From the lightning side… (part 3)

Female singers in the warping planes of tone

Part 2 (and Part 1)

Playlist linkstand-in-awe-of-the-aurora-borealis-from-lapland-in-northern-finland

The idea of a playlist can take on different forms, although I feel the most important thing is simply to remember that each song is an open door and at a different cast or angle of the day or night, you might find yourself in a place that you did not expect, with sounds whose form is familiar and yet different and whose world is understood but dimensionally altered.

What a sound as opens UMO by all-female Japanese band OOIOO (‘oh-oh-eye-oh-oh’), a whinny-flash statement of intent that takes you immediately into the space of the song before its thudding rhythms take off.   Effectively a hyper-charged cover version in Japanese of this Roberto De Simone piece,  the voice is in collective mode of rhythmic chant formations that lift and maintain an energetic plateau.  There’s a highly disciplined sun of abandon in the middle of these voices.

In the primary instances of chanting that we come across, it seems comparatively male and as likely to possess a kind of aggressively-tribal quality that as well as tapping into a warrior tradition (the haka for example) can also prefigure pathologies of violence.  However, the affect from OOIOO is mainly one of lightness, but precision, alongside a super-charged and charging dynamism.  The sound of something declaring its intensity in a forming discipline of play.  Non-voice sounds (apart from the unerring rhythms) are used with superb sparing and make no mistake, this is female warrior music.

Also drummer and sole female member of rhythmic space flyers; Boredoms, Yoshimi Yokota (aka Yoshimi P-We) has previously mentioned fascination for the vocal styles of the Ainu indigenous people of Japan (something exemplified here with Kenji Kawai’s use of an Ainu wedding song as the extraordinary main track to Ghost in the Shell) but it feels like an array of bright and buzzing momentum infuses these OOIOO tracks.  I went for this version of UMO as it had better sound quality (but the video is fantastic)  UMO comes from the OOIOO album ‘Taiga’ (2006) – part of the planet’s boreal forested wilderness local to Japan and one of the last great wildernesses of the planet.

The video for Sol (the second OOIOO song on the list) is animation work of the most outstanding kind, intricately woven super-tight with the phonics.  It begins in the most beguiling way by opening up what appears to be the Sun and finding the wind inside, before presenting animation on a mostly-white field of a young girl who struggles valiantly to pull her burning school bus along on her own with a tow rope.  The bus has a kind of dull, curtailed magic of its own in terms of its surface being a constantly shifting image world, but it is mainly an exploding, burning mess, and its images recurrently connect to a world of techno-carnage, schematic-death-grinds and its own ongoing obliteration (welcome to school).  All the while the wind turns and the sun shines, and each image is not only what it appears, until finally once more the wind blows across and the struggling girl (who has shown signs of gradual transformation) becomes a suddenly cosmic figure (accompanying harmonic vocal drones), folded over in outer space, her body now a zone of dancing colour shapes and forms.  Then as the night explodes and it is day, she is able to play the music of the Sun, destroying the school bus at which point the way becomes clear (‘…arigato’).  Your education, in as much as it pertains to this dangerous and disastrous broken vehicle that you tow behind you, must be destroyed before you can really take off.

To enter into a real form of expression with the Sun is to in some way embody a form of (imaginative) contact with what it is to be a vast deep-space-presence of extraordinary, radiating energetic attainment.  A luminous sphere of coalescing and releasing forces that our comprehension can only but approach, as each day we are alive – we are inundated in its light and heat while the planet’s atmosphere bends, swoons and the magnetospheric plasma dances with light from the solar wind.  It is also a process towards approaching the intensity of the same things, as part of the same process, on the level of recomposed feeling and an alignment in terms of intent (as Boredoms sing ‘Vision, Creation, New Sun’).

There was an interesting space made by this video for French electronic producer Rone (Erwan Castex) directed by Dimitri Stankowicz.  While the track itself is instrumental, the video portrays an imagining of the feminization of cosmic forces.  Its fascinating to watch, but never feels like within its synchonicity, it is expressing a visible freedom on the behalf of the clockwork-like dancing female humans/animal spirits/ritualists.  Then there are always other ways of understanding even the same story.

Before the dissolution of their original line up, Crystal Castles have been producing sparky, blunt and emotive electronic songs, specialising in large part in the processed modulations of the voice (mostly that of Alice Glass).  Attending a gig of theirs in 2010 remains a great moment, however they were a slightly troubling prospect, arguably too caught up in the cool (down) of their own image.  This live take on Crimewave brings the sense of convergence between their future-electro-punk and the Ballardian haunting of modernist architecture (it takes place beneath the concrete mega plank of a motorway flyover).  ‘I am made of Chalk’ (here) takes a female voice and obstends it in a singular manner, seeming to preserve its pathos while utterly annihilating its form, set with evocative synth radiations.  There can be a stretching out that sometimes takes place in the processing of sounds, which can erase the original sense of the material, however, I always felt that seeing Crystal Castles was also very much about appreciating the energy and spirit of Alice Glass.

