Entries tagged with “Amplify08”.

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.

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.


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.

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.

September 17th (Wednesday)
Katsura Yamauchi/Toshimaru Nakamura
Monnaka Tenjo Hall, Monzennakamachi, Tokyo.

izakayaMy first day in Japan was mostly devoted to travel and sleep though I did have a pleasant evenings nightcap with Keith Rowe at a little izakaya just down the road from our hotel.  This would actually be a pretty typical experience for my trip to Japan: there were no English speakers there but they were plenty happy to work things out by pointing and gestures. Thankfully beer in Japanese is biiru, so easy enough to stumble upon. We ended up with a couple of cold draft beers and a selection of tempura.  Our goal was to simply stay up late enough to try to go to bed in the Japan nighttime and it worked well enough.  Of course I did end up waking up around 5am and not really getting back to sleep.

Once day dawned I walked around Musashino City for a couple of hours checking out the surroundings which including several malls, a temple with a graveyard and a more traditional open shopping area. In the latter I found a Post Office which is one of the few places you are guaranteed to find an international cash machine. I was in need of cash so this was welcome.  Later I met Keith for breakfast followed by another walk around town. A short nap after that and it was time to meet Keith, Jon and Yuko for dinner followed by the first of two outside shows.  Dinner was at an excellent tonkatsu restaurant that Yuko recommended. Fantastic miso and while they stuck with the tonkatsu I enjoyed huge prawn katsu.

Monnaka Tenjo Hall

I had come to Japan primarily for Erstwhile Records Amplify 2008: Light, festival but prior to this fest was two nights of outside shows. Tonight’s show, not really associated with the festival but featuring two of its participants, was the only night at a different venue, Monnaka Tenjo Hall. This venue turned out to be an oddly shaped cement room on the 8th floor (IIRC) overlooking a freeway and some quality Tokyo street scenes. Decent sized and setup for theatre this was a nice room to see some live music.  The evenings program was Katsura Yamauchi and Toshimaru Nakamura in a classic solo, solo, duo format. Coming in with Jon and Keith I managed to avoid the cover charge: connections baby ;)

Television Power ElectricThere was a wide variety of merchandise spread out on a table in the back of the room, a collection of maybe 20 chairs and in the front Nakamura’s setup and on the floor Yamauchi’s saxes.  There wasn’t too much merch that I didn’t have barring a bunch of Yamauchi’s discs, but I wasn’t really familiar enough with his work to start acquiring those blind.  I did end up picking up a TV Pow/Toshimaru Nakamura collaboration that I didn’t have that came in beautiful homemade paper wrapping with an obi type binding holding it together. After a bit of time to allow stragglers in and to shift some merch there was an introduction and then Yamauchi came to the stage picked up his alto and began his solo set.

saxesHe began with this hollowed breathing sound, essentially blowing through the sax and even fingering at times but generating no recognizable sax like sounds. Of course for fans of abstract music these sounds were fairly recognizable and I would say in general his extended techniques were fairly routine. The question of course is how one uses them and he tended to stick with a technique for some time, exploring it at length before shifting to another one.  The whispery breathing sounds began to take on a bit of depth and as he approached perhaps the very edge of the more recognizable sax sound-world he generated this fantastic hollow metallic tone. He was in dire need of being able to circular breath as he’d take a deep breath through his nose and then generate a continuous sound for as long as he could and then gasp in more air.  This provided almost a rhythmic structure to this part but I think actual circular breathing would succeed better at the effect he was after.  Alas he only worked the metallic hollow sound for a couple of minutes and then moved to a keying the sax with no sound section. This was again quite rhythmic, almost as if he was playing some jazz standard or some such without any sound.  He concluded this piece by returning to the gentle hisses and rustling breathy tones he opened with.

After the applause he addressed the audience (all of this is of course in Japanese as Jon, Keith and myself were the only non-native speakers there) and then proceeded to play about five short pieces from his new cd, one of which he played on sopranino.  These turned out to be very traditional jazz sounding solo sax. Almost could have been a set of standards.  Very odd and unexpected for me.  Not my kind of thing really.

Toshimaru Nakamura’s setup

Immediately after the end of this set Toshimaru Nakamura moved to the stage, sat down and began to play. This was my first time seeing Nakamura solo (an event which would repeat tomorrow night) and was something I was definitely curious about. I’ve rarely been impressed with his solo recordings but with his recent impressive Dance Music, my expectations had shifted a bit. He began with white noise into which he’d intersperse ripping feedback.  Not overly aggressive but contrasting to the bed of static.  One of these however did become quite loud and upon this occurrence he cut everything out and silence fell. He allowed a decent interval, perhaps a minute or so, before he began dropping in electronic pops and crackles as you often hear in open circuit playing.  He built back up from this again, layering in the white noise and later a sine wave cutting though.  A return to the ripping feedback to conclude the set.  All of this occurred over maybe 15 minutes, perhaps less.

