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V/A - Radio Thailand: Transmissions from the Tropical Kingdom

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Artist: V/A

Album: Radio Thailand: Transmissions from the Tropical Kingdom

Label: Sublime Frequencies

Review date: Jul. 10, 2006

Let me start by saying that listening to Radio Thailand has given me more pure fun than just about any recording I can remember. In keeping with the Sublime Frequencies ethos, the 2-CD set is a dense and diverse collection of audio collages, in this case assembled from 15 year’s worth of broadcast gleanings from the Thai airwaves.

The pure musical variety is simply staggering to think about and utterly exhilarating to hear. Thai traditions are represented, as are a bewildering selection of hybrids, from a straight-up sax-and-piano jazz combo jamming on Siamese scales and melodies, to pulsing disco synth and horn section workouts; from country-raw khen (a bamboo and metal-reed mouth organ) over funky, popping electric bass, to odd, Up With People folk-pop ballads There’s rough and rowdy Thai rap, and a short-but-powerful segment featuring some tasty Southeast Asian electric slide guitar.

Selector/compilers Mark Gergis and Alan Bishop have done a fine job. The music comes and goes at an appealing pace: The selections are generous (many are allowed to play for their full lengths) and the ever-changing sound quality and sonic variety make for a compelling sense of vicarious dial-tuning. News broadcasts, tourist propaganda, audio dramas, even an aqua-culture report on the Thai Government’s distribution of giant catfish fry are among the found-sound offerings.

At times Gergis and Bishop step up their curatorial skills into the realm of pure sound art. This is especially notable on a track entitled “Tourism Past the Medium Wave,” where a slick newscast and an even slicker tourism promo spot are engulfed by the pulsing and bleeping of rhythmic short-wave signal and frequency drift, until ghostly shards of music and voices eventually emerge from the ether, to entrain with – and finally rise above – the white noise. It’s a beautiful segment, and one of the label’s finer moments.

But Radio Thailand conjures up more complicated feelings than just fun and beauty. While listening, I couldn’t help hoping – and perhaps it’s the romantic in me – that someone might someday hear one of the un-credited pieces here, become deeply struck by its allure, and begin their own long quest into the world of Thai music in an effort to track it down. My other thought, much more practical, is that the collector/selector/collagists themselves might provide us with some sort of index, identifying, whenever possible, artists, titles, and sources. Or maybe that’s a job for future scholars…

By Kevin Macneil Brown

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