A Virtual Reality Acid Trip, Less The Drugs And Flashbacks
Robin Arnott’s Soundself, a virtual reality “technodelic” is designed to get players into the same state of mind Arnott felt years ago when he actually took acid—and subsequently came to the realization, as often happens, that he was one with the entire universe.
Arnott put together a peaceful meditation tent at the PAX East expo in Boston last month, including a comfortable rug and a pillow, where you could lay down (praying you don’t contract head lice), put an Oculus Rift on yout head, and go ahead to lose yourself in the experience. Talking, or making any sounds at all, changed the series of patterns, lights, sounds, shapes that are seen, merging you and the world around you into a synesthetic collaboration.
“They call it ‘ego death,’” says Arnott. “Just as when you’re dying, as your body is in grave danger, your memory bank facilities dramatically increase, and you remember it in slow motion. The replay of that is like a step-by-step replay of the dissolution of a human being.”
“That acid trip gave me my first recognition that every step of that could be facilitated without a drug,” he continues. “People who meditate know that you don’t need a drug. This game is sort of that step-by-step. An implementation of what it took for me to dissolve and witness myself as what I am.”
The SoundSelf demo begins with the program asking you to “fill it with your voice.” The patterns get larger when you talk, hum, or whistle. The vision eventually begins to unfold on its own, without the need to make any more noise. At this point, the recursive patterns begin to swallow themselves over and over again, eventually making you zone out, and lose track of time.
SoundSelf simply wouldn’t work without the involved party using a virtual reality headset. The Oculus Rift increases the level of immersion of any game, but it also prevents those using it from having any sort of peripheral vision which is especially useful for the purpose intended by SoundSelf. If you’re playing Journey, your experience could possibly be completely ruined by your roommate walking across the living room. If you have a VR headset on however, there’s no chance that something will randomly stroll across your field of vision. Psychedelic visualizations are a crucial part of the SoundSelf experience, as are the subtle visual alteration methods that those undertaking its journey are able to use.
“This is a novelty,” says Arnott. “A silly, weird experience.” His target is not those people who are already into the idea of “moving past their ego,” whether through meditation practices or otherwise. Compared to the video games which are the staples of VR, Arnott believes, this is technology used not to hook onto your mind, but to let you get out of your head.
Considering VR has the power to transport us, in a way that our brain totally believes is real, to another place, perhaps VR could also be powerful enough to transport us to a place that is no place at all.
The Origin of SoundSelf
It’s difficult to attempt to describe SoundSelf with words; especially considering, this is an inherently indescribable experience. The short story of how SoundSelf came to be, perhaps, would do more justice to the illustration.
Robin Arnott found himself chanting randomly after consuming a mild dose of LSD at Burning Man a few years ago. Chanting, for him, is a soothing process; more of an energy release than an aural creation. Coincidentally, Robin’s chants ended up harmonizing with some of the festival’s eclectic music. As he continued his chanting, a feeling of “oneness” enveloped his entire being, and his intonations became a part of something bigger than himself. A less creative soul would probably have ended this thought process here, but, this to Robin, was a deeply powerful experience. If he was one with the melody, perhaps he was one with the entire festival, and if he was one with the entire festival, maybe he was one with the entire universe.
Why should it be necessary to ingest synthesized chemicals to have this sort of profound feeling of oneness? What if that happening could be recreated with the aid of technology, thus giving those experiencing it the best chance to peer into Robin’s mind during that day?
There are no laws that govern how someone, chemically-enhanced or not, will experience a given event and no formula dictates the possibility that a random occurrence will be as powerful to Person B as it was to Person A. What Robin Arnott does have the power to do, and has implemented with SoundSelf, is minimize the number of variables that affect each person during the experience.