Frédéric D. Oberland & Irena Z. Tomažin – Arba, Dâk Arba

Posted: 24 May 2020 in Albums
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Hallow Ground – HG2005 – 5th June 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

For this release, it’s worth laying out the context in detail, as provided in he press release, which explains that the album ‘was conceived as the soundtrack for the eponymous installation piece by the French artist Fanny Béguély.’

‘First presented as part of the group exhibition »Panorama 21 – ›Les Revenants‹« at Tourcoing’s Le Fresnoy Studio National des Arts Contemporains in December 2019, Béguély’s chemically painted photographs focused on humankind’s propensity for self-examination and its attempts to probe the mysteries of the past, present and future. Oberland’s heavily processed electric hurdy-gurdy, the »boîte à bourdons,« provides the foundation upon which the Borghesia member Tomažin unfolds her gripping vocal magic(k). Their dense mesh of soundscapes and singing mediate between the mystic and the modern, the natural and the all-too-unreal to further examine our persistent desire to decipher the signs we find in nature. As the first collaboration between these prolific experimental artists, ARBA, DÂK ARBA is as evocative and thought-provoking as the art that has inspired it.’

The hurdy gurdy is by no means a common or popular instrument. Not that you’d be likely to be able to discern any specific instruments on the five sparse, ominously atmospheric pieces presented here.

From a sparse, quivering tone surrounded by emptiness, ‘Grotta’ builds in density over the course of fourteen and a half minutes into dense bugle of sound, a deep, resonant thrum over which mournful sounds – voice-like but not voices – moan and groan as they drape elongates notes of sadness over an increasingly uncomfortable backdrop.

This is not an album so settle down comfortably with, and it’s not a comfortable kind of ambience: ‘Fumes’ brings a suffocating tension, heightened by the unintelligible vocals that speak – wordlessly – of an inner torment as they reverberate in an endless monotone, through which rumbles of thunder rupture. Ululations undulate evoking strange, distant lands and mystical esotericism. It culminates in a long, isolated drone, almost lost beneath a cacophony of shrieking, wailing, and crying. It’s difficult to hear: I feel my chest tighten: it’s the sound of pain of torture.

‘Hieromancy’ (brief research tells me this is a form of divination involving sacrificial remains or sacred objects) only heightens the anguish amidst more shrieking and wordless despair. It fades down to a defeated murmur and a hovering hum which drift into the more optimistic dawn of ‘Hereafter’, which offers a glimmer of light and hope. It’s late-coming, but welcome.

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