From Ecstasy to Trance (Part 1)

From Ecstasy to Trance (Part 1)

In recent years, I have spent a significant portion of my time delving into two axes. One involves delving into immersive technological tools and their applications on the auditory apparatus. While the second revolves around the role of sound on the emotional states of living beings and beyond.

I admit that at the beginning of my studies, my approach to the second subject was a mixture of skepticism towards a holistic world I had never approached, and in its track a lack of reliable sources. So, overcoming the initial skepticism and steering clear of the allure of sensationalistic readings, I embarked on a fascinating journey, which is founded on themes such as neuroscience, anthropological research, deep listening and sound as the main key to trigger undiscovered human potential.

The topic of how music and sound influences your state of being, initially viewed as a fringe of the sonic world, reveals its fundamental influence on all fields of science and the study of matter. As well as it touches the very existence of our being—both in conscious terms and in terms where the unconscious is the protagonist. After all, we are vibrating bodies in a universe that vibrates, and it should not surprise us that these infinite and boundless forces are omnipresent.

I am here to introduce one of the topics that has particularly struck me: the influence of sound/music on altered states of consciousness. It’s a subject still debated and far from unanimously recognised scientific validation, but this doesn’t diminish the significance it holds.

This introduction has been necessary to understand and hopefully follow, in the simplest and clearest manner, the series of articles I will write on this topic.

Part 1

Talking about ecstasy and trance in the same article can lead to confusion because the two terms are often interpreted with similar meanings both by scholars and in the collective imagination. ln reality they are two different emotional states or state of consciousness, what they have in common is the search for spiritual and emotional healing that has characterized all of humanity since the dawn of time as my favourite author Gilbert Rouget also mentions.

To write this article I am making use of the valuable studies and research done by this Gilbert Rouget (1916 – 2017) a French ethnomusicologist and researcher who in the book Music and Trance, The Relationships between Music and the Phenomena of Possession, has well explained the meaning of ‘mystical/emotional acting that leads man to the search for ecstasy and trance. Most of the claims I make can be found in his book.

Now with my limited knowledge and with the respect that this subject demands, I will try to explain in the simplest and most subjective way possible these emotional states and take you on the journey I took and resulted in my sound journey From Ecstasy to Trance.

Ecstasy and Trance

Inherent in each of us ecstasy and trance touch territories of the unconscious not yet rationally explainable. They touch complex aspects of human existence and are therefore susceptible to manipulation by phantom healers, spiritual waifs and swayed by opinions and distinctions especially when viewed from a religious or spiritual rather than a social or rational point of view.

Let me start by saying that both ecstasy and trance are temporarily emotional states otherwise we speak of psychic pathology or mental disorder. Both states require that one is voluntarily willing with mind and body to enter this non-ordinary state of consciousness.

During the experience of these states people report to feel completely different from their daily life, they experience life completely different as life itself changed. Visual and auditory hallucinations (ecstasy) and divinatory possessions (trance) can often occur.

To simplify the concept and make it clear from the beginning, let me start with the difference between the two terms:

Trance is related to sensory overstimulation, (dances, singing sociability and ensemble rituals ) while ecstasy on the contrary is mostly a deprivation of the senses (solitude, silence, fasting self hypnosis).

Below you can find the  diagram used by Rouget that effectively explains the elements that characterise these two states for the occurrence of phenomena :


  • Stillness
  • Silence
  • Solitude
  • Crisislessness
  • Sensory deprivation
  • Recollection
  • Hallucinations
  • Visions

Trance :

  • Movement
  • Noise
  • Society
  • With crisis
  • Sensory overstimulation
  • Amnesia
  • Absence of hallucinations.

Obviously, one cannot imagine that this scheme leads to the total differentiation of the two phenomena. It is much more complex and carries with it a series of overlaps that can give rise to contradictions and further confusions. So to simplify let me say that one enters one of the two states properly if all the elements from Rouget scheme occur. On the other hand one cannot speak distinctly of a state of ecstasy or trance but of a continuum between the two phenomena.

A good example is the individual/solitary experienced Dhkir state which is more described like a state of ecstasy than trance but it is embedded in a secular Sufi trance ritual (famous twirling dancers).

As already pointed out the state of ecstasy is by its very nature an inner quest, and comes from a practice that has immobility, silence solitude and sensory deprivation as its cornerstones. Therefore it is incompatible with music which is dynamism sociality sensory excitement. Certainly there are instances when at deep levels of meditation one can hear melodies, chants or specific motifs but these occurrences are caused by sound hallucinations also called “mystical sounds” that arise from the ‘unconscious and manifest as a call of the innermost memory and are therefore a signal from within our being.

Trance on the other hand needs external stimulation almost always accompanied by music. Sometimes only rhythms, other times only with melodic and incantatory chants or other times still religious litanies but still from an external audible and participated signal. It should be added that trance is a transient state of consciousness (hence the word trance) where a part of oneself is revealed in an almost uncontrolled way, while in ecstasy one is in oneself and inwardly one finds bliss without having any kind of possession phenomena.

