'Bear bones' by K-Space, 'Build a fort, set that on fire' by Nettle
by Ian Simmons
[ cdreviews ]
The arrival of so-called 'World Music' on the Western scene over the last 10 to 15 years has brought with it many pleasures. When I was younger I long suspected that there was a vast quantity of amazing music going on around the world that we never got to hear. I have, as they have become available, been made increasingly happy by the appearance of the Voix de Bulgare, all sorts of Soukous and, much to the horror of my nearest and dearest, throat singing. On the down side, the term 'World Music' is stunningly patronising and colonialist, as if you could simply dump such diverse music from hugely differing cultures under one heading as you can with, say, 'Nu-Metal' or 'UK Garage'. Then we have had to suffer huge numbers of world music 'fusion' projects, from Paul Simon, Damon Albarn and David Byrne going ethno-musician shopping to ginger up tired songs and flagging careers to CDs where hapless Buddhist monks have their sacred rituals plastered all over clunking dance beats or, worse still, fatuous new age tinkling. The sheer appallingness of most of this stuff makes the heart sink every time I come across any CD featuring musical culture clashes now, so it is nice, once in a while, to hear something that bucks the trend.
K-Space's Bear Bones is one of those rare beasts, a productive and respectful collaboration between western musicians and those from another culture. It sees UK improvisors Tim Hodgkinson (ex-Henry Cow) and Ken Hyder teaming up with Tuvan shaman Gendos Chamzyryn, whom they met on an extended expedition to explore the sonic aspects of shamanism in the mid-90s. Recorded in Siberia and elsewhere between 1996 and 2001, it shows that Hodgkinson and Hyder's groundwork paid off. On Bear Bones they neither co-opt Chamzyrn as exotic garnish to their existing music, nor do they go native and attempt to play totally in Tuvan style. Instead, the music takes account of the traditions each musician brings to the collaboration and fuses them to produce something new in which the musicians improvise with real understanding of each other's musical culture. With lapsteel guitar, alto sax, clarinet, electronics, samples, drumming, amplified ektara (an indian stringed instrument) piano and doshpuluur (a Tuvan instrument resembling a banjo) as well as Tuvan overtone singing and other vocalisations going into the mix, this was never going to sound like anything else. It also carries with is some sense of the experiences Hyder and Hodkinson had of the extremely strange fringe technology of Kozyrev's Mirrors at a research institute in Siberia. An abstruse device which I will not pretend to understand, Kozyrev's Mirrors can reputedly warp space and time and induce telepathic experiences akin to shamanic journeys. What is amazing is how well Bear Bones works. By turns scary, humorous, rhythmic and abstract, it is a truly stunning piece of work, unique, powerful and infused with a deep sense of shamanic otherness.
Build a Fort, Set That on Fire, on the other hand, offer a much more mixed proposition. A collaboration between DJ/Rupture (Jace Clayton) and Spanish artist DD as Nettle, it explores the urban soundscapes of north Africa and southern Spain. Samples of music and noise from these environments are woven into a stark hip hop beat, heavily treated, stretched, scratched looped and generally disrupted. The result is a fleeting shift through dizzy sonic spaces. Just as you think you have located yourself, it moves on. While it is interesting and expressive, I cannot help feeling the end result is less than the sum of its parts; though the premise for the CD sounds alluring, the beats and the hip hop stylings tend to dominate, making it far less surprising than the description would suggest. Nettle do not descend anywhere near the hackwork of those who simply appropriate other culture's sounds as window dressing, but fail to achieve the feeling of seamless cultural melding that K-Space do. This is the sound of visiting somewhere, K-Space sound like they live there.