Amplify08


lightSeptember 21st
Erstwhile Records presents
AMPLIFY 2008: light day 3

Kid Ailack Art Hall, Meidaimae, Tokyo, Japan

Disk UnionThe last day of the festival dawned again overcast and rainy.  I’d broken down and bought a cheap umbrella, which I have to say for this Washington State resident felt like a major defeat.  It did make it easier to take pictures and such as I wasn’t getting rain on my camera lenses.  I had again ended up in Shinjuku and on this weekend day they closed down some of the streets and there were people vending everything from yakitori to champagne in the streets.  I wandered around the shopping districts enjoying the varied sights from cosplayers to barkers in front of electronics stores. I randomly found Disc Union and checked out two of their stores, one was three stories of just jazz the other eight stories of varied music. The avant section was of course on the eighth floor.  Some neat stuff there, especially cool to see all of the Obscure Tape Music from Japan series laid out as well Stockhausen-Verlag releases and that amazing Alga Marghen Charllote Moorman set.  Later I found the Tower Records which has an amazing 20th Century classical section. Again I didn’t end up buying anything (the internet kind of makes this moot, unless you find OOP stuff) but great to see these stores packed with obscure music.

I’d spent enough time in Shinjuku that for once I didn’t arrive in Meidaimae all that early.  Early enough though, the hall was still pretty empty when I arrived.  Tonight was all duos the first being amongst the most anticipated sets of this festival by yours truly. Toshi/Keith I’d seen before and of course there are two recorded documents of this duo.  Yoshimura/Yamauchi was sort of an unknown, but I have to admit at this point I was pretty weary of Yamaichi’s playing.  The reports of an earlier collaboration of theirs was highly intriguing though, so I was still cautiously looking forward.  The drizzle that had been pretty persistent this day had now turned into a driving rain, far exceeding the rainfall from the earlier “typhoon”. I thought the rain if audible inside would added to the proceedings, but I don’t really recall hearing it during any of the sets.


Empty Sampler

Keith Rowe/Sachiko M
The third set from Keith this festival, this one a first time duo meeting with Sachiko.  When Jon Abbey first mentioned this duo to me, I said something along the lines of “they’ll have to really push themselves to not make this sound exactly how I imagine it”.  Now how I imagine it would be great music, something I’d enjoy a lot, but I can’t deny that I’d love to see these two exceptional musicians surprise me.  The options that one could pretty easily imagine are; Sachiko providing her trademark long pure tones with Keith working in spikier, more discrete territory above that. Conversely it could be Keith in his laminal sound world providing the ground upon which Sachiko, in Salon de mode, interjects her micro events.  A third option would be both of them working with continuous sound which I think would be the least successful and not something I’d expect (why you ask, well in this realm it would actually rather sound like a Keith solo, as there are times he layers in things that aren’t too dissimilar to a  pure tone). Finally of course would be various combinations of the above.  Well what they ended up doing was none of these and granted me the surprise and delight I was hoping for.

Sachiko did indeed work in the Salon de Sachiko territory with its clicks, pops, short tones and other micro events. Keith though eschewing any droning worked with equally discrete event creating this bristling sound world.  This worked incredibly, tension filled, constantly engaging.  Keith worked with the Brillo pad, with contact mics, with metallic objects but no fan, no radio and no Bluetooth interference.  It was as if the bulk of the tools he’d used to date were set aside so he could focus on the bare essentials. The music was very spacious, events coming into the environment, colliding or not, letting the room provide as much, or more perhaps, of the music as the muscians.  There were intrusions as three times late comers came in and squeezed themselves into spaces at the front and by the door. But this fragmented world of pops, clicks, pongs, sprongs, twitters and hisses allowed these interjections and incorporated them. Like his earlier duo with Unami there was an aspect of exploration, of feeling each other out, but by mostly sticking with a finite realm, almost as if each were playing solo, it never felt tentative. There was a confidence in both their playing, they were working with tools they understood but in a fresh context. They worked with these tiny events, many from Keith seeming inaudible (he later said that he’d practice some gestures, trying them out silently before repeated them at volume) over the course of thirty-forty minutes, constantly moving ahead though these sounds could be the background hiss of stasis.  In the end Sachiko dropped in a few longer tones, inching the development along perfectly. They stopped playing, there was a pause, then one final pop! from Sachiko and the set was over.

