Magic Carpathians live at Bottom of the Hill, San Francisco, 27 March 2001
Magic Carpathians - "Dėnega" (Pracownia, Poland, CD)
From Aural Innovations #15 (April 2001)
From the ashes of the brilliant Polish ethno/psych/environmental band Atman (regrettably not covered here in Aural Innovations during their existence), rise a new outfit. I was fortunate enough to be passed a promo copy of this import a few days before the Magic Carpathians made their first live performance in San Francisco (culminating what MUST have been the first-ever US tour by a Polish psychedelic band - correct me if I'm wrong!). Their performance (supported by the superb Six Organs of Admittance) was one of the most powerful I've witnessed in some time. The four-piece lineup managed an extraordinary variety of moods throughout the set, abetted by the multi-instrumental talents of all the members (save Tomasz Radziuk, former Atman member, whose bass guitar playing varied to perfectly fit whatever sensations the rest of the band could conjure). Singer/guitarist Anna Nacher, using two vocal microphones on different delay settings, has a voice that soars like Renate Knaupt, whispers like Gilli Smyth, or screams like Lydia Lunch. It was intriguing to see and hear her play guitar using an extended delay - notes would sound several seconds after she struck the strings, reverberating in almost a cross-rhythm. She also played clarinet, kalimba and a hand-held harmonium (looking like an oversized hardback book) during the course of the set. Her main partner, Marek Styczynski, added a variety of textures, with instruments that might ordinarily lead me to dismiss the band as another bunch of "tribal" wannabes, but his use of digeridu, rainstick, wood bassoon(?), numerous bells and percussives, and other primitive-looking horn/wind-type instruments (one of which looked like it should have had a Viking serpent head at the bell), all fit the atmospheres ideally. He also added samples and loops by holding a portable minidisc player up to his microphone. Another percussionist played tablas, tibetan bowls, and other ethnic rhythmic instruments. And the band could really GROOVE together, whether with a Neu/krautrock pulse, jazz-leaning Gong-ish vibes, or something altogether sparser and more folk-ish.
As for the 'Dėnega' CD (their first, I believe), this actually *is* a case where the cover art gives an accurate depiction of the contents. The incredibly-cute, furry, aquatic critters on the cover are Baltic Seals, whose population has been decimated by 20th century industry in Eastern Europe (regrettably, the Russian portion of the former East Prussia, which borders the Baltic Sea, once the Soviet Union's most advanced military outpost, is now one of the most economically-depressed and polluted regions in all of Europe). A good portion of the sounds on this CD are derived from recordings, per the liner notes, "of seals' and other sea creatures' voices recorded by the authors during their exploration of the Baltic seashore", sampled and processed with Eventide Harmonizer. The mostly-acoustic sounds are frequently reminiscent of Popol Vuh's airier moments in the mid-70's (often piano or guitar-driven), while the processed samples sometimes provide a rhythmic bed in the ebb and flow of tidal sounds, sometimes the seal voices mutate into electronic sounds that almost could have come from an old analog synth, and sometimes their otherworldy-sounding cries bring to mind deep green seascapes. This is definitely a band to watch for, and the albums by their precursor, Atman, are well worth searching out. The Carpathians' next album is due out shortly on San Francisco's Drunken Fish records. Hopefully you can read about that next issue.
For more information you can visit the Magic Carpathians web site.
Reviewed by Doug Pearson