The German artist perfects his globally informed sound.
In a way, Friedman's latest album flips his outernational perspective on its head. Musical Traditions In Central Europe – Explorer Series Vol. 4 reflects on the polycultural climate of creativity within Central Europe, particularly in cities like his current home, Berlin. Rather than straining to embrace traditional forms beyond the dominance of Western music, Friedman surveys his more immediate surroundings, nodding to likeminded European artists who have sought inspiration from distant places.
That's most explicit on "Moslemschleier," a track dedicated to Bryn Jones, whose Muslimgauze project obsessively focused on the music, culture and politics of the Middle East. Jones has remained a controversial figure even in death, but his largely lyric-less productions merged dub, European electronic music and Middle Eastern sonics with sometimes profound results. You can hear the musical influence of Muslimgauze on the track, but its most remarkable facet is the steady tick of the four-on-the-floor beat, rhythmically the straightest track Friedman has released in years.
The percussive patterns fall in more atypical forms elsewhere, from the sweet and lilting "Schwebende Himmelsbrücke" to the nimble and dramatic "Unbehagen In Der Natur" or the subtly mechnical "Semio-Blitz." Everything blurs but the needlepoint production in these pieces—the lines between electronic and organic sources dissolve, the beats ping out into unknown territory while still retaining groove, and the moods hover between obvious emotional tints. Technically dazzling and yet utterly natural in its flow, the LP provides further examples of Friedman's distinctive craft. The style reaches a pinnacle on "Sensation Des Normalen," a brooding and dynamic piece that perfects Friedman's approach to trance induction.
While regular listeners to Friedman's work will find much familiarity on Musical Traditions In Central Europe, the album's central piece, "Berlin, A Cidade Que Não Morreu" stands out thanks to Brazilian singer Lucas Santtana's Portuguese vocal about "the golden angle of Berlin," some pronounced Rhodes keys and Hayden Chisholm's smoky saxophone. There's a dash of Latin flavour to the music as much as the lyrics, but it's implied rather than explicit.
Friedman has often commented on the encroachment of Western colonialism on traditional music from around the world, where centuries-old music traditions are at risk of eradication as younger generations shirk the music of their elders in favour of Western-influenced sounds. On this album he's shifted the focus towards Western artists absorbing influence from elsewhere in the world to create new musical forms. Friedman's stance positions this panoptic approach as a vital conduit for progressive, individual music.
Criticisms of cultural appropriation will always hover around artists like Friedman, whose sound feeds off many different global sources to end up geographically located in the titular "Nonplace" of his label. His practice and that of his forebears (Jon Hassell in particular) could be seen by some critics as a kind of reduction of individual cultural forms to an imperialised whole. Individual nuances from around the world cherry-picked by a white man from the West with the means to reach far and wide, plundering whatever sounds take his fancy.
Hassell's stance on this debate considers the depth with which the practice is employed. In a 2018 interview with Keagon Voyce he referred to the collage-like works of the late painter Mati Klarwein, famous for his album covers for Miles Davis and Carlos Santana. "That's simply being aware of the world and aware of the things we really like, and being able to be subtle enough to represent them as new and different from the other. But if what you like isn't apparent to you yet, you're not going to do it justice, and you're not going to present things with enough respect."
That respect feels inherent in Friedman's work. In his, Hassell's and other Fourth World artists' hands, the practice is less about ripping off ethnic traditions than celebrating the diversity of the world's musical cultures in pursuit of new forms. "Of course everybody has got cultural imprints upon birth," Friedman told Angus Finlayson last year. "so I'm not saying we can ignore those. What Nonplace tries to represent is... that music is travelling anyway, and music maybe has something else in it that is not determined by cultural imprints."
The opening track on Music Traditions In Central Europe is called "Supreme Self Dub"—a reference to brahman, an infinite consciousness inseparable from the rest of the universe, without personality, ego or individuality. In the same way traditional yoga practice seeks to find unity within the supreme self, so Friedman's omnivorous attitude to music celebrates the beauty that arises when cultural forms intersect. On this album, as his many releases before it, he creates something very beautiful indeed.
Fri / 12 Jul 2019
01. Supreme Self Dub
03. Schwebende Himmelsbrücke
04. Unbehagen In Der Natur
06. Berlin, A Cidade Que Nao Morreu feat. Lucas Santtana
08. Sensation Des Normalen
10. Sky Speech feat. Hayden Chisholm