This was fantastic music and an incredible set by two giants pushing each other into fresh territory.  It reminded me in parts of Good Morning, Good Night but with Keith not trying to necessarily complement Sachiko but to push it further. The activity was a lot more seething and varied then in that recording and different in that this duo was more contrasting then complementing.  I have to say that this duo’s forthcoming Erstwhile recording is pretty much tops on my anticipation list.

the hands of Yoshimura
The hands of Yoshimura

Katsura Yamauchi/Mitsuhiro Yoshimura
After seeing Yamauchi solo twice and in duo with Nakamura it really seemed like he was doing the same thing every set. There was always a bit of a surprise from him: the jazz numbers the first show and those blasted tones at the first night of Amplify. In general though it seemed like he had a formula and was sticking to it.  Now as I intimated earlier this duo has occurred before and it was one of their earlier performances that led to Yamauchi’s inclusion in this festival. So it is possible that he had a different shtick that he saved for use in this duo.  Yoshimura was against the far left wall with his mic literally turned against the wall. He also was working with only one set of headphones in contrast to his solo set. It again was pretty dark as they started, a light on Yamauchi and his alto but Yoshimura again in near darkness.

I was only one seat from the wall on this day, so I was quite close to Yoshimura which turned out to be to my advantage as his sound was much quieter then it was the night prior.  He generated his high thin wail of feedback and would simply modulate it by careful manipulations of the headphones.  Yamauchi I’m sad to say ran through the exact same series of events he had done on the three previous sets I’d seen.  He started with the hissy breathing, moved to the near circular breathing rattly metallic sound, then the key clicking and finally looped around to the dry hisses. I honestly got bored in this set and it felt like it went on way too long. The dry hisses worked the best with Yoshimura’s sound but I’d tired of the routine. From what others told me Yoshimura was nearly inaudible further away so even these small moments of nicely contrasting sounds was limited to only a few of us. This for me was musically the least interesting set of the festival, my expectations had been quite low and even those weren’t met.

empty nimb

Keith Rowe/Toshimaru Nakamura
Concluding the festival was the Erstwhile supergroup of Keith Rowe and Toshimaru Nakamura.  Their first album Weather Sky was the musical document that shifted my interest in this area of music from tentative dabbling to full on obsession.   I’d saw them live once before at ErstQuake 2, where they produced an enjoyable if not very exciting set.  Their second album, between, was the first time an Erstwhile project had been revisited and it amply demonstrated two artists that were not standing still. These two consummate musicians know each other inside and out and push each other constantly and I think are about as reliable a duo working in music today. So it wasn’t too surprising that they headlined the entire festival, but the surprise was in the music that they produced.

The began right off with loud aggressive waves of feedback and grinding industrial metallic attacks.  This wasn’t a simple burst of energy, they took these loud sounds and worked with them, pushing them further and further. It was in the realm of 13630 kHz from between but longer and denser then that track.  This slowly morphed into this completely insane post-industrial sound world at one point sounding like nothing more then a massive warehouse filled with and infinite number IBM Selectric typewriters being assaulted by an infinite number of monkeys. On crack.  Incredibly mechanical and industrial sounding.  But the set wasn’t simply aggressive mechanical sounds, at many points one or both would drop out leaving sounds hanging in the air and revealing the underpinnings of the affair. After the aforementioned Selectric section Keith turned off some fans, Toshi dropped out and you could hear this crazed chittering of Bluetooth interference which combined with those other activities had created that maddening effect.  Toshi brought it back up with dense rips and tears of feedback that cut through these sounds but were never allowed to fall into any sort of pattern. Keith cut the Bluetooth interference and worked more with abusing his pickups with various objects.  Again a dense wall of sound was created, again it was cut back bringing this to a point of near total silence at this juncture.  A sine wave from Toshi wailed through this space as Keith ground his pickups with the Brillo pad and used the contact mic on his charcoal pencils as he drew a few characters on his pad. Again it fell to near silence, this piece was structurally dynamic and they were really working their full ranges.  A very low pitched stutter in this space, probably from Toshi, a hiss of static then things were brought to a conclusion.

and in the end
Keith and Toshi after the festival

They stood up and Keith thanked Jon and Yuko for putting on this incredible event and then us, the audience:  “The music doesn’t happen without you” and also the room. Which was well deserved, Kid Ailack Art Hall is a cramped tight black box but damn if this kind of music doesn’t sound amazing in it. The smallest details were revealed and the loudest attacks never turned into mush.  It reinforced sounds but didn’t just bounce them all over the place. A great room for this music and the musicians in this festival fully took advantage of it. Toshi then translated Keith’s words, perhaps adding some of his own and that was it, AMPLIFY 2008: light, was official over.

