In the late 1800s, this esoteric philosopher and mystic G.I. Gurdjieff scoured Africa, Asia, and the Middle East for the secrets to attaining "direct knowledge" (i.e., meaning). He consulted reclusive dervishes, chased shadowy mages, and immersed himself in foreign cultures. It's a rare but ageless quest that resonates in the modern-day mission of Sublime Frequencies, a label and collective of intrepid sound-explorers navigating the same geography that Gurdjieff once did and recording every sound and noise that moves them. They then tackle the job of editing these recordings and releasing them as discs packaged in brilliant colors and exotic photography with titles like Harmika Yab-Yum: Folk Sounds From Nepal and Molam: Thai Country Groove From Isan, which are just two of the label's 21 releases to date.
Unlike most conventional forms of ethnomusicological documentation, Sublime Frequencies discs feel like intuitively constructed sound-maps of the psychic-emotional terrain traversed by the sound-explorers during the recording process. On Radio Sumatra: The Indonesian FM Experience (produced by Alan Bishop of Sun City Girls) the sound of Bishop turning the radio dial punctuates bizarre amalgamations of Indonesian folk-pop, metal, and hip hop, as well as utterly surreal commercials. You actually feel Bishop growing bored with certain stations, struggling to improve the reception of others, and then becoming entranced with particular voices, melodies, and, at times, just the fuzzy but intriguing overlap of two tunes on two different frequencies.
For Streets of Lhasa, sound-explorers Zhang Jian, ZhaDa, and Shigatse ventured to the Tibetan capital and recorded countless hours of itinerant folk musicians and environmental sounds. Then Christiaan Virant and Bishop weaved the tapes into a dreamy, impressionistic travel log of the recorders' collective experiences -- an image returning us to this Gurdjieff character.
Encoded into the very "soul" of each Sublime Frequencies disc is the sound-explorers' intensely personal search for the secrets to attaining this aforementioned "direct knowledge," which, for this group of wanderers, will not be found in words and writings but only in totally pure sound.