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Merzouga - Mekong Morning Glory [Gruenrekorder - 2011]

Increasingly musicians are incorporating field recordings into their compositions, where the more traditional, instrument-based rules can be eschewed in favour of exploring the musical properties of the world's rich, natural timbres and irregular rhythms. So it's interesting to find artists coming from the opposite direction to this trend.

Eva Pöpplein and Janko Hanushevsky primarily produce plays and documentaries together for German radio, but on Mekong Morning Glory they took a range of field recordings from their travels down the Mekong River, selected mainly for their musical properties, and placed them conveniently along a path laid by Hanushevsky's prepared electric bass guitar. Far from being a contrived travel'n'bass jam, the resultant 49 minute piece is a comfortable, immersive soundtrack through rural to urban soundscapes.

The first five minutes surprise by how musical it all sounds -twinkling bells sparkle under groaning bass arcs with only the odd bird call indicating a real world environment. But, like an orchestra having tuned-up, the piece then falls silent to introduce the first watery sounds of the river as they're gradually joined by wind chimes, children's voices and echoing droplets from a cave. Its suspenseful whirrs and clicks attract increasing amounts of insect and animal life as the eerie, reverent atmosphere is joined by a subtle bass drone undertow. Later, call-and-response motifs on what sounds like ethnic stringed instruments are emboldened by more long, moody, intoning bass as water, wind and rain seek and eventually succeed to erode its
passage.

The spare and measured plucks punctuate throughout where it is sometimes difficult to discern which elements are from the field as opposed to the studio. Hanushevsky's bass only occasionally takes the foreground; more often it is subtly deployed to offer a few stepping stones, which cannot always be relied upon as the dominant roar of the life-giving and life-taking river, or the bustling urban chatter of Vietnam, becomes all consuming at times.

And it is this balance between the listener's cerebral and visceralexperience of the sounds, whatever their source, that Merzouga cleverly strike. Mekong Morning Glory rarely feels like a documentary, but more a truly experimental composition equally concerned with tone, timbre and texture, to create a new place for its listeners to visit instead of merely capturing an existing one.

Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5

Russell Cuzner
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