Entries tagged with “Onkyo”.

Masahiko Okura/Taku Sugimoto/Taku Unami Chamber Music Concerts Vol. 1 (HibariSlubloadfactor)

“It is assumed that there is a certain type of environmental sound which doesn’t matter to the recording of music or which even sometimes adds some fragrance to the music.” – Taku Sugimoto(1)

I’ve been quite mixed about the compositions coming from the Tokyo scene for the last half decade or so. There have been the occasional interesting pieces, but in the main those have often been almost incidental to composition, the interest arising from the incidental sounds in the recording or the juxtaposition of the performance with these sounds. Taku Sugimoto’s career as an improviser followed a path of reduction that led to fewer and fewer sounds from his performance being played and an increase in the predominance of the incidental sounds.  His acceptance of these puts his sympathies in alignment with Cage’s use of silence and perhaps it was an acknowledgment of this that led him increasingly toward composition. When he was at the stage where he’d play a dozen or so notes over an hour, it probably was approaching composition.  Mentally when you perform with silences seem to last for a long time, so strategies I’m sure where developed for him. For instance you play a sound and then wait ’til it seems like it’s been a while then you do another and you see that it really hasn’t been that long. If you’ve decided on a finite number of sounds you then realize you must wait a decent interval so you tell yourself “I’ll wait fifteen minutes and then sound another” and so on.  You reduce the sounds to few enough you almost have to pick times they will sound. So you’d naturally develop something like a variant on Cage’s Time Bracket(2) notation. You tell your self you need to play a sound in a give time block but you allow yourself to do it whenever during that block, so it doesn’t sound like all the sounds are equally spaced out. It probably just became easier to notate this out and then this becomes an interest in and of itself.

The problem though, for listeners of his music, was these early compositions just weren’t really that good. It seemed in the case of the few notes over a long period of time the primary interest was in tension and the composition process seemed to kill that.   This perhaps was part of the agenda, there was a constant winnowing down of techniques and systems and concepts to just a couple: single sounded notes and silence. The elimination of tone, which while note going as far as his colleague Radu Malfatti (whose interests in these matters I think are quite different from Sugimoto’s) was never as much of a primary concern for Sugimoto. There were times, especially when he composed for other instruments where he would demand a dry, affectless tone, but he tended to let his guitar ring out with a full sound allowed to decay and resonate. Eventually Sugimoto began to mix it up adding in additional eliminates and these usually demonstrated even further a lack of proficiency as a composer. You did have to try to figure out what he was doing, with only the occasional bit of guidance translated into English but what one could determine rarely seemed interesting or at least his take on it. One of the most recent trends has been introducing the major scale into his pieces. Additionally long tones begin to appear, often in conduction with the scales. His pieces were becoming more dense but once again he wasn’t really making interesting music.  Additionally as he increased the amount of complexity he added into his music, even if he was exploring simple elements the more he was heading into territory that had been more fruitfully mined. Think of Tenney’s work with scales or Lucier’s with long tones.

In the course of this process Sugimoto did pick up some acolytes, or at least those interested in composition in a similar restricted fashion. Many of the group of musicians he had been improvising with continued on to play his composition as well as a younger generation of performers. Over time a number of these individuals turned to composition as well, greatly influenced by Sugimotos work. Of course nobody is going to completely share agendas and these post-Sugimoto composers used a wider variety of sounds, methods and strategies that would hear from Sugimoto. Many of them I think found the musical ideas challenging and wanted to work them and did not have some of the additional agendas that Sugimoto may (or may not) have.  Either way I think that in some instances while Sugimoto relentless worried over a single concept whether it “worked” or not his acolytes had different concerns: working these concepts into music. Whatever the case may be clearly there isn’t any sort of hegemony really, you always see the same set of players, including Sugimoto  playing each others compositions, no matter how far off they may be from the others concerns.

