Vapour Trails

This is another video experiment into perceptions of time and space in music and moving imagery, this time incorporating the track ‘Vapour Trails’ from the Sounds of In-Between album. This was interesting to see how many ways I could take some innocuous imagery of clouds and treat them in a way where perception could be challenged. Clouds are already conducive to imaginative thought (remember the game many of us played as children, trying to identify something in the tufts of condensed vapour). Hopefully the new soundtrack, in which I already had in mind arcs of vapour trails criss-crossing the sky, enhances this experience – enjoy.


Persistence of Memory

Another experimental video, this time incorporating a piece from Sounds Of In-Between, ‘Persistence of Memory‘ (the title borrowed from the famous Salvador Dali painting, replete with melting clocks – the constant bells in the music seemed both apt and persistent). This footage was shot and edited together as part of my recent experiments into perceptions of time and space, and previously had no soundtrack, but now it does – the flickering sunlight seems to perfectly match a sense of past evocations, like faint scratches, a palimpsest of a past lives. That’s my take on it anyway… enjoy.

Submarine Bells

This is a piece of music I’ve recently set vision to (rather than the other way around) as an example of spatio-temporal ‘suspension’, both musically and visually. It took somewhat longer than I would have anticipated (rendering video in Adobe Premier seem to take eons with the effects I’ve been applying) but I’m quite pleased with the results – hope you enjoy it too.

Suspension – Sequence 01 from Peter Long on Vimeo.

3-Minute Thesis

Time-is-MoneyThis week I had the opportunity to present at the 3-Minute Thesis competition, during the Interventions & Intersections Humanities and Communication Arts conference at the Parramatta campus of Western Sydney University. For the uninitiated, this is a competition initiated by the University of Queensland, now adopted internationally,  where doctoral students present an overview of their entire doctoral research in just three minutes. True. This early career researcher was calm and collected until it dawned that perhaps I hadn’t covered all the requirements, like the significance of the research, key results and outcomes, avoiding jargon and academic-speak and having a clear, logical sequence – was it logical? Or even vaguely interesting to people? And in my attempts to prune every last word and syllable down to the absolute quintessence of the research, would it even be coherent?

As it turned out, my fears were unfounded – the presentation romped in at a comfortable 2 minutes and 50 seconds, I only stumbled once (and recovered) and fellow researchers were interested and wanted to know more. A few were still a little confused by what I was investigating, which given the elusive nature of the research (aesthetic experiences of spatio-temporal suspension in popular music) is perhaps not entirely surprising, but I was quietly pleased with how it all went. Ultimately, the aim of the competition is to provide PhD students with a way to explain in everyday language the nature of our research and its relevance, and not in the often opaque jargon of our respective disciplines. I’ve had a hard time to trying to explain what ‘affect’ is to people and how it works, never mind suspended experience itself. Have a look at this and see if you can make sense of what I’m talking about (and yes, it really only took three minutes):

How many people here could say they’ve had experiences of music where they’d been so immersed that they’d lost sense of space and time? Or music that was so absorbing that it conjured an alternate space in your mind, like an imaginary world? 

When I was young, this was my experience, perhaps when the radio or television was on in the background or hearing music in another room; my mind would drift into another reality. What I’m talking about here is a state conducive to subconscious thought, like a gateway into imagination. I see this as similar to hypnagogia, just before we drift off to sleep and our imagination starts to roam. So, how exactly does this happen? Are there particular sounds or features of music that trigger this? And how does the experience work, what is taking place in the brain for this to happen? This project focuses on this experience, what I call ‘spatio-temporal suspension’ and its application in aesthetics.

Current theory suggests that as very young children, our understanding of the world is formed by neurological waves of response to movement, called vitality affects. These ‘call and response’ patterns emerge in the interaction between mothers and babies and shape our aesthetic response to art or music later in life. As the neural pathways are still relatively undefined, there’s potential for overlap between the senses – this may be why certain sounds and music trigger visual associations, what Daniel Stern refers to as ‘cross-modal merging’ (2010, p. 42).

