Saturday, August 17, 2013

Robert Millis - Leaf Music, Drunks, Distant Drums

As music fans, we're all aware of the myriad functions music -or even more basic than that, sound - can serve, from pure entertainment to a transcendental spiritual experience, passing down religious tenets, affirming racial or gender identity, or simply offering escapism. "Leaf Music, Drunks, Distant Drums" presents the multi-faceted nature of music and field recordings from all around South-East Asia, and provides a wonderful snapshot of the cultures of the region: As much as a documentary or travel show, Millis brings the streets of Thailand and villages of Burma alive, showing the insight that even abstracted sound taken out of context can give about the cultures and people of a region. As labels like Mississippi or Sublime Frequencies have shown, we can gleam so much from music and field recordings, even taken from our outsider perspective: the sounds of the elephant mahout leaf improvisation might sound alien, and the talking in Thai might be incomprehensible to most, but the earnest and intimate nature of these recordings make them feel so special: free of the pretense of commerciality, this is simply the world as presented through Millis' microphone. Millis' expert ear provides such a wide variety of sounds, and even insects and frogs provide such an interesting experience, and even without understanding the prayers and speeches, the raw emotion of these pieces makes for an experience that truly transcends the language barrier. In fact, many of the musical pieces may seem simplistic or at least very alien to those with more western sensibilities, but the heartfelt nature of some of these pieces, from the desperation of the blind street singer and the jeans salesman to the religious fervor of the sermons is simply undeniable. With the compilation, Millis has provided a different, and far more varied, experience than the ones I've had traveling in Thailand and Cambodia, but even though it lacks the visceral impact some of the sights may have, Millis more than makes up for it through the transcendental, universal world of sound