Ingrid Karklins: A Passion to Race the Sky

Ingrid Karklins is a rare gem of music who found her way to me through some most unlikely paths.

In 1994 and ’95 I criss-crossed Australia with Midnight Oil‘s Diesel&Dust and Blue Sky Mining along with Homeland Movement, by Yothu Yindi blasting out the four open windows of a ’79 Holden Gemini (like a 4-door Toyota Tercel, only smaller). We had to blast it, this music of Australia — set the volume to 11 as it were — with the air whipping through the cockpit while trundling across the Outback’s single-track of bitumen under blazing blue skies. 40C heat and no air-con in a car not much bigger than a go-cart. “Holden wrecks and boiling diesels, steam in 45 degrees!” We’d pass, then be passed by, the monstrous spectacle of some 60 wheels known as a Road Train…a semi-truck pulling three trailers along a minute strip of barely-solid, crumbling, single-track pavement only just wider than the span of the truck’s axles, bordered on both sides by seas of bull dust and road kill. In Alice Springs, at the centre of the expansive Red Centre, I bought a didjeridu and shipped it home to wait for the time I’d learn to play it.

Upon return, Blue Sky Mining and Homeland Movement eked out near-permanent spots in my car’s tape deck as I set about designing and building my first website, The eJournal Travelogue consisting of my newsletter/journal and photographs generated during 8 months exploring Australia. When I wasn’t making passion with a summer lover amidst the scads of great music summer brings, I was hunkered down for hour-upon-hour constructing site pages, and galleries and weaving the lines of useability and interface and connection. The result was a weblog launched over a decade before the term was coined.

When I needed a break, I wrote. Not more journaling. Journaling is for travel. I was stopped. But I’d discovered the Midnight Oil mail server, and another for didjeridu players. (Do you remember email news servers? The early days of internet…seems such a distant memory.) At the time I was passionately political, a trait I shared with fans of a band that sang of “the power and the passion,” so I reveled in the heady debate. But what really surprised me was the equally passionate and astute political discussions running through the didjeridu list. It shouldn’t have — the didj is, afterall, an ancient aboriginal instrument, a cultural icon of Aboriginal Australia. You can hardly pick one up without acknowledging the culture from which it came. Even the barest acknowledgment implies a whole series of political, social, philosophical and spiritual queries and debates. Sometimes, a musical instrument is more than a tool for making sound. More to the point: what were Yothu Yindi singing about in Homeland Movement anyway?

It was in the Didjeridu List that I met John. We shared common loves for the didj and politics and passions of all varieties, and it was he who introduced me to The Passion List, moderated by Ingrid Karklins. “I know you’ll love the mailing list,” he wrote me. “The name sort of says it all. But you should check out Ingrid’s music too.”

I asked him, “What’s it like?”

“Like nothing you’ve ever heard, and you’ll never quite listen to music the same way, again.”

The mailing list was erudite, artful, literary, poetic…a connoisseurship of passions, and so is the music Ingrid created. John was right.

Ingrid is Latvian, from a Baltic nation long-suffering under the onerous oppression of the Soviet Union. She plays keyboards, violin and Kokle, a traditional Latvian instrument similar to a dulcimer. The production value of her recordings is exquisite — crisp, clear, spacious, each instrument and note sharply delineated in timbre and space. The compositions form a unique blend of traditional Latvian pieces and bold explorations of melody, rhythm, sonic space highlighted by inventive instrumentation and virtuoso performance. The compositions, musically and lyrically — particularly those of the album Anima Mundi are exquisite, stellar, celestial even, an evocation more properly imbued with a sense of the divine. It’s an album about the balance of yin and yang, darkness and light, anima and animus. It seeks beauty in shadow, and brings pain into the light.

An odd sort of musical circle is at work here. Three different passions come together in these three musics. The angry, activist, political passion of a band set upon righting the wrongs of the world; the repression and ascension of ancient ways represented in an object believed to be among the world’s oldest wind instruments (I love Homeland Movement more for the traditional music featured on one side than the popular activist rock on the other); the emergent healing remedy of artful, literate and soulful love for the divine in music and life.