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Music Reviews

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John Levy
Tibetan Buddhist Rites from the Monasteries of Bhutan
Sub Rosa Records

Rating: 9/10 ?

July 20, 2005
A snaking frottage of long trumpets - sometimes kissing the sky, sometimes slithering out in the form of misshapen and unrefined drones - Tibetan Buddhist Rites seems unwilled and internally ideal, even when its exterior shapes look perverse. In a test of great music, it comes to the ears with an aura compounded of surprise and inevitability. After two hours, it's difficult to think there was ever time a before listening to this album. Its music has a monumental quality and a strong sense of process and flux, as if it were a sculpture made of plasma rather than stone or bronze.

Though the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism seek a release from suffering, there is a sharp, steely dissonance caught in the throat of each iridescent texture and pensive clatter of percussion. As outlined in this document's extensive liner notes (which are adorned with a plethora of edifying photographs), this sense of discordance will strike Western ears particularly when, as almost a rule in India, the long trumpet raises the tonic drone by a near semitone, putting the other wind-instruments unusually out of tune.

The other immediate impact that this approach imparts upon the uninitiated - perhaps off-setting or at least aiding the development of these at times grating drones - is a blossoming of singular, florid harmonies that ascend above the grumbling background events as though weightless. Like this particular motif, the music often suggests the self-regulating accord of Utopian community. A horde of hymnal voices, piping from the throats of seventy-six Lamas and Monks, merge with the earth-toned, grainy throb of a thick set bass, implying that humans are indeed indelibly worldly, and the world indelibly human. This position seems reinforced by cross-flute, cymbals and trumpets that never endeavor to stand on their own, instead fashioning complements to each other, and, through their communion, finding shades and colors more distinct and defined.

It's of no surprise the collection harbored on disc one was recorded at the Monastic College in the Tashicho Dzong in Thimphu (the capital of Bhutan); its large halls soak up the faintest of sounds, heightening the immediacy of the proceedings and even the gay cooing and fluttering of pigeons form a constant background to the music. In light of Volume I, the second disc is an altogether more intimate, minimal affair. Volume I forged many of its works in melodies, motifs and themes; this second side gathers all of these somewhat loose strands together into equilibrium, a common place where tranquility is groundless.

Bass rumbles pound massively in the foreground while other players spar and collide on their various reds, or mesh into a curtain of controlled noise. Through it all, drums convey a lightness of touch as well as steering energy. Players continue to unreel swift lines and linked strings of notes that very effectively ride the propulsive bounce of double-membrane frame drums. Pieces three through six are more laterally inclined, pursuing implications, seizing and investigating what's frayed or dislocated. The remaining moments are more overtly expressive, frictional and dramatic, favoring edgy textural blowing that modifies mood as much as direction. It's a situation in which players sound entirely at home, unobtrusively but actively engaged in tilting relationships, drawing other voices together or prompting them to move on. Instruments or environments are no longer mere objects, but bodies that hold life itself - the everyday and the extraordinary, secret rites, rituals long forgotten, and a child blowing through a weed.

Reviewed by Max Schaefer
Nocturnal qualms and eyes that brim like lamps betoken slender sketches, poetry and short stories strewn alongside piano playing, a fiddling of knobs and murmured dialogue with a medley of electronic gizmo\'s. A twenty-one year old person lodged within the University of Victoria, Max harvests organic sounds on a sullen sampler, watching water unwind like two broad lengths of ribbon and nursing a book below the canopy of a cheery-tree. Max believes that the world is made present by people\'s presence in it and that art is one such way in which a distinctive disclosure might be crafted.

See other reviews by Max Schaefer



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