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The Religion of Toxins

by Marc Behrens

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First presented as a sound installation at Museu Serralves, Porto, Portugal, May 30–31, 2015, during «Serralves em Festa 2015», inside the Serralves chapel. The reverb of the space was used as an integral component of the sound installation.

Composed by Marc Behrens 2015 with audio recordings made at the Festa de São João in Porto in 2010 and the Thaipusam festival in Kuala Lumpur in 2012.

The Festa de São João is a local party based on pagan rites dating back to Roman and Celtic times, later swallowed by the Catholic agenda. Thaipusam is a Hindu religious festival that is celebrated by Tamil Hindus in 12 Asian and African countries and some expat communities.

Beyond the ritualistic part (i.e. fecundity rituals involving garlic flowers and various herbs, but also fire jumping), São João is characterized by collective inebriation with alcoholic beverages around dance parties into the next morning. In the 20th century, a capitalist enterprise has transformed the audio properties of the festival by introducing soft plastic hammers, which added a new layer of collective abreaction to the event.

Thaipusam’s origins lie in the celebration of Lord Murugan’s defeating the demon Soorapadam with a spear. The festival takes several days and features whirling dances, spectacular body modification and the display of trance by some of the devotees. Weeks before the celebration they eat a specific diet and castigate themselves in order to reach the trance state. They also smoke dozens of cigars during the 15 km procession to the Batu Caves shrines.

Music and chemical substances determine both celebrations – changing the states of body and cerebral system. Toxins included in those substances alienate and liberate the individual from its routines. In both cases, it is a collective experience. Although Thaipusam is to some degree a violent experience, both festivals generate a peace- and joyful repositioning of the individual in society and the course of her or his life. Therefore it is common that people look forward to and prepare for those annual festivities – some almost unconsciously and trivially, others entirely spiritually.


released August 27, 2015

Acknowledgements: Miguel Carvalhais, Goethe-Institut Malaysia, Volkmar Hoppe, Goh Lee Kwang, N.R.G., Pedro Rocha, Pedro Tudela.
Original edition © 2015 Marc Behrens. Availabel ala011.


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Marc Behrens

Marc Behrens works with electronic and concrete music, installation, performance, photography, text and video. He exhibited artworks or performed in many European countries, in South Africa, Chile, USA, Japan, China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Australia, Israel and Palestine. Since 1989 Behrens has released more than 30 music albums. He founded Availabel in 2014. ... more

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