Trance then, is a transient state where for a given period we allow a spirit, entity to be represented in our body so we become something else and/or someone else. There are different types of trance: that of communion, ritual and religious and that of identificatory possession. The latter is triggered when the adept under certain circumstances represents the deity, the spirit ( eg vodun, djiin ) that has been called during the ritual. It often requires hours of dancing, chanting dancing, accelerating and crescendo before this can occur.  For example, in both Benin and Aleppo rituals several cults/confraternities use music and thus the dance that arises from it to bring the participants at a psycho-physical level of exhaustion. By pushing and crossing the limit of tolerance of these external stimuli beyond a threshold one enters states of transcendence where supernatural behavior, sometimes of extreme violence, self-flagellation up to episodes leading to the death of the possessed can occur.

Role of Music

What is the role of music in the arising of these phenomena?

To simplify: a certain kind of music played insistently activates dance, which combined with the right preparation, intention and stun can lead to trance.

But what kind of music?

In the collective imagination it is the drum that is often represented as the instrument that causes trance, just think of shamans but this is not always the case indeed…

From the direct testimonies of scholars present at the ceremonies, a fundamental role is played by the voice: not only the beautiful singing that leads to transcendence but even more important is the often overlooked meaning of the words. The language circumscribed to the type of culture of reference, singing about the exploits of the saints, or the cherished places and instil the stories that tell the stories of the ancestors and the patron deities of the community. It is rare if not impossible to enter trance if one is a stranger to the culture of that particular cult.

In the second part I will explore the role of music in relationship to trance from the viewpoint of philosophers like Plato or Aristotle and mystics like the Persian Ghazzalî or Rumi.

Epigram at 01 minute    

What is Cymatics: Sound made Visible

What is Cymatics: Sound made Visible

Cymatics is the study of visible sound and vibration patterns and a subset of modal vibrational phenomena. As Collins dictionary says: the study of wave phenomena, esp sound, and their visual representations.

It explores how sound waves interact with different materials to create geometric patterns and shapes. The term “cymatics” was coined by the Swiss physician and natural scientist Hans Jenny in the 1960s, derived from the Greek word “kyma,” meaning “wave.” Or simply put it makes sound visible or better say it makes vibrations visible and each frequency of vibration has its own visible pattern.


The basic principle of cymatics is that when sound waves pass through a medium, such as water, sand, or a metal plate, they create distinct patterns that can be seen and studied. These patterns are formed due to the vibrations caused by the sound waves, which cause the medium to move in specific ways.

One of the earliest references even though both Darwin and da Vinci mention the change of patterns in dust when “hitting” it with a vibration to cymatics can be traced back to the work of Ernst Chladni, an 18th-century German physicist and musician. Chladni conducted experiments using a metal plate covered with a thin layer of sand. By drawing a bow along the edge of the plate, he caused it to vibrate, and the sand rearranged itself into intricate geometric patterns, known as Chladni figures. Chladni’s work demonstrated the visual representation of sound and laid the foundation for further exploration in the field of cymatics.

Hans Jenny expanded upon Chladni’s experiments and conducted extensive research on cymatics. In the 1960s, he published a book called “Cymatics: A Study of Wave Phenomena and Vibration,” which documented his findings. Jenny used various materials, including fluids, powders, and pastes, to visualize the effects of different sound frequencies and amplitudes on the medium.

To make sound visible most of the time there are two different kind of devices used. One the Chladni plate which is a metal plate with “dust” on it or a device that is essentially a bowl of water on top of a speaker with a camera. Especially with the last one the most beautiful images of specific frequencies are captured.


What is interesting is that when pure frequencies are played, the material used forms the most beautiful shapes that are based in geometry and can resemble nature, flowers and ancient symbols and patterns. Besides the the some what mystery that something (sound) invisible to the eye can become visible it is also this “beauty” and harmony effect that draws people into the study of cymatics.

The common theory behind a lot of sound healing practices comes from the fact that if pure frequencies form beautiful figures in water and create harmony it will therefor have a similar effect on our body and the planet. The same deduction explains why disorganised frequencies can make us feel uncomfortable.


An interesting addition on this topic and on how vibration becomes visible is the work of Japanese scientist Masaru Emoto where he shows the influence of our thoughts, words and feelings on molecules of water. Using high-speed photography, Dr. Masaru Emoto discovered that crystals formed in frozen water reveal changes when specific, concentrated thoughts and words are directed toward them. He found that water from clear springs and water that has been exposed to loving words shows brilliant, complex, and colourful snowflake patterns. In contrast, polluted water, or water exposed to negative thoughts, forms incomplete, asymmetrical patterns with dull colours.

The name Flower of Sound

The name Flower of Sound is inspired by Cymatics and the beautiful flower shapes sound can make. As Flower of Sound we want to let you experience the power of sound.

The books to read for more information about Cymatics:

  1. Jenny, H. (2001). Cymatics: A Study of Wave Phenomena and Vibration. Macromedia Press. You can read the book here: https://archive.org/details/hans-jenny-cymatics/page/113/mode/2up
  2. Chladni, E. F. F. (1787). Entdeckungen über die Theorie des Klanges. Breitkopf und Härtel. You can read the book here https://archive.org/details/entdeckungenuber00chla
  3. Masaru Emoto The Hidden Messages in Water This one you can order on all online bookshops

Extra information: