Ami Yoshida/Minoru Sato Composition for voice performer (1997 and 2007) (ao to ao)

This album first came to my attention via a post in the what are you listening to now thread on ihatemusic. It was subsequently posted as an mp3 file to that thread and then six months later on my trip to Japan for the Amplify festival I was able to secure a physical copy of the disc. The disc itself is a 3″ compact disc with a cute green cover with little  flowers drawn by Saiko Kimura. This little sixteen minute disc had already become a favorite but as is so often the case with this kind of music the uncompressed audio revealed far more.

Ami Yoshida is one of the most original voices in contemporary improvisation and pretty much the only vocalist whose work I regularly enjoy.  I have been fortunate enough to see her perform live twice with Sachiko M (as Cosmos) as well as with Christof Kurzmann and most recently with Toshimaru Nakamura. Her releases on Erstwhile Records (especially the two recordings with Cosmos) are recordings I go back to time and time again. These were difficult albums to access; uncompromising and unrelentingly abstract but once I found my way in was rewarded with nearly endless depth.

Minoru Sato I had only heard on one track on the companion cd to the Improvised Music from Japan 2005 Magizine. This short track is a layered drone of digital buzzing and ringing with a roiling bass drum rumbling throughout.  Not a bad little slice of music but not something that had compelled me to seek out more of his work until this collaboration.  Having looked through his website he seems to be quite active in a number of areas that blur distinctions between art and music, composition and improvisation. This is the territory that his collaboration with Ami Yoshida explores.

The mini-cd is comprised of two tracks both composed by Minoru Sato:

  1. 1997 (6′ 11″)
  2. 2007 (9′ 24″)

How these operate as compositions is quite interesting and is I think the essence to why this music has proven so fascinating.

The piece “˜COMPOSITION for voice performer’ is a composition with regards to vocal performance which is improvisational. Here I use the theme of “composition” based on the assumption that the “composition” can reproduce the essence and nature of vocal performance where the performer intends.
First of all, I request that the performer is conscious of the specific configuration of her/his improvisational piece in performance.
Recording each performance separately several times, the performances may be the same piece of music, as the performer aims for such consistency. However, this can not be entirely possible as the voice changes in accordance with physical and mental conditions and structural vagueness in the music and so on. The more abstract the music, the larger the difference will be.
I compiled the recordings as layers, thus having a collective “composition” reproduced in this piece. (1)

In essence the voice performer engages in a series of improvisations attempting for consistency in performance.  Sato then layers the varying takes together creating the “composition”.  There are two notions of composition at play here: the vocal performances and Sato’s mixing therein.  The vocalist theoretically could work with a through composed piece of music, “Recording each performance separately several times, the performances may be the same piece of music, as the performer aims for such consistency.” and this variance in performance would be revealed in the layering.  He does however generally refer to this performance as an improvisational piece which of course lends itself to an even greater degree in diversity of performance: “The more abstract the music, the larger the difference will be.“

The notions of the vocalist improvising a piece of music and then subsequently trying to replicate it is interesting. The piece that is replicated can at that point be thought of as a composition and like any composed piece it varies in realization. Sato then adds another layer of composition by mixing the takes to tape.  So we have an improvised piece of music that is attempted to become a fixed piece whose variations are then revealed through the additional step of mixing the takes together.  This is a fairly subversive notion of composition, a meta-composition, where is true structure lies in the fact that a performer cannot replicate something they improvised without introducing variance.

The two pieces on the disc are this same composition but with a different improvisation as its starting point. This are quite markedly different due to the length of time between the two pieces and the development of Ami’s sound and technique in the duration.  The first piece, from 1997, has a looping lyrical quality to it that seems both more playful and naive. Higher pitched, almost melodic the variance in the performance almost works as harmony to the simple abstract vocal lines.  The second piece in contrast evokes Ami’s trademark “howling voice” with horse, plaintive cries that, warp and twist as the timings between the performances vary. She keeps the sounds under a much tighter control – they stay in the same range consistently, but durations slip and you hear almost echos of her cries buried behind the more powerful synchronized vocalizations.

Both pieces are fantastic and they show how this simple, yet subversive compositional technique can produce endless variety when pared with a performer so ideally suited to this material. Ami’s extreme abstractions and her uncanny control over such powerful vocalizations fits the demands of this piece in such a way few other vocalists could. This type of composition, where a few rules are used to generate widely varied results is of great interest to me and something I’ve been exploring over the last year.  The way that Sato couples his simple score, with a vocalist in particular is particularly compelling. His composition takes into account, in fact depends on aspects of the vocalization as its fundamental nature.  I think that is a gray area of composition one that is ripe for exploration.  In the case the results certainly speak for themselves.


1) Composition for Voice Performer liner notes
2) Minoru Sato’s (M/S) website
3) Ami Yoshida homepage