Music

Various Artists: Ethnic Minority Music of Northeast Cambodia

Deanne Sole

I can't tell you whether this album is better or worse than other recordings of northeastern Cambodian animist tribes, because, to be honest, it's the first one I've heard, and for all I know it's the only one available.


Various Artists

Ethnic Minority Music of Northeast Cambodia

Label: Sublime Frequencies
US Release Date: 2006-06-20
UK Release Date: 2006-07-10
Amazon
iTunes

Sublime Frequencies is best known for its foreign-language pop culture CDs, those agglomerations of songs that provide a kind of backpacker's excursion for your ears. Ethnic Minority Music of Northeast Cambodia is a different thing altogether. It is a compilation of field recordings made by Laurent Jeanneau between 2003 and 2005. He was traveling among the tribes that live on the border separating Cambodia from two of its neighbours, Vietnam and Laos. This is folk, but not mainstream Cambodian folk, nor is it the complicated classical music that accompanies the old palace dances. It's village music from the fringes.

Most of the tracks feature singing, and the singing is monotonous. By this I don't mean that it's boring. I mean that it doesn't shape itself around the kind of dramatic variations in tone and octave that Western singing uses: the soaring highs, the swooping lows, the dramatic whispers. In the first track, for example, an old man named Ien sings with a grinding wobble and a groan that sounds similar to Tuvan kargyraa. The notes he sings don't move across a wide range, but they sometimes intensify or hitch. These changes are like the change in applause; it's as if someone had decided to speed up and slow down his clapping, or smack his hands together firmly then softly.

Then in track seven, you have the same limited range used in a layered way. Male and female singers take turns to address one another over the swelling notes of five gongs, while young women clap, and a flute player occasionally reminds the others that he exists. None of these elements changes very much in itself, but, put together, they give the song a sense of contrast and vitality.

(I'm referring to these songs as 'the first track' and 'track seven' because the titles in the inlay are too long to be introduced comfortably into a sentence without some kind of explanation. They're entirely new sentences in themselves. The full name of track seven is, "Five Kreung Men Gong Players Standing and Holding Their Gongs, a Flute Player, 8 Female Virgins Clapping Hands and a Responding Chant Between a Male and Female Singers, In Dong Gamal (Ratanakiri) March 2005." The first track is "A Brao Song, an Old Man Named Ien Performing a Lying Song (Meut Mouan Grung Young) Done In His Hammock All Nite Long, Telling Brao Legends, In Taveng (Ratanakiri) June 2005".)

The most impressive example of the layering effect might be track 10, "Acapella Krung Female Singer, a Song About American Bombing and The Khmer Rouge, In Krapo (Ratanakiri) December 2003." Gongs ramp up and down like donkeys and the sound they make is matched by a stringed instrument giving off a metallic, one-note chank-chank-chank over and over again.

The gong and the string meld together and the effect is very weird. The string fights against the gong as it rises and falls, and the noise pulsates, pressing in on your ears and then pulling away. The women's voices are harsh-edged, sharp, invocative, and witchy. They sing, and then drop into a chat. A new voice comes in, either a man or a woman. This goes on and on, the gong, the string, the chanting, relentlessly, and the noise rolls back and forth in a tranced throb.

There are voices on the album besides those of the musicians. On track 16 ("Proak, a Tampoen, 2 Strings Instrument With Gourd as a Resonator Played By Jim In Laom (Ratanakiri) October 2004") a baby coughs, sneezes, then starts to cry. Someone hawks spit on track three. ("Acapella Brao Female Singer, a Midwife Song, North Bank of Sesan River, In Taveng (Ratanakiri) February 2004"). The sound of the village goes on around the musicians, people wander past, insects zither. By the end, you're left with no doubt that these groups of people live in a very concrete place with its own atmosphere and character. They exist. They are fully rounded. This is one of the wonderful things about field recordings. They give you a sense of space in ways that a studio recording does not.

The liner notes are short -- shorter than the notes you'd see in the field recordings released by Topic or Nonesuch -- but they're long enough to give you some idea of the people you're listening to. I can't tell you whether Ethnic Minority Music of Northeast Cambodia is better or worse than other recordings of northeastern Cambodian animist tribes, because, to be honest, this is the first one I've heard, and for all I know it's the only one available. Let its uniqueness be a point in its favour.

7

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less
7
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image