William Ryan Fritch: Birkitshi - Eagle Hunters In A New World
Lost Tribe Sound

William Ryan Fritch's soundtrack for Birkitshi - Eagle Hunters In A New World features some of the most affecting music to date from the composer, and as such indicates that this particular GoPro-related project has brought out the best in the Oakland, California-based multi-instrumentalist. The music exudes an earthy authenticity that naturally lends itself to a mini-documentary about the Birkitshi, eagle hunters who rove the mountain terrain of Western Mongolia, and as such the film subject matter and his musical style make for a natural fit. It would be harder to imagine Fritch's music accompanying a film about insider trading on Wall Street—though no doubt he'd rise to that challenge, too.

Resplendent and quietly majestic, the music honours the indomitable spirit of people living amidst the vast plains of the Mongolian landscape and clinging to long-standing traditions despite the encroachment of modern life with its dramatic social and cultural upheavals. As affecting as the music is the film's juxtaposition of unspoiled mountain settings and the city locales the eagle hunters occasionally visit. As per usual for a Fritch release, an abundance of music is on offer, in this case eighteen tracks, three of them bonuses (the release's vinyl and CD editions also include a full-color PDF booklet detailing scenes from the GoPro film). Once again, we're presented with an outpouring that speaks to an inexhaustible creative force whose well has yet to run dry.

The Mongolian dimension declares itself early on when deep, throat singing-styled voices surface alongside Fritch's immediately recognizable soundworld in the opener “Bek.” The connection is evident thereafter in the Mongolian instrumentation that Fritch incorporates, whether it be percussion or strings, and in the music's rhythms. Generally in the two- to three-minute range, the tracks are short, yet an incredible wealth of detail is present in these mini-symphonies. It's a collection that alternates between introspective calm (“Gurts,” “Burkit”) and exuberant extroversion (the dance rhythm-powered “Gold Colored Foxes”), and though percussion and woodwind instruments are plentiful in Fritch's always rich arrangements, it's the plaintive strings that give the soundtrack its strongest emotional pull. Never is that more the case than during “Red Wolves” where the violin's vocal-like cry exudes an anguish characteristic of a weeping woman.

His talents as a multi-instrumentalist serve him well here, too, in the way he's able to capture the musical spirit of the Mongolian people with authenticity and respect; never does the music feel like a pale imitation or pastiche as it might have had a lesser composer been involved. He's presumably used modern-day production methods to assemble the material, but his music is primarily acoustic in nature and as such feels born from the earth. With Fritch being so prolific, one can begin to take for granted how accomplished he's become as a composer and instrumentalist. Birkitshi - Eagle Hunters In A New World serves as a timely reminder of just how special a talent and singular an artist he is.

March 2017