By Ross Currie
In art, there will always be the struggle of how to accurately and effectively express the meaning of the subject matter in a way that illuminates the true nature of the artist’s intended creative vision. In the case of Yamantaka//Sonic Titan — a Toronto/Montreal multicultural and multimedia arts collective — the creation of their art is rooted deep in concepts such as Buddhist cosmology, duality, spirituality, philosophy, myth and representation. Which aren’t easy concepts to tackle by any means, but with an understanding of the creative vision that Yamantaka//Sonic Titan convey; it’s clear that the group has a strong grasp of what they want people to see, hear and contextualize from their artistic output.
The fusion of different concepts and artistic forms lead Yamantaka//Sonic Titan to create art that is like no other art; as it belongs to the group’s collective understanding of what their art means to them. “When we started it was about this weird reclamation art project. I still think of it as an art project more than anything else, the music is just one arm of it. I don’t think it’s fully accurate to call us only a band,” explains Alaska B, one of the founding members of Yamantaka//Sonic Titan. “We’re not a band, and an artist as an afterthought,” she adds. “We actually work as a group on larger productions in different realms.”
These different realms include: a theatrical rock opera 33, set and costume design, illustrations, the invention of hand-made musical instruments, a collaborative cantata consisting of a 35 minute piece of music not intended for an album, not to mention the group’s two studio albums YT//ST and UZU. The different creative outlets allow the group to tackle different concepts across multiple different mediums, allowing for expression to be specific to the individual project.
Most people know Yamantaka//Sonic Titan for their studio albums that run the gamut of metal, hard rock and psychedelic rock, all the while incorporating female deities such as Atalanta (Greek mythological huntress), Mazu (Chinese goddess of the sea) and Benzaiten (Japanese name for Saraswati – Hindu goddess of knowledge, music, arts and science) into a hyper-conceptual and sonically rich dream world. “With the studio albums, we really want people to go to another place. A kind of psychedelic suspension of disbelief,” say Alaska B. The very nature of these albums lends itself to research and inward exploration by the essence of the subject matter and content explored through the music. The two studio albums they’ve released so far both tell a different story, which makes it difficult for listeners and critics to understand the singularity that each album deserves. “When you have two records it’s like a sequel. For us it’s just another project,” explains Alaska. Both releases contain different sounds and motives according to the characters and contents explored, and should be taken into consideration to understand the group’s intention.
The artistic diversity of Yamantaka//Sonic Titan makes it difficult for the media to effectively portray them without making assumptions; separate from the messages they try to convey with their art. Especial the musical aspect, which tends to define the group within the confines of “rock,” or being a “band” in the traditional sense. “I’m fine with however they want to look at it,” explains Alaska B. “It just didn’t develop as a band, the name is awkward and it wasn’t named to be a band. We never had planned it to posture as a rock band and play traditional rock venues and play with other rock bands. It’s not where we started from,” says Alaska. “I think it would be silly to say we’re not a rock band at this point, but I would also say it’s silly to act like we’re only a rock band and not artists, because that’s truthfully where the majority or our work lies, and has historically,” she concludes. With each member of the group representing multiple ethnicities and upbringings within the context of Canadian heritage, the idea of representation is another key factor in understanding where the group is coming from with their art.
The idea of aestheticism (the creation of art for art’s sake) is something that Yamantaka//Sonic Titan demonstrate, and is evident in the density of expression found in both the theatrical element of the group, as well as the music represented on the studio albums. However you chose to describe, define or conceptualize their artistic projects, the group is unlike anything else: uniquely Canadian, progressive and dedicated to the true process that defines what they are.
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