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Alchemic appeared in 2009 in the aftermath of MahaKali and the

subsequent spate of releases exploring spiritual systems: DaksinaKali,
Durga & Her Smile of Radiant Vengeance, Ugra and Skullgirl.

Although Alchemic and Skullgirl share the same songs on a spiritual theme
inspired by the Buddhist Tonglen meditation, they differ in style and tenor. By
means of fuller instrumentation and elaborate ornamentation, Jarboe
transformed Skullgirls experimental matrix into postmodern baroque within
the ambient industrial trance genre.Its not simply a case of the earlier release
being a demo or unplugged blueprint for Alchemic. Intricate vocal interactions
and polyrhythms as ingredients of the trance-like sequences characterize both
albums but the atmospherics of the two works also diverge. There is, for
example, the pronounced oriental flavour of Skullgirl.

On the Alchemic CD the tracks are listed in Latin numerals, unworthy of the
songs. The song titles on Skullgirl are thus indispensable for identifying,
assessing and contextualizing the individual tracks:

I Tonglen
II Just For Today
III Groundless Humility
IV Ascending Now
V Youre Here
VI Joyful Sorrow
VII Is This a Portal?
VIII Jump into the Fire
IX Reprise of Joyful Sorrow

The opening number I Tonglen is a stately orchestral movement commencing with strings,
piano and dreamy vocalizing over a slow drumbeat. Jarboes spoken, sung and whispered
vocals are integral to the ambient texture, seamlessly fusing with the instrumentation. An
atmospheric birdsong effect adds magic to the mix, followed by the recital of the
meditation which crowns and concludes this enchanting track. The Tonglen technique
involves inhaling negative energy, transforming it in the heart, and exhaling compassion as
healing energy.

On the second track, II Just for Today, acoustic guitars, keyboards and strings take up a
simple but engaging melody over gently undulating rhythms. The dreamlike quality of the
lead vocal is enhanced by sighs, whispers and effects. Finally a flute engages the strings and
keyboards in a movement that becomes totally intoxicating, illuminating the message of
the song in the context of the albums theme.
III Groundless Humility opens with a high pitched chime which resonates with Jarboes
singing and chant-like vocalizing. The sense of urgency thus evoked within a framework of
solemn keyboards and volleys of squalling, droning guitars, gives this piece a ritualistic air.
The final waning of the chimes, keyboards and vocals triggers a dronestorm with the force
of a thousand tamburas. As this roar in turn recedes, a chorus of talking drums with
haunting human undertones arises for a final jig before the end. The vocal aspect of the
drumbeats leaves an eerie impression.

IV Ascending Now features gentle guitar jangles and churning percussion steadily morphing
into ornate rhythmic patterns. Jarboes speaking & singing voice affirms the sovereignty of
the soul against the tyranny of emotion, in other words the individuals right to reject the
rule of feelings. Radiating reassurance, it has a potent uplifting effect.

An intro of lilting rhythms opens V Youre Here, a rumination on the primacy of
impermanence. The harmonic, melodic and percussive tapestry of II Just for Today
reappears with a set of affirmations as a healing theme. Further layers of sung and spoken
vocals expand the sound until its crowned by a series of appealing trumpet blasts.

A barrage of rock guitars, feedback and dynamic beats make VI Joyful Sorrow a solid wall of
sound. The multitracked vocals seem to be filtered, processed or otherwise adapted to
match the musics compact texture. As it unfolds some elements start differentiating
themselves from the unitary sound. Synth lines become distinct, detach and swirl along
their own trajectories to soar above the din of guitars and drums.

VII Is This a Portal? Skittering percussion contrasts with slow emphatic guitar strums and
symphonic synths throughout the track. A brief recital of questions is followed by
atmospheric birdsong and nature effects. The coda consists of the whispered repetition of
one of the questions.

A clanging metallic beat marks VIII Jump Into The Fire as prime industrial dance. After
nearly two minutes, Jarboes robust multitracked vocals join the buoyant rolling rhythms. A
burst of maniacal laughter which appeared at the beginning now returns, first at rhythmic
intervals and then - to striking effect - in alternation with a sample of ringing bells.

IX Reprise The album closes with a brief a cappella reprise of Joyful Sorrow.

How best to define Alchemic in the context of the post-MahaKali releases and Jarboes
oeuvre in total? To recap, Durga is primarily a work of atmospheric instrumentals properly
called sonospheres as vocals, effects and instruments merge and overlap to an inseparable
extent. In contrast, verbal expression is essential to the ritualistic DaksinaKali with its sung,
spoken and chanted invocations, mantras and meditations.

The theme of the aforementioned albums, like that of MahaKali, highlights the destructive
aspects of the supernatural and the chthonic impulses of the shadow, whereas healing is
the theme of Skullgirl and Alchemic. Tonglen is devoted to restoration by transforming
cruelty into compassion and destruction into restoration.

Structurally, Alchemic encompasses the entire spectrum from sonosphere to song. A track
like I Tonglen combines the elements of the sonosphere as found on Durga with the verbal
expression prevalent on DaksinaKali. III Groundless Humility represents ritual while VIII
Jump Into the Fire is a perfect blend. Alchemics forms of verbal expression include singing,
recital, chants, whispers and mantric affirmation.

Stylistically, the baroque textures of Alchemic bring to mind some of Jarboes earlier and
later work. Tracks like VI Joyful Sorrow and VIII Jump into the Fire hark back to the dance
mixes of the Warm Liquid Event EP (1993) and the reissue of Beautiful People Ltd. Ambient
elements on II Just For Today and VII Is This a Portal? echo aspects of tone poems like
Circles in Red Dirt on Anhedoniac (1998) and Realm on Indemnity (2012).


@ The Range Place
Vocalist Research and Discussion

A chameleon voiced singer, Jarboe La Salle Devereux (if that is indeed actually her name)
was as much an influence on Swans as they were on the no-wave and experimental scene
when they first arrived. Her arrival pushed Swans in a more gothic direction as opposed to
their earlier industrial beatings. A classically trained singer, upon her discovery, she was
promptly "untrained" by equally enigmatic Swans frontman Michael Gira. As a result,
behind her bizarre, unorthodox and often times completely unhinged performances lies a
deep, completely conscious understanding of her voice, though it now also comes complete
with a distinct southern drawl.

Jarboe displays perfect intonation and control right through her upper register (that is, of
course, when she isn't shouting, howling, screaming, muttering, exhaling profusely, etc.).
Her tone in her upper register is surprisingly bright, yet simultaneously heavy, a quality she
is very capable of switching on and off for effect. Her breath control is impeccable, capable
of very impressive and steady sustain of notes throughout her register. Probably trained as
an alto (at a guess), she darkens very early, normally around D4 but at times even as high as
E4, giving her immensely heavy resonance around the upper 3rd octave. This very heavy
and early use of it, however, seems to impede her ability to dip much lower than E3,
though she is undoubtedly capable of doing so.

Review written and document compiled by Pieter Uys 2017.