This festival was probably the single most successful event of this type I have attended.  The percentage of fantastic music was very high and even the sets that I didn’t think were entirely successful were incredibly fascinating. There was really only one set I’d say I didn’t like and even that had its moments.  Keith’s four sets were all amazing, as good of music as I’ve heard all year, or the last couple of years. It is not a surprise to me that Jon was willing to release all of these sets. The festival was ran impecciably with no issues seeming to impact any of the music or related events.

After each night of shows we’d head to the Book Cafe below the venue and drink wine, eat great food, and chat until the last train of the night.  This is a great tradition and something that really should be adapted outside of Japan.  I had great conversations with Keith, Jon, Toshi, Yamauchi, Mark, Joe and a number of other fans. I got to talk a little bit with most of the other musicians and members of the extended community. Truly a remarkable experience that was rewarding on so many levels.  I especially enjoyed all the time I got to spend with Keith, with whom I had breakfast every morning and shared many a walk and train ride with.  Additionally I highly enjoyed the time I got to spend with Jon and Yuko – it was great to be able to see them as much as I did. Finally sharing these shows and the uchiage with IHM friends Mark and Joe was all kinds of good times, something I hope happens more often.  So thanks to Jon and Yuko for bringing us this and thanks to all of the musicians for the fantastic music and extra-special thanks to Yuko for all the help in Japanese which my skills are non-existent.

see all of my  Amplify08 photos.

read all of my Amplify08 Reviews.

lightSeptember 20th
Erstwhile Records presents
AMPLIFY 2008: light day 2

Kid Ailack Art Hall, Meidaimae, Tokyo, Japan

Once again I arrived to Meidaimae via the Keio line from Shinjuko. Though I pointed out earlier that coming from Kichijoji is more direct I always was in the Shinjuko area and so for all four days of shows at Kid Ailack Hall I would take the train from there.  I of course returned via Kichijoji inscribing a great circle which I always prefer anyway.  Today I again arrived a bit early and on this day I decided to swing by the PSF Records shop.  It was about two blocks away from the venue, up a little side street. Its on the second floor of what just looks like an apartment block and you had to ring up to the room to be let in the gate.  Another patron arrived just as I was figuring out the intercom and he helpfully handled that for me.  After taking the elevator up to the second floor you find a tiny rectangular room stacked with boxes in the entrance. It gets no more spacious as you enter the room, with the walls lined with CDs, books and DVDs and as you got closer to the window bins of records.  Crammed into one edge was a counter, also stacked with boxes, and  with the proprietor just behind it along with a stereo which was blasting out some free jazz while I was there.  There were two guys talking to him and a fellow gaijin browsing the records in the back. You had to wait for a person to leave to get into these narrow aisles.  I did a pretty thorough survey but I wasn’t really planning to buy anything unless something absolutely amazing revealed itself to me. Not too much in the area of improv I’m into but there were some nice selections in the classical music section, a couple of Cage discs that probably aren’t that easy to find anymore.  Anyway after worming my way around the whole store I left without purchase.

psf
psychedelic speed freaks

The second night of Amplify 2008 was three solos. All of these were incredibly interesting to me and were highly anticipated.  I’ve seen Keith Rowe solo on several occasions and they have been amongst my favorite shows, so I expected another great set.  Sachiko M I’ve only seen in duo with Ami and the trio with English up to this point and her solos are of course legendary. With her palette restricted to contact mics this was sure to be a unique set that could honestly go anywhere.  Mitsuhiro Yoshimura sprung to global awareness just last year, seemingly out of nowhere, with two interesting and impressive discs and all reports were that his feedback technique was far more impressive live.  All of this combined with being one of the only people in this fest I’d never seen live made his solo one of my most anticipated of the fest.