How we process sound and imagery is highly dependent on perception of movement – without it, it’s difficult to gauge a sense of scale, whether an object ‘affords’ interaction or might pose a danger. Gibson’s ecological approach (1986), like Stern’s, places emphasis on direct perception of movement before thought takes place, so anything that we see as transformed or altered from its usual ‘invariant’ state, gives us reason to pause, to examine it afresh. By applying this idea in music and art, we can observe that sounds or images in an abstracted form, like this photograph (indicate slide) could be perceived this way – the image is familiar but unspecified, and removed from its usual context we pay more attention to its aesthetic qualities. I suggest this is where we gain a foothold into imagination and subconscious thought, what Achtermann refers to as “constructs of the imagination” (2016, p. 92). 

Recently I conducted experiments with participants viewing and listening to examples of abstracted video and music, using techniques to blur or disguise sounds and imagery. Almost all reported a feeling of immersion. However, although music examples generated imagery like flocks of birds, particles and shifting light patterns, only half of the respondents reported hearing something in the video examples. It appears that music employing abstraction has ability to tap into imaginative thought and gives insight into how aesthetic engagement occurs. For this reason, I believe it also has relevance for music creation, sound recording and music analysis. It will also inform the creation of a new multimedia installation, giving people opportunity to experience ‘suspension’ next year.

So, what do you think? Does it make sense, or do I have more work to do? Please let me know, I’m entirely open to suggestions or ways to tighten this up.

Time & space research participants required


Do you ever lose a sense of time and place when experiencing music or art? Or do you see imagery when listening to music or hear music when looking at art? 

I am currently seeking students and individuals to participate in a study researching perceptions of space and time in popular music and imagery, and in particular, whether we may experience a diminishing awareness of time and space, or feeling of ‘suspension’, in certain instances of music and art. It also looks at whether there may be similar experiences of suspension that exist between visuals and music in film, music videos and multimedia. Participants will be asked to listen and view excerpts of music and video footage and asked a series of questions in relation to their perception of time and spatial awareness during exposure to this footage. Participants may also be asked to perform a creative task, e.g. drawing, during exposure to music to ascertain their perceptions of time and spatial awareness while performing a creative task. The tests will take approximately 1 hour, and all participants will receive a $20 gift card for their time. Although musical ability is not required, an interest in the research area would be beneficial.

Research location: Western Sydney University, Kingswood campus, School of Humanities and Communication Arts Building C (music department), Room C.G.04

Research date: Friday June 9, 10.30am

If you would like to take part in this research, please contact Peter at

Affect in music and imagery


A still from Stan Brakhage’s experimental film Night Music (1983)

As it’s been a while since I last posted and 2016 is hurtling rapidly toward a close, I thought it might be timely to rattle off a quick missive, both to bring my thoughts into focus and audience up to date with what’s been happening in PhD land (as well as trying to get back into some serious writing again).

For those new to this blog, I made a late-career decision a few years back to go back to university, enrolling as what’s politely referred to as a ‘mature aged’ student. Despite being the oldest in my cohort at Western Sydney, I progressed from a Bachelor degree in music through a first-class honours year and jumped straight into a PhD in 2015. My honours year research was concerned with an ‘in-between’ state in music, a zone in which time appeared to be stretched out, elongated, even suspended altogether – I observed this state in various types of music (see previous posts) and eventually decided this may be related to liminal or ‘in-between’ stages in rites of passage, according Van Gennep, Turner, et al. (see Liminality: a state of ‘in-between’). Although the liminal stage is anthropologically based, the idea of the in-between zone, or an immersive experience where time appears suspended, has stayed with me. This in-between quality has popped up in a few other unexpected places – Michel Foucault’s heteretopias, or spaces that exist outside normal societal functioning, have some interesting parallels in regards to time, in creating “a space of illusion that exposes every real space… as still more illusory” (1986, p. 27). The Japanese concept of ma, or ‘negative space’ carries through a number of Asian philosophies, though in Japan is notable as “intervals of space and time that become meaningful only when filled with motion” (Chennette, 1985, p. 2). Even Csikszentmihalyi’s flow theory observes distortions of time when “one is actively involved in a task or performance” (1999, p. 381). For myself, my ‘in-between’ experiences often occur in creative pursuits, especially improvised experience in music performance or recording when one becomes ‘lost’ in the experience – Brian Eno has likened this state to ‘surfing’, when one surrenders to creativity and loss of ego, like surfers catching a wave and ‘riding’ the experience.

