Sabiwa ~ Island no. 16 – Memories of Future Landscapes

Sabiwa is one of the most eclectic artists we’ve reviewed on our site, and one of the most confident.  The variety of her music is incredible, ranging from ambient to folk to gabber, often on the same release.  The Taiwanese artist (now based in Berlin) draws upon the songs of her culture for inspiration, then produces something entirely her own, molding and sculpting her own voice into entanglements of sound.  island no. 16 – Memories of Future Landscapes is another left turn, featuring four elongated pieces, each with its own unique backstory.

The album’s most striking aspect is its fluidity.  The album looks to the past while imagining a fantastical future where traditional concepts of gender, family and bodily form have disappeared. While “spoken language is no longer used to communicate,” Sabiwa communicates in song.  “Pupa” describes a pre-transformative state, with ritualistic singing over drone and chime, a burgeoning wealth of percussive elements rising like wings from a cocoon.  As the music darkens, Sabiwa’s voice lightens, taking on a childlike, onomatopoeic lilt, finally dissolving in static.

“Dog Smells Your Future” is a quarter-hour soundscape, the longest and most sci-fi track.  Sabiwa imagines dogs living among post-humans, each able to understand the other’s thoughts.  Gamelan dives slowly into a carnival while Sabiwa chortles, giggles and growls.  In the middle of the piece, the music is stretched like entrails, and the artist alternates between baby talk and exorcism.  As the piece is about to topple into total inaccessibility, all voices disappear, revealing a backdrop of traffic and avian conversation, dotted with chimes, then a sinister whisper.

“Christal” begins with more traditional song, delivered without manipulation.  But as the piece progresses, the primary voice is drowned out by others swirling around it.  Multi-layered drones form harmonic clusters, holding the fort until the percussion arrives and itself proliferates.  The most straightforward piece on the set, “Christal” relays a tale of the old giving way to the new.

Sabiwa’s voice is sweetest in the early minutes of “Hermaphrodite,” sounding like a friendly traffic jam of beeping cars.  Brass breaks the reverie, making the beeps sound more indignant.  The track’s gentle nature is partially restored when Sabiwa’s uncle begins to sing a traditional folk song, once banned due to its theme of Taiwanese independence.  Behind the voice, the album’s hardest, most electronic elements attack.  This familial connection bridges not only the generational gap but the album’s tonal gap, suggesting the disintegration of borders: literal, temporal, musical.  A recording from the past travels into the future, taking on new meanings.  The final notes are revealing; after presenting its vision, the music fades to a gamelan hush.  (Richard Allen)

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