Boomkat Product Review:
Recorded between 1976 and 1979 by Ragnar Johnson and Jessica Mayer, 'Spirit Cry Flutes...' is the third and final part of Ideologic Organ's trilogy of music from Papua New Guinea, shining a light on lesser-heard ceremonial music made with bamboo Jew's harps, flutes, voices, gongs and resonating tubes. Bewitching and completely singular stuff.
If you heard Ideologic Organ's previous two sets of recordings from Papua New Guinea, 2018's 'Crying Bamboos' and its predecessor 'Madang / Windim Mabu' that was sampled by Björk on 'Utopia', then you'll already know how great this one's gonna be. The music was captured by Johnson and Mayer while they were stationed in the Eastern Highlands and Madang provinces of Papua New Guinea on an anthropological research residency. Shadowing local musicians, they recorded ceremonial songs made with instruments that have characterised the region's culture for aeons, highlighting the Ommura people's relationship with their environment. For the most part, the instruments were fashioned from materials growing nearby: bamboo shaped into Jew's harps, flutes and resonating tubes, garamut wood fashioned into log drums or slit gongs, and yams carved into ocarina-style fertility flutes.
The music itself developed around various ceremonies, which were central to Ommura life. They staged countless different rites to promote fertility and good harvest, initiate men and women into their gendered roles, cure illnesses and commemorate marriage, birth and death. Johnson and Mayer were welcomed into the culture, offered the chance to record music that's rarely been heard outside of Oceania. It's hard to believe that these sounds have sat unreleased for so long - it's music that can teach open-eared listeners about the emotional and physical forces behind tonality and rhythm, outside of West-warped logic. The first disc mostly centers the peculiar (and relatively familiar) sound of the Jew's harp, an ancient instrument that's believed to have originated in Siberia. Heard completely unaccompanied, we can perceive clearly why the sound was so important and resonant, capable of generating peculiar tones and rhythms simultaneously.
But it's the disc's final track, an almost 25-minute recording of a male initiation ceremony, that has us in pieces. Recorded outside the men's house, we can hear chants and voices in the distance while peculiar water flutes, 'crying baby' leaves and bullroarers create wavering clusters of whoops and wails. It sets us up remarkably well for the second disc, where we experience a more varied set of recordings ranging from vocal chants ('Suwaira Ihi') and flute jams ('We Nama') to drum-led ensemble pieces ('Waudang') and tonally vertiginous breath experiments ('Maner 2').
A seriously deep dive, highly recommended for anyone who thinks they've heard it all.