'Sometimes, an irredeemably odd or curious record comes along that defies any 'easy'...
John Armstrong 2004
Sometimes, an irredeemably odd or curious record comes along that defies any 'easy' review, and this is one such.
The 'back story' is almost as important as the music itself in producer/musicologist Anthony Copping's field recordings of one of the world's last truly remote corners, the Melanesian archipelago of the South Pacific. The quest took in '300 islands, 200 performers and hundreds of different languages'. It is also apparently 'the first time that the National Geographic channel has ever commissioned a music documentary' (although disappointingly, the accompanying press release makes no mention of any screening of the documentary).
Having first caught the South Pacific music bug on an initialtrip to the Solomon Islands in 1997, Australia-based Copping set out in earnest several years later, accompanied on that return visit by the Solomon Islands singer and guitarist Pascal Oritaimae and a single cameraman. Together they travelled into the most inaccessible terrain, finding on their way villages who had never before encounteredwhite people.
Luckily for those, like this reviewer, who run a mile when they see the forbidding words 'single-microphone field recordings' (second only to hot-rod engine soundtrack albums in the Teeth-grittingboredomcharts),Copping has, for the larger part, merely taken the 'feel' of the tapes to create music which conveys the tone and spirit of the place - an unmistakably magical tone in some instances. The 'song' titles are really just convenient labels for each fragment of music rather than actual 'compositions' in the formal sense. "Mana", "Ma'a Mera", "Taria Waraku": the words are almost as intoxicating and atmospheric as the gentle, acoustic guitar-based arrangements themselves. Technically, Copping was ably assisted in the project by Afro-Celt Sound System's Adam Wren, who knows funny from funny when it comes to bringing unfamiliar music alive to the general listener. Anyone who remembers and loves the two marvellous records that Ry Cooder recorded on a beach in the late 70s with Hawaiian slack-key guitar maestro, the late Gabby Pahuini, will be reminded of those sessions on hearing the studio magic wrought by Copping and Wren.
But perhaps the most telling piece of the lot is the final track, "Possessed".It's a recording of one of the South Pacific's last female sorcerers, invoking the powers of nature in order to cast a spell - and it's truly frightening, other-worldly, spooky, you name it. It's rough, it's single-mic., and it's a field recording - and yet it's the most exciting track on the album. I would have put it as track 1 if I'd done the sequencing. Well, we're all entitled to revise our opinions once in a while, aren't we?
But this is one of those rare records where you shouldn't trust anything but your own ears. You'll either love it - or else wonder what all the fuss is about.