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Matthew Stone: Anatomy of Immaterial Worlds

The artist takes us on a Shamanic spiritual journey at the ICA through hypnotic music and computer-generated videos

Tomorrow Matthew Stone’s unveils his latest multimedia piece at the ICA. It will feature a hypnotic musical score, dance, opera and computer-generated video, in which “a shaman’s drum is replaced by an electronic pulse”. Essentially it maps Stone’s personal Shamanic experiences and views, reinforcing the artist’s position as an original and contemporary thinker. The piece is being screened as part of the ICA’s Against Gravity Live Weekends, which has been curated by Catherine Borra. We caught up with the artist to discuss his experience of shamanism, spirituality and art. 

Dazed Digital: How did the idea for Anatomy of Immaterial Worlds develop?
Matthew Stone: For a long time I have been thinking about making a Shamanic Opera. So I began thinking about performance as something that can be spectacle but also enables an audience to connect to something other. Reaching beyond the ordinary and tapping into what in other times might have been described as the spirit world. Within shamanic terms there are altered states of consciousness that allow individuals to gain access to immaterial worlds, which is where the title came from. The piece is a metaphor for the shamanic journey so it literally depicts my experiences, but then through the soundtrack and the immersion into darkness it aims to actually enable the audience to utilize those shamanic techniques.  

DD: Did you reference anyone else’s approach to performance?
Matthew Stone: I began thinking about the Russian composer Alexander Scriabin and his work The Poem of Ecstasy (1905-1908). It was a piece of music, which was performed in New York and involved the first use of coloured lights in a performance. He developed the Prometheus chord, which were a certain set of notes that he believed evoked mystic states. He was obviously a mystic and if you listen to the music now it sounds a bit eerie. I don’t believe that that chord has the effect he was talking about, however it does succeed in creating of a theatrical spectacle.

DD: Again you have worked with a variety of mediums…
Matthew Stone: Yes, I think it is more multi-disciplinary then trying to be a total artwork. This project has given me an opportunity to bring together all of the individual activities that represent the way that I have ended up working. I see it all interconnecting and in my mind I move very easily between one thing and the next. This piece brings together performance, sound, film, and my views on art and whether art can still be related to spirituality. 

I think a lot of people see the theatrical elements of my work, but I also think its important that people understand that these are conscious tools. I am not trying to escape into a fantasy world that doesn’t exist. I’m saying, perhaps the real world is more complex than something we can understand in purely logical terms. I think we need a poetic understanding of the world.

DD: How did you create the sound for the film?
Matthew Stone: There are two elements to the sound; one is electronic and one is live. They both use the same chords but are very different aesthetically. One is drone trance music and the other is a classical score that I have written for the violin, viola and cello. For the sound you have two disparate expressions of the same thing.

DD: And there is also an element of sensory deprivation within the music…
Matthew Stone: I am using noise as a sensory deprivation technique. Essentially the music progresses to a state where it is monotonous and repetitive. The practical shamanic technique that I learnt is drug-free and uses rattles and drums to enter these trance states. I believe that the reason this technique works is because it is different from the western idea of progressive tonal music.  The brain cannot count how many drumbeats have been hit and because there is no identifiable structure you cant predict when it is going to change. It tricks and forces the brain into thinking in a way that is beyond time. You don’t really know when the sound will end or when it started.

DD: What are your personal experiences of shamanism?
Matthew Stone: I did a weekend course in shamanism in which I was taught several techniques. They would drum and we would lie on the floor, eventually you would imagine that you were walking out of the room. At that stage you are very much imagining and conscious. You are then told to travel in your mind to a place in nature that you have some association with. In shamanic terms it is your power place. The imagery in the video relates to that journey in my mind. Throughout the process you spend a lot of time trying to shut out the logical voice that tells you that you are just imagining it. Of course you are just imagining it, but what is imagination?

DD: I feel like it’s about sharing your personal experience of shamanism in a very modern way…
Matthew Stone: For me that is the definition of a shaman. Some people will object to this simplistic idea of shamanism. However I see it as an individual who subjects themselves to intense psychological phenomena and finds a way to story tell it back to their community.

Anatomy of Immaterial Worlds will be screened at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) on Friday 26th November at 8.30 pm