Criminally under-recorded, the music of composer and director Arsenije Jovanović possesses the kind of remarkable qualities that, love it or hate it, are going to finger the nerves of those who listen conscientiously. The nearest thing to a blurred concept of “celebrity” for this artist derives from the involvement in the soundtrack to Terrence Malick’s movie “The Thin Red Line”, which in fact features Jovanović’s “Prophecy of the Village Kremna”. That’s the longest and most suggestive vision in this four-episode compilation, based as it is on an ancient Serbian prediction, a numinous foretelling about “catastrophic events and apocalyptic occurrences which will fall upon the homeland and its people”. A sequence of haunting female voices, lingering nocturnal appearances, distant moans, sighs and mumbles, humming low frequencies chipping away at the tranquillity of a candid latecomer, likely to have impressionable audiences sleeping rather uncomfortably should this track be played at late evening.
Strikingly emotional as well is 1967’s “Tombstones Along the Roadside”, described as a “national Danse Macabre” by the originator; initially conceived as a theatrical stage act, the composition honours the innocent victims of the Balkan wars from the end of 19th century to WWII, portions of the texts taken from the gravestones of deceased soldiers and subsequently transformed in monologues and hypothetical dialogues between the sufferers and their tormentors. The remaining tracks are, to some extent, not as much of evil-boding – but extraordinary nonetheless. “Prayer for One Galiola” was born from an unpleasant incident as, many years back, Jovanović found himself lost at sea in the dead of night, his boat’s engine not working (he landed on a small island named Galiola after hours of wandering in the waters), and also from an assortment of hallucinations following a car accident that, somehow, were all associated with this name. “Les Vents du Camargue” is the most concrete-sounding affair, the main source being the Mistral that made impossible an external recording at first and took the leading role afterwards, either through its forceful blowing or via the psychological mechanisms that were set in motion by the wind’s influence, the whole taped at the Cathedral of St. Trophime in Arles. Still, this depiction doesn’t even acquaint with a tiny bit of what this great piece sounds like.
Jovanović’s particulars are uniquely vivid, having the large part of this music been written for radio broadcasts (and, in general, rarely performed). The dramatic aspects are definitely predominant, often disturbing; there’s a sort of bloodcurdling magnificence emerging in several fractions of these sonic constructions which is both illogical and inescapable, analogously to the attraction for the gruesome details of a scene of death that many people experience. Here’s to hoping that more of this body of work is unearthed, especially if the standards of inventiveness are confirmed at this level of impressive consistency.