A Journal Of The Dark Arts
“And at last they summoned a shaman. He arrived in his shaman dress and horned hat, warmed his tambourine over the embers, then shook it hard. He banged it in an increasing rhythm, himself twirling in the full firelight of the tent, his sacred robes twirling, his lips flecked with foam. After a time, his soul departed on the sound of the drum to the mountain-top in the western heavens where there is no day but continual night, where there is always mist and the moon is but a thin crescent.
And there he communed with the spirits.”
-Extract from a Siberian folk tale, translated by Riordan (1989:90)
Sound is almost a universal component of ritual. Across the world, sound and rhythm are frequently combined to structure ceremonies through the orchestration of movement and dance. They can also be an important means of creating connection with the supernatural – (pg. 178, The Archaeology of Shamanism, ed. Price, Neil S.)
On this occasion, the Recess Gallery, a minimalist art space in SE Portland, was transformed into an impromptu shamanic sauna, bringing together 9 of the Pacific Northwest’s most avid practitioners of sonic witchcraft.
I could hear Jefferson Zurna’s, aka 3 Moons, mysterious Moroccan guitar spilling through the rough brick of the building as i rolled up to the art space. I had found out about the event last minute, and had been dealing with some pretty intense real life shit around this time, and had not had time to beg my way in. Still, i was helpfully encouraged by Arrington De Dionysio that it should be no problem to get in, so i arrived early, hoping to run into someone i knew. Jefferson was the first person i saw, after sitting on the sidewalk and clearing the fog from my brain, while listening to him soundcheck through the well. It was awesome to see him, he’d been on the road all summer long with Fake Hospital, his project with Grant Corum (from Million Brazilians), as well as with Beguiling Isles, which also had Suzanne Stone (White Gourd), for at least some of the dates. Zurna always makes me a bit nervous, even though i run into him often enough; his William Burroughs/Brion Gysin hashishin cut-ups mastery, as well as a certain midwestern anarchism and humility, is a rare combination, especially when combined with a pleasant personality. It was a relief to find him warm and inviting; he ended up securing my entrance into the festival playing temple gongs for 3 Moons (an honor and a pleasure).
Zurna was joined by Dena Kinko Malada, on Farfisa organ, whose rich, reedy drone really helped to flesh out 3 Moon’s normally skeletal, Sears/Roebuck psychedelia. His songs sound like seance messages, phoned in from The Western Lands through a dusty old radio. He plays a maltreated guitar, and sings through a CB microphone, which is further fucked up by an esoteric array of battered pedals, that makes his voice sound as if it is emerging from the bottom of an ocean of Jell-o. The doom-ridden Western guitar is occasionally swapped out for clarinet, where the vibe switches from Oklahoma to Marrakesh. He sounds like a snake charmer, and the room was sufficiently entranced, as i beat the gongs (all in the key of D minor) whenever the mood struck. A proper invocation to the event. The air was beginning to quiver and thicken, as the afternoon faded into late evening. http://3moons.bandcamp.com
Soup Purse played next, which is the solo noise project of Todd Dickerson. He performs on a steampunk spiritualist synthesizer, an elaborate creation of bronze that conducts electricity through the human body, to manipulate the rhythm and pitch; a full-contact theremin. It makes Soup Purse’s perfomances a visceral affair, part modern ballet, part sound sculpture. This time, Todd had drawn a circle of salt in the middle of the room, where an eerie blank mask with antlers rested, along with some flowers and a lit candle. It was nearly dark outside, and the hour for real magick was nearly upon us. The room was cast in wild flickering as Soup Purse nosed his way towards the center of the room, like a lanky greyhound, and broke the circle to don the mask. He seemed to channel a spirit instantly, he BECAME Soup Purse, or whoever he was for the evening, and seemed to harbor a beastly frustration and mistrust of technology, abusing his gear with the flats of his hand. It seemed the frustration of nature, at being penned in by so much useless glass and steel. It was then that i realized that this was a night of shamanic journeying, and that everyone taking the stage had a particular vision they were summoning. The room was full of electricity and spirits, the audience sitting on the floor. He played a short set, but it was cool to catch him. Soup Purse doesn’t play all that often, and i encourage anyone to take the opportunity to see him play. He’s been on the Portland noise scene for over 5 years, when it was a vibrant cultural force. He has weathered years of disinterest and oversaturation, and continues on. He was featured on the infamous People Who Make Noise documentary, which was all about the noise scene in Portland circa 2007, and can still be seen on the cheap or free.
