If you were to chance upon any fragment of the music made by Širom, you might reasonably conclude that it was some anthropological field recording, taken from a traditional folk compilation. There are bits where an ululating female vocal is accompanied by a banjo and what sounds like a Hardanger fiddle, and you could swear that it was something that – say – Nordic shepherds might have been playing for centuries. You’ll hear wailing reed instruments set against chaotic percussion, and for a few seconds you might think that you’re listening to the ecstatic Sufi trance music of the Master Musicians of Joujouka; there are slurring solos on indeterminate stringed instruments that invoke a Chinese erhu, or an Indian sitar, or a hurdy-gurdy.
Except none of this is actually “traditional” music. Širom are a trio of classically trained musicians from Slovenia – Ana Kravanja, Samo Kutin and Iztok Koren – who play dozens of instruments between them and describe their work as “imaginary folk music”. That phrase was first coined by the critic Serge Moreux in the 1950s, when referring to the way in which Bartók and Kodály processed traditional Hungarian melodies, but Širom’s folk forgeries are weirder and more pan-global. This is actually densely written and meticulously plotted music, played live on acoustic instruments, apparently without any overdubs. The songs (some of them 15 minutes long) are episodic, dreamlike voyages – qawwali-style vocal wailing and medieval drones mutate into free-jazz freakouts; steampunk techno (played on pots, pans and cutlery) shifts into gamelan music, anchored by squelchy bass sounds.
It occasionally recalls the junkyard compositions of Moondog, the hypnotic tuned percussion of Steve Reich, the controlled chaos of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, or the shanty-town minimalism of the Penguin Cafe Orchestra. Crucially, the counterfeit folk feel means that even most lopsided compositions have a reassuringly demotic and conversational feel.
• Released on 30 August.
Also out this month
David Helbock is an Austrian jazz pianist whose new solo album Playing John Williams (released 30 August) sees him artfully resetting music by the great film composer. The themes from Star Wars and ET are cleverly re-harmonised, Superman and the Raiders March are placed in unorthodox rhythmic metres, while Helbock locates the Stravinsky-esque terror at the heart of the Theme from Jaws.
Terry Riley: Sun Rings, which was premiered in 2002, is a space-themed project inspired by Voyagers 1 and 2. The Kronos Quartet’s new recording (released 30 August) employs “space sounds” recorded by Nasa over the years, and these percussive clicks, drones and ghostly screeches are artfully integrated into the string arrangements. Where some composers tend to get doomy and dystopian when faced with such subject matter, Riley is appealingly childlike and positive, and his strident minimalism is complemented by the utopian harmonies of the Volti choir.