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Erkki Veltheim
Ganzfeld Experiment Antonio Poscic , August 14th, 2019 09:42

On Room40, Erkki Veltheim's Ganzfeld Experiment finds moments of stochastic beauty, finds Antonio Poscic

To paraphrase Terry Pratchett, is it still magic if we know how it’s done? In our collective Western consciousness, the spiritual and the transcendental are inevitably linked with the organic, the pastoral, and an aesthetic sense of archaic purity. A fabricated sense of mystique. The fruits of industrialisation are an antithesis to these concepts: alien and not ours. As if the determinacy of science and technology banished the ritualistic. Nascent shamans embark on journeys by getting lost in a dark forest while tripping on LSD, not by looking at digital ephemera on an LCD screen. Yet it’s in technology that Australian violinist, composer, and performer Erkki Veltheim finds an exquisite form of mysticism.

Listening to his first solo record Ganzfeld Experiment in an informational void is a strange, transportive experience. A texture built from a thin layer of white noise breaths in and out incessantly, like a nervous figure observing us in the dark. In and out, in and out. Undulating faster and faster. Imperceptible at first, sharp forms appear beneath it, above it, and within it. They are a mirage, sounds unsure of their own existence, imagined by someone else. Then the acute fragments elongate, intensify, and start dancing, glistening like diamonds under the light of the ever-present white noise. The visual accompaniment to the music is equally minimalist: prickly snow plays on a black playground amid flashes of colour, reminiscent of an electronic, processed fantasy from Brion Gysin’s Dreamachine.

In parapsychology, the Ganzfeld experiment is designed to evoke and prove extrasensory perception and telepathy based on the want and need of our nervous system to find patterns in randomness. The experiment exposes the test subject to continuous, uniform stimuli while someone tries to contact them telepathically. Veltheim’s artistic variation of the experiment translates these notions into abstract, hallucinogenic sights and sounds. At the core of Veltheim’s experimental process, a digitally prepared electric violin traces flautandos and staccandos while simultaneously manipulating and transforming the audiovisual static they’re immersed in.

Armed with this information, oblique noises are revealed to be synthesised by the bow’s distinctive glide across a violin's neck, its improvised stride breaking up, tearing into shreds like pieces of paper. The modulations are sharply delineated – their existence is now beyond doubt – as they transition into states of euphoria. Synthetic, yet strangely familiar and enveloping. Within it all, there’s an absent rhythm that speaks to some old, atavistic part of our psyches.

Beyond Veltheim’s conceptual and hypnotic intentions, there are moments of stochastic beauty in his music: a sequence that sounds like ethio-jazz, a roaring siren waking us from a disentangled dream, a temporary lull broken by jagged, harmonically rich textures. Is it Veltheim himself or something else that’s talking to us from the beyond, poltergeists communicating through the cosmic microwave background? Before we know it, the plug has been pulled. The noise disappears. Or does it?