Ghostophonia is a tribute to Romanian music, a mix of classic and modern styles, simultaneously nostalgic and forward-looking. The heart of the release is a series of wax cylinders recorded by Béla Bartók a century ago, capturing the folk music of Banat, Romania. Romanian iconoclasts Makunouchi Bento and Silent Strike set this music in new frames, highlighting its otherworldly tone while drawing attention to its enduring appeal.
“Sun Falls Silent” includes tribal beats and chants, with injections of sharp percussion. In the closing minutes, UFOs seem to whoosh around both singer and speaker, as if taping a report for their alien masters. In contrast, “Winds Veiled in Darkness” highlights the timbres of a music box and what may be a combination of washboard and harpsichord. The artists refer to the original sounds and artists as “tiny ghosts, barely able” to make an impact in the modern era; but they do their best to flip this script. “Break from the Cellars” is particularly effective due to an alternating foreground of classic song and contemporary bass. It’s not a dance track ~ the rain and late narration provide too much of an interruption ~ but it glistens with the sheen of the new.
As Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares did two decades ago, Ghostophonia offers a new generation a way to expand their sonic horizons. The difference between this release and Le Mystère is that Silent Strike and Makunouchi Bento are not aiming for the mainstream; their musical archaeology is centered on intrigue. The abraded loops of “Scythe-Wielding Crones” rest in a field of chimes and computer tones, giving way to a tentative melody. And it’s highly unlikely that anyone will place the warped brass and bell tones of “Rhythm of the Noose” in the same playlist as Corona’s “Rhythm of the Night.” On the other hand, it is likely that the set will pique interest in Bartók’s Romanian Folk Dances or send one scouring the internet for the original cylinders. One notable irony is that a century later, static and sonic degradation would also become cherished sounds, a quirk put to use on the current recording.
The clearest moments cause listeners to sit up straight, suddenly in synch: the community parade of “Hidden Beholder,” the church bells that open the otherwise abstract “Fallen Hunters.” These sounds sing of enchantment and invitation. While these “tiny ghosts” may have despaired of finding a modern audience, now it’s “Our Turn to Hear Them.” And what better way to end the album than with a kazoo? The party is in full swing, the doors wide open.