However, one crucial part of the puzzle was missing, and forms the basis of my current research – what about the visual aspect of the experience? My associations with the musical and auditory aspects of the ‘in-between’ quality are also intensely visual – I often ‘see’ flashes of light and colour, usually quite abstracted and diffuse, like trying to recall a distant memory. The closest I have seen to this has been some of the experimental films of Stan Brakhage, like Mothlight (1963) or Stellar (1993) in their ephemeral, flickering quality – this is a bit like the images that form in the stage of hypnagogia, before we drift off to sleep.  Trying to relate this quality to people (including my supervisors) has been challenging, and describing the experience even more so – this blog isn’t called Adventures in Sound and Vision for nothing! The visual associations I have are invariably brief and fleeting, but are nonetheless there, and part of the challenge of the research has been trying to discover the visual basis of the phenomenon and why it correlates with music so readily.

Fortunately, a new approach was suggested by one of my supervisors, and has little to do with philosophical approaches, moving more into the realms of perception and neuroscience. The idea of affect, or a primary neurological response to changes in an environment, particular lymovement, hold a great deal of promise for my research, not least that it has grounding in observable physical phenomena. Eric Shouse (2005) defines affect as “a non-conscious experience of intensity” or “the body’s way of preparing itself for action in a given circumstance by adding a… dimension of intensity to the quality of an experience” (para 5). Affect is our base, primary neurological response before any thought or signification takes place, before feeling and emotion: it “precedes will and consciousness” (para 9). Importantly, Shouse observes that “the power of affect lies in [it’s] “abstractivity” that makes it transmittable in ways that feelings and emotions are not” (para. 15) and in this respect has considerable relevance for our base physical responses to music.

Psychologist Daniel Stern (2010) observes the role of what he terms vitality affects in aesthetics, suggesting that we have been ‘attuned’ to aesthetic waveforms since birth – as infants we mirror previously learned movement and experience (p. 42). Notably, he observes that “cross-modal merging and synesthesias are initially more common in infancy and are in fact the norm” (p. 35). In the time-based arts especially, Stern observes the capacity of vitality affects to “elicit similar felt states regardless of what modality they arise from” (p. 76) providing opportunity for collaborations across art forms or “correspondences”:

“Correspondences” between art forms are necessarily created because of the meta-modal nature of vitality forms that assure a common ability to render similar, but not identical, experiences. The magic lies in pairing the similar with the “not exactly the same”. (p. 78)

This potential for correspondence across art forms suggests that a sensory pairing between moving imagery and auditory or musical isn’t entirely unreasonable, given the “meta-modality and potential speed of modulation” of vitality affects (p. 79). In the case of forms of music that construct ‘sound worlds’ like psychedelia and other immersive  music, I would suggest that the sound and musical phenomena experienced has correspondences in moving imagery. Stern also suggests “the dynamics of experience are revealed in all art forms because they speak the same meta-modal language of vitality forms with or without identifiable emotions” (p. 81) and in respect to music and moving imagery, this makes a great deal of sense as perception of movement in sound and visuals frequently appear to ‘mirror’ each other dynamically – how often do we see a music video that appears to relate the experience of the music without any obvious link to lyrics or narrative? When someone says they are moved by music, they may mean it, literally. Suffice to say, affect is front and foremost in my current investigations, although I feel I’m barely scratching the surface yet – there’s clearly more to investigate in this fascinating area.

More discoveries in the New Year – have a happy Christmas, see you in 2017.

Sounds Of In-Between – the album

The cover artwork for Sounds Of In-Between

Just a short post to announce that ‘Sounds Of In-Between’ (formerly ‘The Sound of In-Between) has been officially released and is available via BandCamp here. If you’re at all concerned about how artists receive funds through recording sales, BandCamp is about the most direct route from listener to creator, as the artist determines what to charge and there is an option for the buyer to pay more for an album if they wish – it’s a good system. The album will also be made available on iTunes and the usual digital channels in the coming month, but expect to pay more for it there.

And for those who haven’t heard the album yet, or haven’t been following the many blog posts over the preceeding months – expect to be transported in a contemplative, mesmerising and captivating exploration of sound, from gentle ukuleles and reverberant drums, iridescent bells and distant voices to water-filled woks and acid-streaked guitars. It’s quite a trip, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised you took it. 🙂

Keep an eye for further posts as I explore liminality further in cinema and music video. If anyone has their own ideas on what they’d consider to be states of suspension in other forms of music or visual art, please feel free to drop me a line via the contact form on this site. I’ll also be working on visual interpretations (i.e. music video) of the pieces from the album in the coming months.