Othon - Pineal
"I have the right to explore my own consciousness. I have the right to evolve."
Pineal is the extraordinary result of Othon's travels into the Brazilian rainforests where he partook in Ayahuasca and other sacred ceremonies. It is an expression of his interest and advocacy of expanded states of consciousness. Pineal takes its name from the brain's pineal gland, which, it is believed, produces DMT which when exaggerated by psychedelic drugs such as ayahuasca can open up "the third eye" which connects the physical and spiritual worlds. In 2012 Othon travelled to Brazil where he experienced this sacred brew, which offers healing properties, under the watchful eye of the shamans. Ayahuasca it should be said isn't an easy ride though, Othon in a surprising and unexpected interview with The Guardian confessed: "The ceremonies gave me ecstatic euphoria and complete darkness. I had moments of complete, total self-knowledge." As someone who had indulged in psychedelics beforehand, his experience of Ayuhuasca, altered Othon's perception forever.
But maybe not too much - as thankfully, as like Othon's previous albums Digital Angel and Impermanence, Pineal features the wonderful vocal talents of both Ernesto Tomasini and Marc Almond. Yet unlike the intimacy and orchestrated theatrics of those albums Pineal positively throbs with a sense of rhythm, featuring contributions from Bird Radio and Rital Belo, alongside the voices of Amazonian shamans Javier Arevalo Shahuano and Jessica Ramirez Seopa, Ethereal, Classical and Gospel choirs and Othon's self-assembled collection of Ayahuasca singers.
Pineal plays out in two parts, each representing and uniting the differing worlds Othon is connected to. Part I features a number of original songs not too far removed from the classical and theatrical cabaret of the songs found on Digital Angel and Impermanence. While the flamboyance of these tracks seem to represent Othon's life within Western cities, combining his avant-garde and classical credentials with the euphoria of late nights spent seeking in hedonistic clubs, Part II further expands his spiritual explorations and specifically his journeys into the Brazilian rainforest where he experienced psychedelics during his life-transforming ayahuasca ceremonies. His first-hand experience of these indigenous shamanic healing songs (ikaros) and their melodies were refashioned by Othon into the tracks found on Part II.
Pineal starts off extravagantly enough with a chorus of orchestrated and gospel voices proclaiming the title, 'Pineal Kiss' with hammering and thrusting dance rhythms leading into jaunty and playful piano with an almost fairground organ type sound surrounding the pure pristine tones of Ernesto Tomasini, shadowed by ethereal voices, as he describes the ayuhausca ceremonies and the cleansing and healing properties of the burning "holy wood": "Palo Santo, Incense of the spirits, Take me to the sky, Ethereal beings, DMT healing, Consciousness fly and fly". It's a spirited beginning, and first evidence of his adoption of dance music but the best is kept for later. Before that you have the tender ballad of 'Your Quantum Future' featuring the deep sombre timbre of Mikey Kirkpatrick aka Bird Radio over piano and strings as he sings of the transformative power of sex and technology, similar to the themes Othon first aired on his debut album, Digital Angel. At one point when he imparts the lines "One day I feel a boy, The next day I am a girl" over tender piano it is reminiscent of Antony and the Johnsons, but that lasts only a moment before this sensual futuristic ballad swells again with flourishes of strings and trumpets.
Pineal isn't all flamboyant and extravagance, there are tender and quiet moments too which permits Othon to show his classical roots. Part I features two instrumentals. The first 'City Shaman' has John Garner's multi-layered violin with its ecstatic sweeps over pounding tribal beats and percussive taps, picking up chugging organ chime and bells. 'Japan Suite' the other instrumental may be familiar to Othon listeners. Inspired by the Fukushima nuclear tragedy 'Japan Suite' is suitably sombre as it builds from a percussive interplay cut with animalistic effects, featuring a beautiful tender violin score which intensifies into a beautiful heart-wrenching climax. While much of Pineal shares Othon passion for new experiences, the emotional pull of these instrumentals, and in particular 'Japan Suite' amply demonstrate the compassionate side of Othon's spiritual being.
The real gem of the first part, however, is found on 'Dawn Yet To Come' featuring the sublime multi-octave singing of Ernesto Tomasini. Othon has called this "melancholic techno" and no wonder. Opening with ringing bells and dance rhythms, those programmed rhythms merge with rolling drums and melodic synths as backing to Ernesto Tomasini's sublime castrato tones as he sings, in this earth-worshipping electro hymn, of seeking a new sunrise, a new dawn. Gliding through passages laced with synths, trumpets and electro sequences, sweeping up ethereal and gospels choruses in its way, 'Dawn Yet To Come' is an arty slice of dance music, supreme in its beauty, hopeful in intent, and exercised with an unmatchable sense of finesse. Only Othon and Tomasini could do this. 'Dawn Yet To Come' represents Othon's embracement of dance music and is matched by a wonderful video, directed by Predrag Pajdic, of Othon and friends (which besides Othon and Tomasini features, amongst many others the extreme performance artist Ron Athey, the director Bruce LaBruce, the artist Hector de Gregorio, the transsexual model Eva Vortex - and a couple of pythons) as they race towards a new dawn.
