The Slovenian “imaginary folk” trio’s most epic and transportive album yet. Powered by acoustic and often handmade instruments, these expansive compositions echo the borderless, collective spirit of groups like Don Cherry’s Organic Music Society and Art Ensemble of Chicago.
“Episodic, dreamlike voyages” – The Guardian
A well-placed crossroads to central Europe, the Balkans and the Adriatic, Slovenia has a rich atavistic topography of mountains, deep forests and karst landscapes to arouse both escapism and inspiration. Drawing on this geography of contemplation and psychic energy, from a country previously swallowed up by Yugoslavia and before that, reaching back centuries, the Roman, Byzantine and Austro-Hungarian Empires, the Slovenian trio of Iztok Koren, Ana Kravanja and Samo Kutin conjure up an extended album of intuitive transcendence and reflection on the unique sounding The Liquified Throne of Simplicity.
Finding a home once more with Glitterbeat Records’ adventurous, experimental, mostly instrumental, platform tak:til, and following on from the debut I (released in 2016 on the Radio Študent label), the much lauded I Can Be A Clay Snapper (2017), and the equally acclaimed A Universe That Roasts Blossoms For A Horse (2019), Širom’s fourth such inventive and illusionary album incorporates some aspects of the former whilst expanding the inventory of eclectic instruments and obscured sounds. For the first time the trio also ignore the time constraints of a standard vinyl record to fashion longer, more fully developed entrancing and hypnotizing peregrinations. This new, amended, approach results in 80 minutes of abstract and rustic folklore, dream-realism, explorative intensity and cathartic ritual. And within that array of realms there’s evocations of Jon Hassell’s Fourth World experiments, visions of Samarkand, the esoteric mysteries of Tibet, an unplugged faUSt and pastoral hurdy-gurdy churned Medieval Europe.
These off-the-beaten-track performances converge history and geography with untethered fantasies and ambiguous atmospheres; all of which are made even more so fantastical, and even symbolic, by both the poetic, allegorical fabled track titles and the softly surreal illustrative artwork by the small village-based painter Marko Jakše, whose signature magical, if solemn, characters and landscapes adorn the album’s cover and inlay.
Music, in part, as a therapy The Liquified Throne of Simplicity offers a portal to other musical, sonic worlds: an escape route out of the on-going pandemic and its demoralizing, mentally draining effects and the crisis it has sparked in Slovenia, with certain far right groups especially taking advantage to ramp up the discourse of nationalism. More than anything, it was a therapeutic chance to mend disconnection and isolation. Yet though it was a bleak long winter, lockdown nevertheless gave the trio time to create and learn, as Ana, the trio’s multi-instrumentalist and amorphous aria voiced siren, describes: ‘For me drumming in winter was like a good drug. It gave me inner peace and meaning to just drum a few hours every day, to forget about a crazy everyday life and to be somewhere else…’
During the darkest days of the Covid miasma the trio took to walking across the remote parts of their homeland, making a reconnection of sorts with their surroundings but also in a quest for inspiration. Another important motivation was found in exploring, studying and researching an ever-growing list of exotic instruments, in repurposing an assemblage of found objects and in constructing new effective devices such as acoustic resonators (made out of a spring and frame drum). Introduced to the already worldly sound ensemble is the shortened Balkan region mandolin/guitar-like ‘tempura brač’, the Middle Eastern ‘daf’ frame drum, the ‘ocarina’ vessel fluted wind instrument, the ‘lute’ and the North African three-stringed, skin-covered, bass plucked ‘guembri’ (signature instrument of Morocco’s spiritual Gnawa music). That’s all on top of the repeated hurdy-gurdy playing and use of the lyre, viola, three-string banjo, balafon, ribab and mizmar.
Širom arrived at such polygenesis, otherworldly music via disparate but intersecting roads. Both active in the Slovenian underground scene, Iztok (with the DIY club Ambasada ŠKM Beltinci) and Samo (the Čadrg Records Festival) both organized shows for each other’s emerging projects (Čarangi, Salamandra Salamandra, Hexenbrutal). Gravitating towards new horizons, painter and violinist Ana formed a kalimba duo Najoua with Samo. At a balafon making workshop that Samo organized, he and Ana and Iztok improvised together for the first time and discussed meeting again to play on homemade instruments. At last, during a shared Najoua tour with one of Iztok’s bands, ŠKM Banda, the idea for Širom took hold.
In the spirit of goodwill and for good mental health, as the lockdown in Slovenia passed Širom shared this new album with others on a national underground tour; playing six acoustic concerts in special locations across their native country, like a remote village, pastures and in an old stable. This mini-tour, documented in the Rural Underground tilted 35-minute film that will be released a month before the album, can be seen as a further illumination on the process and inner workings of a most hypnotizing mysterious trio.
From the epic, almost primal, tubular and cattle bell ringing, Gnawa scratching, viola frayed fantasm opener ‘Wilted Superstition Engaged in Copulation’ to the almost Oriental dulcet shivered creeping drama of an acoustic Swans, ‘A Bluish Flickering’, attuned diverse tunings, rhythms (the poly and non-binary) and various rubbed, frayed and driven textures soundtrack an eventful age whilst probing uncharted musical worlds. By instinct, and in parts by coincidence, Širom once more entrance with their vague undulations and illusionary echoes of places, settings, time and escapism on another highly magical album.
Ana Kravanja: viola, daf, ocarinas, mizmar, balafon, ribab, various objects, voice.
Iztok Koren: guembri, banjos, tank drum, bass drum, percussion, balafon, various objects, Chimes.
Samo Kutin: hurdy gurdy, tampura brač, lyre, lute, brač, chimes, balafon, frame drum, ocarina, acoustic resonators, various objects, voice.