There was a break a this point which I for one used to run outside and find one of the ubiquitous vending machines and I bought a bottle of juice, which I downed immediately, and a bottle of water for later.  It was humid and I was always thirsty, so I count myself a big fan of Japan’s vending machine culture.  After a fifteen-twenty minute break the musicians took to the stage for their duo set.

Katsura Yamauchi/Toshimaru Nakamura

Yamauchi kicked off the set exactly as he had his solo set, with the dry hisses of air through the alto’s resonating chamber. He then proceeded in exactly the same structure, moving from the wind in the autumn leaves sound, to the the more continuous hollow sound reaching that long tones and gasps of air bit. Again that generated that neat metallic sound but it was odd to see him go through the same motions.  Of course there was also Nakamura adding an additional layer of sound to these events which after an initial pause were in the open circuit glitching territory.  These events were well applied pricks of contrasting sound to the windy sounds that Yamauchi was working with.  These coalesced into a more steady state sound that was mostly lost under Yamauchi’s rhythmic breathing/metallic sounds but were brought to the fore as Yamauchi abruptly stopped playing. This was my favorite moment of this piece, the sudden absence of his sound and a thin hiss and glitching pops and tears from Nakamura suddenly springing to the foreground.  Yamauchi paused for a nice stretch, perhaps expecting Nakamura to conclude but when he did not he moved on to the rhythmic key playing.  Nakamura brought up the volume at this point with rips and tears of feedback.  He cut this out, Yamauchi dropped out again and after a gap Nakamura played a single tone and then stopped ending the set.

I thought they were done at this point and began jotting down some notes as Yamauchi again spoke to the audience. But then he grabbed the sopranino and began playing one of his jazz pieces.  A coda of sorts I thought but then Nakamura began playing along with this. Bizarre.  Yamauchi is doing fast runs and trills and Nakamura just pops and glitches. But then Toshi begins to pick it up becoming louder and more aggressive with sharp bursts of feedback and static.  Rather like his playing on 13630 kHz from Between.  Yamauchi keeps up with his rapid, free jazzish runs but either reaching the end of the tune or just unable to compete with the electronics stops playing. Nakamura keeps it up for a bit and then cuts out the tears of feedback to reveal a continuous baseline tone. He lets this go for maybe a minute and then cuts it out ending this short followup piece.

Overall I wasn’t too impressed with this night of music.  Yamauchi I thought had some interesting sounds but I wasn’t really into the structure that he’d develop. I definitely wasn’t into his jazz playing, which of course one could say is a matter of taste but I tend to not seek out those kind of shows. Unexpected but interesting I guess to hear what his other work is like.  Nakamura’s solo was quite short and hence hard to really form much of an opinion on.  Again it seemed to not really have much structure. It felt like he setup some sounds and as he lost control of the feedback, cut it out and started over. This “second part” was more successful but it really just ran from soft and sparse to increasingly dense and louder. And of course it was really short, 5-10 minutes out of the whole performance.  The first piece of the duo was better, but would have been better still if there had not been the solos prior as the two of them basically were doing about the same things they had just done.  They didn’t seem connected at all, Yamauchi in particular just reprising the sequences from his solo and Nakamura falling right into the  comfortable accompanist role that marked some of his lesser collaborations from the previous year.  Then there was that bizarre final piece which honestly was the most surprising.  Yamaichi’s jazz piece obliterated by Nakamura’s electronics. It wasn’t at all good, but it was unexpected and different.

see all of my  Amplify08 photos.
read all of my Amplify08 Reviews.

Outside Shows

September 17th (Wednesday)

Katsura Yamauchi/Toshi Nakamura

Monnaka Tenjo Hall, Monzennakamachi, Tokyo.
7:30pm 2,000 yen.

September 18th (Thursday)
Toshimaru Nakamura

Kid Ailack Art Hall, Meidaimae, Tokyo.

Amplify 2008: Light

September 19 – 21, 2008

Kid Ailack Art Hall, Meidaimae, Tokyo, Japan

7pm, 3000 yen per night
Erstwhile Records
presents Amplify08

September 19th (Friday)
Katsura Yamauchi solo

Keith Rowe/Taku Unami

Ami Yoshida/Toshimaru Nakamura

September 20th (Saturday)
Mitsuhiro Yoshimura solo

Sachiko M solo (contact mike only)

Keith Rowe solo

September 21st (Sunday)
Keith Rowe/Sachiko M

Katsura Yamauchi/Mitsuhiro Yoshimura

Keith Rowe/Toshimaru Nakamura

I’m off to Japan for almost two weeks, to see the above shows and to finally visit a country I’ve wanted to visit for ages.  So there’ll be no posts here for a while, but expect reports on the shows and travel experiences upon my return. If any of my readers are going to be attending any of these shows, say hi. I’ll be the guy in the hat. For more info on the festival go to Erstwhile Records Amplify08 page.