Composer's Notes For "IMAGO: a bilateral journey of transformation"
Updated: Jan 13, 2022
"IMAGO: a bilateral journey of exploration" is a complex musical composition that has been designed, both in its score and its use of bilateral stimulation, to create an optimal set of sonic conditions for enhancing personal growth, development and healing. The way IMAGO captures the growth stages of the butterfly's transformation is beautifully expressed in the ways the musical themes and movements come together.
The composer, Samuel Cape, wrote the following notes to highlight what is happening in the listening experience in a way that those with a musical background can appreciate more deeply.
Strings are most prominent here - long drawn out breaths of notes to encourage the listener to slow down, take a deep breath, and “just be”. The strings re-emerge in later themes as well, metaphorically grounding the organism to this important phase of life - the creation of the body itself.
The strings and synthesizers which make up the chord progression are also processed with analog audio filters to create some rhythms in the higher frequencies. An organism in Ovum state is inside a bubble - all sensory input is both new and filtered. The swelling arrangement is indicating cell division, growth.
Just before the transition to Caterpillar, there is a particularly high frequency present. The sharp bang of the tubular bells at the beginning of Caterpillar is the cracking of the egg to hatch the new life form. The first light seen by the organism is piercing at first, but quickly the eyes adjust (again, “imago” for me also means “image”, which implies light).
Multiple types of percussion instruments work together to create a polyrhythmic cascade. This is the busy life of a caterpillar - always munching, walking, searching. The caterpillar takes on more and more, occasionally climbing higher and higher.
At about 9:45, a single string can be heard making this climb and ushering the return of some of the the filtered strings.
A quick series of ascending notes at 11:00 introduces the “ascent motif”. Up to this point there’s been very little melodic content - almost all of the music to this point is harmonic, rhythmic in nature. This extremely simple melodic contour is effective in that it gives a clear direction to where we are headed: upward and onward. The urgency of the caterpillar’s busy life reaches a peak here with introduction of choirs.
This movement is characterized by four “verses” sung without language by Jennifer Leah, soprano… and is a microcosm of the whole composition in that each “verse” is reflecting upon each of the movements in the whole composition.
The swirling arpeggiations of the synthesizer represent the cells and DNA within the caterpillar activating and beginning to dissolve the existing form. There’s a particular type of cell in a caterpillar’s body - the “imaginal cells” - that play a key role in the transformation into a butterfly. I love this name, as it implies the imagination, the image that is being created that is the imago.
The first verse starts at 13:00 and is surrounded by white noise and, water. The caterpillar looks for a safe place to hide from the elements.
The second verse (now harmonized) starts at about 13:57 and is surrounded by the pitched percussion from the 2nd movement. This is the actual busy caterpillar building the chrysalis.
This movement is about deep internal work, and in some sense is an echo of the Ovum movement. In an actual metamorphosis, the body of the caterpillar is dissolved, and the imaginal cells work together to form the adult.
Throughout the 3rd movement, the soprano’s voice is digitally manipulated and drawn out into echos after each phrase, dissolving into the swirling synths. Filtered white noise can be heard in the upper registers, again echoing the time already spent in the egg. This movement is also about remembering. The chrysalis closes up dramatically at 14:53.
At this moment the music itself “skips a beat” with a single measure of 15/16, representing lost time. Up to this point the “DNA arpeggiations” have been occurring with the lowest note on the downbeat - an ascent with each wave. Now though, the arpeggiations have shifted so that the highest note is on the downbeat - representing the changed form latent within the creature.
The first thing we hear inside the chrysalis is the pitched percussion of the 2nd movement, as if the creature is remembering its time as a caterpillar and reflecting upon it as changes are happening. The “ascent motif” presents in full form here.
The third verse starting at 16:05 has an extended melodic contour. The creature inside is now singing directly at the noise of the outside world and longing to change.
The fourth verse starting at 17:07 is where the transformation becomes complete. The chord progression here is different and more subtle than before, bringing us towards the ecstatic resolution at 17:59 when the butterfly breaks out of the chrysalis for the first time.
A single measure of 17/16 "makes up for lost time", bringing us back to the “ascent motif” as the butterfly prepares for first flight.
The butterfly spreads its iridescent wings and flies for the first time at 19:37, which is the first time we hear the cross-panning of the bilateral stimulation. The instrumentation here is completely electric guitar, tempo matched to the echo effect, which gives the impression of way more notes being present than are actually played. “Echo” is one of the sub-definitions for the latin imāgō.
The form for the 4th movement is very basic harmonically, but very irregular in terms of structure, to represent the fleeting, flitting nature of the butterfly’s path. This also allows the tempo of the bilateral panning to interact with the music in a way that musical events hit on the left ear at one point will hit at the middle at other points, and on the right at yet other points.
The butterfly lands for a rest at 21:09, drinking nectar, appreciating its new form. Here, each of the previous movements are reintroduced - pitched percussion and subdued choir from 2nd movement, strings from the 1st movement, a bit of arpeggiated synths from the 3rd movement.
The butterfly eventually takes flight again, ultimately ascending out of sight as the last guitar echos fade out.