Premiere
Dominic Valvona 




Sebastian Reynolds  ‘Maṇīmekhalā’
(Pindrop Records)  EP/ 18th October 2019


Released in anticipation of the upcoming UK tour of the multimedia Mahajanaka Dance Drama, which starts in November, a second EP of serene devotional music from that production’s score is being shared with our readers two days in advance of its official release date (18th October).

Based on the stories of the venerated Jataka, one of the oldest collections of mythological texts in the world, the theme of this interpretive dance, music and visual production is taken from the Mahajanaka, a moralistic chronicle of Buddha’s previous lives, which describes the future guru’s birth as the prince of that title. Prince Mahajanaka, we’re relayed, is usurped by a ‘wicked uncle’. During exile he becomes a merchant so he can gain the fortune he needs to regain his kingdom. Of the many travails the prince experiences, there’s one that appeals especially to the artist and collaborators behind the leading peregrination of this EP: Mahajanaka’s rescue from a shipwreck by the guardian of the seas, the goddess Maṇīmekhalā – who as it transpires, very important to the story, only saves the lives of the virtuous. The man behind this project’s visceral soundtrack, Oxford-based polymath Sebastian Reynolds, composes a most diaphanous ascendant theme to that deity; the leading transcendent evocation from this new EP is a subtle, resonating vision of blissful devotion that softly (angelically even) transforms the rich sounds of Southeast Asian traditional music to produce a dreamy lofty cloud gazing homage.

The musical, dance and artful direction of this production and its score can be found in Thailand. Sparked, in part, by Reynolds’ arts-funded trip to Bangkok in 2016, the reedy sound of the native Pi-Nai instrument, which he recorded during his time there, can be heard permeating the goddess saviors theme. You may also hear the accentuated and understated tonal drones of German cellist extraordinaire Anne Müller woven into the effortless fusion of veneration tradition and the contemporary ambient. Müller of course recently released a debut LP, but has collaborated with Reynolds on a number of albums and performances, most notably the triumvirate of experimental chamber electronica, the Solo Collective, with both Reynolds and German virtuosi Alex Stolze.

The EP’s accompanying track, the lively bamboo skittering South Seas ‘Cherd’, features an attentive cascading mallet bouncing regal dash performance from the Thai piphat troupe, The Jongkraben Ensemble; a performance that was originally specially commissioned by Reynolds. Continuing with the many Thai connections, one of the two remixes on this EP is by the Thai producer, musician, composer and project collaborator Pradit Saengkral, who expands Reynolds original Maṇīmekhalā theme into a both expansively dreamy and more seriously intense journey of caressed piano, pondered bass guitar notes and mysterious atmospherics.

As I’ve already said, a collaborative affair, The Mahanjanka project from which this latest EP derives, was conceived and put together by Reynolds, the contemporary dance company Neon Dance and the award-winning Thai dancer and choreographer Pichet Klunchun. Taking their source material and inspirations extremely serious, not only by spending time abroad absorbing and working with an array of Thai talent, Buddhist scholar and author of the Penguin Classics translations of the Jataka, Dr. Sarah Shaw, was on-hand to lend support and monitor this special interpretation.

Closer to home, cult producer of the moment, Capitol K offers a brilliant transportive and sophisticated ‘psytrance’ pumped exotic treatment of The Jongkraben Ensemble’s wooden mallet dash to nirvana, ‘Cherd’. Of which he opines:

“From playing the Goat Herder album out live I found myself recently developing more ambient long form dance floor tracks, focusing on the low midrange and kick frequencies in particular. In conversation with a producer friend recently we were discussing the merits of the much maligned idea of psytrance in a festival context, I don’t think this remix quite makes it to psytrance but I felt that in remixing the ancient and complex scores of piphat, the only way I could be humble with my illiteracy to the form was with my own take on a trance remix.”

 

A most beautifully conceived vision that fuses tradition with the subtlest of electronica, ambient and trance, this multi-disciplined performance is worth experiencing in the flesh. You can catch the UK leg of the tour at the following venues and on these dates.

Mahajanaka Dance Drama – UK Tour November 2019

13th – Jacqueline du Pré, Oxford

14th – Pavilion Dance, Bournemouth

16th+17th – British Library, London

20th+21st – The Library Presents, Cambridgeshire

Plus a talk and excerpt performance event at the Multi-Faith Centre, University of Derby, on 19th November.

 

Until then, enjoy the second EP of congruous spiritual evocations from that captivating project.


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