Simon Posford’s psychedelic trance music has taken on many forms over the years. Hailing from London, this musical Mad Hatter broke onto the scene as Hallucinogen in the mid-90s and quickly became one of the pioneers of the Goa trance movement. Throughout the years, Posford has had many irons in the fire with his side band Younger Brother and contributions to Celtic Cross and the Infinity Project, among others. Since its debut album, Shpongle has been his primary focus as his collaborative partnership with Raja Ram has yielded four records with another on deck. His tours have grown more intensive and elaborate with 2011’s introduction of the towering Shpongletron structure and its cutting edge psychedelic visuals. Now Shpongle is back with a bigger and better tour. We caught up with Posford while he’s in the midst of crisscrossing the U.S. and questioned him about everything from his upcoming album to his penchant for experimenting with altered states to his thoughts on the scientific potential of the Large Hadron Collider.
After the Shpongletron Experience tour in 2011, you’re currently sweeping across the United States with the Masquerade. Is your current tour a progression from last year’s Shpongletron or more of a branching out into a new direction?
I hope it’s a progression. It’s the Shpongletron v2.0. More 3D mapping and a different structure. And, of course, I have a couple of tracks from the new album in my set.
Are you still doing DJ sets or is your main focus the larger scale performances with your entire cast of performers?
Although I’m using some synths, effects and Ableton Live, the Masquerade shows are still kind of DJ sets. The Shpongle live band shows are really just one-off rare events. With Raja Ram’s health a consideration, we have no full band shows booked for the foreseeable future.
Can you explain your creative dynamic with Shpongle collaborative partner Raja Ram?
Raj is my friend, guru and student. We have worked together for nearly 20 years. He is a fantastic flautist and an inspiration to many. In the studio he gives feedback and comes up with visual ideas that I reinterpret into the music. He is like a psychedelic cartoon character.
Are any of the vocal elements on your records actually your own voice? How do you select the vocal samples? Does the music come first or is the music built off the contents of a sample?
There are a few samples of my voice, heavily processed. Raj does some sort of vocal on most tracks for the last two albums, since we stopped using sample CDs. He’ll usually do some talking, some squawking and screaming, which I will often convert into a melody. We also have our singers, Michele Adamson and Hari Om, if we want a better vocal with lyrics. The music comes first, and then we add stuff as required, maybe readjusting the music to fit the vocal.
“Nothing Lasts… But Nothing Is Lost” is one of the more transcendental titles (for both an album and a song) that I’ve heard. Impermanence is a very Buddhist concept, and one that’s also backed by a scientific understanding of matter. What is it about ancient mysticism and modern science that so fascinates you?
I guess I’ve always had a very curious mind, but my bullshit detector is set to High! I appreciate critical thinking and reason. There are many paths to the truth and some are longer than others, but it’s nice to explore. We need science to save the planet, but there’s no point if we haven’t learned the lessons from our ancestors and other cultures. Also, I like to experiment with altered states of consciousness, whether it’s through substances discovered by science and shamans or through techniques taught by Yogis.
Given that your 2010 EP is titled The God Particle, I’m curious about how scientific developments such as the Large Hadron Collider have an effect on you creatively.
The LHC is such an exciting development for all of us. Trying to understand the Universe is a natural thing for any sentient being and CERN is providing us with clues that scientists will be puzzling over for years to come. Compare the investment in something like the LHC, and its benefits to humanity and furthering the knowledge and understanding of what connects us all, to the investment in the military, which divides us and perpetuates tribal feuds and misery.
You’re a rather outspoken proponent of the psychoactive substance DMT, which is also an acronym for one of your most played songs “Divine Moments of Truth.” How do you think someone who is unfamiliar with altered states would interpret the Shpongle experience?
Hopefully anyone could find something to enjoy in the music, just as there is probably something in there to irritate most people. You don’t need drugs to take pleasure in good tunes!
Your career spans nearly two decades, during which CDs have come and gone as the preferred medium for music. How do you feel about new music distribution methods such as Spotify and other services that pull music from “the cloud” rather than offer it in physical formats? Do we, as individuals, really need to own physical copies of something as intangible as music?
I think all music will end up in “the cloud” eventually. My only problem with media such as Spotify is that of quality. It doesn’t sound that great. But it’s improving all the time. Whether a physical copy is vinyl or a phone doesn’t bother me. It’s about accessibility and quality for me.
A significant portion of your work involves the theme of extra-terrestrials or at least communications from inhabitants of other dimensions. Were you a sci-fi buff as a kid? What are some of the specific cinematic (or musical) influences from your youth that have influenced your current creative output?
I was never a sci-fi fan. I enjoyed the Rama series by Arthur C. Clarke and a little Philip K. Dick, but I never really got swept away by the genre. I haven’t even seen all the Star Wars films! As a kid I liked Terminator and Alien. In terms of cinematic influence I would say real world movies like Baraka and Microcosmos have had a far greater effect on me.
Have you ever been in a sensory deprivation tank? Do you meditate? Can you speak about other non-chemical means of transcendence you’ve practiced in order to take a journey within the mind?
I’ve never been in a sensory deprivation tank, although I was curious after watching the movie Altered States and then reading about the experiments of John Lilly. I don’t meditate as much as I probably should, but I find Osho’s Dynamic Meditation to be particularly effective for minds like mine that don’t like to be still.
Would you say that you’re more introverted or extroverted? How does this affect your creative approach?
Definitely introverted. How that affects my creative approach, I couldn’t say. Maybe it helps me stay in the studio longer. I much prefer creating to performing, and in a way that in itself is a meditation, focusing on very small details for hours at a time.
Can you talk a little about your upcoming Shpongle album? Will this spawn yet another incarnation of Shpongleland for your live shows next year? How does the work you’ve done so far for your upcoming album compare to the music of your past albums?
We are just over halfway through the new album. It seems more electronic so far, but it’s probably too early to say. The canvas is still quite blank. If we do any more Shpongle Live shows we will have more tracks to play, but I don’t think the album will affect the performance too much.
Do you have a favorite show you’ve ever performed?
I really enjoyed our Oakland show. Also the Roundhouse in London because it was our first attempt at a big show, but I really like the band lineup we have now.
If you had to put together something as contrived as a Best Of album, which one of your songs could you not live without?
“…And the Day Turned to Night.”
What’s an unrealistic dream venue that you wish you could play?
Machu Picchu would definitely be up there. Outer space too. Possibly weightless could be interesting! Experiencing inner space in outer space.