Streets of Lhasa
onsider the word “record.” I listen to “records,” a document, a collection. Albums make their way into your surroundings, traversing your well-worn streets, comforting you on your own terms, a mutual burial: it within your consciousness and psyche, and you within its aesthetic, bearing witness to a statement of art; and whether it be naked, raw, and sacred, or public, vernacular, and universal, it is forced to negotiate your experiences, your being, a guest in the place in where you sleep. Streets of Lhasa, is something different, an invitation to the listener, a statement of fact. Your memories and impulse towards self-identification within the music, bent on an inevitable appropriation and nostalgia are muted by well-meaning, but definite hands. It brings you to a world out of reach, but strangely moving, and subtly enchanting: an aesthetic experience in which forced to temporarily surrender your own logic, an aural transportation.
The capital of the Tibetan Autonomous Region, Lhasa is among the highest elevated cities in the world, standing on a plateau 3,760 meters above a river of the same name. In the street, folk singers sell songs to the subdued arrhythmia of the marketplace and passerby and gruff-voiced children wail against the sinewy drone of the Erhu—a sound that somewhat resembles a violin loop played backwards. Elsewhere, spiraling vocals dawn on the stuttering, toy-banjo sound of the San Xian. Voices rise out of cobblestone, a humming choir laced with a simple, toneless bell. A woman murmurs a prayer with gripping tenderness, children talking excitedly in the distance, the near-hallucinatory sounds of a space captured at rest. Monks engage in “bian jing,” heated discourse about Buddhist scripture punctuated by claps, a flurry of intensely assertive voices later doused by soothing rains and gentle locomotives. In every corner, there’s a strange sense of calm (even during the more energetic moments) that sidesteps the tension-release of transcendence, but lends the streets a prickling, warming sense of distinct, unusual beauty that pushes it into realms apart. In Tibetan, Lhasa means “the land of gods” or “holy place.”
Streets of Lhasa is slightly less varied and wild when set in relief to the more warped cornucopias documented on previous records in the Sublime Frequencies series. In a way, though, the approach of juxtaposing straightforward performance with longer, more ambient pieces is even more palatable and rich, truly offering the opportunity to engage on a holistic level, to refuse one’s immediate surroundings and instead re-imagine the world through sound.
Lhasa has over 3000 hours of sunshine per year. The meditative closing segment, “Peace on Top of the World” suggests ten of its best minutes, a penetrating and uninterrupted serenity. A far-off voice sings in a relaxed, wistful moan, as if it had sung for an eternity before our entrance and would continue for eternities to come. A whistler drifts, oblivious in the distance. Most audible are a variety of birds singing, chirping, dotting the silence; their delicate counterpoint fully capitulates the journey—a gorgeous and rarefied experience.
Reviewed by: Mike Powell
Reviewed on: 2005-03-01