If Part I of Pineal is indicative of Othon's classical roots and immersion in London's club scene, then Part II showcases Othon's travels into the rainforest and his experience of the ayahuasca ceremonies where he attained exposure to their healing songs. Bookended by tracks of the Brazilian Ikaros, Part II features vocals from shamans Javier Arevalo Shahuano and Jessica Ramirez Seopa. The first 'Puca Puca' has Amazonian tribal chants proclaiming the title mixed seamlessly with parping organ chime, twangy reverbed guitar, and an assortment of shakers and hand percussion. As the indigenous chants continue whistles and flutes are added to the vivid concoction. It is evocative stuff, quite unlike anything Othon has previously produced and worlds apart from anything that comes the way of compulsiononline.
Othons's albums are always filled with collaborators and guest vocalists that range from Othon stalwarts Ernesto Tomasini and Marc Almond to arch apocalypist David Tibet of Current 93 (who released Othon's debut album on his Durtro label) and cult chanteuse Camille O'Sullivan, this time Pineal gives space to the innocent tones of Rita Belo as she sings Othon's take on Rainer Scheurenbrand's 'Fly'. Amidst the sound of Amazonian rainfall, storms and bird calls, Belo enraptures with the pure quality of her voice on this gentle medicine song, where passages veer from fragile piano notes to thudding keyboards, with gentle orchestration. Amidst the vibrancy of Part II, 'Fly' offers a little moment of contemplation.
Pineal goes all ceremonial on the shamanic sacred song 'Pasha Dume' with the magical chants of Brazilian tribes transformed by way of clipped ritual rhythms into a wild piece of shamanic techno, with an elongated end section of powerful tribal beats, that when played to members of the Kaxinawá people received a smiling, nodding approval from the shaman Ninawa - who is one of the singers here, who, like I, had heard nothing like it.
With a hotbed of traditional rhythms, Marc Almond sings in Brazilian on the wonderfully evocative 'Cobra Coral' amidst enticing rhythms, accompanied by an agglomeration of sensual male and female voices from Othon's self assembled Ayahuasca choir, like a supercharged Brazilian take on Almond's Latino flavoured Marc and the Mambas project. In the past Almond has turned his hand to French, Spanish, Russian dialects and here he is on top form as he gives it his all turning this Umbanda hymn into a euphoric piece of tribal dance.
Pineal finishes on 'Tayti' where, like 'Puca Puca', Othon frames shakers and rattling percussion and the chants of the two Ayahuasqueros, Javier Arevalo Shahuano and Jessica Ramirez Seopa, with an evocative soundscape involving melancholic keyboards, digital handclaps, ethereal choirs and a sombre trumpet score before the sound of waves crashing on the shore brings to a close what is undoubtedly Othon's most remarkable release to date.
Some, like The Quietus, view Othon as part of a gay lineage, and while I can follow that argument, I don't see Othon as primarily as a gay artist. It's limiting and would following that argument marginalise the art produced by the likes of Coil, Marc Almond and countless others. Besides Othon fluctuates between, gay, bi and straight periods. Othon is, of course, a musical genius, a singular artist following his own vision, which has seen him expelled from academic circles and one who continually pushes the boundaries of accepted genres under his own self-styled description Pan muzik - a term which in itself is all-inclusive and defies limitations. And yet I suspect his espousal of the positives aspects of psychedelics won't go down well with all. Drug debates aside, on Pineal Othon continues to evolve with fresh vibrant, celebratory music that expands the sound of his previous albums with dance and sacred, indigenous music. A stunning visionary release blurring genre distinctions; Pineal is well worth imbibing. Pineal, like all Othon releases, comes with our highest recommendation.
Othon will be donating proceeds from Pineal to the Kaxinawá people of the Amazon and to the Beckly Foundation, which carries out pioneering scientific research into psychoactive drugs and consciousness and promotes evidence-based, health-oriented drug policy reform.
For more information go to Othon Pan Muzik or Cherry Red Records
Othon - 'Dawn Yet To Come', from Pineal, directed by Predrag Pajdic
Othon - 'Tayti', from Pineal featuring the shamans Javier Arevalo Shahuano & Jessica Ramirez Seopa