I made my way to the venue finding myself the first person there with the proprietor setting up the tables and signs out front.  Inside Yoshimura was sound checking and I leaned against the wall and enjoyed a free set of distant pure tones and mild traffic noise. Very nice.  Not too long after that the sound check ended, things were setup and I was able to coral a seat. Again Jon, Yuko, Mark and myself were rocking the front row with Joe just behind and Keith took a seat in the back. The room again filled up to capacity (it sold out every night, with usually a couple people arriving a little late and sitting on the floor by the door or up front).  It was pretty warm and with all the people there a bit oppressive, especially combined with those chairs.  Yoshimura made his way front and center then the lights went out with only a very dim flood light on him.

yoshimura's setup
Yoshimura’s setup

Mitsuhiro Yoshimura
Yoshimura utilized a stereo microphone on a stand in front of him and two sets of headphones, one on the floor at his feet the other clasped in his hands.  Immediately his signature high thin tone of pure feedback was introduced.  This sound was pretty all enveloping, resonating in the inner ear in a slightly disorienting manner. He let this pure tone play for a bit and then using the headphones in his hand began manipulating the second tone.  These two tones were for all intents and purposes identical and by subtly changing the dynamics of one of them he was able to create a fairly wide range of sounds. His basic technique is to hold the headphones with the earpieces pressed together and by increasing the distance of the gap between the two earpieces he could dramatically influence the character of the feedback.  This could range from the thin pure tone, to these scittery hollow electrical sounds, to more aggressive ripping sounds and if he gave them free reign (which he never did) would probably fall into that characteristic oscillating pattern modulated by the room dynamics.

Through careful manipulations he could slightly change the tone thus creating beating patterns between the two source tones and he worked with this for a while, an effect that created a buzzing ringing sound in ones inner ear. As the set developed he’d drop in a quick tear of feedback, louder though never aggressively loud. Dual tones, beating tones and this rising sequences of feedback were the elements that he constructed a tight piece of about a half an hour in length.  In the closeness and warmth of the room it could be found oppressive but I in general found it pretty fascinating, especially when you factored in the extraneous sounds. The aforementioned chairs were nearly an equal participant in the latter half of this set, first with the occasional squeak and shuffle, latter with a cascade of these sounds at times overwhelming Yoshumura’s tones. One of my favorite moments was when a group of teenagers (most likely as I’d seen multiple packs of them earlier) stopped in front  of the venue and had a short conversation (driven by the sounds from within perhaps) with much laughter. It combined with Yoshimura’s tones was really magical I thought. The distant traffic and at least one car going by out front also layered in nicely.  I really enjoyed this set and was really excited at how Yoshumura was mixing it up from the pure single tone that he used on his recordings to date.


mics-n-mixer

Sachiko M
With only three sets every night (an amount I prefer personally) there was always a nice break between sets and the performers were able to stretch out as much as they wanted. Yoshimura’s set hadn’t been too long (though long enough in my opinion) and it was somewhat anticipated that Sachiko’s wouldn’t be too long either.  While she has used contact mics in concert with her sine waves, this apparently was the first time she was using them on their own. Or at all in the past few years it was revealed.  She had a table with a small mixer and four or five contact mics connected to it.  The set began awkwardly with apparently no sound coming from her mixing. Switches were flipped, chords jiggled and eventually whatever was off was made to be on. Immediately the sounds revealed by the contact mics filled the room. Anyone who has worked with contact mics is famalier with the sounds she was getting:  amplified scrapes, metallic grinding, hollow ringing, buzzes, amplified crinkles and so on.  She seemed to mostly just let them ride, blasting out big sounds as she’d untangle the cords and drop or pick them up.  In general I found this set totally unstructured, pretty much had a feel of working out of things on the fly.  She’d fiddle around with the mics ’til something seemed to work and then develop that for a bit. The best of these were putting them in her clothes and carefully moving about, rubbing them on the table and the very best in my opinion was at the end where she enclosed a mic in each hand and gently massaged it.  The transitions between these events were always terrible, not so much transitions as dramatic shifts with big clanks, thuds and ringing sounds as she’d reposition them and untangle wires.

There was no sense of deep structure, dramatic arc or anything of the sort. Just an exploratory working with the limits and possibilities of these tools. A lot of the sounds were great, I for one have spent many an hour with contact mics and love their metallic grinding range, but they were just thrown out there with no attempt to create music. For me this was the most disappointing of the sets as there is no one I respect more for her incredible touch, sensitivity and ability to shape the simplist of sounds into a structure piece of music.  It was incredibly brave to explore these tools in front of an audience and I highly respect her for that. However I think that there is no reason she couldn’t have worked out in advance how she would use these tools to actually create coherent music. It has been pointed out to me that if you were listening to this on a recording the sense of figuring things out on the fly would not be nearly so obvious.  This is probably true, but I personally think that one would still find this lacking in deep structure that the absence of intentionality would come through on repeated listens.

