The First Take


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The First Take Review

by Thom Jurek

Biosintes, a Tuvan group comprised of Tuvan, Armenian, and Russian musicians that primarily played Tuvan music for Tuvan audiences, had the good fortune to remain together despite various personnel changes since its inception in 1988. Originally a septet, the group later became a trio. Founder Vresh Milojan, an Armenian poet, painter, and theater director, Mergen Mongush, a native Tuvan, and Gennady Tchsmzyryn, a fellow Siberian, form the Biosintes trio heard on this release. The session was recoded live at Berlin's Total Music Meeting in 1994, and provided an opportunity for the audience to hear, from someone other than Sainkho Namchylak, the deeply rooted ancient music of Tuva. That this music is as deeply rooted to improvisation made it easier for the audience to hear the old and new songs done in a style almost totally unfamiliar (particularly at that time) in the West: with the throat, the Tuvan throat. Throat singing is as old as the tiny Siberian nation itself. It has its roots in Tibetan Buddhist chant, folklore, and sacred shamanistic rites and rituals. The free music audience at the TMM witnessed musical shamanism as purely as it could be presented. From the first moments of the steel drums and deep-throated moans of "Noon to Midnight," to the grunted improvisation in its middle, to the tribal drums, the effect is riveting, rooted to eternity and to the rich soil in the earth. Angels, spirits, farmers, and shamans all contribute their voices to this selection, unsettling some of the most stalwart members of the audience. On "Metabolism," the Jew's harp sounds a familiar tone before rattles and groaning, hushed moans, and vibrational chants cover the performance ground. Random percussion opens spaces for dancing, drones, and whispers to fill the empty space before the Tuvan throat takes its place at the center of the mix, sounding ritual echoes and bodily functions in its wake. Strings, as alien sounding as anything else here, add to the mystery as falsetto voices begin to cry and scream in the spatial din. This is Total Music. On the encore, Biosintes is joined by Namchylak, who introduced her comrades to the festival. She becomes part of the swirl, entering back into the doorway of her tradition after almost a decade of free improvising both as soloist and with jazz musicians. But she brings her world to them, too. Strings and moans follow her rapid-fire delivery with cracked, fragmented words and phrases in nonstop panoplies of sonic ambience. Overtones between voices, microtonal improvising between instruments, and abandonment of all notions of scale and structure create a music that is purely musical, that needs no rules because it is the thing itself. Indeed, if there is such a thing as "world music," then this is it: music made from the heart and soul of the world whose ambassadors are improvisation and the Tuvan throat. Everyone interested in free improvised music, Asian or Russian music, historical folk music, or avant rock & roll should be required not only to own this record but to spend two hours a week listening to it, until their hearts expand far beyond the reaches of their bodies.

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