'Y(Our) Music': Film Review

Courtesy of Film Society of Lincoln Center
A welcome hangout with practitioners of bygone Thai musical styles.

It's a long way from here to Bangkok discos and Phuket raves.

A pleasingly scattershot look at music old and new lurking outside the mainstream of contemporary Thai culture, Y(Our) Music functions for Westerners largely as an introduction to regional genres time has almost passed by. Waraluck Hiransrettawat Every and David Reeve, making their filmmaking debuts, take us from Bangkok markets to rural communities in the Isan region, dipping our toes into formal and living-room concerts just long enough to inspire our further research. Colorful enough to serve as a vicarious travelogue for festgoers, it will be most valuable on video for those who are already established enthusiasts for world music.

We meet the occasional young performer here — like the husband & wife hipsters with matching Le Corbusier glasses whose fake-band art project turned real — but the doc's heart is in the past, with traditional forms like mor lam and the remaining men and women who remember their heyday. Eschewing narration and explanatory text, the filmmakers visit with practitioners of folk instruments like the pin, a kind of two-string guitar, and the khaen, a mouth organ whose sound is something like an accordion. In a quietly entrancing moment, khaen player Sombat Simlhar (subjects aren't identified until the closing credits) claims he takes inspiration from the sounds of water buffalo and wind rushing through palms, then demonstrates what he means. Elsewhere we see a tiny crowd listen to aging mor lam singers, who appear to have been big stars decades ago, in a daytime outdoor concert.

The focus is on unhurried observation here, with the occasional eccentric thrown in for good measure (like the optician who taught himself how to make bamboo saxophones and now sells them on the street). But occasionally the fragmented interviews can't help but hint at sociology and politics. In the 70s, we learn, musicians from Isan who moved to Bangkok were made ashamed of their gifts by city folk who thought their sounds were only for the poor and taxi drivers.

Today, a handful of young people revere what those old-timers produced. Some of them start shops dealing in rare records; some attempt to adapt old styles to their own idiosyncratic songwriting. Y(Our) Music is a valuable part of this attempt to preserve the past.

Production companies: King Chain Productions, Glom Glom Productions

Directors-Producers: Waraluck Hiransrettawat Every, David Reeve         

Directors of photography: Kobboon Chatrakrisaeree, David Reeve

Editor: David Reeve

No rating, 81 minutes

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