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Yamantaka / Sonic Titan

Exploring // Expanding Mythologies

Jan 07, 2014 Issue #48 - November/December 2013 - HAIM
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Any interview with Alaska B and Ruby Kato Attwood, the duo behind the Canadian art collective Yamantaka // Sonic Titan, is going to be educational. The longtime collaborators are as ready to discuss numerology, the postmodern artwork of Takashi Murakami, and reincarnation beliefs in proto-Hinduism as they are their new album, UZU. This record focuses on the personal experiences of the characters within the collective’s mythscape, and reflects all of their far-reaching influences.

“It mostly centers around tragic mythological female characters; for example, the opening number refers to the character Atalanta,” says B, referring to a virgin huntress from Ancient Greek mythology. “She’s the fastest runner, and she will only marry someone who can run faster than her, and the only way someone can beat her is by cheating. It’s followed by ‘Whalesong,’ which was written about the Chinese goddess Mazu.”

“Who rides on a sea dragon,” Attwood adds.

“She also has aspects of Guanyin, who is kind of the transgender, female bodhisattva of compassion in Southern Chinese iconography,” continues B. “She’s also known as the ‘Barque of Salvation.’ She has kind of a nautical theme to her character. The coastlines in Japan and China are obviously very significant. The nautical theme is very present on this record, from beginning to end.”

The aquatic theme is not only present in the song titles and lyrics, but in the name of the album itself. “Uzu” is a character in several Asian languages which has multiple meanings, including “whirlpool” and “spiral,” or can allude to sudden maelstroms capable of pulling ships to the bottom of the ocean.

“In the context of this record, [UZU] ends with a vortex,” says B. “You know when you go to play Pin the Tail on the Donkey, how they put the blindfold on your head and they spin you around? It goes as far as being kind of disoriented all the way to being sucked down beyond any redemption.”

Their musical vortex is at its most turbulent in the record’s lead single, “One,” where they combine their disparate influences to dizzying effect. The song opens with traditional Iroquois chants and distorted guitar noise pans between the speakers; later, a soaring, poppy vocal asks “Do you ever wonder what it’s like to die in America?” with a scary, post-apocalyptic, post-cyberpunk aesthetic. It’s as disarming as it is stunning.

Since their debut record’s release, the collective has also premiered a three-act opera titled 33, and started work on a video game titled Your Task // Shoot Things. The Yamantaka // Sonic Titan name encompasses a much broader scope than the rock band component alone: it’s an umbrella that encompasses all of their inter-related art projects.

“It’s like a monster that reincarnates all the time,” Attwood explains. “Sometimes it’s more of a [band], sometimes it’s an art group; it depends on what project we’re working on at the time. It depends on who we’re collaborating with. Sometimes there are offshoots. It splits apart and mutates.”

“We usually call it an art cult,” adds B.


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