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V/A - Brokenhearted Dragonflies: Insect Electronica from Southeast Asia

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Artist: V/A

Album: Brokenhearted Dragonflies: Insect Electronica from Southeast Asia

Label: Sublime Frequencies

Review date: Aug. 24, 2004

Sublime Frequencies, the brainchild of the Sun City Girls’ Alan Bishop, specializes in sending out sonic postcards from the furthest removes of the planet (both geographically and culturally) for the consumption of the armchair traveler. Previous missives have taken us on excursions to Marrakech’s Jemaa El Fna, to the pop worlds of Cambodia and Arabia and even to a Burmese Pwe, a local festival held to appease wayward spirits. These previous recordings have all had one major thing in common; they are all distinctly anthropological, being documents of our race’s culture and ritual. However, this time the stars of the show are not human.

There is a legend in Burma that goes something like this: as swarms of male dragonflies congregate to procreate, they emit a series of high-pitched tones to court potential mates. But those poor fellows that remain and fail to find a suitable mate produce a scream so loud (one assumes in either anguish of unrequited love, or sexual frustration) that their chests explode and they drop dead to the ground. These series of recordings, recorded live and unprocessed in Laos, Thailand and Burma by Tucker Martine (a Seattle-based musician, engineer and producer), are a fitting tribute to the legend.

There is no question that the legend itself is integral to enjoyment of the sounds found on Brokenhearted Dragonflies, providing an emotional context for the listener to engage in, rather than just supplying another, albeit amazingly beautiful, set of field recordings from a distant land. You can actually find yourself relating to these little blighters on a human level – as the male dragonflies scream their high pitched other worldly screams, so too does your heart, in sympathy. This is the real and unique strength of this document. Besides dragonflies themselves, you get to hear other insects and creatures of the jungle, for example the ubiquitous drone of cicadas and the cries of birds. But despite all their wondrous efforts, not one of animals can overshadow the terrifying songs of the broken-hearted.

For more info on Sublime Frequencies, read Alexander Provan’s label feature here.

By Spencer Grady

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