Keith Rowe
Keith Rowe solo

Keith Rowe
Keith was playing four of the nine sets of this festival and the question of how he’d mix it up was always in the air. The spiky event based duo with Unami yesterday was one direction, would we see the opposite for tonight? This being the fourth solo set of Keith’s that I’ve seen I’m fairly familiar with a lot of the structures and techniques that he uses. The way that this set developed turned out to be almost entirely novel, a real surprise to me and an incredibly exciting event.  He structured the set with four long clips of classical music from his iPod, all European composers from the baroque era. He would let this run for some time and then begin playing along with them.  ‘With’ is the important concept here: there was no destruction of the music, ironic reference or banal commentary.  He was literally playing with the music, adding his own sound world to the gorgeous music of the past. The first of these pieces was the adagio from the Concerto for Oboe in d-minor, by Alessandro Marcello which he let play for a good piece before carefully adding in some subtle Brillo pad work on the strings above the pickups.  When this was allowed to fade away the elements used were harder – metallic objects on the strings, the butter knife slapped into the pickup and so forth. Perhaps this was meant as a deliberate contrast but however he intended it, it was effective.  He had told me earlier that he was revisiting a lot of his older techniques that he’d retired: the Brillo pad, the bow, springs and so on and these certainly came into play a lot (except for the bow, he didn’t use it all weekend that I noticed).  The springs made a lot of play in this set, especially after the second of the classical pieces which unlike the first piece was a vocal piece, byJean-Joseph Cassanea de Mondonville.  Further removed from the instrumentality of both Keith’s performance and of the first piece this one was of incredible beauty. Again he didn’t corrupt this beauty but worked with it, enhanced it eve.  He did toward the end bring in the radio, which was playing this syrupy smooth jazz, before fading out the iPod. The jazz wasn’t treated as reverently and static, feedback and various attacks on the strings cut through it’s banality.

The set continued on in this way with two more vocal pieces being utilized,Jean-Philippe Rameau’s Castor and Pollux and near the end the lament from Henry Purcell‘s  Dido and Aeneas.  This last piece was particularly effective, again its great beauty standing in a certain contrast to the music and the surroundings of this weekend but also in it’s obvious melancholy and despair.  While again the music was treated with utmost respect as the notes were fading away Keith’s attacks on the guitar became increasing violent and the volume was on the rise. Static and distortion, files on the strings, the fan adding its helicopter menace as the whole built to a crescendo and then ended.  An amazingly powerful piece, once again somehow transcending the previous amazing solo sets I’ve witnessed from Mr. Rowe.  While his collab with Unami was probably my favorite piece of music from the weekend this I think one could argue was the most powerful, the most important and well executed.  He is working with ideas here that I think are of a greater depth then most people in the field and this piece in particular was very carefully thought out in its intentions. He freely spoke to those who asked about what he was trying to do, what the purpose of the classical music was.  I don’t think I can really give his thoughts justice here but to give a bit of an idea it was the concepts of beauty and what it means in this music.  He said also that he deliberately used these four European composers as that was his heritage and that this was the lineage he was part of.  Working with these concepts, trying to resolve them in music is what gives his performance so much depth and power and I’m constantly reminded of this every time I see him perform.

Another great night of music, with for me personally getting a chance to see a new performer, a performer trying new things and what I would say is among the greatest solo performances I have ever seen.  A fantastic night filled with new experiences and interesting music.  Tokyo is a long way to travel for concerts but this festival is proving to be well worth the trip.

see all of my  Amplify08 photos.

read all of my Amplify08 Reviews.

lightSeptember 19th
Erstwhile Records presents
AMPLIFY 2008: light day 1

Kid Ailack Art Hall, Meidaimae, Tokyo, Japan

The news was that a typhoon was hitting Japan and the remnants would make it to the Tokyo area this evening.  It’d been drizzly the day before but the forecast now was for serious amounts of rain but primarily after midnight tonight.  The day dawned overcast but still plenty warm and very humid. Keith had to head to the venue for soundcheck pretty early so after our (now traditional) breakfast and walk we parted ways. I headed to Shinjuku and spent the afternoon in the skyscraper district and Shinjuku Central Park. Soon enough it was time to head to the venue, which I’d been advised to arrive early on this day.  As I was already in Shinjuku I again simply took the Keio line to Meidaimae (which is the first stop on a special express).

