Boomkat Product Review:
A study of Slovakia's Romani community, Symposium Musicum is a bold collage of field recordings, interviews and deconstructed sound design that should appeal to anyone into Discrepant, Sublime Frequencies or Ash International.
'Symposium Musicum' is an almost inscrutable proposition: conceptually dense and sonically jagged material that not only requires attention but multiple listens to unspool its tangled mass of ideas and themes. Masterminded by Elia Moretti and Marika Smreková, and pieced together with material from John-Robin Bold and Anna Khvyl, it's an album that plays like a documentary and a documentary that's spiced up with surreal blasts of sound that beg the listener to reflect on the way they're engaging with the material.
The creators see 'Symposium Musicum' as "a social sound practice", where they explore not only an often shrouded culture but the liminal spaces - disused storefronts, ruined churches - that lie throughout the area they're investigating. The material was collected in Podolínec, Lomnička, Levočské Vrchy, and Kolačkov, villages in Slovakia where there's a significant Romani community, and is made up of interviews and environmental recordings that give us a sense of the location. Not just an act of documentation and preservation, the project is intended to make us consider the language we hear and the interaction between the participants, and the rattling, distorted sounds that intersperse the drier recordings are used to add a level of contextual criticism, interpreting some of the emotions using less obvious methodology.
It's a peculiar collision of ideas, but 'Symposium Musicum' is a beguiling listening experience. Hearing 'Takt' our ears were prepared for intimate recordings of village life, but 'Simultan Camps' slices into the chatter with processed bells, distorted womps and punishing sub bass. Happy childish cries are smeared into the noise and frozen drones add cinematic tension, before the track is capsized by sloshing water sounds and ratcheting beats. It's nothing we'd expect to work unless we'd heard it, and the transition back into environmental recording on 'In Response' is a reminder that bold choices can pay off.
There are plenty of times when the village recordings reach an almost silence, before the calm is ruptured by rattling drums. 'Attention' is a wake-up call of cycling electronic polyrhythms that's punctuated by stifled voices and oozing foley sounds, and just as soon as it's started it's over, fading out into children playing with dead leaves in an abandoned building on 'Kavka'. A lot of work has gone into making this one play coherently, and it was entirely worth the effort.