Exploring Metal Music Through Active Imagination Techniques

Active Imagination is one of the pillars of Jungian therapy[1] , and simply consists in engaging with the symbols of the mind in a way that allows us to contemplate them or even engage with them. Outside the stale therapeutic environment of clinical psychologists, we can discover emotions, situations and characters inside of our minds (and presumably in the collective mind) by using the same technique in a slightly more unhinged and less sanitizing direction. We can use the musical, lyrical and visual contents of metal albums which are more often than not intended to be mythical, and are thus a great source for archetypal projections.

Several distinct approaches can be taken when we attempt to engage metal albums in an exercise of Active Imagination. We may either focus on the music, the cover art or the words written for each song. Or we may decide to involve any combination of these at the same time or in sequence. In any of the modalities, we recommend reducing all unnecessary sensory input. If we wished to concentrate solely on the music (having seen the artwork before but not concentrating on it), we could use headphones with some manner of isolation, and cover our eyes to prevent light stimuli from distracting us.

A simple process for Active Imagination to explore metal albums could go like this:

  1. Sit/lie in a comfortable position and relax by focusing on your breath while observing the album artwork. Keep your mind focused on breathing deeply and your eyes on the image, exploring its details, letting impressions and emotions surge without following any of them. Your mind does not follow anything but the inhaling and exhaling of air from your lungs. Do this for as long as it feels right, or until you cannot wait to listen to the music.
  2. Put your (noise-cancellation) headphones on, press play, and cover your eyes with a piece of cloth or eye mask. The music will begin and you must remember to take a back seat to your impressions, emotions and mental images that arise, letting them coalesce on their own. A note to those more technically inclined: there is no excuse for not being able to do this with some practice, you can overcome your impulse to analysis by learning restraint through calm.
  3. After you have finished listening to the whole album and you have allowed yourself a moment, uncover your eyes and bring out the lyrics for the album, if any. As you slowly read each line, wait for the effect of each verse wash over you like a rolling wave. Move on towards the end and listen to the music again now, with or without headphones, with or without covering your eyes.
  4. Write an account of the world visited, characters seen and events witnessed, & send it in any form (raw, embellished, sanitized, sadistically enhanced, etc.) you see fit to editor@deathmetal.org.

Notes

[1] http://www.jungiantherapist.net/jungian-therapy-101-active-imagination/

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20 thoughts on “Exploring Metal Music Through Active Imagination Techniques”

  1. Jung is your enemy says:

    Carl Jung is open ended quackery that, if accepted as “an empirical study of the mind”, excuses the failings of individualism in all forms when studied from any angle. The only reason he was popularized was to be trotted out as a world wise conservative voice to pacify doubters. For proof of this, read between the lines on his writing of his interactions with Freud in Man and his symbols.

    1. D.A.R.G. says:

      Your scholarly commentary is astounding, my friend.
      Please, do illuminate us with your extensive experience reading and analysing the works of both Freud and, of course, especially Jung.
      To begin with, tell us which works by Jung you have read appart from his easy-to-read, simplified essay for the masses shared in Man and his Symbols.

      I imagine you have a detailed and working knowledge of the following works by Carl Jung at the least:
      The Psychology of the Unconscious (1912)
      Psychological Types (1921)

      Although a thorough look at Jung’s work would necessarily also include his works related to the symbology of Alchemy, The Collective Unconscious, Acausality and more on Archetypes (Aion for instance).

      1. bombastus says:

        And, for good measure, let’s not leave out ‘The Aryan Christ: The Secret life of Carl Jung’. Some sources claim he had intercourse with the wife of Allen Dulles, who he was ‘treating.’ Jung had a very active imagination…

        1. D.A.R.G. says:

          Which bears no weight on the validity of his ideas in general.
          At best, an interesting fact that shows us once more than humans are complex individuals with many facets.
          At worst, tabloid nonsense.

          But in any case, all this in no way detracts from the exercise suggested here.
          You are riding a tangent for no good reason other than CAUSING PROBLEMS.
          For which you may be commended, but why not CAUSE PROBLEMS more creatively or effectively?

