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.