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V/A - Harmika Yab-Yum: Folk Sounds from Nepal

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Artist: V/A

Album: Harmika Yab-Yum: Folk Sounds from Nepal

Label: Sublime Frequencies

Review date: Feb. 25, 2005

While a vivid collection of color photos or hours of video footage may be a standard representation of a memorable trip, far too often one of a destination’s most distinctive qualities is rarely documented sufficiently. The sounds of a distant culture or nearby locale seem easily forgotten when compared to the visuals. This isn’t the case for all voyagers, however, and especially not for Robert Mills. Mills, a member of Climax Golden Twins, spent two months in Nepal, and Harmika Yab-Yum is his scrapbook, a collection of the delicious sounds that met his ears while exploring Kathmandu, Pokhara, and other Nepalese locales. While Mills certainly makes use of field recordings, his take on audio documentation makes use of a sound source often ignored by more traditional partakers of this anthropological task: the radio, as much the voice of the people as the music of their traditional ceremonies. Harmika Yab-Yum collects this music, religious, and popular alike, as well as some of the more natural sounds of Nepal in an enchanting, hour-long travelogue.

Mills’ radio selections aren’t of the polished, modern variety, and while their classic sound may not represent the region’s hottest and fastest rising voices, his focus on folk music tells a richer tale than some homogenized selections from chart-topping artists would. As the title indicates, the field recordings on the album also represent a folk music, of a sort, even if the source is just clanging bells of a pony train, or the quiet sounds of night. From the joyous clamor of a wedding procession to the eerie chorus of female vocals supplying the music for an evening festival, Mills captures the sounds that are an everyday part of these people’s lives. Some tracks surely don’t properly instill the same sense of wonder Mills must have felt witnessing them, but, fidelity be damned, it’s still an awesome experience to be taking in the sounds of a town during the religious ritual slaughter of Durga Puja. But if Harmika Yab-Yum can’t compare with a trip to Nepal, it’s the cruel fault of reality and not Mills’, as his lovingly compiled soundtrack to two months in Nepal is a fine addition to the already impressive cadre of Sublime Frequencies.

By Adam Strohm

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