Ulug-Khem – Live Improve 01

03/07/2011 § Leave a comment

If you don’t know where Ulug-Khem have got their name from, you’re not alone. I spent a fair few minutes trying to discover the etymology of this project’s namesake before deducing that the Ulug-Khem is a local name for the Yentsi River, the largest river that flows into the Arctic from Russia. Not only is the Ulug Khem a tributary though, but another part of the Tuva province, just one of the many desolate and bleak areas of Russia a few hundred miles down South. In fact, this area is so barren that Google haven’t even sent their streetview car there. That’s the level of remoteness we’re talking about, a place which the beaten track intentionally steers away from. Whether the musical project Ulug-Khem decided to name themselves after a Russian shanty town comprising of wooden housing, dust roads and large earthen mounds or a Northern river rich with coal deposits, one thing’s for certain: the geography of the music is far easier to map out.

Ulug Khem is a live improvisational project between Akoustic Timbre Frequency and Tamerlan, the latter taking care of classical guitar duties and the former looking after the wind instruments. The first thing of note here is the inclusion of the classical guitars, an element which is highly unusual in a ritual ambient album, and you’d be forgiven for entertaining skepticism as to their effectiveness. Tamerlan uses the guitar mostly in a strumming pattern, which provides a basic rhythm for each song and gives each number a certain percussiveness. The style, ebb and tempo of the guitar is very free, not conforming to any strict time or speed, regularly speeding up and down, always giving an appropriate pace and flavour to the ambience, as well as an exotic warmth to an otherwise normally cold and dark area of the music world.

ATF follows the mood set by the classical guitar, ushering in sighs, bell chimes and the soft howls of wind instruments which are subtly done, and spaced few and far between. Indeed, though it seems that Tamerlan may be leading the way though the improvisation, the reverse could indeed be the case at times as well. The fusion between the two gives off a sufficiently satisfying dark ambience, but one which is sprinkled with the glow and fluidity of nylon strings, the combination made all the more natural given the improvisational setting. Indeed, if this were an EP of pre-cognised, structured songs that had to be adhered to and mapped out, the delivery just wouldn’t work so well, it would feel forced and overhammed, but here it appears far more fluid and sentient.

Ulug-Khem’s improvisation doesn’t work on paper, but it does in sound. I was sceptical of this idea, especially given my curmudgeonly stoicism regarding ritual ambient, but this is a project that just works. I’ve come back to this time and time again, and each time it’s been a good experience and each time it’s been over too soon. A full album of this material may be a little too much to stomach, but an EP is a perfect length, and 20 minutes of rich, warm acoustic delivery moved and influenced by the cold essence of ritual ambience is an enticing match, especially for a genre with not much variety. It’s like the combination of cheese with tuna – it shouldn’t work together – but it does. And you have to try it for yourself to concur.

Rating: 4/5

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