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 Review archive:  # a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z

Ragnar Johnson - Crying Bamboos : Ceremonial Flute Music From New G [ - 2018]

Crying Bamboos: Ceremonial Flute Music from New Guinea Madang is a collection of field recordings from New Guinea captured by Ragnar Johnson in 1979, unreleased until now.  Across the two disks of material there are recordings from three different villages near the Ramu River.

I was mesmerized by the otherworldly sound of the previous album of field recordings I heard from Ragnar Johnson, titled similarly Sacred Flute Music of New Guinea.  The fact that this album covers similar subject matter and yet delivers such different content is a testament to the depth of the tradition being documented.  My ears having become accustomed to the style of their music, I more quickly became entranced this time around.

The sound of the flutes is quasi-melodic, as it appears they are capable of creating only a limited number of pitches, the detail of the music coming from the controlled accentuation of different harmonics.  What initially may sound like a simple resonant droning is actually a complex texture created with some kind of circular breathing technique.  Small pockets and modulations are created in the spinning, circular rhythm, the tempo oscillating up and down, the two players holding sync together through some unknown method.  Overtones are shaped into an ever-cascarding, weeping waterfall.  The title of the album is perfectly befitting its sound.  The idea that the crystalline bright, shrill tone of these flutes is created with resonating bamboo is fascinating. 


The captivating rawness of this music is the essence of ancient natural spirituality, of sync with natural rhythms and harmony with the land.  It is virtuosity achieved in a completely other set of priorities and musical standards, yet one that should make intuitive sense to any fan of modern ambient or texturally focused music.  This collection is distinctively more ambient than the previous collection I heard, which had greater use of disjointed drumming, and less of a continuous flow of resonant pitches.


The second disk brings welcome variety, with some pieces that contain drums and chanted vocals in the backdrop (not specifically mic'd).  The sense of the village created by this is powerful.  One thing I miss is the utterly captivating sound of the 'Mo-mo resonating tubes' found on the previous album; I would gladly pay for an entire album of these instruments.


This album has a vital, singular energy which is exactly what the world needs today, sounds you truly haven't heard, a shot of raw authenticity.  I am infinitely grateful to Ragnar Johnson for documenting this disappearing world.  This is the original 'ritual ambient'; the real thing, the sound of lost civilization.  Highly recommended.

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

Josh Landry
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