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Anton BATAGOV: The Monk Thogmey's Thirty-Seven Precepts

Yet another breathtakingly beautiful release from Russian composer/pianist Anton Batagov, the fourth we've reviewed, and another recording/composition inexorably tied into Batagov's Buddhism. The Monk Thogmey's Thirty-Seven Precepts, like Batagov's other compositions, unfurls a luxurious sonic backdrop, over which sacred Buddhist writings are sung/spoken/chanted. In this case, it's Gyalsey Thogmey Zangpo's titular poem chanted by Lama Tsering Dondrub. The subtle sing-songy delivery is mesmerizing, quite trancelike in fact, drifting serenely over the brooding, hypnotic, darkly shimmer beneath.

A slow series of sonic swells, constructed from piano, organ, vibraphone, guitar, bass, cello and percussion strike the perfect balance between the meditative mesmer of Batagov's Music For The 35 Buddhas, and the almost Godspeed-like post rock / modern classical hybrid of his Bodhicharyavatara.

The record starts off very much like Batagov's masterwork The Wheel Of The Law: delicate piano, muted melodic percussion, a dreamlike sprawl of hushed, haunting rhythmic melody, before the vocals come in, accompanied by a lush wall of sound: swirling pianos and shimmering gongs, moaning strings, dramatic and majestic. The whole of the subsequent 21+ minute first movement seems to follow a similar sonic pattern: weaving a delicate sprawl of washed out and woozy, soft focus melody, chiming and lilting, before shifting to something ever so subtly darker, adding guitar and bass, and infusing it with some of that post rock brood, while the vocals drone prayerfully over the top – and then slipping back into the more melodic first half. The cycle continuing for the duration, a slow motion sonic seesaw that in its structure is also quite meditative and trancelike. The second movement adds more shadow to the light: big booming drums, more guitar, melodically and structurally similar to the first part, but a bit more intense, darker and dronier, and equally as mesmerizing.

Finally, the record resolves with an instrumental epilogue that fuses the two parts into a slow, dolorous piano driven post rock minimal texture. Guitar strums drift weightless over pointillist piano; organs wheeze out softly undulating drones, with main melody woven deftly throughout.

Fantastic stuff as always. The liner notes describe the record's arrangement as relating to seventies rock music, and although we're not sure we would have picked up on that, it is part of what makes Batagov's compositions and performances so singular, and so unlike the rest of his minimalist peers.

Andrew Connors,
December 2012