Black Merlin - Hipnotik Tradisi

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  • Ever since Frenchmen Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel witnessed a Javanese gamelan performance at the Paris international exposition of 1889, Westerners have been enthralled by the luminous, otherworldly tones of Indonesian music. There's a through-line from that first cultural exchange to modern electronic music, from Steve Reich's Music For 18 Musicians to Autechre, Four Tet and Aphex Twin. And so it would have been easy for George Thompson to just trade on that precedent when he traveled to Bali to record some sounds in the field, adding some electronics to those kettle gongs and hammered gangsa and calling it a day. For his first full-length (and the inaugural release on Island Of The Gods for their series of albums recorded in Bali, from the likes of Tim Goldsworthy and Young Marco), it's to Black Merlin's credit that rather than present the expected sounds of Indonesia, he's gone deeper on Hipnotik Tradisi. That telltale pulse of gamelan doesn't even make its first appearance until midway through "Somewhere In Ubud," where it's followed by a snatch of laughter before the track veers back into black, the gongs entwined with eerie throat singing. That froggy sound comes back as the hook for "Reef Play," perhaps the album's most club-friendly moment. Like moving about in any sweltering clime, Black Merlin is judicious with his pacing, each sound creeping along slowly so the organic and electronic textures have time to blend together. For the most part, Thompson favors sounds that replicate the thick humid atmosphere of Bali: the rustling of leaves, the percussion of falling rain, distant waves, passing motorbikes. "Surrounded Peace" is built from such sounds, but it's an uneasy peace, with Thompson adding a menacing throb underneath such small sounds, as if the jungle's breathing at midnight. "Sepeda Kumbang" perhaps comes closest to replicating gamelan, or else suggests techno pitched to a crawl. When the pulse speeds up on a track like "Time In Motion," it's increasingly hard to distinguish between the metallic tone of crickets and the chirp of Thompson's processed percussion. In Hipnotik Tradisi's arc, the pacing and attention to detail evokes Voices From The Lake, as rendered by Demdike Stare. And it speaks to Black Merlin opting for a rougher path, rather than just making an album that dabbles in "tropical" sounds (which are currently infiltrating pop and dance music). A glowering highlight like "Layang-Layang"—wherein bass rumbles, bowed cymbals and the most menacing bird call melt together—is downright bone-chilling, even in the heavy heat of the jungle.
  • Tracklist
      01. Surrounded Peace 02. Wave 03. Somewhere In Ubud Part 1 04. Somewhere In Ubud Part 2 05. Sepeda Kumbang 06. Time In Motion 07. Tutur 08. Layang - Layang 09. Fire Dance 10. Reef Play 11. Totek And Tim 12. Waiting For The Horn 13. Flight EK - 0358 14. Voyage