Short history of psychedelic music

Origins of the psychedelic music

The Term “Psychedelic” was invented by Mr. Humphry Osmond, and means: “mind manifesting“. Osmond first offered the term “psychedelic” at a meeting of the New York Academy of Sciences in 1957. The end of 50 – beginning of 60`s began the spreading of psychedelic drugs in the USA and West Europe. As the result – so called psychedelic culture emerges.

         “Active consciousness collects new impressions” – Perception is been viewed as an practical tool for reaching new experiences. Psychodelic music is an manifestation of extravagant art, that declares, by its existence, that beyond everyday state of consciousness there also are different.

The 60’s

Ken Kesey looked for technical capabilities of reproduction and deepen the experience for people that took LSD. Consequently the “disco“ was the first technology of reaching an altered state of conciousness. The rooms for Acid Tests were equipped with stroboscopes, colour projectors and UV lamps. Simultaneously, different reverb, delays and distortion of the voice effects were used as “psycho effects”, to give an impression of stretched time. That cacophonic improvisations of Kessey and Merry Pranksters were incomprehensible for  most people. That was the reason why psychedelic Rock`n`Roll or Blues forms were commercially more successful.

Psychedelia manifests itself when the composer develops a quality relationship between everyday consciousness and the altered state that was available to him during the psychedelic Session.

Some great psychedelic bands of 60’s have injected a new element in music – namely psychedelic drama. The performers with a strong psychedelic drama are King Crimson, Pink Floyd (some individual tracks), Led Zeppelin, Genesis, Deep Purple and The Doors.

Many of their songs have a structure, typical for most hard-rock songs:

1. Introduction (loss electronic organ melodies, guitar, vocals)

2. Increased tension (epic-offensive harmonies)

3. Dramatic interpretation (cumulative rate for solo electric guitar or electric organ that atrophy in the highest point (similar to orgasm)

4. Decline, often with lyrical vocals

The interest in Eastern spiritual knowledge (mostly to India, perhaps, because of Ravi Shanka) brought in the psychedelic sound oriental melodies and some exotic instruments such as tabla and tambura.

Cosmo-rock (space-rock), or a kraut-rock.

Such songs are often called “electronic meditation“. That are mostly slow, majestic compositions about 20-30 minutes long, designed specifically for “going away”. Sounding reminds of science fiction movies about deep space. Klaus Schulze, «Can», «Tangerine Dream» worked in this genre.

The 70’s

     New Age

This term – “new age” – came to us with a book of American seer Alice Bailey, and he dealt with the global transition of mankind from the astrological age of Fish in the Age of Aquarius. Rebirth of interest of spirituality in the U.S. was so great that many people believed: for mercantilist western world comes a new era – the era enlightening, harmony and love. Music of “New Age” stays in harmony with its eclectic cultural background. Mostly these are electronic instrumental tunes with a distinctive ethnic flavour. Often this music is known as “music for relaxation” or “music for meditation”.


1974 a group of young and evil people opened a new music label – «Industrial Records». Their slogan – “Industrial music for industrial people.”  William Burroughs (English writer) used method of «cut-ups». The essence of the method was to cut the written text into separate words and phrases, to stick them together in new order, then cut and glue together (and so on). Followers of Burroughs used the idea to create a specific music. Only instead of texts and the words  they used pieces of tape.  This method will be called “sampling”  and it will serve as the basis of all modern electronic compositions.

Industrial groups tried to shake the audiences living self (which is able to think independently, analyze and act) by shock and aggression. The «industrial people» stormed the consciousness of the listener with shock, negativity, celebration of sexual deviations and radical political slogans. Industrial Sounding consists of bizarre, discordant collage of man-made noises, cries, occult spells and utterances – as general phenomenon – rather devilish.

This anti-music – music for de-programming…”


Brian Eno with album «Ambient» (1979) made the contribution to the second wave of psychedelics. The music is slow, smooth, majestic. Ambient is like his father – cosmo-rock, which was mentioned before. This style of music promotes work with an active imagination, fantasy, motivational occupation or other form of self-centration.  To characterize the ambient compositions the term «soundscape» is often used. Ambient does not tell stories, he sends states and spaces. This is another way to go beyond the socially conditioned culture and to experience the sacred.



This stream of music emerged in late eighties. Hippies brought fashion to the so-called «goa-parties» – bonfire on the beach, singing and dancing acoustic guitar under hallucinogens. At first it was a psychedelic rock, in early 80’s – industrial and electro-body music. Unlike a normal dance music, Goa-trance uses a lot of special music techniques to change the state of consciousness. Best songs of Goa-trance provoke subjective experience of “stopped” or “reversed” time in the listener. To reinforce this chimerical experience in Goa stroboscope is often used ( to create the illusion of “reverse motion dancing”). Like the previous styles psychoactive music, Goa-trance is characterized by a particular philosophical position. At its core it is about the revival of spirit in a body closed by shamanic dance, the return to the bosom of nature, unity with the cosmos.

Psychedelic music today (Now-here – No-where)

Sampled music – better display of the modern world view, influenced by the cognitive psychology. It tends to sort signals in certain easily recognizable form: Gestalt. Contrary, the main task of modern psychedelic musicians is to break the “pattern thinking” and to bring the core of consciousness to a new level.

Modern electronic music is non-semantic. It does not mean anything, does not convey clear message. This music is designed to work directly with the audience’s attention and perception. Andrey Kirichenko, Kangding Ray, Francisco Lopez or Kim Keskaun often work with sound on a cut-off level that require special attention in order to back trace the dynamics and internal deployment of the track. Some performers, by contrast, produce avalanche storm signals (eg. Kotra). The overload of sensory channels also has the effect of the higher concentration in audience. For a full understanding of meaning and beauty of the modern electronic music – a new worldview and completely different idea at the very essence of consciousness is highly desired.

Main characteristics of psychedelic music

Psychedelic music is, plainly, – experimental music. It moves away from stereotypes about the music, which has existed before. It changes the basic ideas of music. Audience are not consumers but participators: the effect will depend on the listener of music. It has more in common with psycho than with aesthetic implement. And finally is aimed at activating the zones of consciousness used under unusual circumstances.

Copyleft © Olex Melnyk, 2012 – No rights reserved