Arrington De Dionyso played by himself, this evening, and struck a very different character than the James-Brown-meets-Genghis-Khan frontman of his band, Malakait Dan Singa. Arrington practices an obscure tradition known as Tuvan throat singing, which is a style of singing practiced by Siberian reindeer shaman, where they produce harmonics in their nasal cavity, chest, and throat, to make a churning, monklike chanting sound. It sounds like it would be emanating from a Tibetan monastery, echoing down a stony canyon on a moonlit snowy night. He also plays the bass clarinet and is a master of the jaw harp. He can make the most unearthly tones with his voice. He has been obsessed with the possibilities of the human vocal cords since childhood, constantly beatboxing and humming, and found a spiritual lineage in the Throat singing when he came upon, while being a part-time punk in Olympia with his band, Old Time Relijun. Call it a case of reincarnation, or just a powerful charisma, but seeing Arrington play live has cured me of mental shadows on more than one occasion. He seems to resonate, and transmit, like a crystal bowl. In person, he is considerate and well-spoken, with watchful eyes. For this occasion, he created a number of resonant chambers, including a brass pot and pieces of his bass clarinet, which he occasionally wrapped in tinfoil, to make a crazy rattling snare rustle. The audience ringed the walls of the room in the now total dark, lit only by candles. At first, the performance seemed preposterous, like some Parisian gimmick out of 1963, and i found it difficult to sit still and listen to the metallic echoes and human syllables bounce around the room. This was anti-performance, sound for sound’s sake. And it brought me to the conclusion that led me to write this article, even months later.
There’s a kind of concert where you go to get yr expectations fulfilled, blockbuster productions of scientific rave-ups and breakdowns that leave you elated, floating on air. It is ‘The Society Of The Spectacle’, which is to say only the sharpest, cleanest, loudest, get noticed, and the egoic feeding frenzy builds to a fever pitch. Someone with no experience in arthouse performances or experimental music would have no idea what the hell was going on, walking into the Recess Gallery on this Saturday evening, and if they didn’t take a moment to perceive what was happening, what other people were experiencing, to listen to the sounds and the resultant mental states, they would see nothing. However, if one takes the time to slow down, to listen and appreciate, and let the inherent properties of acoustic waves work on our bodies, and our subconscious, we open up to genius and inspiration. We open up vistas of imagination, and our spirits can fly like those shaman, on the beat of the drum.
I am writing this, several months later, at the beginning of a new phase of philosophical/cultural inquiry, regarding the flickering datastream of fine art, that can drown you beneath its crystalline perfection. So much life-changing music, coming out every second; yr never gonna be an expert, and you have to slow down and quiet yr mind, to even experience what you loved in the first place. It is possible to retain that feeling of endless possibility that one gets, when first getting into music, but you can’t be jaded, can’t be lazy. Right now, all these amazing musicians are just plugging away, and barely holding their heads above water. We are all nearly starving and homeless, yet we continue to churn out quality Art. We must be masochistic, and very, very stubborn. But with the right attention, right mood, right balance, any given show can be life-affirming and life-altering, and every band can be yr favorite.
This is an important service, these hi-tech shaman performed this evening; bringing a room full of people into altered states of Trance. As i mentioned previously, i have had a lot of real-world responsibility crashing down upon my shoulders, these last months, and the ability to come to full rest, complete appreciation, saves my sanity and heals my soul. Music maintains its healing properties, no matter how many times you have seen or heard it before.
Portland has a vibrant experimental music scene, but it is stuck in a holding pattern. There’s too many bands, not enough money, and not enough time. It is easy to stop paying attention, and to stop going out to see live music at all. The shows will stop, and eventually, people could stop making music all together. Any number of experimental musicians i know around town are burned out, tired of playing for their friends and other bands. I am here to remind, as a friendly outsider, that there is some magickal shit that goes down in this town, world-class stuff, and this particular event was on par with shit i read about in The Wire magazine, that would take place in Brussels or Versailles.
A number of other bands played that night: MSHR, The Tenses, performing with avant-vocalists Giggles, and Beguiling Isles, which was 3 moons, combined with Grant Corum and White Gourd, but my body could not hold out any longer, as deadlines and pressure took their toll. I listened to M.H.S.R. ply their cosmic synth explorations from the sidewalk, while colored lights blew through dense fog, rolling out into the quiet, late-summer night. This performance was a who’s who of incredible Northwestern experimental music. The people that played would be a fine place to start for anyone from elsewhere, who is interested in what we get up to, up here in the mossy fields, and for those that do live here, this is a friendly reminder to not take anything for granted, or we could lose our scene for good.
you can look at the original event page over here: http://www.facebook.com/events/280748208698027/