The Kosua tribe of Papua New Guinea inspired this epic full-length of moody, evocative ambient.
The resulting album is the kind of project that can raise hackles, and for good reason. I'm reminded of the French duo Deep Forest, whose 1992 new age electronica hit "Sweet Lullaby" was based around a sample of a tribal song from the Solomon Islands, the archipelago just east of Papua New Guinea. The original singer, Afunakwa, was uncredited, but her indigenous identity was leveraged for trendy "ethnic" vibes in the accompanying music video, which featured Ndebele tribespeople from Africa walking across sand dunes. It's the textbook example of unsavoury appropriation.
Thompson, in contrast, has done his legwork. During one of several trips he made to Papua New Guinea, he went full Ray Mears, spending 14 days alone in the jungle and another three exploring the crater of an extinct volcano. At 85 minutes, Kosua is itself something to disappear into. There's a cinematic shaping to the tracks: we enter through a thicket of animal chatter, birds and the white noise of the rainforest, dense with life. Dark electronic drones frequently add a human presence—and a subtle suggestion of our true fear of being alone in nature, just another vulnerable mammal in the forest.
Over the 15 tracks, field recordings are sometimes woven into a gloomy palette of strings, pads and drones, sometimes left in their bare state. "Seane Falls Womens Kulumba" captures a song-and-dance ritual in the raw; voices fall out of time as the dancers catch their breath. On "New Guinea," the voice of eccentric explorer Dr Lawrence Blair offers a vivid description of the island as "the last wild garden at the bottom of the world." Further along, a step-change: distant pulsations and frozen Mills-ian techno on "Clouds" seem to emerge from the slopes of the volcano. Eventually, on "Standing At The Summit of Bosavi," we're swaddled in abyssal drones and synth scree as we gaze into the crater's void.
Kosua carves out its own territory between traditional ethnographic recordings, like the one that Deep Forest plundered for "Sweet Forest," and more subjective soundscapes, like Mike Cooper's dreamy South Pacific-inspired collages and Simon Fisher Turner's haunting soundtrack for the 1924 film The Epic Of Everest. At times, the tracks' locations are clearly signposted, but the most engaging moments come when we disappear into Thompson's mind, and share in his solitude, fear and awe.
Fri / 4 Jan 2019
01. Self Heat
02. Feeling Colour
03. Seane Falls Womens Kulumba
04. New Guinea
06. Standing At The Summit Of Bosavi
07. Fogomay'iu Village
09. Stalking The Canopy
12. First Light
13. Chief Sigalo Balo Dance
14. Madmen, Missionaries, Prospectors And Weirdos
15. Big Haus