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Music Review: Huun Huur Tu & Carmen Rizzo – Eternal

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To suggest that Eternal, a stunning marriage of the traditional Tuvan music of Huun Huur Tu and the electronica of Carmen Rizzo, is a haunting listen would be an understatement.

The pieces of music are released as though they are fugitive spirits from the trees, as though recently-released sacred prisoners from the remote corner of the Russian Federation have given their voices to flight for the first time.

Huun Huur Tu’s dedication to preserving the Tuvan musical custom is rich and inspiring. Playing rare instruments, such as the lute-like doshpuluur or traditional Tuvan drums, the quartet proves the ultimate caretakers of the soaring mountains and ancestral traditions of their people.

Rizzo, recruited by the group for a fresh approach, has produced for the likes of Seal and Paul Oakenfold. Together with composer/arranger Mark Governor, Rizzo took to the project of Eternal hoping to make more out of it than a simple remixing of Tuvan music. The objective was for a new tradition to surface.

Eternal supplies that new tradition, well exceeding a standard East-meets-West vibe by invoking the true spirits of melodic imagination to produce pieces of art that will stand the test of time.

The process to create Eternal was a sort of “sonic meeting of the minds,” with Huun Huur Tu recording some of their signature songs in traditional format. The pieces, many of them hymns to the forest and sacred mountains of Tuva, were sent fifteen time zones away to Rizzo. The producer immersed himself, pushing the project further and collaborating fully with the four to institute original soundscapes and even completely fresh performances.

Eternal is a record of transformative influence and spiritual intensity. In Rizzo’s hands, these gorgeous compositions intensify and expand with magnificence and integrity.

“Dogee Mountain” is the perfect example of this depth. As a track dedicated to Tuva’s scared Buddhist site, “Dogee Mountain” was extracted from Huun Huur Tu’s “Orphaned Child.” The lamentation of the original piece is transformed through the use of electronic tone and spiritual correlation into something more inspired.

Lead vocalist Kaigal-ool Khovalyg, a master of xöömej (traditional throat-singing), sharply contrasts the instrumental vapor of the striking and evenly rhythmic “Mother Taiga” with his distinct tones. Rizzo’s addition of a gently blossoming surface accents the track, allowing Radik Tyulyush’s flute the fore just before a haunting, incredible unison vocal passage.

“Orphaned Child,” the aforementioned expression of grief, operates intensely as the album’s emotional heart. A deep and poignant piece from the perspective of a motherless child, the recording is as unrestrained and wild as the child’s lonesome reality.

In joining with Carmen Rizzo, Huun Huur Tu found a collaborator with strength of spirit and art. The partnership is more than just a remix project or another production job, standing as a piece of purity, spirituality and natural energy. Eternal, like the vast Siberian taiga, will leave an indelible impression as a milestone recording in Tuvan musical tradition.

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About Jordan Richardson