This double release from veteran Italian combo Agricantus suggests differing emphases on the two discs, and raises questions about the developing relationship between ethnic music, embattled in the shrinking world depicted on the package cover, and the Euro-global-techno production style, arguably one of the agents of that embattlement. While the credits adumbrate a wide range of ethnic instruments, the sound actually heard on Ethnosphere is overwhelmingly synthesized, looped, and programmed, in many cases reminiscent of mid-career Duran Duran. Rosie Wiederkehr's miraculous glottal ululations are a stirring highpoint, often overshadowing Tonj Acquaviva's quite adequate vocals. Diverse percussion, also primarily Acquaviva's province, is also compelling.
The first disc is pensive, beginning with "Pinseri," a slow trancy start featuring Wiederkehr's glottal wails echoing synth lines, developing into loping percussion with male vocals and low droning Tibetan chant loops. "Rang-Wang Tibet," a call for national liberty, sports slightly slack percussion, Wiederkehr's vocal whispered on verses, receding into deep reverb on chorus, oud and flute adding instrumental interest to a bed dominated by synth strings. The second disc is a bit more upbeat, kicking off with "Kanassila," Wiederkehr's vocal playing off a contrapunctal flute figure. Acquaviva's Arabic vocal is articulate and convincing on "Mellit Mellit," and "Présence" benefits from varied percussion, oud, and droning setar.
On Ethnosphere, Agricantus has clearly mastered a dreamy ambiance suggestive of a homogeneous musical one-world-ism, rendering it more than a pleasant listen. But it is a bit disturbing how so many ethnic influences can be undetectably submerged in a single aural design. - Jim Foley
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