The Generative Song & Sound Pattern Matrixes of the Shipibo Indians

Shipibo textile designs
Shipibo textile designs

The intricate linear geometric and symmetrical artworks of the Shepibo Indians, a large tribe of the Peruvian Amazon, act as visual music maps – scores notating the chants and songs (Icaros) associated with Ayahasca healing ceremonies.

The textiles and embroidery, all crafted by women, contain recursive and self-reflective motifs, including geometric configurations common to those generated computationally by iterative functions. A characteristic recurring visual system found in the textiles are bilaterally generated cellular patterns containing space-filling curves.

The mathematical self-similar nature of indigenous artworks has been noted extensively before – Ron Eglash’s book African Fractals, being a good example of research in this area. The vibrational pattern networks of the Shepibo are specifically connected to the visionary experience during the Ayahasca ceremonies and to this end we are directed to a note in James Crutchfield’s paper, Space-Time Dynamics in Video Feedback. In it he posits the idea that visionary artefacts may well be generated by a kind of biological feedback mechanism in the visual cortex due to the action of psychedelic agents. The linear tessellations of the Shipibo embroiderery have a strong visual resemblance to the patterns generated by video feedback especially those systems containing symmetry breaking transformations.

Left: Shipibo textile design & Right: Space-filling curveShipibo embroidery & a space-filling curve

According to Howard G. Charing, in his article on the visual music of the tribe, ‘the Shipibo can listen to a song or chant by looking at the designs – and inversely, paint a pattern by listening to a song or music’. He goes on to mention how the designs are mapped using specific songs during the creation of the artefacts – in this sense the periodicity and repetitions in the songs appear to act as a generative grammar system – perhaps the song or musical equivalent of an L-system.

5 Responses to “The Generative Song & Sound Pattern Matrixes of the Shipibo Indians”

  1. Hummingbird of light | COLLECTIVE PSYCHE writes:

    […] A key element in this magical dialogue with the energy which permeates creation and is embedded in the Shipibo designs is the work with ayahuasca by the Shipibo shamans or muraya. In the deep ayahuasca trance, the ayahuasca reveals to the shaman the luminous geometric patterns of energy. These filaments drift towards the mouth of the shaman where it metamorphoses into a chant or icaro. The icaro is a conduit for the patterns of creation which then permeate the body of the shaman’s patient bringing harmony in the form of the geometric patterns which re-balances the patient’s body. The vocal range of the Shipibo shaman’s when they chant the icaros is astonishing, they can range from the highest falsetto one moment to a sound which resembles a thumping pile driver, and then to a gentle soothing melodic lullaby. Speaking personally of my experience with this, is a feeling that every cell in my body is floating and embraced in a nurturing all-encompassing vibration, even the air around me is vibrating in acoustic resonance with the icaro of the maestro. The shaman knows when the healing is complete as the design is clearly distinct in the patient’s body. It make take a few sessions to complete this, and when completed the geometric healing designs are embedded in the patient’s body, this is called an Arkana. This internal patterning is deemed to be permanent and to protect a person’s spirit. From Data Is Nature: […]

  2. Barnard Voorhees writes:

    Recently mentioned this in a debate with TED over the censoring of Graham Hancock’s talk from the site. My good friend Barrett Martin recorded many Icos during a longhouse ceremony. He said he’s gotten requests from numerous body workers, healers and yoga instructors for copies of the disk. Thanks for this.

  3. Max Rollins writes:

    Hey this is a really fascinating post. Im doing some writing on similar ideas for my thesis project and would love to site the Howard G. Charing article but it isnt clear what publication thats from, could you cleat that up for me? Thanks again

    also, you may know about this but it’s right on the same wavelength

  4. paul writes:

    Max, at the end of the Article there is some contact info, maybe you can glean some more about the source by getting in touch with Howard G. Charing via his website.

    Barnard, thanks for leaving a comment, and for that info.

  5. Fractals and Indigenous Textiles | //// Textiles and Digital Spaces //// ///////////////////////////// writes:

    […] the same specific way you would construct the needle work. On an other interesting article found on « The Generative Song & Sound Pattern Matrixes of the Shipibo Indians » who makes an […]

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