In May of 2012, Soundwalk Collective traveled into the heart of the Peruvian Amazon to document the ancient chanting rituals of the Ayahuasquero, the Master Shaman and practitioner of plant medicine. In this ritual, the shaman consumes a potent brew made from the Ayahuasca, a sacred vine of the Amazonian jungle, the “vine of the souls”. The brew induces a powerful psychedelic experience that causes visual and auditory hallucinations.
It is in this state that the Ayahuasquero conjures the “icaro” or magic song.
The icaro is more than song, it is a language through which the shaman communicates with the spirits of plants and animals of the jungle — he speaks through them and they sing through him. There are more than a thousand icaros, through which Ayahuasceros call on the spirits for healing, protection, or attack. Icaros can stun a snake, cure a bite, call the soul back to the body, make a sorcerer fall asleep. Icaros are “pure sound,” melodies abstracted so as to become intangible, to become air. In this intangible and most powerful form icaros allow shamans to swallow darts, visit distant planets, call the rainbow, and kill.
Blowing, rattling leaves and singing are synergistic modes of sound that are, at once verbal, unintelligible and abstract — elevating the song to something transcending language. This piece by Soundwalk Collective documents the ancient practice by inhabiting the Ayahuasquero’s soundscape where the icaros become a visceral, haunting, and consuming listening experience.
“Ayahuasqueros” is a radio essay by anthropologist Jeremy Narby, in collaboration with Francisco Lopez, featuring Victor Nieto and Ushamano Walter Martinez. It was ommissioned by Radio France Culture, mixed by Dug Winningham, and produced by Soundwalk Collective: an international sound-art collective, winner of several Audies for their soundwalks and a Dalton Pen award for the Ground Zero w/ Paul Auster. Since 2000 they “have been sonic nomads, embarking on journeys from the desolate land of Bessarabia to the desert of Rub al Khali. By exploring and documenting the world around them through its sounds, the Collective abstracts and re-composes narrative sound pieces through fragments of reality to form distinct audible journeys.”
Film by Stephan Crasneanscki