An Interview with a Visionary

April 25, 2007

Here’s an interesting interview with Jeff Mangum of the band Neutral Milk Hotel done by Marci Fierman on the Pitchfork web site on 02-01-02. In the interview he discusses a vision that he had that he describes as “active imagination”, a concept discussed in this blog some time ago. One album from this group that seems to have garnered high acclaim is “In the Aeroplane over the Sea”. I’m not yet familiar with the band or their music- – but I now will be interested to hear them. Interesting, yes? Tell me what you think. Enjoy.

Pitchfork: I know you’re interested in visions and dreams, and that you sometimes record other people’s visions and dreams for your montage pieces. Do you remember many of your own?

Jeff: I did have a vision about a year ago that had an impact on me.

Pitchfork: What was it?

Jeff: Well, I was lying in bed slowly coming out of sleeping, and this voice in my head told me to go back in; to not quite wake up yet, but just to stay in that in-between place. So I did. I slipped back down and stayed in the halfway point. Then I was standing on the ocean. I saw a blur come around, from my right side to my left. It was a hand putting something next to me. When I looked closer I saw that what the hand had put there was a little sea turtle. I looked up to see who had put it there, and there was this mulatto boy looking at me, smiling. I picked up the sea turtle and put in my hand and it turned into a butterfly. And then it turned into a black spider. It kept turning into a butterfly, a spider, a butterfly, a spider. It would pulsate between the two. I put my hands around it to grasp it and blood ran out of my hands and fell into the sand. Then as I let go of it, the blood rose up from the sand and turned again into the butterfly/spider. It hovered about a foot above my hand, and turned into a little ball of light. So that whole sequence repeated two or three times: it would land back in my hand, turn into a creature, and when I tried to hold it, it would crush again into blood, and when I would let go the blood would rise back up and turn into a ball of light.

Pitchfork: Do you know what it means?

Jeff: Yes, I pretty much understood it right away. I didn’t have to analyze it afterwards. The butterfly and the spider represented two opposing sides: all the things that I love and consider to be beautiful and gentle and wonderful, and all the things that threaten me… the things about life that I can’t come to terms with because they don’t fit into my nice, happy picture of the way I want the world to be. It kept morphing back and forth to show me that they’re both one and the same; they’re dependent on one another to exist. When I tried to grasp at either what I love or what I hate, I destroyed the very ability of being able to really penetrate the essence of either. By trying to understand it, I would just crush it. But when I let go and let it be what it was, it would turn into light to show me that both sides come from the same source. I think the vision was trying to tell me to just live and be joyful and stop creating these internal wars over all the pain that is within myself and that I see all around me. That’s how I interpret it.

Jeff: Yes. I spend a lot of time practicing active imagination before I go to sleep. What I’m feeling will manifest as images through active imagination. And then I go to sleep and those play out even more in my dreams.

Pitchfork: What is "active imagination"?

Jeff: It’s a Carl Jung term. It’s sort of staying in that place between sleeping and waking. Just allowing your mind to completely begin to flow with images. Allowing it to become whatever it becomes. You know, you go to bed filled with worries and thoughts, caught up in that everyday kind of thing. With this, you try to concentrate on what you think is really important, or some type of interesting or mysterious image, and then allow your imagination to become like a stream. You can let the stream go, and just observe it to see what happens.

I’ve always been interested in recording other people’s dreams. A lot of people are. You heard the montage piece. I’m trying to create a dream world with the montage. It’s like when you look at a Dada or surrealist montage– I just love taking fragments from everyday reality and recombining them. Everything in the natural world is so amazing, but because we’re used to seeing it in one way we take it for granted. We can see an anthill or a roach or a flower or anything, but we have this frame where our mind recognizes an anthill and then moves on, without taking the opportunity to have the sense of awe that we could have if we really looked at it. The montage is about taking pieces of reality and rearranging them– creating new frames to make you have to stop and look at things in a fresh way. It’s basically taking pieces of everyday reality and rearranging them to show people the magic that is inherent in all of these things already.

Pitchfork: Is this reframing process something you use in your songwriting in general? Do the songs come out of fragments?

Jeff: Yeah, usually I create tunes that are fragmented. I think the biggest obstacle for people with their creativity is that they feel they have to sit down and create this finished, polished product. Especially nowadays, it’s so easy to have a library of two thousand CDs, books and records. So many things. We’re used to having all of these finished works of art in our life that seem to arise out of nothing. I think that so much of the creative process is a fragmentary one, and then it’s about just allowing your intuition to put it together for you. It’s funny how you create something and you think you’re going in a million different directions, and then the thing you end up with is the thing that you wanted to create your whole life, but you’re just as surprised by it as anybody else.

One Response to “An Interview with a Visionary”


  1. jeff’s image is striking and i think his analysis is spot on and quite revealing. i checked out their music on iTunes and also found it intriguing. thanks!

    Like


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