Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Thai Music

After spending only a couple of minutes in the rainforest in southern Thailand, I finally came to understand the endless fascinations that various sound composers have regarding field recordings. Various unseen insects were emitting a high pitched, persistent hiss ressembling water being forced through narrow, creaky pipes. It was coming from all directions, and it was LOUD, louder than any noise I'd ever heard a tree make. At the same time, I understood why field recordings are usually so damned boring. It's just not the same when you're sitting on a carpet with the lights out in your bedroom at home, and not in the sweaty jungle hearing these incredible quadrophonic noises coming from all around you. Nothing beats the effect of hearing those noises resonate between the trees in full surround sound, often at volumes so loud that they drown out conversations. You really have to be there, but it's just too tempting to try to capture those sounds and take them home in your back packet. But it's not possible. I also fell in love with what I heard and endlessly tried to record my own souvenirs -- walking between trees with my digital camera, attempting to track the origins of the sounds I heard, capturing the audio and video all the way. The results, naturally, amount to little other than Blair Witch-style stumbles and stares into unmoving greenery, with microphone hiss partly obscuring the full effects of what I was hearing (not to mention the crunch of the grass and leaves beneath my shoes). It's enough to trigger the full memories in my head, but doesn't come close to capturing the magic for anyone who has never heard it for themselves. In the rainforest, you don't need a watch to tell the time. You can do that just by paying attention to which creatures make themselves heard relative to the position of the sun. The hissing starts around midday, is eclipsed by the crickets about an hour before sundown, and further eclipsed by the frogs singing their multi-harmony rounds once darkness sets.

In the tourist-choked area of Khao San in Bangkok, it's easy to find a street vendor selling pirated CDs. Ditto for the shopping promenades in the south of the country, where Europeans (particularly Brits and Germans) are frequent visitors. Finding a disc with "Full Moon Party" or "Buddha Bar" in the title is as easy as closing your eyes and pointing. Same goes for locating any one of a million indistinguishable trance mixes or compilations. With a bit of effort, I was able to find vendors selling a healthy stock of decent techno or classic IDM -- Warp Records material, Fabriclive mixes, and so on. In the malls, the stores don't feel too different from Western shops, right down to the prominent placement of new albums by Hilary Duff and Gwen Stefani (rubbing shoulders with popular Asian acts).

I came across an album by His Majesty the King (Rama IX) -- on vinyl, no less! On top of currently being the longest-reigning monarch in the world, the Thai king is in fact a very accomplished musician whose compositions are widely known in Thailand (read more about him here). But would anyone dare write a bad review about the King? Or deny him radio airplay? I doubt that there's any need for payola when you're the king. What about booking studio time? I'd imagine it isn't a problem. It's truly good to be the king.

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