Critical listening and altered states

Ok, this is not a question about relaxing, but about listening to evaluate how the system (or a piece of gear is sounding).

What, in your experience, are the pluses and minuses of altering your state of mind for listening? This can include anything you've used to affect your everyday state of mind, from coffee, beer, scotch, tobacco, to much stronger — and psychoactive, dissociative — additives.

What do you gain by altering your consciousness in terms of what you notice, attend to, linger on, etc?
What causes more details to emerge?
What allows you to stick with a thread or, alternately, make new connections?

Or perhaps you like to keep all those things *out* of your listening; if that's you, please say a bit about why.

Tacitus (I think) says the Germanic tribes used to make decisions:  (1) at night when they were all sh*t-faced, and (2) in the morning when they were sober.  They only followed their own counsel if the decision was the same in both cases.
first off, no doubt i view this as a legit subject matter, one i take very seriously, and one i think about and plan for.
i’ve made a considerable hifi system life building my system has taken a huge effort and i’ve loved the process. OTOH i can’t be stressed about critical listening. i have to free my mind.

for me to do ’system building’ listening, where i’m making decisions about gear or set-up, i need to first-off, feel good personally. if i’m tired or something is heavy on my mind, or feel rushed or bothered, i don’t really try to listen critically. i have 100 or so digital tracks i use, and another 20-25 vinyl cuts, as my references.

then i just start listening and try to clear my mind. certainly i will have the food fuel part behind me, and will have water of some form or fashion. i avoid alcohol for the most part as that will make me drowsy and shorten my listening time. i go along and see if i’m slipping into my ’zen’ mode where the music is connecting. if it feels good i just let go and float along. i can then really hear my familiar cuts, consider how i’m pulled into the music, and what i’m hearing. is it something new, different, better?

depending on what i’m investigating, i might remove it or make a change and continue. as long as it’s not disruptive to my state of mind.

if work or my wife calls and interrupts, sometimes i will abandon my critical listening and come back to it an hour later and re-boot.

i love this type of listening, and can go for 5-10 hours doing it. my room is in a barn, and there are zero noises or distractions. if i’m doing an extended session, i will have a meal without engaging in conversation where i will lose my state of mind and focus. i view my method as a learned thing. i discovered how this best works for me. i’m sure everyone is a bit different on how you might get into your most effective state of discovery.

my room and system are now at a mature end-game arrival point where these sessions are almost completely behind me. 5 years ago i spent 9 months tuning my room literally with every square inch (this was after 10 years of learning about my room). and also have made digital front end and vinyl front end decisions where i’ve added 4 tt’s, arms, cartridges. i’m all done with that now so little critical listening on my horizon unless i were to move residences. my only critical listening these days involves media choices and format compares.
What, in your experience, are the pluses and minuses of altering your state of mind for listening?
The plus: You’ve altered your state of mind.
The minus: You’ve altered your state of mind.
At WSU we gained a lot of experience with altered states. I have an advanced degree- or would, if only I had remembered to show up for the final. This question reminds me of one time when I came back to the dorm and everyone was already deep into studying altered states. They were discussing the various topics as deeply as ever, you could tell they were really getting somewhere. Only something strange, they were hearing deep philosophy, I was hearing blather. 

From this experience I conclude if you get messed up to make decisions don't be surprised when you make messed up decisions.
There is no benefit in chemical enhancement. You may be led to believe you perceive things better, but you don’t.