          1. bombastus says:

            Still, let’s not leave out ‘The Aryan Christ’. Interesting reading material, even for tabloid news fans. quote:
            As an independent researcher delving into the history of medicine, Noll was one of the first scholars worldwide to adopt a critical view of Jung in his works. Publishing at a time when
            almost all biographies of Jung portrayed him in an excessively positive light, Noll’s books
            provoked a forceful pushback from the Jungian community.
            No shit!

  2. Elkmaster says:

    “Sigmund Fraud and Carl Junk”

    We need conservative and Christian values in metal about as much as we need Marxist or fascist ones. No fucking thanks.

    1. D.A.R.G. says:

      So, you cannot close your eyes and listen to metal with passive but full attention because you do not want to be Conservative/Christian, Marxist or Fascist?
      I am not sure there is any logical relation here.

  3. Reduced Without Any Effort says:

    I generally agree with and engage in these listening practices, but I’ll add that doing this at night when your brain is gearing up for sleep generally leads to much superior results than doing this during the day.

  4. Become Just B says:

    Great piece. I first did something similar decades ago with Wish You Were Here.

  5. Zizek is a Psychanalyst. says:

    “Outside the stale therapeutic environment of clinical psychologists”.

    You mean the ones who’s techniques have an above-average success rate, in contrast to 100 year old psychoanalytic technique?

    Let’s all back to the physics of antiquity and argue that it had some massive insight into reality b/c it’s fun to read and doesn’t require dry study to understand.

    JUST WRITE ABOUT METAL AND STOP BEING FAGGOTS, WHETHER 4CHAN OR NEW-AGE.

    1. D.A.R.G. says:

      No, outside the therapy of psychologists using Active Imagination.
      Nobody said you should not study.
      We are only proposing an activity to enrich and deepen the experience of listening to metal.
      Do pay attention.

  6. JewKiller666 says:

    interesting subjevt matter but this is a low effort, low quality article. Active imagination is supposed to (when its results are analyzed) reveal something essential about the involved individual. Since we know that music preferences blossom from one’s own personal equation, and that music often engages directly to oursubconscious symbolic faculties, applying active imagination techniques to metal could, in addition to providing an impetus forintrospection, reveal something deeper about the genre’s nature. “write an account of the worlds visited, characters seen, and events witnessed” is a decidedly intellectual process and not active imagination. This whole article seems like a guide to getting ideas for short stories or something from metal which is fine, but it could have gone so much deeper.

    1. D.A.R.G. says:

      The article is not meant to:
      i. explain Active Imagination fully
      ii. serve as a therapeutic exercise

      Thus your criticism

      “this is a low effort, low quality article. Active imagination is supposed to (when its results are analyzed) reveal something essential about the involved individual.”

      Redundantly criticizes what the articles does not purport to be.

      This article is about:
      i. inciting listeners to experiment
      ii. provide a framework for organic and creative exploration of metal music
      iii. state that whoever would write about their experience and share it could do so in any way they see fit

      . Since we know that music preferences blossom from one’s own personal equation, and that music often engages directly to oursubconscious symbolic faculties, applying active imagination techniques to metal could, in addition to providing an impetus forintrospection, reveal something deeper about the genre’s nature.

      Since we want to let the experience speak for itself, and pre-establish a minimum in this case, then these will come in and of themselves:
      i. an impetus forintrospection
      ii. reveal something deeper about the genre’s nature
      And pre-scribing or pre-defining a result would only interfere with what we may be presented with.

      decidedly intellectual process and not active imagination.

      Here, again, you are arguing alone in the room, because nobody claimed that writing an account of it was part of the Active Imagination. However, it is common practice, including in the therapeutic and personal introspection settings, to write such accounts. The reason for this is that in bringing the intellectual process, it helps objectify and better understand the experience, and so it is an important complement to Active Imagination.

      As to your last words, you can take from it what you will.
      You may decide to talk and complain rather than experiment and contribute.

      All clarifications aside on what this post is and what it is not: if you wish and you are able to develop an article that is a discussion on the value and potential of Active Imagination for introspection and revealing something deeper about the genre’s nature, then we would encourage you to do so. We would gladly receive such an article and discussion (which this post is not and never purported to be), and many would enjoy and be benefited from reading it.

  7. Krabapple says:

    Where you say this: “We can use the musical, lyrical and visual contents of metal albums which are more often than not intended to be mythical, and are thus a great source for archetypal projections.” I think is debatable. Not that metal lyricists often have these ideas in mind (Sylvain Houde comes to mind especially) but I feel like just having the presence of artists devoted to these ideas does not automatically make it ‘material’ for the process.

