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Florian Fricke/Popol Vuh
Kailash Euan Andrews , April 24th, 2015 11:30

A dust devil flutters low across Tibetan plains, a twirling pile of gravel and sand given meaning and form through a fluke of nature. Wind has twisted around itself to create this tiny maelstrom which totters back and forth, hesitant as to which direction its own small pilgrimage shall take. It could be a supernatural presence or gatekeeper, an emissary giving signal to disciples that the road ahead is the right and true way.

This portent of awestruck tidings, or meteorological microcosm, appears two minutes into Kailash, a 1995 documentary made by Popol Vuh's Florian Fricke and Frank Fiedler. Given the dense heavenward rush of luminous chords heralding this innocuous talisman on Fricke's accompanying soundtrack, it seems clear we are expected to bear expectant homage to this playful sprite as it appears en route to the holy mountain of Kailash in western Tibet, the Throne of Gods to which pilgrims have journeyed for thousands of years in order to undertake the "path of initiation".     

As a film, Kailash is a simple montage of images depicting the surrounding wilderness and indigenous people to be found in this remote area. Wind rushes across patchy grass pastures, streams and rivers babble and gush while shepherds tend their flocks of playful cattle. Occasionally, spiritual voyagers will pause and bear witness to some unseen off-screen icon, and the mountains loom ever-present in the distance, as if waiting to impart some great truth.

Kailash lacks the expertise and precision necessary for a great piece of documentary, the continual fades and dissolves resembling meditatively ambient portraiture to be projected on the wall of a New Age spa. There's neither the unyielding gaze into religious conviction of, say, Philip Groning's Into Great Silence or the dispassionately absurd clarity of Werner Herzog to whose work Kailash cannot help but be compared due to the bells and whooshes of Popol Vuh's musical accompaniment.

As well as an all-regions DVD of Kailash, that soundtrack is included on this exemplary three-disc Soul Jazz package. Declamatory voices wail from on high plateaux, as waves of analogue synths ebb and flow in blissful tidal surge. Gongs and cymbals are gently rubbed while pan pipes breezily whistle and toot. There is the overwhelming sense of an ethnographic forgery which holds deep reverence for sources and inspirations, bending them into an authored Fourth World authenticity entirely Fricke's own.

All very much a continuation of Popol Vuh's variant on kosmische music which lacked the nirvana-seeking impulse of NEU!, or the forebear-annihilating discourse of Cluster. Fricke and Popol Vuh seemed to wish their music to convey a sense of slightly lethargic awestruck wonder in the listener, similar to the feelings lapsed Presbyterian church-goers might suddenly find within themselves on an unsuspecting Sunday morning. There is no grit or dirt in this music, only Zen-like tranquility which worked so well in juxtaposition with Herzog's heat-haze visual narratives in films such as Aguirre, Wrath Of God and Fitzcarraldo.

Perhaps the perfect distillation of Fricke's spiritual yearning comes on the first CD, made up of solo piano recordings taken from his archive. Here you can hear the simple bare-bones sketches of pieces, such as the fanfare-like 'Garden Of Pythagoras' and the three-part movement 'Spirit Of Peace'. These are simple chord progressions, limpid rock pools of piano notes gliding effortlessly onwards, with Fricke occasionally humming absentmindedly along with the basic tune, lost in his solipsistic reverie and sweet solitude. 

Fricke always hoped to record a solo piano record, and there is a sense of purity and higher thought within these ungarnished pieces.  But only if you're specifically listening, otherwise they resemble the pastoral romanticism of Roedelius, or Harold Budd's solitary ruminations. All is illusion: Fricke clearly playing within his temple from the heart of the mountain, in his Shangri-La, the journey completed. For those of us who haven't bought into the spiritual vision, or seen the hand of divine epiphany, we are simply listening to dust and gravel whistling through the wind. A pleasing sensation, but which offers no guidance or meaning.

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