Your mind needs to be in an empty state, or "Wuji" ("the ultimate of nothingness") in order for the sound to communicate to you most effectively.
I cannot see how poisoning brain and body can lead to any beneficial effect in anything you do.
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I love this question and how it will divide the respondents into two distinct camps.  Those who use and those who don't.  I have previously mentioned the fact that "a bit" of THC greatly improves my listening experience.  That garnered some agreement, but also the stereotypical (no pun intended) "pothead" remarks from the unenlightened.  I have to laugh when the person denigrating the use of THC is likely to be holding a glass of Scotch or wine in their hand while doing it.  Failing to realize, or except the glass of wine is simply their drug of choice.  As someone who has enjoyed the recreational use of THC for over 50 years, I feel qualified in stating it greatly enhances the listening experience.  Bear in mind I'm not talking about getting wasted.  Just as a person can have a single drink of alcohol and not consume the entire bottle, so can a person consume a small amount of THC.  Those of you who indulge will know exactly what I'm talking about when I say the listening experience can take on an almost physical pleasure when just a little high.  I am able to sink more deeply into the musical experience.  Follow in detail several instruments soloing at the same time, pick out much more detail and emotion in the playing.  Does it matter why this is happening?  Does it matter if it the THC and not my ears?  NO.  All that matters is the experience for me is enhanced and improved.  In summary,  if you haven't tried it, and I don't mean the "I tried it once so I know what it's all about" crowd, then you have no point of reference and have no right to knock it.  I'll get off my soapbox now.  ha ha 
What are you talking about? My system is so good I don't need altered states.Good luck though.
You listen with your brain not your ears. The ears are only the hole the sound comes thru.
Altering brain chemistry can increase pleasure but usually at the expense of true critical thinking. If you’ve ever written down those mind bending epiphanies and read them back the next morning you’ll know what I mean.
If you think the stereo sounds better high and all your doing is listening what can be better than that? On the other hand making large purchases not including pizza is probably not the best decision you can make in the long run.

Altered States,,, great movie.  Especially when high
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@mikelavigne Thanks for taking the question seriously and answering it in such detail. 

To others denigrating the idea of changing one's state of mind is not about getting "wasted." That is an interpretation that says more about fear than anything else.

The idea is not about altering one's state because their system is already good enough. To see why not, simply read the OP again, perhaps more slowly this time.

The idea is about challenging ruts. As anyone who attends to their own experience knows, we often listen with preconceptions and biases which confine how and what we hear. One needs to sometimes loosen up or shake things up a bit so see things differently.

What I see in the accounts of systems that have improved over time, their owners did something to push their own limits. That could be listening to a friend's system, or new music, or even altering their mental state somehow. It's not "poisoning" their mental state, whatever the eff that means. (Puritan alert!)

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I guess I'm reflecting my Germanic roots in that I want my system to be satisfying both when "unenhanced" and when "enhanced" with THC.  Both scenarios are equally valid for me (although I must agree that the THC mode is often quite special).  If a component or system change doesn't pass both scenarios, I don't go with it.
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THC helps me enjoy music more.  It has even helped me make important decisions in my life, including audio purchases.  I don't care if others don't use it or don't like it, but I'm grateful for having access to it and have been for many years.

Psychedelics, in their time and place, have this effect to a much greater degree, but are best used sparingly. 

Alcohol, on the other hand, not as useful in my experience. 

I'm strongly for the legalization of THC and other drugs while being strongly against their prohibition. 

To those who dislike government interference in their lives generally: what could be a greater personal freedom than deciding for oneself what to put in one's body and mind?
There is a difference between altered states and wasted days and waisted nights.

Beer is a brawler
Wine is a mocker
Peyote buttons, LOL are neither, Altered states does come to mind..

Weed helps with my arthritis, it does mellow my state a tad..

Coffee, nothing change my "STATE" more.. Caffeine is a serious drug, completely unregulated..

I tried salvia once while listening to Music for the Native Americans with Robbie Robinson. Once the salvia kicked in I lost all track of reality including the music that was playing. I don't like salvia. I don't like pot or alcohol either. It's not for everyone. 
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@asctim - Salvia and 'reality as we know' it don't really overlap, so not a great tool for music appreciation :)
I might have a glass of wine once a month or less. No longer do recreational drugs. But when I listen to my music I start to hallucinate in a good way. This happens to me very often when I’m listening to music not my equipment. It’s a very pleasant experience when this happens.
 I don’t allow drinking or smoking in my audio room. 
"Thinking is the best way to travel!"

In search of the lost chord  --- The Moody Blues
As someone who's critical listening must be as consistent as possible for business purposes (i do some contract designs, mostly as a hobby) variables must be avoided.

So if you listen to A in an altered state, ensure that B is in the identical altered state.  Or maybe leave the altered states for enjoyment and socializing. This is not really an opinion - one variable per equation.
G (currently altering his state and listening to Traffic)

@pauly , No benefit? Perhaps pauly you are not all that old. If you are lucky one day you will wake up a decrepit old man, 2 inches shorter and everything hurts. It is hard to have fun that way. I have many old people who manage to make it through the day and actually have some fun because they do marihuana in one form or another. Our life span in the wild was 50 years at best. The warranty is up at 50. I cycle 2500 miles a year. I'm not saying you should not take care of yourself. If doing a little cannabinus helps in that regard that is fine by me. I know several drivers who are safer when they are stoned.
My critical listening is done sober. I find it quite easy to set myself up for it. I go through all manner of listening styles, choose one, and just proceed from there.

