Sublime Frequencies
The fourth DVD release from Sublime Frequencies is a 50-minute travelogue through the rural, impoverished region of Northeast Thailand, an area known as Isan. The culture of Isan is distinct from the rest of Thailand because of the marked Laotian and Khmer influence. Because of its remoteness and relative poverty, Isan has escaped the Westernizing reforms that have affected the rest of the country, thus their indigenous culture and unique heritage has been well preserved throughout their years. Documentarian Hisham Mayet shot this footage in March of this year, and has done a very good job in capturing much of the unique character of the region. The film opens with a traditional ceremony and festival demonstrating the rich cultural heritage of the four dominant tribes of Isan: Khmer, Suai, Lao and Yo. It showcases marching regalia of costumed Thai, demonstrations of skills such as fire-breathing, synchronized sword fighting and acrobatics, culminating in a bizarre ritual involving the crowd throwing live chickens into the air and chasing rabbits through the grass. Laotian women participate in traditional dances, performing beautifully expressive hand gestures, synchronized to syrupy Thai music that blares out of a distorted PA system. The remainder of the travelogue features mainly raw performances on traditional Isan instruments from a random assortment of villagers and street musicians. Mr. Ken plays a bamboo khaen, a large double-sided row of pipes that produce a complex, richly nuanced sound with interior countermelodies. Mr. Thongbai plays the wod, a circular arrangement of pan pipes that make an intoxicating and magical sound. Mr. Thongsai plays a lively folk tune on a phin, a three-stringed lute that is played identically to a guitar. A few scenes shot inside gentlemen's clubs in the urban centers of Isan follow, groups of costumed girls dancing seductively in a style known as Lam Sing. The finale was recorded on a busy Bangkok street in the early morning hours, and represents a traditional vocal style called Lum Glawn. A woman sings along with an amazingly proficient performance on the khaen pipes, her dynamic vocals flowing freely at breakneck speed, to match the sophisticated peaks and valleys of the khaen. Isan is a delightful snapshot of a relatively unknown and unsung culture.