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Psychic Driving

Psychic Driving was shown as a work-in-progress at HERE’s Culturemart Series in March 2015. HERE writes:

“Psychic Driving surrounds the audience with a hallucinatory landscape of audio surveillance, hospital sonification, and clandestine broadcasts, inspired by the CIA brainwashing experiments of the 1950s, in which subjects were force-fed LSD then played looped audiotapes. Four performers chatter, sing, and nosedive from desks in an intricate physical and musical score that seamlessly combines musical samples with live performers. Brooke’s trademark musical mash-ups have been called “operatic in scope, unfolding in layers that constantly reveal new meanings” (Culturebot) and “the most exciting and innovative musical theater I’ve seen in years” (Meredith Monk)


The evening-length piece is in development. The musical “bed” of the piece will be finished this Spring 2015, and the final show will be 50 minutes long, performed in the round, and with a non-stop physical intensity, unlike anything the Cabinet has done before. Simply set, the work will use a small battery of props, keeping the focus on the lock-step relation of sound, sampling, and movement.

For a great primer/review of Nick Brooke/The Cabinet’s approach,

see Culturebot’s review of Border Towns 

…or NewMusicBox’s interview.




“Psychic Driving” was a technique pioneered by Dr. Ewen Cameron in the 1950s and 1960s. Borderline patients would be dosed LSD for weeks at a time while being played looped audiotapes with therapeutic messages. The goal was to start the mind anew, though the CIA quickly became interested in the technique’s use for brainwashing and torture. This production uses those MKUltra experiments as a metaphorical launching off point, exploring the sometimes thin line between therapy and torture, and looking at both the liberating and numbing aspects of sonic repetition. A touchstone of the 1960s, repeated audio stimuli intrigued other experimenters. Burroughs looped audio tape as a kind of unconscious, automatic writing, the bleeps and buzzes of hospital sonification were pioneered, and audio surveillance began its heyday. So did musical minimalism.

This production began as an audio collage of hundreds of song fragments and text, which the four performers learn to imitate, like Cameron’s looped tapes, and which virtually creates the physical score. Materials include technopop, CIA playlists, dating lingo from foreign phrasebooks, number stations, ghazals, and self-hypnosis tapes for sleep and lucid dreaming. The physical and musical score explores canons and asynchronous loops, mistranslation, and musical warhorses of minimalism. Ultimately what emerges is a sonic meditation on the unhinged relativity of communication.

These sounds  weave into complex loops, canons, and fugal structures, out of which singing emerges. The four performers surround the audience in booths reminiscent of telemarketing, mechanical fortune-tellers, radio broadcasts, and Spalding Gray’s classic monologue table. With minimal props, the choreography, developed in lock-step with the sounds, will draw attention to the intricate play between light and sound—and the multiple perspectives, from womb-like envelopment to paranoia, that surround-sound evokes. Sometimes playing out in near-darkness, the piece will explore how, in parsing dense message streams, one doesn’t always know where to look or listen.