biiruI arrived in Meidaimae about an hour early and as I was walking up the block I encountered Keith and Toshi coming the other way.  They were heading for a traditional soba restaurant and invited me along. I’d forgotten to get dinner (this happened more often then you’d think, my schedule being all messed up I’d get hungry at odd times and was always eating late or missing meals) and I couldn’t pass up this opportunity.  The soba place was fantastic, menu only in Japanese and Toshi helped us navigate through the many options.  We had an amazing sashimi plate to begin and then I had soba with fried tofu that was so much better then any other soba I’ve had. Getting near to show time we headed back to find the hall pretty crowded. Again Jon had saved me a seat up front which was again much appreciated.  Also in the audience was our man Joe Foster whom I totally failed to recognize at first do to the lack of his ‘stache.  I had enough time to check out the scene and the downstairs merch table before Jon and Yuko introduced the festival in English and Japanese.

Katsura Yamauchi solo
The opening set of the festival was not very surprising to those of us who had caught Yamauchi two days earlier.  Well it was surprising in that he once again followed exactly the same formula that I’d done that night.  Once again it was the hissy breathing sounds, the continuous hollow metallic tones broken up by the sharp inhalations, a couple of pauses, the empty keywork and so on.  It played out a little longer this time and there were several measurable gaps as he’d change between techniques.  Also this time the breathless keying seemed much more clearly to be an actual piece, one of his own or a jazz standard, being played without being vocalized.  At the end of this he began to put a tiny bit of air through the horn which is what made this more clear.

However after this improv (which was beginning to feeling quite familiar) he did two other shorter pieces.  The first was basically oscillating between two notes, played pretty loud. He hold each note for quite sometime creating a long droney feel that worked quite nicely in the room.  Pretty much right at the point where this would become overly long for what it was he stopped. Maybe ten minutes all told.  The final piece he did was a single, very high pitched tone on the sopranino played as loud as he could managed. This was incredibly intense and seemed to resonate at the rooms frequency. I got this effect in my inner ear that sounded similar to that wobbly low pitched wah-ing sound you get when you wave a thin sheet of metal.  Very short, probably no longer then five minutes, but powerful and a great way to end his set.

Keiths tables
Keith’s Table

Keith Rowe/Taku Unami
Keith was wearing his classic Rick Reed designed AMM shirt and Taku was wearing a Hose t-shirt which was an interesting coincidence that was like a commentary on this collaboration.  There was no set in this festival that I was anticipating higher as this collaboration had the most potential for greatness or disaster.  Unami is a wild card who has been involved in some of the best and some of the worst things I’ve heard in recent years.  I keep following him with high interest though as the degree of creativity, risk taking and willingness to destroy exceptions and convention are unprecedented. He has a playfulness that I never get from some of his collaborators that I think demonstrates that his is playing with expectations, not the audience.  Keith always rises to a challenge so how he would react and match Unami’s inherent unpredictability was certainly piquing my curiosity. Keith had his usual table of detritus, laptop and cubist guitar to which he had also added a new “guitar” this time made from a small neck that was used by classical guitarists to work on their fretwork. Unami had a laptop in front of which was a sandwich of two boards with various effectors attached to them. Small motors with various beaters, flails and whips attached to them and maybe small speakers as well.  He also had a mandolin and a double necked acoustic guitar on the floor below him.

The structure of this piece was super interesting, it was like swarms of events that would rise up out of a spaces or the textures of one or the other participants. Rowe used a lot of contact mic, short sharp metallic sounds, blue tooth chatter, swarms of buzzing feedback. Unami began almost right away with a rhythmic tock, tock, tock from a motor with little paddled beating on the wood it was mounted upon.  He would bring this various rhythmic sounds in and out layering them to disrupt their patterns and cutting them off at points that’d seem random but would either reinforce or eliminate stasis.  He would reach down and pluck notes on his acoustic guitar and it was the use of this that was the most startling.  Keith at least at one point responded with recognizable points from his guitar reinforcing the alienness of these sounds in this environment as opposed to seeming like any sort of call and response.  Other points of synchronicity would be the persistent swarms of buzzing that the Bluetooth interference creates with multiple clicks and tocks from Unami creating this post industrial cacophony of damaged mechanical devices.  Unami strummed a few chords on the mandolin but it was the bizarre double necked acoustic that he’d turn to over and over again always shocking in its entry but always perfect in its unexpectedness.  At one point he ran down maybe five of the strings in an open chords progression and at the end he violently strummed the guitar as the bulk of his motors frantically worked away creating a loud and dense wall of many sounds. Keith responded to this as well with sharp attacks on the pickups.

