Aisha Devi

Of Matter And Spirit

Since the explosion of rave culture in the late 80s/early 90s, there’s been a long alluded association between the dance music and spirituality, the music has often been seen as a possible conduit to a deeper form of knowledge. With the sacrament of ecstasy and the ritualised manner of the club experience – along with vocal samples exclaiming "take me higher" and "can you feel the passion?" – many people have testified to undergoing a form of spiritual awakening, where the normal structures of meaning collapse and their ego is burned away, the individual-as-self melting into the communal flow of the crowd.

It is this idea of bass and dance music as spiritual metaphysics that underpins Of Matter And Spirit, the debut album from Aïsha Devi on the ever burgeoning Houndstooth label. Like her previous Conscious Cunt EP – which included several tracks that are included on this album – Of Matter And Spirit has Devi diving deeper into a personal journey of spirituality and how our ideas of reality are constructed by societal norms. In the accompanying press blurb, Devi talks about how her worldview has been formed by two cultural poles; that of her Swiss grandfather, a physicist who worked at CERN and wrote a collection of metaphysical essays whose title Devi also used for the album, and that that of her grandmother, whose presence and child rearing linked her back to Devi’s Nepalese and Indian roots. As a result, Of Matter And Spirit is a stirring intercultural music entity that comes from the blurred boundaries of living with two differing cultural realms of knowledge.

Many of the tracks on Of Matter And Spirit are deliberately provocative in their aural assault on your ears and synapses. The opening track ‘Adera’, opens up with aerated, gaseous vocals and elephantine martial trance synths that blind you with their hi-definition brilliance. And this sets the musical tone for the rest of the album. The bass and rhythmic drum patterns and percussion throughout, especially on tracks such as ‘Numan J’, ‘Initiation To An Illusion’, and ‘1%’, are cavernous with a particularly a crushing ceremonial action to them. If you’ve ever heard Devi’s previous releases on her Danse Noire label, such as the Hakken Dub/Throat Dub EP and tracks such as ‘Clean Ur Chakras’, then you will know that this is no soothing new-age mush that gently coos and caresses you. Its thrusting devotions and digital liturgies are meant to overload, tear away at shake up your senses, to flake away any toxic karma you may have lodged in any hard to reach crevices.

The most beguiling aspect on Of Matter And Spirit is how Devi manipulates her vocals and mantras to freely accommodate her sensuous and mimetic relationship to the world in generating a form of digital devotionalism. In last year’s perceptive essay by Alex Borkowski in tQ on the increasingly blurred relationship between the voice technology and our bodies in electronic music, he maps the liquid moulding of voices in music form the days of rave and hardcore, to the music of The Knife and the soundscapes of Kate Gately and Holly Herndon, noting that the affects they create are helping to define new forms of musical communication in our networked societies. Devi follows a similar path; tracks such as ‘Mazdâ’ and ‘Initiation To An Illusion’ contain helium infused and pitch shifted vocals that you often hear from PC music acolytes QT and Hannah Diamond. The affect you experience however is not kitsch pop or cuteness, for the high frequency warbles pierce your eardrums. On ‘Aurat (Tool)’ – a recitation of a poem from Bangladeshi poet Kishwar Naheed – she uses vocoder effects to flatten her delivery, giving the words an estranged incongruous energy to them.

Of Matter And Spirit is impressive both as an album and a personal statement, containing music that is tactile, that attempts to engage the other senses into action. Devi’s hopes that the album will "trigger a social and spiritual awareness through music", however, may be a bit tougher to achieve. This is through no fault of her own – she can only articulate and express her own memories and experiences – but in positing the subject matter of the album as political as well as metaphysical with comments such as "advertisements have become modern mantras", she fails to address that many of the spiritual symbols and practices espoused though the album are nowadays put to work in the same way that corporate management training tools do; to make us happier, more productive entrepreneurial drones. It’s going to be a hard slog trying to fight corporate greed when they co-opt and deploy a slicker, shinier version of the same mantras that you use.

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