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.