Universal Human Coping Mechanism is intended to be a functional object – not so much a piece of music to bring yourself to and have an active interaction with, but to be used by the listener to take advantage of its effects, like a drug for example. The decision to make this was mostly a selfish one – it was influenced by my own experiences with pieces of visual and sonic art which involve being subjected to very high levels of intensity and energy, often over long periods of time. The psychological effects that occur when the mind and/or body is exposed to such high levels of sensory input that the brain finds difficult or unable to fully process and understand was something that I experienced very intensely and fascinated me a lot. In particular, the response I had to very long (e.g an hour plus) pieces of what is commonly referred to as ‘noise’ music was really interesting – the kind of sound material used in such pieces is often perceived by many as ‘unpleasant’ (of course, this is very subjective) and often overwhelming, but after a period of time, the intense level of energy being sent through the speakers and received by our bodies begins to create the perception of the body/mind existing in a completely separate environment to the one we are physically in; because the brain’s capacity is overloaded with the sheer amount of sensory input, we cannot receive any other information from our surroundings, thus we cannot be aware of them. This is my experience of these kind of things anyway.
This is most effective when there is as little amount of input from the other senses not involved in the work as possible – i.e. with a purely sonic piece, ideally there would be a minimum amount of input (or as little additional information above the background levels we are used to) from the senses of vision, touch, smell or taste. However, it could be said that the brain would not have the sufficient capacity to fully process any other sensory input because of the intensity of the piece anyway, but I’m sure that is something that differs from person to person. This leads me onto my point that Universal Human Coping Mechanism is best ‘listened to’ in bed, for mostly obvious reasons. You will hopefully be able to eliminate as much visual input as possible (translation: close your eyes), and there would hopefully be a minimal amount of other distractions.
I also believe that Universal Human Coping Mechanism is even better experienced whilst falling asleep (most ideally in the state of hypnagogia for anybody out there who is capable of sustaining that for 82 minutes); the reason I say this is because of experiences I have had listening to pieces of music (including this one in fact) whilst in such a state – in the most intense of such experiences, I somehow got the balance of consciousness right enough to become unaware of all senses other than that of what I was receiving a significant input from (sound). It felt like I was having music directly wired into my brain, as ridiculous as that may sound. Another such phenomenon that can occur is that of an altered perception of time in relation to the occurence of musical events. I must explain that the fact that Universal Human Coping Mechanism is 82 minutes long is of no particular importance; it is not meant to be listened to as a ‘long’ piece of music. The reason the piece is as long as it is and why there is sections with a very low amount of variation of material relative to their length is to allow (or at least attempt to allow) the listener to become immersed in that soundworld – if the desired effect is achieved, then it is unlikely that you will experience it as an 82 minute linear piece of music. When in an altered state of consciousness (i.e. hypnagogia or close to it) the brain becomes less aware of the passing of time and its relation to the information it is receiving. Since exact lengths of events are not of importance in this piece, that state of consciousness lends itself better to this piece (or vice versa?). That then begs the question of why it isn’t 7 hours long – and the answer to that would be practicalities and rationality. 82 minutes of anyone’s time is a lot to take up anyway, therefore if I feel I can achieve that effect and allow the listener a reasonable amount of time to experience it, I think to take up any more of their time would be a bit greedy. That said, if someone wants me to make them a 4 day long piece, I’d like to give it a go.
My personal experience from this piece (and others in some way similar to it) is hard to write down in words, however I have listened to high-intensity/long-duration pieces at times where I have been trying to cope with a heavy weight/large amount of thoughts, which would mean I would find it difficult to achieve a calm and content mental state; going through a piece like this has had the effect of dissipating these thoughts and allowed a ‘clean slate’ to emerge, where either no thoughts occur or any thoughts that do come appear one by one, in a very pure form in which they can be easily considered and dealt with. When the pieces finished, I have felt refreshed, have sometimes successfully worked things out I had been thinking about, and generally happy. It’s perhaps a bit surprising that something that seems so abrasive and brutal at first eventually has such a positive effect. However I must add, this is just my experience of it – I have no idea how anyone else will react to it really.
Limassol, April 2013