When using the word “inspire” today, we tend to think of it from an emotional perspective. If you look it up in a dictionary, however, you will find that it also means to inhale (think of it as a combination of “in” and “respire”). In that sense, the music documented on Medna Roso, the third and latest release on producer Sun Chung’s Red Hook Records, is inspired in the most physical way one could imagine. Recorded live at Cologne’s Agneskirche in the summer of 2021, and meshing the voices of Kit Downes (organ), Hayden Chisholm (alto saxophone, shruti box, analogue synthesizer, and throat singing), and Zagreb-based female vocal quintet PJEV, the program resituates songs from the Balkans, cultivating endangered traditions in the foreground of our attention in search of new growth.
Downes’s organ is firmament in which the album’s breaths flow from the pursed lips of invisible ancestors. The pipes, resonant and harmonic by virtue of their location, feel omnipresent—never close enough to touch yet never far enough to deny. What begins as a statement of heavenly creation reveals an earthly heart as PJEV churns the soil of “Listaj goro ne žali be’ara” (Bloom you mountain, don’t regret the blooming flowers). In combination with the subsequent “Ova brda i puste doline” (These hills and desolate valleys), it captures the carelessness of youth and the darker realities of adulthood. The titular landscapes and their features are the measures of a contemplation that pales in scope, always struggling to evoke the majesty of a universe so vast that, ultimately, death is required to comprehend it.
The ensuing journey takes us two steps inward for each outward. Through the solo strains of “Što si setna, nevesela” (Why are you sad and cheerless?) floating over a gong-like substrate, the haunting call and response of “Odkad seke nismo zapjevale” (Since when sisters, we haven’t sung), and the a capella “Službu služi viden dobar junak” (Been in service, a good hero), in which the singers hinge themselves in a massive temporal pivot, we can feel the immensity of things.
Connecting these songs are six instrumental interludes where the divisions of reed, metal, and breath melt in the crucible of singularity. The resulting alloy looks like silver, tastes like copper, sounds like gold. As with the throat singing that sometimes escapes Chisholm’s lips, it trembles in the presence of something formless. Settling beneath the weight of our transgressions, it takes shape in the listening while the terror and fury of nature, but also its quiet invitation, attune us for the time being—because time is only being.