This morning we had a meeting with the ethno-musicologist Corine Sombrun. A little bit intimidated by her achievements, we were really looking forward to it. We had all seen the film A Bigger World by Fabienne Berthaud which tells the story of Sombrun’s initiation into shamanism in Mongolia. The title of Sombrun’s most recent work, La diagonale de la joie (Albin Michel, 2021) also struck us. We wanted to understand more about her views on euphoria, this intense form of joy, which she describes as “an altered state of consciousness.”
Corine Sombrun is one of those rare people who radiates warmth and really knows how to listen. She makes an impression: above all she makes you change your views on our finite world. When she describes her experiences of trance, we can better understand this idea of joy. It’s what she calls “intuitive intelligence,” the intelligence which enables us to connect with the sensible world. It’s also what we’ve lost by privileging analytic and scientific thought.
Far from being an experience reserved to a select few as one might have imagined, trance is part of our natural altered states of consciousness, Sombrun explains. We all have this potential in us, we have simply put it to one side. Trance is a universal phenomenon - and Corine is the living proof. A decade ago, she established a research project around trance alongside a number of neuroscientists, which paved the way for the creation, in 2019, of the TranceScience Research Institute.
Corine, along with various people whom she has taught to enter into a self-induced state of trance, has participated in several studies. And the field of study is huge, as trance alters our relationship with time. It offers us a new awareness of our environment and of the other, a kind of “augmented reality,” a function of the predominance of our right hemisphere when in the trance state. “The left hemisphere, to be very schematic about it, is concerned with analytical thinking, language, things that make us aware of our personality, of the ‘I’, and will give us the illusion that we are unique and autonomous,” notes Sombrun. Ultimately, trance influences our metabolism and can have therapeutic effects: our strength increases tenfold, our pain threshold is higher. A clinical study on patients with cancer is currently underway to demonstrate the impact of trance on their quality of life.
In short, trance is a resource. Some people know how to call forth “this recalibrated state”, the capacity for which is present in all of us, and develop it. Corine Sombrun continues the discussion with reference to the painter Joseph Beuys, who compared artists to modern shamans. That’s what we wanted to discuss with the producer and DJ Deena Abdelwahed.
With NTS playing in the background, Deena welcomes us into her home, between her decks and her suitcases, just back from a set in Porto. Her music is just like her: vibrant and with an infectious energy. Seduced by her avant-gardist productions which are unusually energetic and percussive, fusing Arab rhythms and electronic music, we were curious to get her point of view on trance and creativity.
Be it in the studio or during her performances, Deena Abdelwahed makes us part of these spontaneous moments out of time, where all the elements come together to create an almost unexpected harmony. For her, it’s not a question of letting go - quite the opposite. She thinks of this state as a kind of super-consciousness, one of augmented perception, which enables the listener to capture all of the details and information contained in her music. Her vision resonates with the words of Corine Sombrun. The latter was first introduced to trance through the music of shamanic drumming. Deena knows the elation of those moments of creation and sharing. Both evoke that particular sensibility and capacity to see the invisible that everyone can activate in themselves.
But trance is not only individual. There are moments too of collective trance, be it in a football stadium or at a concert – we have all had those moments of grace. “Clubbing, the fact of being with people who love the same music as you, triggers euphoria,” says Deena. And “the greater the alteration in one’s state of consciousness, the greater the contagion, Corine asserts. It corresponds to a process of tuning into frequencies.” Like euphoria, trance is contagious.
The link between trance and artistic creation now seems obvious. “An artist on stage, experiencing a particular connection with the audience, is experiencing an altered state of consciousness – they are opening themselves up to their environment,” affirms Sombrun. That state of “flow”, that Miles Davis talked about during his improvisation sessions – this “bubbling of creativity which bursts out all of a sudden,” for Deena Abdelwahed, that “idea that you weren’t expecting” for Corine Sombrun… Is inspiration a kind of creative trance?
Deena Abdelwahed by Fethy Hawas