On Thursday night Chicago experimental trio Bitchin Bajas perform their entrancing score to the Olivia Wyatt film Sailing a Sinking Sea live during a screening at the Den Theatre. The trio has worked previously with the bicoastal filmmaker, who specializes in a kind of experimental ethnographic work, portraying remote cultures in a poetic, abstract way that illuminates her subjects while leaving some of their mystery intact. Sailing a Sinking Sea focuses on the Moken, a tiny ethnic group that inhabits coastal areas around islands in Thailand and Myanmar.
As Drew Hunt wrote in a Reader review last year, “The way director Olivia Wyatt shoots scenes of domestic life and ceremonial ritual is reminiscent of Jean Rouch and Robert Gardner (who’s cited in the credits), but her mixture of 8mm film, consumer-grade video, and high-end digital formats challenges traditional ethnographic form.” A large part of the 65-minute documentary was shot underwater; the Moken, whose diet relies heavily on fish, are remarkable swimmers and have developed exceptional underwater vision.
Bitchin Bajas—aka Cooper Crain, Daniel Quinlivan, and Rob Frye—have created a sympathetically liquid score that incorporates certain diegetic elements, especially the inescapable gurgle of lapping waves. Earlier this year Drag City released the music on vinyl (the package also includes a DVD of the film), and it functions well even without the imagery, expanding the trio’s sound world in a relatively gentle direction. Today’s 12 O’Clock Track is one of the most beautiful and haunting selections from the score, “Yainang (Mermaid).” It’s followed by the trailer for the film.
Hank Mobley and His All Stars, Hank Mobley and His All Stars (Blue Note)
Martha Argerich, Early Recordings (Deutsche Grammophon)
Various artists, Lam Saravane: Music for the Khen (Ocora)
Syd Barrett, The Madcap Laughs (Harvest)
Fraufraulein, Extinguishment (Another Timbre)