An Interview With the Composer and Co-Producer of
“IMAGO: a bilateral journey of transformation”
Topics in This Section Include: Genesis, Goals, Development and Metaphors
"IMAGO: a bilateral journey of transformation" is a twenty-five minute, 4 movement musical composition on the Alternating Sounds, LLC label. It is a dramatic advancement in the form of "deep brain music" known by names such as auditory bilateral stimulation, bilateral stimulation music, and EMDR or Brainspotting music.
The following is the first of three sections of a lengthy conversation between Samuel Cape, the composer of IMAGO, and George Herring of Alternating Sounds, LLC, who provided consultation and co-produced the final version. Topics include the genesis, goals and development of the composition, sonic and software considerations, the origin and influence of the butterfly as metaphor and structural framework, and the decision to expand to four movements.
(In this transcript George’s comments are in yellow and Sam's are white.)
Sam, you really created something special with IMAGO. I know I’m biased, but you have created a richly panoramic musical statement with complex bilateral movement in a way that’s unprecedented. I’m not exaggerating. You’ve created the first extended musical composition to use bilateral stimulation as a central component on a level equal to melody, harmony, rhythm, tempo and tonality. How’s that feel?
I really appreciate all that. It’s been a lot of fun. I have to turn right around and thank you in return for the opportunity to take on this project and put it on the Alternating Sounds label. You provided support, suggestions and encouragement every step of the way.
As we've discussed, I formed Alternating Sounds, LLC in 2014 after learning how powerful this kind of music can be for healing emotional wounds and strengthening overall functioning by diversifying neural pathway development. I learned a lot over three albums, including the realization that my desire to advance the field of acoustic bilateral stimulation has come to far exceed my limited musical abilities. All I was looking for when I met you was someone to compose a few minutes of music I could use to create another bilateral soundscape. I had no idea something this uniquely effective was going to ultimately develop.
The opportunity to create music that had never before been attempted at this level captured my imagination and challenged my sense of the possible.
When you approached me with all this and then asked me whether I was interested in creating some music that you could use this way I was honored, intrigued, and even just a little intimidated. You were asking me to work within a form of musical expression that I honestly didn't know anything about. The opportunity to create music that had never before been attempted at this level captured my imagination and challenged my sense of the possible.
How did you first approach this project? Talk about how it came together for you.
I knew from the beginning that the goal of this kind of music is to help people be healthier and happier, even though the mechanism was still a bit murky to me. Based on our initial conversations I wanted to make music that was immersive but not too flashy so that the listener’s imagination has lots of room to play.
That’s the perfect balance, music that invites the listener's attention without requiring it. How did you go about that?
I first turned to some of my musical heroes such as Philip Glass and Steve Reich to bring in that minimal, repetitive quality. Another musician I respect, Adam Neely, said that “repetition legitimizes”, meaning when the ear hears something familiar there’s an inherent comfort in that and the listener can kind of own it.
That makes a lot of sense. When I listen to Reich or Glass I find myself going back and forth between focusing on the music and not even listening while my brain wanders or thinks about something else. Say more about how you went about helping the listener to “own” the musical experience, as you put it.
I was mindful of how melodies can echo brightly in the imagination and evoke similar melodies and all their associated emotions in the listener’s memory, so I wanted to avoid using much purely melodic material.
Instead, I leaned into the idea of chord progressions being the material, and dressing those up with sound design, dynamics, rhythmic interest, instrumentation and of course bilateral stimulation. I set myself the challenge of telling a coherent musical story without using tunes as words and with as few melodic “highlights” as possible.
How did you first approach the bilateral component? On the first three Alternating Sounds albums I used a nifty little program called Sharm Studio that allowed a novice like me to carefully modulate multiple tracks with different bilateral strength levels. I knew your advanced level of technical expertise and musical talent would take this technique to a new level of sophistication.
I was well aware that navigating this composition with the critical bilateral panning component was key, but this part felt very natural for me musically. The more challenging aspect was developing the technical considerations that are required to really do this at the level we were talking about. I needed an easy way to adjust and modify the bilateral parameters so I created and programmed a software instrument within Propellerhead Reason, software that I’ve been using for many years to compose and produce complex music.
The more challenging aspect was developing the technical considerations that are required to really do this at the level we were talking about.
I listened to a bunch of bilateral panning examples on the Alternating Sounds label and started to “get it” in terms of how the swaying movement influenced my thoughts and feelings. For me the effects are quite visual. I wanted the listener to experience these effects quite powerfully, which I came to realize required the composition to be much longer than just a song or a couple of minutes.
Keeping in mind that the ultimate purpose of this project was to provide a bilaterally enhanced musical vehicle for change I wanted the music itself to articulate a narrative journey of potential.
I then started to imagine what a long piece of music like this might be like in terms of its structure and overall thematic arc. Keeping in mind that the ultimate purpose of this project was to provide a bilaterally enhanced musical vehicle for change I wanted the music itself to articulate a narrative journey of potential.
How did you decide to use the butterfly's life cycle as the central metaphor? Did you set out with this theme in mind? I think it's the perfect symbol for the change bilateral stimulation can bring to people.
My initial goal was to create a composition with three parts. I wanted something very tonal and textural for the first part, something more rhythmic for the second part, and something a bit melodic for the third part. This is the map that I used for quite some time.
Eventually I had what felt like a pretty good 1st, 2nd and 3rd movement, but the theme hadn’t yet really come together for me. I kept having some problems with the 3rd movement: it didn’t quite feel resolved and some of the melodic elements were a bit too dissonant. This forced me to step back and really evaluate where this piece was as a whole, and it became clear to me that a 4th movement was necessary.
Almost simultaneously, I realized how well the “ovum - caterpillar – chrysalis” metaphor worked for the first 3 movements, and so it made sense to revise them slightly to develop this theme. The 3rd movement did get an overhaul in this process, and I prepared to make the 4th movement explicitly written around the idea of the butterfly.
Another thing that I did was play with numbers. This is serious nerd stuff, but I “gridded out” the first 3 movements explicitly as 144 measures each. The first movement is 9 cycles of 16 measures, the second movement is 8 cycles of 18 measures, and the 3rd movement 6 cycles of 24 measures. For the last movement I tried to stuff in 12 cycles of 12 measures. However, this just wasn’t working for me, and I actually struggled quite a bit to try to make this work just for my own nerdy sense of completeness or whatever.
I eventually realized that a real butterfly is beautiful because it is free, because it is kind of random in its movements, and just eludes capture. I took this to heart and just let the fourth movement go where it may, trying to be a listener more than a composer. I performed the final movement on the guitar, which is my most comfortable instrument.
End of Part 1
Click here to go to the second of three sections of this conversation.