Sounds and visions

[Ancestral Voices, ASC, Presha & Sam KDC @ Corsica Studios, 4 December]

I feel as though I’ve been submerged in a cavern full of bass; low frequencies swimming around my legs like swirling, sentient murk. I fear the bass is going to sneak up my spine and explode out of my forehead; a demonic entity seeking a passageway through the human bodies in its path. This is not the reassuring bass of dub or reggae, bass that caresses and soothes you, despite its volume. These sounds are menacing and otherworldly.

I’m at Corsica Studios, in a room hosted by Samurai Horo, a label dedicated to experimental 170bpm electronica. Three of the artists playing tonight – ASC, Presha & Sam KDC – recently released a podcast exploring some of the label’s sonic territories, what they describe as a Grey Area, genreless music that owes its tempos to drum n bass, its textures to techno, but its overall aesthetic to neither. It is music that sets uneasily on the threshold between soundsystem culture and experimental soundscapes, full of cyclical, triplet rhythms that are difficult for the body to sync with.

The set by Ancestral Voices – Manchester-based Liam Blackburn, formerly drum n bass producer Indigo – is the most unsettling. His new album, Night of Visions, is a sonic reproduction of experiences he underwent during an Ayahuasca ceremony in the Peruvian Amazon.

It’s a troubling auditory experience, full of dread and awe, and heavily informed by a knowledge of waveforms and sonic frequencies designed with specific emotional outcomes in mind.

Maybe sound is one of the few ways to attempt to communicate experiences – such as confrontation with death and with the darkest parts of the pysche – that are inadequately expressed through language. Sound has always been pivotal to shamanic cultures as a means of transitioning between the seen and unseen worlds: Ayahuasca visions are induced through the singing of icaros – songs uttered by shamans to communicate with plant spirits.

While most electronic music has an indirect relationship to altered or visionary states, it’s interesting to come across an album that has at its core a drive to explore both the transformational potential of plant medicines, and the idea of sound as a healing mechanism; a weird meeting point between ancient indigenous wisdom and experimental electronic music.

Header image: Night of Visions album cover

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