If there’s one genre label I’ve never been entirely comfortable with, it’s so-called “World” music, which comes ominously close to being racist, and sometimes crosses that line. And yet, with 3,14’s debut release, it’s hard to think of an adjective that better describes Bombyx Mori. The product of three musicians of different nationalities, and utilising instruments and instrumentation from a range of nations and cultures along the ancient and legendary Silk Road. It’s a glorious fusion of traditional non-Western music, reinterpreted in a modern form – all the strands interwoven into one glorious whole of extraordinary beauty.
Before I’ve listened to even one note, I’m already drawn in by the beautiful cover art – of Bombyx Mori, naturally (more commonly known as the domestic silk moth). Perhaps deliberately, there is more than one moth – as the Silk Road was never one road, so much as a network of interconnected trade routes, connecting Asia to Europe and Africa. Besides trade, the Silk Road played a significant role in the exchange of religions, philosophies, science and technology. The idea of cultural trade seems central to the music of 3,14 (314π), as the three European musicians weave together strands from Asia, the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent, using the instruments from those regions. Bombyx Mori features ten instrumental tracks including both old and original compositions inspired by raga/makam music from India, Afghanistan, Turkey, Persia, Egypt and Greece, recorded live in the studio last year. Old and new are seamlessly integrated, exposing a range of moods and styles.
I find Eastern classical music, whether traditional or modern, far more vibrant and colourful than Western. I often feel it is a shame that for most people, classical evokes dead Germanic composers. Classical music was the first Progressive music, and continues to progress today. There are numerous avant-garde and progressive record labels releasing fantastic albums that remain frustratingly under the radar. I’m sure this is not The Secret that 3,14 is implying in the title of the opening track for Bombyx Mori, and yet it is the first thing that comes to my mind every time. If it’s true that a secret is something you tell one other person, then tell one other person about 3,14. Conveniently, The Secret was the first single released, allowing it to be shared – at least as a YouTube video link. This track is an impressive opening number, which begins at a slow pace, and by the end is anything but.
Actually, let’s face it, The Secret must surely refer to the fact that the Chinese guarded the secret of silk production for centuries. For while the album may trace the route of the Silk Road through the instrumentation and instruments of the nations and cultures it traverses, the music is inspired by, and is a homage to, the silk moth, rather than the Silk Road. It’s a quite novel way to celebrate the Silk Road, and adds to the enjoyment. So many Western artists have recorded tributes to the Silk Road, but focussing on the insect, rather than the trade route creates some interesting variations to what might otherwise be a well-worn theme.
The second song is also the second single. The Prism is 3,14’s interpretation of Kürdi Peşrev, an Ottoman instrumental written in the 17th Century, but not sounding anywhere near as ancient when played by 3,14. The Prism here refers to the shining and iridescent quality of silk (its shimmering appearance is due to the triangular prism-like structure of the silk fibre, which allows silk cloth to refract incoming light at different angles). What The Prism does show is that despite having a compositional backbone, it still very much sounds as if it is played with the freedom of improvisation that plays such a part in much Asian and Indian classical music. I’m drawn back to my earlier statement, that I find Eastern classical music more colourful than Western. Perhaps it is because it is played through a prism of improvisation. The composition is refracted through that prism, and the result is akin to an aural interpretation of the cover art to Dark Side of the Moon.
After the rather sedate vibe of The Prism, the tempo is raised considerably by 3,000 Feet. I love the vocal percussion in this piece. Whether Padhant in Hindustani, or Konnakol in Carnatic, these performances of vocal percussion always sweep me in and away. The music is suitably swirling, given the title which refers to the fact that unravelling a silkworm cocoon can result in a single thread 3,000 feet long. It’s easy to envisage the unwinding of the silk as you listen to the music, slowing cautiously at points to ensure the thread does not break, before picking up the tempo again.
Having covered only three songs so far, it’s becoming obvious that to continue in this way isn’t practical. Suffice to say, 3,14 continue to offer a range of colours and textures, with some unexpected twists along the way. Sometimes calm and peaceful, and sometimes fast and furious, but always engaging and enjoyable. Qazzaz (a surname that means silk trader) is a percussive delight with some interesting modulations, and one of my favourite tracks on the album; and Resham (a female name meaning silk) has a driving and impassioned intensity. The title track is the longest on the album, and yet it flies by. The following track, I assume refers to artificial silk (‘6A’ being the highest quality silk, and ‘7A’ largely used to describe replica/fake goods online), and its another full throttle assault. Kota Doria is suitably fine and light, like the fabric it’s named for; and the closing number, Cocoon, is beautiful in its simplicity, wrapping things up perfectly.
Ultimately, this is probably the most impressive album released from the Worlds Within Worlds label yet – and that’s saying something, as they have been releasing only quality albums since their inception. And, as mentioned at the beginning of this review, Bombyx Mori is truly a world album, too, taking inspiration from the music of multiple countries and peoples, along the route of the legendary Silk Road. It’s an absolutely addictive album, which I find myself returning to time and time again, and which (if it does not remain too guarded a secret) will surely find itself competing for a place on the end of year lists of those who fall for its charms.
01. The Secret (Sampurna Kanada) (10:47)
02. Prism (Kürdi Peşrev) (7:48)
03. 3,000 Feet (Madhuvanti) (4:10)
04. The Red Kite (Manj Khamaj) (7:32)
05. Qazzaz (Lahen Tayyah) (10:34)
06. Resham (4:37)
07. Bombyx Mori (Pahari) (13:49)
08. A. A. A. A. A. A. A. (8:42)
09. Kota Doria (4:46)
10. Cocoon (Deepchandi / Devr – i Kebir) (2:56)
Total Time – 75:41
Efrén López – Herati Dutar, Fretted Hurdy Gurdy, Oğur Sazı, Tanpura, Oud, Sagat, Gong, Azeri Tar, Daf, Afghan Rabab, Basslaute, Swarmandal, Kudüm, Zil
Ciro Montanari – Tabla, Udu, Kayamb, Calabash
Jordi Prats – Sarod
Evgenios Voulgaris – Yaylı Tanbur, Rebab
Kirill Osherov – Riq
Nuno Silva – Persian Santur
Gloria Aleza – Cello
Record Label: Worlds Within Worlds
Country of Origin: Spain/International
Date of Release: 2nd October 2020