Take a VR Acid Trip, Without the Acid

By Zachary Siegel 05/05/16

With SoundSelf, Robin Arnott wanted to recreate an LSD trip to prove that drugs are not necessary to achieve the full acid experience. 

Take a VR Acid Trip, Without the Acid
Photo viaShutterstock

Too nervous to take LSD? Now you can get the full acid experience with Robin Arnott’s SoundSelf, a virtual “collision of centuries old meditation technology with the video-game trance.” Without the drugs, of course.  

Arnott is a sound designer whose installations take people into unseen worlds. Last month, at the Penny Arcade eXpo (PAX) in Boston, Arnott set up a tent to demonstrate SoundSelf, complete with a plush rug and pillow where visitors lie down and enter a dream state straight out of Arnott’s hallucinations. Wired contributor Chris Kohler describes putting on the Oculus Rift headset and being reminded of a time when he was gassed before surgery. 

When asked how he decided on the mechanics behind SoundSelf during a Reddit AMA, Arnott answered: “Lots of drugs.” He wrote: “I was at burning man - and found myself on LSD chanting in an art project called reOnion. The feeling of my voice reverberating around the space, and resonating with that projects (non-interactive) music set the grit of sand in place that, about a year later after MANY conversations with MANY more brilliant people than myself, crystallized into the central interaction in SoundSelf: Sustain a tone, feel yourself fall into the experience.”

Based on Kohler’s description in Wired, it looks like Arnott achieved a stunning recreation of his time tripping at Burning Man. SoundSelf is guided by the sounds the user makes, as the program begins commanding the user to fill it with your voice. “Talking, or making any sounds at all, changed the series of patterns, lights, sounds, shapes that I saw, merging me and the world around me into a synesthetic collaboration,” wrote Kohler. 

The guiding principle behind SoundSelf is not to give the user a cheap, non-drug induced thrill. There is something spiritual behind Arnott’s design. “That acid trip gave me my first recognition that every step of that could be facilitated without a drug,” he told Wired. “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.”

This is technology used not to hook onto your mind, but to let you get out of your head, Arnott says. Sign me up. 

Check out a SoundSelf demo below:

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Zachary Siegel is a freelance journalist specializing in science, health and drug policy. His reporting has also appeared in Slate, The Daily Beast, Salon, Huffington Post, among others. He writes often about addiction, sometimes drawing from his own experience. You can find out more about Zachary on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.