Shpongles Simon Posford Speaks Out About Psychedelics & Music

Originally appearing at Arguably, not since The Grateful Dead, has a brand of popular music been so lovingly associated with psychedelics as the electronica music project known as Shpongle. Psychedelics have played a huge role in the creation, performance and experience of Shpongle’s music, which is extremely popular among members of the psychedelic community. Shpongle’s unique music style combines Eastern ethnic instruments, flute riffs and vocals, with contemporary Western synthesizer-based electronic music, hyperdimensional alien space acoustics and sound clips from television shows and spoken words. Synthetic rhythms and complexly layered melodies are combined with high tempo flute riffs and acoustic textures that are reminiscent of how the brain processes sensory signals in psychedelic mind states. Last week I was lucky enough to be able to interview British electronic musician Simon Posford (aka “Hallucinogen”), who, along with Australian musician Raja Ram, created Shpongle. Posford is generally responsible for coordinating the synthesizers, studio work and live instrumentation, while Raja contributes broad musical concepts, inspiration and flute arrangements. The complete interview with Posford will appear in the bulletin that I’m editing for the Santa Cruz-based Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) about psychedelics and the arts. However, because of Shpongle’s enormous popularity here in the psychedelic community, I thought that I’d share a few choice selections from the interview with readers of my column. I was curious about how the name Shpongle originated, and where the word came from. Posford explained: “Raj was tripping one day, and he said, “Oh Si, I’m feeling really shpongled.” This word was a mixture of a lot of other words that we were using at the time—like “spangled,” “stoned,” “monged” and “mashed”—and all of these came out as one word: “shpongled.” So I said, that’s a great word, maybe we should use that as a band name or track name—as it captured the essence of the message we were trying to get across, without a tired history of associations and expectations that existing words are weighed down by.” I was, of course, extremely interested in how psychedelics effected the creation and experience of Shpongle’s music. When I asked Posford about this, he replied: “I would say massively, and on a profound level. In fact, so fundamentally that I didn’t even really like the type of music that I now create before I took psychedelics … once I took psychedelics, I … only wanted to hear the alien, otherworldly, futuristic sounds of electronic music, and it’s what inspired me to start making the music that I’m doing now. In a way, it’s foundational to what I’m doing, because it pushed me down this path.” In asking Posford about psychedelic journeys that inspired him the most, he told me an amazing, jaw-dropping story about his first time smoking (the immensely potent psychedelic drug) DMT. Posford said: “Really, the whole experience raised far more more questions than it answered—’Is the nature of consciousness purely chemical?’—although it provided me with a lot of personal revelations about my life, including behaviors I could perhaps improve, even down to the song that I was working on. I could see the music leaving my head as a flowing liquid mercurial stream of holographic colored symbols, and these “machine elves,” … appeared to be getting off on it. They were dancing, laughing and enjoying it. There was a little flute riff in there. They suddenly turned serious and told me, ‘You have to go back and find this particular flute riff. It is the divine riff, and this is the one that you have to use.’” When I asked Posford how this profound experience had influenced him, he replied: “It affected me so deeply, on so many levels—from what I was working on right then, down to my core beliefs and all of the paradigms of the universe that I’ve encountered, from Buddhism, Christianity, religion, science and the various different interpretations that people make in trying to explain the world. It provided a model of the universe that could fit comfortably—or relatively comfortably—in my small human brain.” The complete interview with Posford will appear in the Spring 2012 MAPS Bulletin, along with the interview that I’m doing next with superhero comic-book writer-genius Grant Morrison about how psychedelics have affected his work. Author David Jay Brown shares this fascinating interview with Simon Posford of Shpongle, whose spiritually-inspired rhythms are immensely popular in the electronic dance community. Posford describes how psychedelics and psychedelic culture have played a powerful role in shaping his music and his perspective on science, consciousness, and politics. The complete interview with Posford will appear in the Spring 2012 Special Edition of the MAPS Bulletin.