Harappian Night Recordings - The Glorious Gongs Of Hainuwele [Bo’Weavil Recordings - 2009]The word interesting can be a deadly insult in the wrong hands—most specifically, when used as a dismissive catch-all description for someone else’s creative endeavor. I came this close to typing the I-word when writing my first draft of this review, and I think I know why. I was stuck in that odd halfway-house of critical curiosity that stands between liking something for its ingredients and being unimpressed with the execution of the whole. It was “interesting”, without ever actually being good.
The Glorious Gongs Of Hainuwele is puzzling to listen to, if mainly because at first it wasn’t clear what exactly I was listening to: ethnic field-recordings or formally-composed works. It sounds like something stranded halfway between both poles—sixteen tracks each clocking in at around two to four minutes, each of which bring to mind music from China, India or Tibet (a good deal of which I have examples of in my own collection), all recorded with a muddy lo-fi texture that adds that much more of a taped-in-the-middle-of-a-field feel. And that’s about all it amounts to, sadly.
For better context, I dug about on the Bo’Weavil Recordings website and unearthed some notes about the album and the artist. Mainly this tidbit: “ … it is common for people to assume that it is a collage of field-recordings from a varied cast of inhabitants from the non-industrialised parts of the world. Such is the rich depth, vitality and authenticity of the recordings. The music and sounds however are created entirely by one man, Dr. Syed Kamran Ali.” Dr. Ali does get points for atmosphere and ambiance, but loses them for not developing those things into parts of a coherent whole. Some pieces them are attention-getters—“The Widow Chang, Lady Pirate” has an eerie, bloodcurdling feel to it—but for the most part there isn’t enough sustained interest to make it consistently listenable. I balked at using the term “fake ethnic music”, since that sounds even worse than using “interesting” and may well be dead wrong anyway. But without much in the way of focus or discipline, or some sense that the music of other cultures is being curated and shaped in some fashion, most of what the album offers up is just a plinking clatter that comes and goes without holding much attention, and doesn’t generate much of a sense of authenticity anyway.
It’s a shame, because there are more than a few other folks who channel ethnic music sources and come away with work that’s an order of magnitude more compelling in every respect. Geinoh Yamashirogumi, for instance, are best known as the folks behind the thundering tantra-of-Armageddon score for the anime Akira, but released a whole slew of albums that drew on everything from Gregorian chant to Japanese folk songs. Even 23 Skidoo or Vasilisk (another underappreciated favorite of mine) had the wherewithal to pull their material together into coherent wholes; too much of Hainuwele emerges as just so many separate, discordant pieces.
The notes on the inner sleeve are the best hint as to how short it falls from its own goals: “Recorded in the centre of the Kadamba Forest, green and red, with a crescent Moon as a diadem, very red, with three eyes and fives [sic] faces, upon a great yantra in the centre of a crimson sea, holding pomegranate, arrow noose, goad, bow, skull. Smeared with red sitting on a great corpse with bloated breasts.” Man, if only this disc sounded half that good.Serdar Yegulalp