Electronic musician Jon Hopkins became best known for his expansive, utterly danceable early electronic music. But his latest release, Music For Psychedelic Therapy, is (clearly) something different.
At the heart of the album is an immersive, beatless soundscape, built upon field recordings Hopkins made by spelunking 60 meters underground in Ecuador. As per the title, the record is spirtually connected to Hopkins' work crafting music experiences for a psilocybin (that's the psychoactive ingredient in "magic" mushrooms) trial held at Imperial College London. The result is a totally new space for Hopkins' sound.
"I've never had this experience before," Hopkins tells All Things Considered. "It's as if it already existed and I just had to translate it."
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
The artist Jon Hopkins is mostly known for his dance music.
(SOUNDBITE OF JON HOPKINS' "EMERALD RUSH")
KELLY: He's been a regular on the festival scene for years now. He's toured with bands like Coldplay. But Hopkins has always had a softer, more contemplative side to his music, too, a side that is on full display on his new album, "Music For Psychedelic Therapy."
(SOUNDBITE OF JON HOPKINS' "WELCOME")
KELLY: At the heart of the album are immersive soundscapes built on recordings made deep underground in a cave in Ecuador. On one track, you can hear the call of the oilbirds that live in the cave in darkness.
(SOUNDBITE OF JON HOPKINS' "TAYOS CAVES, ECUADOR I")
JON HOPKINS: In 2018, I was invited to go and spend a few nights living in a cave under the high-altitude Amazon in Ecuador. This pristine region is rich in gold and precious metals, so it's under threat of mining. So their idea was to bring a team of artists and photographers and scientists to this region to be inspired to make things which we could then bring back and show people, you know, with the aim to increase awareness around the region.
It's just this huge hole in the forest, basically, is the best way I can describe it. And once you start going down, you start to experience the scale of it. There's no point pretending it was anything other than terrifying. It was about a 60-meter drop. And getting down to the bottom, I think it's safe to say I was starting to question some of my decisions because it was just pitch black and muddy and puddles and great big rocks. And everything was covered in tarantulas - like, literally on every surface.
We got through into this enormous, cathedral-sized main cavern, and there, it was, like, perfect temperature all the time. And the soft earth was perfect for setting up the tent. The top of this cavern was really, really high above you, so you almost feel like you're outside. It was absolutely magical. It was an incredibly peaceful feeling. And so that was where I was lying when I heard that bird that you hear at the beginning of the piece one morning.
So we were down there without daylight for three nights. The neuroscientist who was with us, a guy called Mendel Kaelen - he's also a field recordist. And he brought this proper full fidelity Fostex recorder with him to capture these incredible soundscapes of the rainforest and the caves. And so I got this incredible choice of things to use for the piece. And I use those as the starting point. The other thing I did that was very important was to carry a little speaker with me myself. And I had my laptop, and I played a few sounds in the cave, which we then recorded, capturing sounds played through the cave. So you're hearing that on the record as well. You're hearing the actual space, which just felt really beautiful. It did.
(SOUNDBITE OF JON HOPKINS' "TAYOS CAVES, ECUADOR I")
HOPKINS: And then when I got back to England, I was straight back on the promotional train for the album that I released that year, "Singularity." So I didn't have time to even think about this. And it wasn't until June of last year where, of course, we all found ourselves with a lot more time on our hands than normal. I woke up one morning with just this sudden - like a lightbulb had gone on in my head just like, oh, yeah, do that. So I dug out the field recordings and started going through them. And I've never had this experience before where it's as if it already existed, and I just had to translate it. I don't know how else to put it, really.
So the title of the album is "Music For Psychedelic Therapy," and in some senses, it is supposed to be taken literally in that I think of the literal meaning of the word psychedelic as mind-revealing or mind-unveiling. Across the world, there are many trials going on using psilocybin and LSD and ketamine for assisting therapy.
And Imperial College London was running their own trials using psilocybin mushrooms for the treatment of previously treatment-resistant depression. And the clinical lead of the trial, Dr. Rosalind Watts - she and I became friends about three years ago and started talking about the music they were using. And she ended up asking me to get involved with the playlist and start suggesting some things. So I did, and I just became very interested in this idea.
I think maybe that sowed the seeds for this album in some ways because whilst I loved all the stuff that was on that playlist, I felt that it would be amazing if it wasn't 60 different artists, you know, if you had, like, a unified voice that ran through it all. So I like the idea of there being a genre. You know, maybe the album is named after this idea of there being a new genre, which is longer-form music that is specifically made to guide these experiences.
(SOUNDBITE OF JON HOPKINS' "MUSIC FOR PSYCHEDELIC THERAPY")
HOPKINS: Music as therapist itself - you know, that was something I've lived and experienced through making it my whole life. It's always been a great guide and comfort to me.
(SOUNDBITE OF JON HOPKINS' "ARRIVING")
KELLY: The new album from Jon Hopkins, "Music For Psychedelic Therapy," is out today.
(SOUNDBITE OF JON HOPKINS' "ARRIVING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.