In her new album 'Of Matter and Spirit' the experimental musician moves beyond the western model through collective trance and ancient rituals
Discussing Aisha Devi's approach to her music rapidly shifts away from industry and production-related affairs to a much broader debate. Having released this month her latest album, 'Of Matter and Spirit', rituals and ancient scriptures are brought back into relevance by Devi in light of the failures of consumer society. She moves instead to the contemporary resonance of Shamanistic chants, triggering a healing trance upon the ruins of club culture.
POSTmatter: Your new album 'Of Matter and Spirit' explores further the meditative and ritualistic aspect of music, what brought you there?
Aisha Devi: It was a materialisation of what was happening in my own life on a personal level. I started meditating five or six years ago, and a lot of things started changing in my perspective of the world. I started doing music as an identity quest, who I am and why I did not feel a sense of connection to this world. Making music was a result of being an outcast, and meditating later opened a lot of doors to me – not in the sense that it provided strict answers, but it helped me to distance myself from all the concepts that I had been living by. My childhood, my personal history and my scars all became less of a focus as I sensed more unity with the world on a global level. This later led me towards vegetarianism and veganism. It is funny how meditation is always perceived as making you wiser and that you no longer feel the need to fight. This is true, but it also triggered an uprise of my consciousness and responsibilities in this world, on any level.
I started doing music as an identity quest, who I am and why I did not feel a sense of connection to this world.
It was also something happening on an intimate level, where I felt free to be myself. I grew up in Switzerland in a Calvinist Judeo-Christian perspective, and I wanted to break free from it by looking for my father who I had never met and who is Nepali. Through meditation, researching and practicing guttural singing and mantras as part of an interest in Nepalese and Hindu-Tibetan culture, I tried to immerse myself into my own history. This is what led me to work under my own name, Aisha Devi, and meditation as well as music increasingly became part of the same phenomenon – the same personal quest. When I use my voice and manipulate it, I see it as part of the same process of using frequencies for healing and to induce a trance.
PM: I find interesting that this attachment to the voice and its very bodily nature and the physicality of frequencies, which are all very integral to the ritualistic aspect, are then mediated by your use of electronic tools. On a human and spiritual level, do you feel technology is enhancing us or getting in the way?
AD: I could play music and sing while just banging on a pan, for me it is just a manifestation of a pulse, but I use a Mac as that’s what has always been the most natural to me. I am definitely more at home on a computer or synthetiser than I could ever be with a ‘traditional' instrument like a guitar or a piano. We are disturbed because we think virtuality is not real. For me, that virtuality which is brought into a laptop or MIDI keyboard is a thought, the root for anything. Virtuality even opens the door to conceptualisation and energy. When you send a picture on the internet and someone receives it, it is part of reality.
I am actually hopeful that recent and emerging technologies will help us realise how everything is actually energy. Access to that much knowledge is one of the best thing that happened and I am super excited about the prospect. If you think about it, why would a piano be a better tool to portray your vision? I just feel we did not have time to write a history of electronic music to legitimise it.
I am not fetishising the tool, it is just the way to convey things. I am clearly attached to the body and its physicality, how it generates the vibration that is my voice, but my computer is where I am most at ease to manipulate it.
When I use my voice and manipulate it, I see it as part of the same process of using frequencies for healing and to induce a trance.
PM: Expanding a bit from music strictly, you are from Geneva and your grandfather worked quite closely with CERN, so you must have been exposed to the discussions around the Large Hadron Collider. It is fascinating that beyond the factual knowledge engaged there, scientists are actually trying to solve a very spiritual question about the origin of the world and as new discoveries occur, the words, beliefs and frames of references that we are familiar with no longer seem appropriate to handle or communicate what is being discovered there. There is an interesting parallel with the way you combine technological means with ritualistic tradition and that almost primal urge to understand the world.
AD: It is very obvious how science have always been used to serve a capitalistic agenda of consumption, quantifying life in order to justify people’s existences. Modern physics are very exciting as it is actually challenging a lot of the foundations of the last 200 years by refocusing on matter, energy and thought. When you study the Vedas, you realise that these topics were very much at the core of the scriptures, the whole idea of what precedes matter being energy and thought. Funnily, it was written 3000 years ago at a time when people in Europe were just picking fruits, and now scientists are starting to draw the same conclusions. Matter comes from energy, which comes from the mind. This is contradicting the capitalist ideal of accumulating matter. Metaphysics, modern physics and spirituality are bringing us closer to a new state of awareness, and I have a strong belief that people will increasingly turn towards spirituality rather than religions. I am keen to convey that in my music.
PM: So you are feeling strongly about the role of music beyond entertainment?
AD: Totally. I think the first role of music was to be a vector; a connector to our consciousness and our cosmic identity. That’s why I love hidden ritual and tribal music. It has been untouched by any media industry. Nowadays, pop music is so formatted you are basically just listening to an advertisement, like a jingle. Ancient ritual music is about our natural pulse and our natural breathing. People singing this are very aware of our connection to a whole: a cosmic connection where hierarchy is not like a pyramid. I am not talking about religion as it is really exclusive, whereas spirituality is inclusive. All ancient texts like the Vedas, the Sutras or the Kabbalah are essentially telling the same by seeking enlightenment, and for me music does this too.
I think the first role of music was to be a vector; a connector to our consciousness and our cosmic identity.
PM: Music certainly has that innate and immediate connection. It acts less on a conscious intellectual level. A toddler or someone with a completely alien frame of reference would react to it more easily than to another art form it seems...
AD: Exactly. For Indians, music comes first and dance comes second. Whether you go to Africa or to South America, anywhere with ritualistic music, there is that repetition: the loop that leads them to that transcendent state. I can see a lot of other current musicians also doing that, people like JG Biberkopf, where you feel their music is questioning something different. You feel that they embrace that idea that our western society is collapsing, and that we should investigate ancient knowledge. Guy Debord anticipated how our capitalist society is anthropophagic, how it consumes and watches itself almost die like a contemporary snuff movie. All that society of the spectacle is dying, and we have to talk about the invisible world now.
Aisha Devi is part of SHAPE, an EU-funded platform for innovative music and audiovisual art.