This set was unexpected, slippery in that its structure and elements are hard to hold in ones mind and absolutely brilliant. This was the most interesting bit of music I’ve witnessed in a long time, a collision of two of the most interesting musicians around pushing each other outside of any sort of routines and boundaries. The set is so difficult to recall in detail as it was filled with constant left turns, change ups and dense amounts of detail. All of these sounds were incredibly well placed into the room and there was many gaps and moments of calm.  It is great news that this will be put out on an ErstLive, it is some of the most exciting music I’ve seen in a long time.

Ami in her duo with Toshi
Ami Yoshida in duo with Toshimaru Nakamura


Ami Yoshida/Toshimaru Nakamura
When word of this collaboration first popped up on the forthcoming Erstwhile Records releases it was one of those,” why hasn’t this happened already?” moments. The fragmented soundworld of Ami Yoshida seemed like such a natural contrast to the layers of feedback and sonic detritus that makes up Toshimaru Nakamuras.  Thus getting a chance to see them in their first live meeting was nearly as highly anticipated by yours truly as the previous Rowe/Unami set. There’d been some news that Ami was a bit under the weather but she made it to the Hall for her set and produced probably the most intense performance of the four times I’ve seen her.

The set began tentatively with short guttural sounds from Ami met with short little cracks and pops of feedback from Toshi.  They didn’t really seem connected at this point, isolated sounds from the two of them not really connected to each other. Toshi seemed to be losing control of his feedback as well; working with this more isolated events there wasn’t the cover or control of the pure tones or white noise he’d been using in the days before. Rips of feedback would burst out and he’d quickly turn it down and start over. Ami, perhaps in response to this, increasingly used strangling sounds, gasps and near screams.  I’ve never heard her get as loud as she did in this set and especially toward the end there was some serious volume from some of her vocalizations.  Toshi began to work with more of his toolkit, utilizing pure tones at times, which usually gelled the most effectively with Ami’s micro events. But this forced inevitable thoughts of Cosmos and seemed like they were unable to connect with each others characteristic sounds. Lots of space in this set at one point some loud traffic sounds from the street outside being the most audible event. At times Toshi’s feedback would slip into its beating patterns, drowning Ami and reinforcing this disconnect as they traded off being in the forefront.  When they did gel it was powerful but it was only segments of this set interspersed with parts that just weren’t working.  The set concluded with loud near screams from Ami, a silence and then one last little tear of feedback from Toshi.

An interesting set, one that showed a lot of potential but that wasn’t a success in and of itself.  In general I liked a lot of Ami’s sounds and was really intrigued by the more violent nature of the sounds she emitted.  I think that Toshi had the harder task and I felt that the way he was trying to work with her was not conducive to how he uses his instrument.  It seems that using more continuous sounds as a base that Ami floats above is the easiest way to collaborate with her and I for one was hoping to see something else work.  Alas it was when Toshi fell into those patterns that this set seemed to work the best.  Perhaps to work with spikier sounds in collaboration with her you’d need something more controllable then mixer feedback.

The first night of Amplify 2008 was pretty fantastic. Sure not all of the music was something you’d want on a cd so you could listen over and over again, but for me that is hardly the point of seeing this music live.  Abstract music like this needs to be always experimenting always testing new ideas and that leads to things that don’t work or only partially work out.  The risk and the failures demand as much attention and provide their own rewards.  And much of the music tonight was amazing, the Rowe/Unami collab being the highlight, but those short pieces from Yamauchi were great and the moments when Ami and Toshi hooked up hinted at great things to come.  An exciting night. Oh and that typhoon pretty much came to nothing but a bit of rain and a some unimpressive wind.

see all of my  Amplify08 photos.

read all of my Amplify08 Reviews.

September 18th
Toshimaru Nakamura
Kid Ailack Art Hall, Meidaimae, Tokyo.

