Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Starbird - Nanook of the North

Nanook of the North
Sloow Tapes – Hazuki 2007


Here's a nice bit of free-folk / drone to lose yourself in. A sprawling wilderness of infinite metaphors and that kind of thing with plenty of otherworldly percussion, ethereal bells, gentle cymbals, xylophones, enticing flutes etc. etc. It opens as if inside a chamber of echoes, carved in ice, sheltered from the chilling, wintry winds, sounds drift forwards and disappear leaving ghostly traces in the air as wildlife calls to one another in the distance.

In Inuit mythology, Nanook (ᓇᓄᖅ) is the master of bears, the word itself derived from the inuit for polar bear, and Nanook as master of the bears decided the fate of Inuit hunters, rewarding an observant and appreciative hunter following the applicable taboos with a rich bounty and punishing those who did not. In a 1922 documentary by Robert J. Flaherty entitled 'Nanook of the North' the filmmaker follows an Inuit named Nanook and his family as they hunt, fish and migrate across the Arctic. It is a cold and harsh environment.

That documentary is the inspiration behind Carson Arnold's album. Arnold's effort seems to breath in time with the life of Nanook and his family. Through careful observation he is able to evoke the difficulty, the beauty and the spirituality of Nanook's life from brief respite 'Somewhere the Sun is Shining Over Her' to mystical ritual 'Feathers in Smoke' to the constant journeying through harsh conditions 'Tracks'. 'Walrus Hunt' has a strong tribal drumbeat for the most part, before the guitar kicks in about half way through - the climax of the chase - waiting to make a move, then death as footsteps are heard in the final part of the track as if the hunter is dragging a dead walrus back to his home.

There are moments when you're completely caught up in that struggle for survival like half way into the album, lost deep in the depths of winter there is an overwhelming bleakness, a powerful sense of yourself trapped, death blowing across the tundra all around you as layers of reverb heavy sounds drone long through the night and drench the day with cold, cold, cold... An ominous rumble breaks the monotony, followed by a higher note, a clearing and a way out of the darkness of winter as 'Nanook's Vision' implies the start of a new year, freshness and the coming of spring.

And then there is the 'Edge of World'... The final drones of sound that wash away into the void, somewhere beyond the precipice, into the endless white. It's with albums like this one that somehow allow you to get carried away with grand metaphors about life, death and everything in between. It's a great accompaniment to the film at little under an hour it's just ten minutes short of the original documentary, but with a bit of adjustment you can play both simultaneously to great effect - only trouble is getting on a hold of the film - but of course there's always karagarga.


EMR December 11, 2009 at 10:11 PM  
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