It comes from an old creative writing class where one of the disciplines we cultivated was to close our eyes and listen to sounds the teacher made. We were told to imagine images, scenes, colors and whatnot and not to fight it. In short order we were able to dive deep into that practice on a moments notice as a way of warming up for the writing.

I can sit back and "see" all manner of mental images that correspond to the music. Sometimes it can be like a graph. Other times a fluid mechanical representation that’s never the same any time I try it. Sometimes it’s a Tetris like soundstage where the notes (represented by different colored squares) come out into the room based on their intensity and location. That one is a fun one to do and I can call it up at will. The first time it happened it came out of nowhere. It’s not an ability to focus but to just let go and see where it takes you.

When I’ve described it to others, I’d get that look but now I’m the one who feels sorry for those that can’t do what is really a simple trick.
I’m also able to feel the frisson of the music in most parts of my body as well as the emotional connection that frisson produces.

For those unaware of frisson:
Frisson, also known as aesthetic chills or musical chills is a psychophysiological response to rewarding auditory and/or visual stimuli that often induces a pleasurable or otherwise positively-valenced affective state and transient paresthesia, sometimes along with piloerection and mydriasis. Wikipedia
All the best,
I don't do drugs other than alcohol.
I don't care if being high makes the music appear to sound better or be appreciated in a different way. The reason is that long term pot users I've known always end up with the same identifiable traits....poor work ethic, lowered responsibility, less desire to achieve anything, same stupid look on their faces. Long term alcohol users do not seem to go down the gurgler like that. Yes there will exceptions. And in not talking excessive use, I'm sure excessive alcohol brings a person firm too.
I'd rather employ a mild drinker than a mild pot smoker. I don't wanna end up like the pot users I've seen. I don't care how good the music seems.
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It's simple, if there is ONE person locked up behind VICE, that's one to many.

When child molesters, rapist, murders, thieves, and ARSONIST, roam the country freely and someone who grew pot, or paid for a sex worker or bought dope from a COP is in jail.. IT'S BROKE.. Cowards laws for cowards..

The only problem with Vice is the corrupt COPS that work it.. Everyone is dirty.. That's the reason they work it.. I never met one that wasn't either..

I worked for Laidlaw, huge contract for cleaning labs, pot farms, you name it.. The people watching US.. Keep your wives and children locked up.

NEVER turn your back and lock your tool boxes around them... Worst thieves I ever met. 

Every one bragged about what they stole from the raid sites.. OPENLY...

25-35 years ago.. DEA, ATF, my A$$. More people murdered than the flippin' Taliban behind no knock warrants..

Flash bangs are HAND GRENADES, you should see what happens to babies and animals... OPS!!! Wrong house.. Nothing found.. 

Prison and NO TRIAL.. Hand grenades on the American public and death squad warrants. Never see a court.. Hand them over the families..

And then defend their action.. An American dies someone goes to jail..

A search warrant is a tool used to conduct a reasonable search, it's not a death warrant.. It's always some 25 year old without a conscience, that's why they use the YOUNG.. They haven't grown from a Barny to an Andy, add 15 years..

You get Andy..20% of the time.. A peace officer with sense. Not one bullet Barney 80%.. I have a family FULL of good cops.. thank God.. Maybe one bad one or two, well there might be 1/2 dozen or so.. Well actually they are all dirty.. They just didn't get caught..

