Mitsuhiro Yoshimura/Masahiko Okura
Trio (Presqu’île)

I use a microphone and a pair of headphones for my performance. Although headphones are often thought of as devices for “˜listening’ to music, for me, they are instruments for “˜performing’. In my performances, headphones are not used as objects that exclude outside sounds and cut off the spatial dimensions of the performance site, but rather, objects that work with the space itself. (2)

While it is a mistake to think that Yoshimura’s headphone feedback is a static element in collaboration the onus is definitely upon his partners. Previous recorded outings from Yoshimura have included a solo (and so on) and a duo with Sugimoto (not BGM and so on) and released simultaneously with this disc a trio with Sugimoto and Toshiya Tsunoda (Santa).  In these collaborations we find Sugimoto at his most elusive, barely registering with simple electronic sounds on not BGM and so on and merely rustling papers on Santa. Tsunoda likewise does not rock the boat with his ‘buzzer and brass sticks’ though their presences is felt and underscores the twittering tones from Yoshimura. Along with these recorded documents I have also had the opportunity to witness Yoshimura live twice at this years Amplify festival; once solo that was a more dramatic and aggressive affair then and so on, the other in a duo with Katsura Yamauchi. The duo with Yamauchi underscores my contention that Yoshimura’s partners bear the primary burden in making for a successful collaboration.

“Although this CD is the live recording of a duo concert of Masahiko Okura and myself, I feel that these recorded performances are like two solo sets. However, at the same time, the coincidence factors intruded on these performances deeply and surely influenced in some way so that we can also say this is a trio performance CD.” (1)

In his set with Yamauchi, the most recent (at that point) in a string of performances of this duo, Yoshimura was at his most consistent. In the solo performance the day before he had utilized two sources of feedback and had worked these pure tones against each other in multiple fashions. This led to a variety of dynamic levels, to clashing sounds and the burbling chaos at the interstices of beating tone and related sonic phenomenon.  However for the duo he worked with a single sound source and the sonic variety was limited to the thin warble that came from minute variance in his squeezing of the headphones. Yamauchi though did not seem so much to work with this sonic environment so much as try to play through it like some unwanted but unavoidable outside sound. Having seen him perform solo twice that week, his duo performance was roughly in the same territory with only a short moment at the end of the set where their activities seemed to reinforce each other and become more then two guys playing in the same room.

Having enjoyed the solo recordings and performances from Yoshimura as well as the duo with Sugimoto I realized that this was a challenging partner to improvise with.  It is very simple to either nearly completely disappear ala Sugimoto or to treat his unflinching wall of sound as something to play over ala Yamauchi.  But the question remained, how to play with him as an equal, bringing something to his sound that will compliment it, work with it and bring out music that rises above the individual performances.  Trio, a duo with Masahiko Okura, on the newly formed Presqu’île label, I think provides an answer to that question and points the way for any number of successful collaborations with Yoshimura.

Masahiko Okura has been active in the Tokyo experimental music scene for quite some time(3).  He began in the mid nineties performing techno and noise music and by the late nineties he was playing with Taku Sugimoto and was right at the beginning of the Onkyo movement. While not as prolific as many others in that scene he has appeared at many of the major festivals, was party to many of the ad hoc events, is on many key albums and is one of the regulars in the post onkyo composition movement. He has been unflinching in his performances and his range is pretty incredible, working in the most spare, austere styles to the post-jazz of Otomo Yoshihides New Jazz Orchestra.  As evidenced by his contributions to the Chamber Music Vol.1 set he is doing some of the more interesting work in the current composition scene.

The third time I saw was not a solo performance but a duo with Masahiko Okura on alto sax. What Okura said to me after the concert was very interesting “” “Playing solo saxophone is not the same as playing alongside an electronic device that makes modulations.” Although it was a duo performance, Yoshimura just sat beside Okura without manipulating his sounding instruments at all. (2)

What makes this duo work is that that Okura actually treats Yoshimura’s modulated tones as an equal partner. Not something to surmount, or ignore but as something to respond to, to incorporate and to find his way deep inside.  His sounds range from piercing metallic tones, to hollow breathier sounds, to mechanical rattles and even straight up tonality.  He varies the dynamics, but generally stays in the range of Yoshimura’s feedback. This I think is a big part of his success, it isn’t a matter of simply staying below the dominant level; that never makes for a true collaboration.  When improvising, you can be quiet, or loud or at parity with your partners as the music demands. And Okura here is definitely following the music and responding to where Yoshimura takes it. For Yoshimura isn’t setting up a situation and walking away, there are several factors in how intense and modulated his feedback is that he manipulates all the time.  He can let loose these rising tears that approach out of control feedback before he backs them off, he can vary the tone into several distinct pitches, he can create these beautiful twittering effects and of course combine all of these techniques in a myriad of ways. This simple body of sounds is enough to create structure and Yoshimura’s is molasses slow and continuously evolving.

I think that it is hearing Yoshimura evolve his sound and refine his technique and seeing how his collaborators find a way to work with him that is so fascinating about his music.  Like the best experimental music there will be many failures; some avenues will be dead-ends, yielding interesting initial results but not being a source for continually interesting music.  While I have enjoyed quite a bit the Sugimoto collaborations, this approach could already be played out. I think that Okura’s approach, that is working with Yoshimura as a fellow musician and paying attention to how he is playing is going to yield the best results.  His technique and style is far removed from other players of continuous sound; it seems far more insurmountable and yet more fragile at the same time.  He is far less static than it initially appears and he works with a long structure that can be hard to adapt to. Most importantly, these pairings truly don’t allow for “simultaneous solos”- it just doesn’t work at all. Thus the demands on the performer are pretty high and one is heavily penalized by coasting.  It will be continually rewarding to the listener to hear each collaboration and hear who is able to work in these constraints.

1) Mitsuhiro Yoshimura Trio liner notes
2) Mitsuhiro Yoshimura, Yoshio Otani, Taku Sugimoto and so on liner notes
3) Masahiko Okura page at IMJ