    Jung is an interesting thinker to employ here, but as somebody who is (I think) well acquainted with both Jung and Freud I feel like this methodology has been extensively abused by ‘new agers’ claiming to have glimpsed archetypal experience which is already as a rule very vague (as Jung was wont to be). There was another article on this site about metal demanding ‘attention’, and I think that’s sufficient. In other words, I don’t think active imagination would furnish us with anything more evocative then the gradual sedimentation of listening to a single album many times, and gradually ‘growing into it’, a process that accompanies albums of merit.

    I think a better metric is the idea of ‘getting the music’, or to really find where to draw the line which is where I believe the importance of some sort of canon can be justified. Or basically, to understand why Metal is/was a genre with some sort of integrity that stands beyond subjective perception period- unlike the majority of pop music and even ‘metal’ nowadays

    1. D.A.R.G. says:

      Jung is an interesting thinker to employ here

      Let me stop you there: the point is not Jung or Freud.
      The point is simply trying to explore the music with different mindsets, concentration directions and perhaps a bit of sensory deprivation (or even distortion).

      You are going on a tangent.

      I don’t think active imagination would furnish us with anything more evocative then the gradual sedimentation of listening to a single album many times, and gradually ‘growing into it’, a process that accompanies albums of merit.

      I disagree.
      And I think there is an implied false dichotomy in your words between ‘growing into it’ and our proposed experimentation with Active Imagination.

      Also, the fact that New Agers became obsessed with Jung, and so ‘abused’ and did and said things about his ideas, does not in any way detract from the value of experimentation based on his ideas.
      This is a logical fallacy you are incurring.

      Now, you may choose to theorize all day long, and converse on why the ideas and the words are unpallatable to you, or you may simply and directly experiment and enjoy the music in different ways.

      If you write a commentary/article based on your actual experimentation with your own style of exploration, or this one, or something in between, or any other, then any comparisons based on these experiences would be very much welcome. But all this ad hominem and non sequitur is besides the point, and the following of a tangent that lies outside our point of interest here.

      1. Krabapple says:

        That’s fair. Of course I ultimately cannot detract value from the idea of ‘experimenting’ with metal music because it has qualities amenable to what Active Imagination purports to draw out or emphasize. Though I believe a set of articles on why differing listening ‘techniques’ are important might also be in order- or maybe a set dealing with ‘how to get to the core’ of the genre.

        1. D.A.R.G. says:

          The possibility of including this angle was being considered for this and further discussion.
          However, in my view, this is dependent on whether were able to find someone with enough of a firm background in psychology, or at least well-read and interested enough to start such a series of articles.

          While one of our semi-permanent staff might be able to engage in this project, the audience must remember that DMU works solely on contributors, and those working as editors are basically doing volunteer work to further Hessian aims. Thus, the best path of action would be for someone like you, perhaps, to contact us to discuss this idea or better still, to submit a first article.

          Your civility is appreciated.

  8. Flying Kites says:

    _This is a test._

  9. Joe says:

    Am siding with DARG on this one.
    Also I would recommend the film A Dangerous Method , about Jung.
    It is good to discuss Freud, Jung, Nietzsche, and others in general. I am pretty sure that death metal would have interested them too.

  10. ΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩ says:

    Sadly, our brains experience a flattening of emotions as we get used to a lot of metal. This article has some very good ideas, and points to the direction that we should purge our chattering minds from distractions to fully experience the music. Which is very trad, and in alignment with metal ideals, since in older times, people would not be that busy checking their phones, or commenting on music pages. Well, they might not even listen to metal, because there would be no means to do that, but if they did and they were indeed metalheads, would it be more appreciated? I suggest abstinence from music in general before listening, although this is very difficult in those times. Maybe a christian monastery is the ideal place to listen to metal, hell, it’s more transgressive that way!

    However, the above might actually miss the point; the main thing that should be done is to ‘enter’ the world of the music and see what images pop up, for they definitely come from oneself and its perception-filters and thus may aid in its investigation. Is this some form of mental masturbation? Probably, but so is art: it’s a representation of the real thing. Anyway, γνώθι σαυτόν or go out and play.

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