I made my thoughts on Holly Herndon’s work clear at the end of this piece on electronic artist Patten, and while the amount of her songs on Youtube is a bit limited, Interference is still a brilliant moment to reflect on how Holly is the architect of her own work and any modification of her voice, treating it as a central strategic element in the field of expression of her production.  With tracks like Unequal  and An Exit , she is blasting open the sonic space and then at the height of a sense of dissolution and displacement, conjuring rhythmic, melodic refrains that have a breathtaking quality and which feel like entirely new modes of sound in this field.  There is also a quality of feeling like the space of aliveness of the songs is something crafted through each individual sound, an almost unique sense of its sounds never simply being an untended fabric along with which other sounds ride, it seems every instance and vibration of sound is there in the depth of its own terms. There are also few antecedents to Holly’s work in total, though with Laurie Anderson you can hear a resonance between something like the great track Walking and Falling and Herndon’s unsettling but strangely inducing situation track on the Platform album (2016) Lonely at the Top.


‘Mates laugh at me because I like whale songs but I love ‘em, I like vocals to be like that, like a night cry, an angel animal.’

With Archangel, there’s a swerving through male and female affects of the voice from what one presumes was originally a male singer, imbued with alien quirks and phonemes as its pitched through parts of the tune.  It’s a gender veiling in this respect, a melding of the male/female into something which defines different areas of expression, some of which feel like they simply defy gender characterization, but still carry a sense of the two modes as productions.

I like pitching down female vocals so they sound male, and pitching up male vocals so they sound like a girl singing… kind of half boy half girl

Its like human beings have made circumstances possible where what might once have been specific to (potentially) sacred sites like caves or stone-built huts altered to have extraordinary acoustic properties, are now the modulations to the voice sound waves available through circuited transportations of light and computer power.  Although one major difference in this instance is the specificity of the space itself.  Now the productions of modulations of the voice are storable, transferrable and playable anywhere, the prevalence of an ‘interference’ of some kind from the world in terms of one’s listening and how it might be transformed or transforming is refracted.  The grouping of people around the rhythms and tones of the music of the modulated voice still take place in rooms, clubs, raves etc. But the specificity of the intent around the ancient sites has been more or less lost or driven underground, as well presumably as the kinds of feeling, awareness and consciousness which were provisioned by their usage.

Its interesting also that Burial makes an identification with wanting to hear voice like ‘an angel animal’ it’s a very beautiful evocation and eerily close to Ane Brun on The Opening where ‘…in the woods… with darkness closing in… a light will appear like an animal between the trees… ‘  It is a thread running through many of the worlds of these voices and their expressions that involve a focus on animals (and in many cases a love for them) as well as seeing animals, becomings-animal (Ari Up) and dreaming them.  Animals are a neighbouring / transecting intensity of the planet in terms of ourselves and their engagement and being can find modes of instantiation through these acts of becoming and dreaming that can in some ways transform and further free the dimensions of the body.

Mark Fisher’s interview with Burial is a must read for anyone interested.

Tanya Tagaq somehow reminds that the voice is also the body.  Watching her improvisation of Innuit throat singing, a process of extraordinary doubling of the voice, which provides an opportunity at prolonged, (virtually) continuous sound production.  It seems to tonalise the breath to an extraordinary degree that takes the sound through a space of animal-expressiveness to something sounding uniquely human and yet also something just over from human-like.    I become aware also of how her dance, the rhythmic formulation of her body is itself an unbroken and simultaneous expressive articulation of the voice, both perhaps a part of the process of becoming lost in the singing.  The final section of Tanya’s performance is particularly gripping and makes one wonder to have such a sonic conjuring as part of a singing tradition of one’s people.

There is a depth to the space itself of ‘A Love Song’ as bodies of sound merge into the remnant echo of spaces and become each other, For anyone unaware, Pauline oliveros has uniquely shaped and impacted amazing spaces in human music, resonating in the cavernous and folding/unfolding the intricate shifting kaleidoscope of human voices.  For me, Oliveros’ contribution to music and its understanding is paramount, she has created and produced some of the most important avant garde pieces of music from the time the ‘minimalists’ were coming into prominence (La Monte Young, Terry Riley, Steve Reich, Philip Glass et al).  Her work on Deep Listening (and latterly Quantum listening) is an available modulation to the activity of perceiving sound, an opening, a widening, a deepening of the availability of sonic material to be transformative.  She has also honed work on the drone to spectacular effect.  The piece ‘Lear’ is an unmissable drift through altered space.

