Dose Of Reality: An Experiment With Digital Drugs

Lisa Blanning reflects on entering into the uncharted waters of I-Doser's digital dope. And lives to tell her story.

OMNI Magazine, 1982

Humans have always searched for ways to reach altered states. With our digital era comes the logical conclusion of virtual highs. A cyberpunk promise, it should be instant, inexpensive and leave no damage. Is I-Doser the first step to that? Promising binaural tones meant to simulate the same kinds of altered consciousness we experience through drugs, their ‘album’ Recreational Simulants I features four tracks labeled “Marijuana”, “Cocaine”, “Opium” and “Peyote”. Designed for use through decent headphones – the two channels of each track emit different tones, which work in combination to achieve the desired affect.

Each of the four tracks is based around what appear to be two sine wave drones – a slightly different one in each ear – and vary in pitch and volume, depending on the drug it’s meant to be replicating. These form the basis of the binaural brainwaves, but they come dressed in additional audio. “Marijuana” has the synth washes and water sounds of new age music, transporting you to a spa or the massage table, but without the relaxing treatment those places provide. “Cocaine” is slightly better, with the emotional pull of a Vangelis soundtrack, carrying the reminder that maudlin is really more appropriate for the comedown, isn’t it? “Opium” and “Peyote” might be the worst: the outdated trip-hop beats just detract from the aural experience. But I-Doser don’t claim to make great music, so let’s move on.

La Monte Young & Marian Zazeela's 'Dream House' installation La Monte Young & Marian Zazeela

In their FAQ, I-Doser explain that there are three categories of ‘users’: Susceptible to Binaural Beats, Originally Unsusceptible to Binuaral Beats, and Immune to Binaural Beats. It’s hard to tell if any cloudy-headedness is from I-Doser or the anxiety of making sure I’ve got the optimal conditions for opening the doors of perception. Eventually, I have to be honest with myself – it just isn’t getting me off. I feel calm, but not altered. Plus, I don’t feel any discernable difference between any of the four tracks. As I spend more time with Recreational Simulants I, I start to feel the frustration of the fool that just bought ‘soapium’. Here’s the thing about (real) drugs, kids. If they work, you won’t be sitting there wondering if it’s working.

Music as drugs? I had hoped I fell in I-Doser’s first category. Experiences such as a Sunn O))) performance or La Monte Young & Marian Zazeela’s Dream House installation in New York – where a room bathed in magenta light houses two large speakers each emitting a different, but precise sine wave tone – had left me feeling cleansed, like a shift had taken place; me but not me, a physiological upset that went beyond spiritual or mental transcendentalism… high.

We’re always using music for mood alteration. It’s a sedative, a stimulant, soporific and aphrodisiac. Sensory information, and our ability to have a choice in affecting it, is the pleasure of consciousness and sentience. For me, sadly, I-Doser is a less effective means to that then, say, Oval’s 94 Diskont or Phill Niblock – or possibly smoking grass. I-Doser do state that it can take some time and multiple ‘doses’, but I’m not sure the science of simulation has got it right. But in the interests of the advancement of humanity, the binaural experience is worth perfecting – perhaps by making it multi-sensoral with virtual reality goggles bathing your eyes in magenta light (just a suggestion).

By Lisa Blanning on April 13, 2012

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