Monday, 29 August 2011

Tuva, Among the Spirits: Sound, Music, and Nature in Sahka and Tuva [1999]

Artist: Various
Album: Tuva, Among the Spirits: Sound, Music, and Nature in Sahka and Tuva
Label: Smithsonian Folkways Recordings

I always think that despite the vast array of genres we have over here in the West, indigenous music is something completely outside of the structures that we've given to modern musical styles. Even more so than harsh noise or lowercase music, indigenous music seems to me more alien than any other sound in the world. The music of primitive cultures often serves a purpose, be it religious or for pure practicality (such as attracting animals using calls), and in a culture where music is used almost solely for leisure or entertainment, this can be a hard concept to fully grasp. I find this thought uplifting, because it affirms that music is not something that has sprung up out of society or civilisation, but out of a far more primitive part of ourselves as animals. Music is innate in us as human beings, not brought about through cultural conditioning.

I've already posted another album of Tuvan folk music, which was also released on the absolutely fantastic Smithsonian Folkways record label, who have released hundreds of records exploring the indigenous music of cultures from all over the globe. Tuvan music is very special both to me personally and to the history of music as a whole. The music of the Tuvan people is primarily vocal-based and ranges from bird calls and animal imitations to stringed instrument pieces and vocal drones. Obviously a huge point of interest is the unique singing style called "throat singing", "overtone singing" or "harmonic singing", which essentially allows the throat singers to sing two notes at once. The actual mechanics behind throat singing are very complicated, but in simple terms, it's achieved by manipulating the voice-box and changing the shape of the mouth to create overtones (there's a full explanation on Wikipedia). The resultant sound is unlike anything else, and in many ways like an imitation of the harmonics of the wind.

This knack for imitating sounds from nature is something that the Tuvans are especially good at, and this CD reflects that, with several tracks showing the peoples' beautiful emulations of natural sounds. The track "Harmonics in the Wind" is like a jam session with the wind, with what sounds like a xomuz (Jew's Harp) player and another stringed instrument (could be either an igil or a byzaanchy) mimic the harmonics of the wind and try to tune their playing to the tuning of the wind. On another track, "Xomuz Imitating Water", a xomuz player improvises along to the sounds of a stream, copying the little sounds that the water makes with his xomuz to convincing effect; it's like two great improvisers meeting to play together, only one of them is nature itself.

I personally prefer this compilation to the one I previously posted, Tuva: Voices from the Center of Asia [1987]. This is partly do with the fact that I much prefer the pieces on this disc and the way that they are arranged, but it is also because the quality of these recordings are far better. This is to be expected, as the material for this CD was recorded 12 years later, and obviously the equipment that can be taken out into the field had vastly improved. While recording quality may not always be of great importance, when it comes to field recordings, especially field recordings of Tuvan music, it is paramount that the spaces around the performer be properly audible, and here it's possible to hear every bird, every rustling tree, and every drop of water that falls around the recording space.

Tuvan musicians will travel far to find the perfect acoustic spot for performance, and these recordings let you sit right next to them in the caves, on the mountains and by the streams of rural Siberia.

I won't post a download link for this one, because I've seen the people from Smithsonian Folkways scouring the web to remove links. Since Spotify is now available in the US and a lot of other countries, try downloading that to listen to it. If all else fails, you know where Google is.

Tracklist (track name followed by artist name, where artist name is not noted, the artist is unknown):