The Sámi

Placed throughout the playlist are a series of songs or joiks (yoiks) by the Sámi People.  Probably Europe’s last semi-nomadic indigenous (Finno-Ugric) people, living in the Polar north of Europe (across Norway, Finland, Sweden and the Kola peninsula of Russia).


Yoiks are a traditional broadly non-verbal style of singing considered one of the longest living music traditions in Europe.  It is part of their own oral tradition that the fairies and elves of the arctic land gave yoiks to the Sámi People and it feels like it is the land which is paramount in terms of the yoik.  Although there are a number of songs here which are broadly speaking indigenous in their composition from different parts of the world, it is with the Sámi that a more sustained sense of the sound and the connection (dreaming) of these songs with a landscape is undeniable.  It is also the case that with these Sámi social groupings, the landscape is composed partly of the boreal forests of the North, still in respects; a wilderness frontier.

With Mari Boine and Ahccai, the drone almost begins to feel like the land and her voice like the air of the wind upon it.  Its noteworthy that while researching for this list the predominance of Sámi songs online that are recorded (audio) or being sung in contexts away from the land, at venues, concert halls, in studios etc.  Leading to the impression that the music has completely taken on a form of cultural transportation and accessibility, but also that there is less of a tendency for the songs to be recorded while outside.

In some of the small areas where the Sámi are still sole occupants within their communities – it appears that the yoik has come under sustained attack from Christianity and it will be no coincidence that the yoik has shamanic roots, the form more commonly used among older people has been said to resemble mumbled incantation.  What seems striking to me in hearing the Sámi music is that it appears to resonate with traditions in both celtic folk and American indigenous music, providing a fascinating fabric of connection, but in reality the Sámi way or tradition (modes of singing) has such a wide space of its styles that this is only the most casual of recognitions.

The joik is a unique form of cultural expression for the Sámi people in Sápmi.[4] This type of song can be deeply personal or spiritual in nature, often dedicated to a human being, an animal, or a landscape as a personal signature.[2] Improvisation is not unusual. Each joik is meant to reflect a person or place. (wiki)

Also, as Migraciones Poéticas points out in this stunning upload of a yoik about the wind  (which is not on the list) The songs (yoik) are not merely descriptive, but yearn to capture the subject in its living sense. It is not about something, it is that something. It does not begin and it does not end. Like the wind.

This is the idea in essence of a becoming, although swung away from the idea of capture, and taken to mean a playful dance between compositions (in the widest sense) where the modes (singular intensities of engagements and continua) of potentially disparate spaces can be shared and transformed in a becoming across perceived liminalities. Ari Up on animal space or of how the Daoists in Early China entered into becoming with different animals to form the disciplines of their martial practises (as mentioned here also).  To enter into becoming is something fundamental to what human beings are, and yet it seems rarely contextualised or explored in this sense where it is connected with its virtuality as the practice of transformation.

The yoik and the Sámi singing traditions appear to have taken on a number of sonic-joinings and Mari Boine (now a professor of musicology) has contributed to this, with numerous arrangement styles (including, jazz and rock) although elsewhere it is possible to find yoiks in house tunes and I’m sure more experimental offerings.  However coming across an unaccompanied voice piece like Angelin Tytöt’s Neida (‘Girl’) is a compelling and piercing moment (in which I hear echoes of Nur Ceylan).  One minute or so of extraordinary incantatory refraining in which there is a continuing breaking out of the voice (even as the song quietens before its return).

When hearing yoiks and Sámi music in its more traditional context there is a clear power to the sound, away from the cultural transformation (and in some senses – re-normalisation) of arrangement with electric guitar or beats.  The connection remains there to a potentially unbroken form of singing that comes from living with the land and has the potential to help return us to something curiously absent in our composition, a feeling of the planet through its wild modalities and away from enclaves of brutalist human congregation.   Such routes maybe possible with other forms of music (there are amazing, transporting fluidities in the expression of modern, electrical forms of music), although this kind of singing and music seems essential to in some way be aware of, as it strikes also like a calling, to enter into becoming with the music.  The sound expressive of a girl in the snowy Sápmi forest, singing between trees and clouds of breath in the crystal air, of another girl that she has dreamed, maybe far away from the nomads and the dimensions of their land, maybe in an alien city of the future, who is waking up, partly by listening to the music of the Sámi people and their call to be the sound of the voice, speaking the waves of the planet, in this sleeping dream of living.



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