One good one for sure out of 15 or so.. Not bad.. I think it's because he's Swedish and married into the family.. :-)

I used to occasionally love listening to music live or at home after taking LSD, mushrooms, mescaline, or smoking a bit of weed.  Works really well with immersive music.
The people who are saying "altered state" listening is wrong, are the same people who will tell you your favorite color is wrong as well.  If that's your pleasure, go for it. Enjoy.
And now for something completely different. Why are so many posters not showing or telling us what their system is comprised of...... I don’t have the computer skills to post pictures. I do list all of my equipment. Tomic and Old Heavy Mechanic and a few others thank you for your pictures and explanations. As for this thread, who cares what we personally imbibe on this audio journey. Side note cactus tea is much better than trying to chew the buttons, won’t get sick either. PS haven’t seen a peyote button in 30 years or so, never got sick.
@mikelavigne if you’re willing to share, would love to hear what your top 2-10 reference tracks are - digital/vinyl. Impressive regimen. And system!
Agreed....a really Fine cup of coffee...
....with some 'augmentation'...(no sugar or cream, pleeze...Black, like m'attitude....)...*g* chase 'this'....if in the mode to just Enjoy.

If I'm opt to be 'critical' about it....even the coffee + the sugar can be considered 'drugs' in their way.
Where one 'draws lines' is where one draws them.
oldhvymec:  So every cop in your family is dirty except the one that married into your family?  Sounds like a serious genetic problem in your family tree.  Kind of interesting, I did 25 years on the Cleveland PD starting in 1990 right when crack cocaine hit, only knew of a few cops  out of about 1800 (number when I started) that were dirty and weeded out.  Frequently saw much money and drugs, the culture was such that the idea of taking/stealing any of it would not be tolerated by anyone.

Flash-bangs are not grenades, there’s no shrapnel.  Disorienting bright flash & loud noise, that’s it.  Prevented many bad outcomes.  Maybe problematic in your family’s hands…

Some big cop-hating issues you’ve got there.
There is a paradox that with certain altered states the detail of perception and emotional intensity are increased, but the ability to do focused critical listening (left brain-type activity) becomes difficult and not fun. These states can key you into what is abrasive in a system, what feels intuitively good, and what is getting in the way, but not in the usual deliberate way. 

Good sound certainly matters, as does immersive music with interesting textures. Classical music can produce really rich, layered, and emotional experiences, while electronic music can tickle the senses and entrain your consciousness more. In each case, it is more about immersive experience than critical listening. The music itself makes the biggest difference.

Speaking as a total weirdo, I found certain music while tripping produced musical experiences that I had never even conceived and permanently altered the way I hear things. Musical compositions becoming three or four dimensional spaces comprised of so many moving layers, sound textures becoming tactile sensations, colors, and shapes, or evoking images, things harmoniously melting into each other, and lucid trance-like states.

If it is your thing and you don’t mind electronic sounds I recommend "Are You Shpongled" by Shpongle. Completely changed music for me.

Cannabis is great too, much of the time, by enhancing sound textures, making grooves pleasurable, and increasing the intensity of momentary focus so dynamic or rhythmic changes are very dramatic and exciting.

What I notice in terms of system evaluation is that I need something that feels good, but also performs multilayered music well, and bass performance is very important. Solid state systems work well if they aren't harsh. 

This all boils down to 1 thing,FEELING.
I doubt there are even a handful of Agone members who do not listen to music to feel,to experience transcending their normal existence.Some humans need or desire the directional shift their brain takes when altered by ANY substance,some do not.
As long as we enjoy the music,what does it matter if we are listening blind drunk,stoned or clean & sober..
 PS:For the record I am a recovered alcoholic,sober 12+ years now & I do enjoy a hit or two of cannabis concentrates on the weekends..
I enjoy reading these posts to observe what must be altered states of many of the responders. 50 plus years ago I took a photography darkroom course. The professor would begin each class by placing someone's work from the previous class for us to view and respond to. However, before this he would have us close our eyes and lead us in meditation while this was going on he posted the picture and we would open our eyes to it and respond. What impressed me was the clarity of thought the image evoked. So meditation before music in a quiet darkened room quiets the mind in preparation for listening.
The other times with my buddies forgetabout critical listening we turn on tune in and drop out lol. That was also in a Moody's song don_c55. Remember Timothy Learys dead no no, he's outside listening.
  Cut the fiberous Core out, and you won't get sick. In my youth, I got sick as the devil the first couple times, then I was told to cut that center core out and went through a moving away gift of about 100+ buttons one summer and never got sick once.
ianB52.....+1, works nicely on omnis...something diff to work while... *G* ;)
...coming to the art theater next to you....

"Summer of The Buttons", an alt fantazy......

It doesn't matter what energy you've wasted on..... ;) 👌