Roughly three weeks before the festival a second outside show was added , Toshimaru Nakamura solo at Kid Ailack Hall.  This was originally described as Toshi perform a long solo set, perhaps two or three hours in length. When asked about it at yesterdays show, Toshi was a lot more conservative about the projected duration, stating that an hour and a half would be the upper bound. The set ended up being forty-five minutes.  It had followed its natural arc though so I think this was for the best.

Jon and Yuko had come in earlier after meeting IHM admin Mark in Shinjuku so Keith and I had dinner at an okay place next to the katsu place we’d gone to the night before.  It was kind of the Japanese equivalent of Denny’s I’d say, it had a wide variety of traditional Japanese dishes all rather mediocre.  From there we took the Chūō Line to Shinjuku Station and from there caught the private Keiō Line to Meidaimae (this actually is not the most effecient route, as it took one away from Meidaimae and then you kind of came back. Instead you want to take the Chūō to Kichijoji and then the Keiō Line). Keith had played Kid Ailack Hall in the past so once we got to the station he was able to easily find his way there.

KAHKid Ailack Hall is a small, rectangular black box theater type of space about half a flight of stairs above street level. The building contained the Book Cafe in a sort of half sub basement and apparently galleries above the hall.  The hall had maybe thirty or forth “chairs” of the strap of canvas between a scissored frame of wood, kind of like a folding camp stool. There was a decent crowd for Nakamura’s solo set but only about half filled I’d say. Jon had saved us seats up front and Mark was right next to him.  Good to meet a fellow IHM-er here, hadn’t ran into Mark at a show since ErstQuake 2.  We chatted for a bit until maybe 15 minutes past the advertised show time, Toshimaru Nakamura sat behind his mixer and the lights dimmed.

Toshimaru Nakamura
Toshimaru Nakamura solo in Kid Ailack Hall

Now I’d seen Toshi solo just the night before and while that was about fifteen minutes it actually turned out to be like a sketch for tonight’s show.  He followed the structure of the night before and utilized pretty much the same subset of his repertoire of sounds.  Everything was extended and explored a bit further and there were several unique events but the degree to which that short set was like an abstract of this one was quite high.  It began with a hissing of white noise which he brought up to a pretty decent level. Not loud per se but not setup as a wash to fill the background. After a bit of this he began to utilize the electrical pops and clicks as he had the night before. After a bit this was cut out and there was a decent interval of near silence. A long thin tone was brought up into this which he then manipulated for a good piece, modulating and tweaking it. The volume was brought done leaving this single tone still playing just very quietly. The white noise was brought back in and he began to build up the density using it, the tone and various rips and tears of feedback.  This was worked for a while and then he generated this odd bonging sound that I’d say was oscillating feedback run through a reverb at some extreme setting. He let this bong for a bit, but it out and with kind of a look of disappointment cut out everything else. He picked up his watch looking a bit ruefull upon noting the time and that was that.

So those chairs I mentioned earlier, well they themselves were an additional participant in this set.  The squeaked with the sound of canvas rubbing against wood when you shifted in them and some movements would make them quite audibly slide against the floor.  For a while this wasn’t an issue but a certain point, usually around a half an hour, you’d get cascades of these sounds as people had to change positions. Personally while I tried to avoid making sounds myself (failed of course) I tended to enjoy their additions to the various sets.  It was definitely a factor toward the end of Toshi’s set, but not as dramatic as it would be in some of the sparser sets.

As for the music itself I thought it was okay but nothing particularly special.  I’ve long been on the record of preferring Toshi’s collaborative work with only Side Guitar and this years Dance Music completely working for me.  I was under the impression that he was changing some aspect of his solo performance and that we’d get a chance to witness some of these new developments.  What seemed different to me from some of his other solo work was that we was working with a much more restricted palette. In the past he often let the oscillating feedback drive a lot of the structure, adding delays and other effects to create almost techno like pieces driven by that rhythm. There was nothing like that and when the oscillating feedback would arise he’d tend to tweak it into non existence. The odd ping-ponging bonging tones that ended this set was something that I’d think he’d have gone with on say the Vehicle sessions. Here he stuck with white noise, sine waves, open circuit sounding clicks and pops and various tearing bursts of feedback.

see all of my  Amplify08 photos.

read all of my Amplify08 Reviews.

Next Page »