Battle Trance

How do you define a “spiritual experience?”

Most people in my circle respond to this question with some implication of interconnection, where feel a sort of oneness with everyone and everything around them. Although this perception of spirituality might heighten our sense of social cohesion, it can be triggered through a myriad of actions, either as an individual or with a group of people. Maybe it’s climbing to the top of a mountain and looking over the expanse of land that surrounds you. Or maybe it’s witnessing live music amidst a crowd of people, who are all listening and moving to the same rhythm.

Either way, it’s the realization that all humans share a certain kinship. Yet this “unified” experience is not exclusive to the love-and-light quality often associated with spirituality. With a little help from Psychology Wiki, here is an interesting parallel:

Battle trance is a term denoting a specific altered state of consciousness that characterizes the psychological state of combatants during a combat situation. In this state, combatants do not feel fear or pain, and all the individual members of a group are acting as one collective organism… losing their individuality and acquiring a shared collective identity. In a battle trance, humans may behave very differently, ranging from extremely altruistic (to the point of sacrificing themselves to save others) to extremely aggressive (to the point of participating in mass murders). Battle trance state may occur involuntarily (for example, mother acting in total disregard of her own safety when her child is suddenly attacked), or it can be induced by ritualistic behavior, involving loud rhythmic group singing, stomping and drumming on external subjects, as well as the use of different psychogenic substances.

By no coincidence, Battle Trance is also a tenor saxophone quartet from New York, whose style is often labeled avant-garde for multiple reasons. Not only are they fundamentally defying symphonic traditions with a band consisting of four identical wind instruments, but their improvisational and experimental approach also offers quite the alternative experience.


Battle Trance at Church on Morgan

I stumbled upon this dynamic group during Hopscotch, an annual music festival in the heart of downtown Raleigh, NC. We had arrived to the venue early for a performance on my friend’s must-see list, and I could not have been more pleasantly surprised. My senses were immediately absorbed by the evocative light display and the quality of the acoustics, which were enhanced by a primitive architecture of the impromptu theatre, Church on Morgan.

As is the nature of any altered state of consciousness, my experience is a strange one to describe. While I sat amongst a motionless crowd in rows of folding chairs, my whole body started buzzing. It felt as if the saxophone sounds were radiating outward, omitting an almost visceral vibration that expanded beyond the boundaries of the cinderblock walls. I found myself beaming (like a total dork) while my forehead felt as if it was dancing with physical sensations. I ecstatically listened to the four instruments and the layers of sounds that seemed to grow ever-more complex and interrelated. A pool of sound waves seemed to rise and fall, bringing me along with them, and creating a feeling of total synchronicity – with myself and with all those around me.

by Maria Borghoff

Take a listen for yourself…


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