Tuesday, 6 May 2014

New Music - 'All the Flowers' - Balkh -- A Pantheist Chant

All the Flowers... cover art

It lies in ruins now, ancient Balkh, this home from where monotheism sprang., silent in the shifting sands its memory casts a longer shadow than the stones still standing. History runs deep and rich for it was here, in this Northern tip of modern day  Afghanistan where Zoroastrianism flourished.

Mankind's spiritual, searching footfall found this place, found it and declared that the search had located all that was to be discovered, that in the Middle East a god was hidden, the god to end all gods, a god of petty jealousies with a dictatorial heart. From here, from Balkh came Zorastra then Yahweh, then Jehovah, then Allah.

But Balkh was more than that. It had a questing soul. It looked beyond the confines of its borders. It is that same spirit that inhabits this band. It is the disregard for rules that pleases me as much as the noise they make but also their questing heart.

The first time I heard anything remotely like this music was back in '68 when I purchased The Beatles 'White Album.' The track that caught my attention was 'Revolution 9.' I thought it was ground-breaking, new and rather amazing. I then discovered musique concrete had already been there, done that. Nonetheless I liked the Lennon, Harrison, Ono and Starkey piece. This music by Balkh may not be new but the way they play it is. Nor is it anything like The Beatles.

This band, these two artists, Doriandra Serena Smith and Eriijk Réssler are creating neo-sacred music on this album. It is music that has a past clearly heard in its musky melodies with its exotic sounds, its bells ringing claiming the day, extolling the few to listen, but it also has the curve of modernity. There is a sweep and thrust as the music floats over and under quasi-mystical spoken words. Layers are added but slowly and gather like the circling cries of hungry birds eager to find a home. It is repetition that forms the basis of what is Balkh, those repetitions are a mantra, an over and over repeat of a word or phrase, which transcends the average giving it that sacred music sound.

The album, 'All the Flowers' has but two tracks. Side one is hypnotic in its undulating pulse that grows in depth of sound as layer upon layer is gradually introduced. It feels like a desert storm blown from the ocean that starts as a listless breeze then gathers momentum and intensity until the storm breaks. The pre-recorded voices sound metallic in viral counterpoint to the sun burnt tryst of the undercurrent melody. They begin soft 'n slow then persist as the music moves from adanté to a blistering climax. The magic of it is the subtle incline as more and more layers are added. It is an aural orgasm that clatters to an eruptive end.   
There is that constant echo inherent in the music that reminds us of a time before the industrialised capitalist world grew the machine larger than the component parts. In short the album wears its humanity on its sleeve. The production values are low maintenance, slightly rough around the edges which highlights the feeling of being grounded, of walking the paths so trodden before, of being connected to the earth whilst using modern technology to excellent effect.

Doriandra and Eriijk flutter through and beyond the global imperial colonialism of the west and middle east leading us to humankind's true spiritual home - the far east.  It does this by bringing into sharp contrast the old with the new but suggests one is not in conflict with the other; the two in fact go hand in hand. Think people working from home using laptops rather than travelling each day, sometimes hundreds of miles by car: think having wind turbines blissfully rotating in the sun soaked, wind blown desert waste lands to enrich power naturally. If this sounds quixotic, dream time in wishful thinking land, it is not. We are after all the smartest hairless apes on the planet. This music, this album empirically proves a point and it does it deliciously so too.

Then, just as I am re-reading the words I had written I hear chimes announcing the postman. He proves the book and film a lie - he rings once. I open the door to receive a package from Doriandra. Inside is a cassette. With it comes a picture of a pig cutting itself in two with a knife. On another piece of paper is a hand written message from Doriandra - "love you Duffy,"  It would be hard indeed to write a sour review about  a friends art. Fortunately I don't have to. This album truly excites me, mesmerises me, enthrals and captivates me. It is a music I play over and over and just like those loops that sound to me like 'chants' it leaves me somehow refreshed if a long way from holy.

This, another album, also has two tracks: "Pulling The Branch of a Tree" and "Nodding Off While Out to Sea." The sheer re-invention is a tantalising feast,. This album, with its presumably eponymous title, has a cover that shows a figure sitting crossed legged in a circle of stones while in the desert.  If this isn't a sign of Balkh's true intent I don't know what is. It is an older album, released in 2013. What it does for me and for the latest offering is to illustrate how experimental Balkh are but also how inventive, how searching and yes, how spiritual . However, there is more to this band than just sounds of a semi-sacred sort, there is also fun dance music. There questing souls seek recognition. These guys deserve a larger audience.
Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

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A Utility Fish Shed Blog