticeable effect,” Gaynes recalls.

At Moogfest, Gaynes will speak on Thursday about musical technology and ritual in twenty-first-century shamanistic practice, drawing from his experience as a developer of musical technology for Moog Music and his years of involvement in the Southeast’s psychedelic trance party scene as a dancer, organizer, and performer. As Gaynes explains it, a well-planned dance party can be akin to a shamanistic ritual, with potential benefits to mind, body, and spirit.

Inducing trance states through the active meditation of a psych-trance dance party is just one example of techno-shamanism, a term used to describe the integration of technology in shamanistic ritual and one of the themes for this year’s Moogfest. Other festival experiences under this category include “Sacred Sound Baths” administered by Pittsboro’s Garth Robertson, where he will immerse prone participants in ancient sounds created from instruments from around the globe, and “Hypnotic Journeying” led by Elizabeth Traina, in which participants take in Traina’s sacred geometry artwork and aim to obtain expanded states of awareness.

At many psych-trance events, Gaynes says, a gathering forms on the dance floor before the music starts when someone verbally sets the intention for the night. The decor of the event is often designed to create an otherworldly environment, and the progression of the music is organized to begin at a low intensity, using rhythmic sounds at temposusually between 135 and 150 beats per minutethat have been shown to be particularly conducive to inducing a trance state. The order in which the artists play and the style of music they play is conceived with an eye toward supporting the arc of a transcendental experience, bringing the energy up overnight to synchronize the whole party and the dancers’ bodies and minds to a place of ecstatic unity before gently bringing them back down again in the morning.

“In a really successful peak experience on the dance floor, you look around at all the people around youall these shiny, happy, smiling facesand you really are on the same wavelength in a way that brain science validates and backs up,” Gaynes says. “Experiencing an ecstatic synchronization with others can be really helpful for people who have social anxiety or trouble bonding with one another, because when you’re sharing a dance floor together, you don’t have to directly interact with themyou can be introverts together if you like.”

It’s significant, Gaynes adds, that no matter how a trance state is induced, be it through breath work, meditation, or other means, similar activity happens in the brain: the limbic system, which manages emotions and behavior, becomes more active, while the parietal lobe, the area that helps construct the sense of self and the way you relate to the world, quiets down. According to Gaynes, the sense of unity and connectedness typical in trance states results in part from the parietal lobe becoming less active.

“One’s boundaries become a bit more porous,” he says. “You are more easily able to identify and expand your sense of self outside the boundaries of your skin in a way that is otherwise moderated by the parietal lobe and the thalamus, considered to be the seat of consciousness. The brain’s activity is altered by these experiences in a way that tends to have lasting positive effects, as self-reported by the individual.”

Marc Fleury, a physicist and synth musician based in Atlanta, and his Church of Space are also billed under the techno-shamanism theme. Fleury will give a series of talks on physics, open-source religion, chaos theory, and the places where those topics intersect, followed by performances like “Illuminati Boom Box,” a mix of street performance and soap-box preaching where the Church of Space will “evangelize” for open-source religionthat is, a personally customized reconciliation of science and religion.

“We all assemble our belief system whether we are conscious of it or not. The point indeed is that one can assemble their own belief system according to their needs and their will,” Fleury says. “Increasingly, people reach beyond the simple monotheist figures of mainstream religions, or the limiting dualist political archetypes or even the consumerist memes. Most people yearn for different self-actualizations beyond these old memes. As a woman, can you really identify with a white bearded guy in the sky?”

On the more passive, meditative end of the techno-shamanism spectrum, new age musician Laraaji leads a laughter and sound meditation on Sunday and an eight-hour Sleep Concert on Friday from twelve-thirty a.m. until eight-thirty a.m.

“It’s the first time I’ve done this, although I’ve had the idea and vision of doing this for quite some time because playing for people who are lying down with blindfolds on is one of the better ways of performing for me,” Laraaji says.

During the Sleep Concert, participants will spend the night on the floor of the 21c main ballroom as Laraaji plays ambient, celestial tones to support rest, trance, and possibly hypnotic states in the sleeping audience.

He may open the “sleepfest” with some chanting and laughter exercises, or “laughter-cises,” as he calls them. They’re built around the supposed health benefits of heavy laughter, with different benefits depending on the type of laugh. According to Laraaji, a humming kind of laughter stimulates the pituitary in the center of the brain, another kind of laughter vibrates the throat and thyroid gland, and a convulsive laughter thumps the thymus beneath the sternum.

“As far as I know, the spirit of the divine in human form laughs,” he says. “And I think everyone is capable of surrendering to laughter.”

This article appeared in print with the headline “Free Your Mind.”