Saturday, August 01, 2015

Sound + Vision ’15: Y/Our Music

For Thailand’s veteran traditional musicians, time has never been on their side. During what should have been their career peaks, music as a calling was looked down upon by polite Thai society. Now that musicians are better respected, tastes have changed in favor of more modern, globalized sounds. However, many of the master musicians carry on, finding small but devoted followings among hipper listeners. Traditional and independent Thai musicians perform and generally go about their business in David Reeve & Waraluck Hiransrettawat Every’s Y/Our Music (trailer here), which screens as part of Sound + Vision 2015.

Not inclined towards rigid categorization, Reeve & Every follow a number of the traditional Isan musicians, as well as some decidedly idiosyncratic contemporary artists from Bangkok. Jazz fans will be particularly interested in optician Wiboon Tangyernyong, a self-taught saxopholist, who crafts his own bamboo saxophones. Although maybe not as resonant as a tenor, they have a nice clean sound and they look totally cool.

Perhaps the real ringers in the film is Happyband, a neo-punk band that started out as a Spinal Tappish performance art gag, but became a real deal when its members discovered what a rush live performance can be. More representative are the rural Isan masters, such as Sombat Simlhar, a blind khaen player, who gets a bluesey melodica-like sound from the enormously cinematic instrument.

In some cases, the old masters have incorporated bits and pieces of contemporary music, such as Thongsai Thabthanon, the first to play the stringed pin with electric amplification and a guitar pick. He sounds great jamming with his band, getting a sound not so very far removed from surf guitars.

Even in Thailand, the Isan and mor lam styles are not so very familiar to the mainstream masses. Indeed, that is the film’s whole raison d’être, so a little more cultural and historical context would have been helpful. However, the simplicity of Reeve & Everly’s approach has its merits, largely allowing the music to speak for itself. Unfortunately, that gimmicky title will not do the film any favors with search engines or databases.

You will be hard pressed to find a country where musicians live lives of idle luxury, but it seems they have an especially challenging time of it in Thailand. The film finds plenty of inspiration in their resiliency and a solid groove in their music. Recommended without reservations for world music connoisseurs, Y/Our Music screens Tuesday night (8/4) at the Walter Reade, as part of this year’s Sound + Vision.