Silent Ballet Redux: Lüüp, «Meadow Rituals»

This is the first in a series of reposts from my time with The Silent Ballet. The reviews featured in TSB Redux will be presented as written (not necessarily as posted) aside from light editing for grammar and spelling, though scores will be omitted. As a rule, I will attempt to follow up each of these posts with one about new music from the artist in question. 

Lüüp is an ensemble led by Greek flautist Stelios Romaliadis. Since this review was initially written, I’ve purchased the CD and listened to Meadow Rituals many times; it is easily one of my favourite discoveries from my TSB tenure. I hope to have a post about his recent project Vault of Blossomed Ropes up within the week.

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Let the reader be warned: this record has been listened to with and without headphones, and they are two completely different and distinct experiences. Unless one is prepared to piss off his neighbours/co-habitants by flooding the room with sound, I would strongly recommend headphones for this one, lest a lot of very important detail be lost to the aether.

Lüüp’s conceit with Meadow Rituals is the reunion of man and nature—vague as that may sound—and in that vein, they conjure up eight tracks of the general type that we expect from bow-and-reed-wielding types when “nature” is at hand. These are quiet, ambient meditations on the abstraction that we’ve named Nature, and they’re done both tastefully and quite competently, but the collective’s insistence upon this trope of quiet, reflective naturalism does beg an important question about our relationship with the natural; how much of this is nature at it is experienced and how much of it is nature as we project on it? Or, to frame this in terms of Meadow Rituals, does Lüüp’s avoidance of overtly violent aesthetics constitute an avoidance of just how grisly nature can be, or is it simply a quieter way of investigating the reality of what nature is?

It’s easy, even after six or seven listens, to come to the conclusion that Stelios Romaliadis and his 18 conspirators have taken the easy way out and focused only on the “best” parts of nature, but this would be akin to ignoring my warning about headphones. Though there isn’t the sort of punishing grandeur apparent in early efforts by one-time woodland sludge quartet Pelican, there is a dark current somewhat akin to that in recent fare from Bohren und der Club of Gore or Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble. This comes out not just in the bass and cello, as one would expect, but in English horn/oboe and flute parts—as on “Ritual of Apollo & Dionysus”, where a decidedly minor key lends the already somewhat atonal woodwinds an extra bit of black. Likewise, the vocals on “Spiraling” have a sort of desolate quality to them, especially in the context of the sparse instrumentals, and this serves to root the piece in reality of nature; that it isn’t always fertile, always blooming, always beautiful, but is sometimes a desert.

Taken on the whole, the music presented here is pretty consistent in evoking a ritualistic sense. “Horse Heart” has a mantra-like quality for its first half, owing largely to the double bass, which is plucked/strummed in chords; “Cream Sky” puts both flutes to work to create an ethereal space with accented bursts and drones. There are really only two exceptions to the ritual feel: closer “Northern Lights” is more spectator, less participant, and consequently has a feel that evokes seeing the Aurora Borealis more than doing anything about them. The Rhodes-driven quasi-post-rocker “Roots Growth” doesn’t really bring out the mystic either, again preferring to take the descriptive route and just conjure images of rituals without placing the listener in the centre of one. Of course, it’s still a stellar track, and arguably the most accessible of the eight on offer, but it is something of a digression from the core conceit of man and nature.

The final verdict here is that Lüüp have created a special record here that offers excellence in both composition and recital, and reasonable level of variety. When it comes to the concept of man’s reunion of nature, they’ve tackled it admirably, not avoiding the uglier bits, but addressing them in a subtle, indirect way. It may not be a completely thorough investigation of the theme, but it’s a coherent and articulate one, and for that Lüüp ought to be commended.

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