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Exploring Aïsha Devi & her “disruptive chora”

Text by Agata Kik

Photo credit: Emile Barret

Swiss-born, with Nepalese-Tibetan heritage, sound artist Aïsha Devi produces ritualistic music while giving clubbing spiritual meaning. She believes in a performance that is active, in which the old theatrical divide disappears and where the artist coexists with the audience. In an improvised manner, the artist responds to each of the participants of her music shows with special sonic frequencies to reach their inner souls. In this way, both the performing and the listening subject are objects of the performance in simultaneity, the self and the other, trans-selves and themselves under self-hypnosis.

Aisha’s music is saturated by her meditation practice, informed by alchemy, shamanism, knowledge of healing frequencies and ancient philosophies. Her work, thus, is not only formally outstanding but carries a rich political and philosophical message. Together with her debut album ‘Of Matter And Spirit’ released by Houndstooth, she has started collaborating with Chinese visual artist Tianzhuo Chen, and now her performances with Asian Dope Boys spatially constitute disruptive audio-visual spectacles. In connection with technology, producing spiritual music, Aisha turns her shows into transcendent experiences.

She admits that the aim of her practice is an ineffable intention to influence the psyche of others and let them escape the physical 3-dimensionality. The techniques she uses might be compared to those of advertising, though her intention is totally the opposite. What Aïsha means is to free one from desiring. In a positive way, she thus works with the sublime, particular frequencies, hypnosis, trance, visual stimulation, alfa and delta binaural beats in order to beat capitalist consumerism. These so-called binaural beats produce auditory illusion in the human brain, and as a result, Aïsha’s music connects the conscious with the subconscious psyche, the intellect with the body, joining the learnt knowledge with the embodied understanding. Aisha’s performance is, thus, a literal resurrection of primordial intelligence. We do know more than we can tell. We should not forget.

Her most recent release by Houndstooth, ‘DNA Feelings’, can be described as mystical effervescence, pure transcendence, an experience of hearing the light or seeing the sound. The artist refers to DNA and the fact that it consists of energies of magnetic and electric fields. According to Aisha, vibrations and frequencies are the origins of matter. DNA, thus, is the primal oscillation of the world, the origin of any other earthly frequency. With special frequency, we can change DNA, and so with special frequencies that Aisha uses in her music, she is capable of influencing the listening crowd and thus, through each listening individual, she changes the world. Her shows could be described as purges, as a complete cleansing of the body from the knowledge taught by society.

Photo credit: Emile Barret

For Aïsha, spirituality means the connection with the invisible energetic world. Spirituality equals frequency, in the end. With music being pure frequencies and sound working on the atomic level, Aïsha has managed to create her own affective language, capable of bypassing the intellect, not confirmed by any social learning, never right or wrong, therefore freeing the mind. Her practice is, thus, a collapse between the critical and the creative.

It is a message whose form is its content. In Aisha’s sonic practice, her voice is its main element. During her performances, her voice is there as a guiding light to lead the lost listener through her often-brutal electronic sound. The voice also lets the artist find herself in her resonating body. The virtual voice is an extension of human physical presence. According to Aïsha, we are able to exist as projections of our thoughts and intentions only and to belong to many places and realms at the same time. To exist as an idea is a human ability. To leave the physical could be a powerful happening.

Aïsha uses a lot of throat singing in her music. One of its kinds is called khoomei, and its tradition can still be found among ethnic groups in some Mongolian regions. Khoomei singing is an important part of ancient animism. Signers of khoomei still travel to find the right river or the right mountainside as a proper environment for throat singing, for example. In the idea of animism, such a practice of singing expresses the belief that objects, places and creatures all possess a spiritual essence. This is also a belief that identifies spirituality not only with shape or location but with sound. Thus, frequencies of any inanimate or living matter are at their core.

Apart from outer dislocation, and spatial disruption, Aisha Devi’s shows, most importantly, implode in the innermost of selves. The artist gives a totally new dimension to what the experience of contemporary electronic music could mean by taking her listener to a totally different dimension of their mental state. Referring to the term ‘irruptive chora’ coined by Judith Butler and revivified by Rebekah Sheldon1 ‘to imagine an autonomous, dynamic, temporalized space through which subindividual matters, vibratory intensities, and affects might cross and be altered through that crossing’, I would like to propose that what Aisha Devi’s practice gives birth to, is something that I would rather call ‘disruptive chora’, whose intensities do not only pass and alter each other but rather are the forces that have a supernatural impact on the outside space.

As IRRUPTIVE CHORA, we give importance to the matter, something that supporters of Object Oriented Ontology would defend. My ongoing mission is to give materiality to words, but could it ever be done while writing in English, which Aisha describes as an industrial language? How could a language gain more from sound, so it is its form, not only the content, that retains its importance? In the end, it is sound that is this uncorrupted language, with which Aisha can hijack the message through its completely different level of comprehension.

Summing up, directing my thoughts, especially to those, who do not own sound as their vocabulary, Sheldon2 points to all these affective intensities that words also contain and whose ‘choratic reading’ would reveal through five elements:  ‘composition highlights the interrelations between parts; movement refers to the characteristic circuiting of energy through that form; sound to the layers or tonal stacks striating it; rhythm to the vibratory milieu created by it; and, finally, gesture looks to the capacities for connection and the production of potentialities’. According to these elements, it is also these words on the screen that has the potential to turn into a digitally documented performative and powerful act.  

1 Rebekah Sheldon, ‘Form/Matter/Chora Object-Oriented Ontology and Feminist New Materialism’ in The Nonhuman Turn ed. by Richard Grusin (London: University of Minnesota Press, 2015), pp. 193-222 (p. 212)
2 Sheldon, (p. 217)

(Media courtesy of the artist)
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