The Generative Song & Sound Pattern Matrixes of the Shipibo Indians
Sunday, 23 January 2011
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.
Shipibo 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.