1) A Reverberant Valley
2) Sakha Animal Imitations - German Khatilaev & Klavida Khatileava
3) Tuvan Round-up
4) Fantasy on the Igil - Kaigal-ool Khovalyg
5) Birds and Bird Imitations - Kagail-ool Khovalyg, Anatoli Kuular & Alexei Saryglar
6) Xoomei on Horseback - Kagail-ool Khovalyg & Anatoli Kuular
7) Borbangnadyr with Steam Water - Anatoli Kuular
8) Xomuz (Jew's Harp) Imitating Water - Anatoli Kuular
9) Home on the (Mountain) Range
10) Ang-Meng Mal-Magan Ottuneri (Imitation of Wild and Domestic Animals) - Albert Saspyk-ool
11) Ang-Meng Mal-Magan Ottuneri (Reprise) - Alexander Chambal-og Tulush
12) Harmonics in the Wind
13) Sonic Landscape - Grogori Mongush
14) The Legacy of Ancestors - Tos-Khol
15) Cave Spirits
16) Kyzyl Taiga (Red Forest) - Kagail-ool Khovalyg
17) Talking Xomuz - Anatoli Kuular
18) Chiraa-Xor - Kagail-ool Khovalyg, Anatoli Kuular & Sayan Bapa
19) Epilogue

Smithsonian Folkways

The Bilinda Butchers - Half Open [2011]

Artist: The Bilinda Butchers
Single: Half Open
Label: Beko DSL

I'm pretty quick off the bat with this one; the new Bilinda Butchers single, released today on the Beko Digital Singles Label. Those who know me will know that I adored their EP Regret, Love, Guilt Dreams [2011] (which I reviewed on here pretty recently) and that it was love at first listen. Well, fans of the band won't be disappointed as they clearly don't plan on resting on their laurels any time soon.

Interweaving synth hooks, nostalgic soundscapes, lyrics about love and loss, swathes of reverberation and noise washes make up the A-side, "Half Open" a slow-dance through a crumbling relationship which is mirrored by the music's constant builds ands falls, which eventually give way as the words "hold on until you're gone" echo off into infinity and the coda kicks in for an epic one minute epilogue.

"Seafoam Green" is a different beast altogether, with a milky texture and a languid tempo; it's music that is happy to float on the top layer of your consciousness and ebb and flow along of it's own accord. The sounds of tidal pulsing in the background, seashells put to your ear, dry kelp brushing the sand, sunburnt synthesisers, aqueous guitars; all part of the effect that brings you closer to the events of this track, themselves captured in sun-bleached high fidelity.

God Bless The Bilinda Butchers.

1) Half Open
2) Seafoam Green


Thursday, 25 August 2011

Supercar - A [2005]

Artist: Supercar
Album: A
Label: Ki/oon

The first release in a double compilation by one of my favourite Japanese alternative rock bands Supercar. The great thing about this album (and it's counterpart, B [2005]) is how to shows the fluid progression from the early britpop influenced records through to the electronic experimentalism of Futurama [2000] and Answer [2004].

As the title suggests, A is a singles collection of all of the A-sides of the band's career. Friends of mine often wonder why I'm so fond of Supercar, and true, on the surface they do kind of sound like a bunch of Japanese teenagers imitating their Western idols, but if there's one thing that this record shows more than anything, it's that their singles of were of consistently high quality, even in the early days, where the compositions are far from simple and they come off like a shoegaze band with a high budget, bundles of ambition and a penchant for epic orchestrations (see the track "Planet").

In spite of the fact that the band really wore their influences on their sleeves pretty heavily for the first half of their career, as soon as the Futurama-era tracks kick in (with "Fairway"), it's clear that the band are going far deeper into their music, and digging up some really bizarre and unique stuff, like bookending an electro-pop track with samples of African drumming. The synth programming on Highvision [2002] and Answer is sublime, and examples of it can be heard towards the end of the compilation, with the space-age beauty of "Yumegiwa Last Boy", "Aoharu Youth" and "BGM" punctuating the latter sector of the record.

If you've yet to become acquainted with Supercar, then this is probably the best way to do so. Here is some of the band's greatest moments in a compact package that serves as a great glimpse at the band's ten-year history.


1) Cream Soda
2) Lucky
3) Planet
4) Drive
5) Sunday People
6) My Girl
7) Love Forever
8) Fairway
9) White Surf Style 5
10) Strobolights
11) Yumegiwa Last Boy
12) Aoharu Youth
13) Recreation
14) BGM
15) Last Scene
16) Wonder Word

Amazon Japan