Chamber Music Concerts vol 1 is a collection of compositions composed by Masahiko Okura, Taku Sugimoto and Taku Unami that were performed by a wide variety of musicians at Loop-Line in Tokyo. Apparently this was a monthly series that focused on the fact that their would be different instrumentation each time.  This was released as a three CD set published by the labels that each of these musicians run.  The CD’s plus accompanying material (only in Japanese) all awkwardly fit into a little cardboard box with a whimsical drawing on the cover. I tend to feel that the way the material doesn’t fit well into the box was deliberate, a subversion of the whole notion of packaging and product.  As the music is always somewhat awkward and confrontational that would go along with that but it is just a supposition. Anyway these three disc contain 16 compositions by the three composers: six from Unami and Okura and four from Sugimoto. Of these sixteen pieces I think that six of them are really good and that there are interesting elements in another six or so. There are some downright stinkers on this and the pieces that have interesting elements are almost always undermined by a compositional element.  But, and this is why this set is so intriguing to me, the pieces that work are a real breakthrough I think for these composers and are the first real great music made from this compositional scene.

What is particularly telling though is that of the pieces that I think have made this breakthrough there is only one by Sugimoto. He relentlessly is working his current (as of these recordings anyway) obsession with scales and each of his pieces work them in in some way.  Tellingly, the one piece that is composed by Sugimoto that really works is ‘D’ where if the scale is worked into it at all it is completely non-obvious. As the whole point of his use of the scale is to put such banalities front and center, to force you to try to reconcile something that comes across as cheesy I don’t think it is actually used in that piece. But if it is, and by its very slow and fracture nature it could be, that would be a brilliant application of it. But changing the point dramatically. The other pieces though, composed by Okura and Unami only tangentially share Sugimoto’s concerns. There are a couple of pieces from Unami that use scales but Unami seems to work them in more effectively.  Unami in general is a more cryptic character and I think is always working his off kilter sense of humor into his music. Not so much as humor as music, but as a sly subversion. Sometimes one gets the impression that he is even subverting Sugimoto’s ideas, taking them and abandoning whatever agenda Sugimoto may have and just screwing with them. His quirkiness though and willingness to use and try anything mixed with a genuine sense of musicality I think has him far outstripping his master. His humor I think makes his stuff never seem forced upon you, he is like a brilliant rhetorician compared to a haranguer.  Okura is more of Sugimoto’s generation and his stuff is far more varied. He uses ideas of Sugimoto’s as tools and applies them, at times, to great effect: His pieces are the most varied in the swinging from the sublime to the banal.

Listening to this entire set in a row with no break as I wrote this has been an interesting experience that reaffirms to me my thoughts on this set. Yes it has just over a single CD’s worth of good music and yes there is striking missteps on it that seem to subvert my very notion that these guys are developing as composers. And yet there are sophisticated, engaging and most importantly musical things going on here, driven by ideas and a sense of how to put them into practice with these disparate players. I am definitely interested to see where they go next especially the waves that have come after Sugimoto. There is an even younger, newer groups of composers working in these areas in Japan, a third post-Sugimoto wave if you will. While they have yet to really achieve much success this transmission of ideas and adherence to this aesthetic is an interesting development in and of it self. As for Unami, Okura and Sugimoto I do hope that the promise of ‘vol 1’ is fulfilled with a vol 2, though I wouldn’t mind if they were a bit more selective.

For those interested this is my selection of the essential tracks(3) from the set:
1-2 one,two,three,and many (okura)
1-3,4,5,6: 4 pieces for violin (unami)
2-4: D (sugimoto)
3-3: kinoshita-kun (unami)
3-7: red scarf, red curtain (okura)
3-9: california guitar trio (unami)

1) Taku Sugimoto Live in Australia Liner Notes
2) Number Pieces article at Wikipeia
3) Chamber Music Concerts Vol. 1 track listing at Hibari

Cosmos at VNM Oct. 21st 2004

Cosmos at the Vancouver New Music Festival

Yesterday I left work early and made the 3 hour trek up to Vancouver to see Cosmos. OK drive, traffic was tolerable at this hour and the border wait was 15 minutes or so. My MapQuest directions got me easily to the location and I found parking just 2 blocks away. I actually got there 45min early, so I had time to exchange some cash and have a beer. The venue is the ScotiaBank Dance Centre which is a great space. Several floors with dance studios, all of a good size and well lit. In the bottom floor was a performance room which had great lighting a big projection system and great surround sound. The seating was little tables on the same level as the performers.

Cosmos at VNM Oct. 21st 2004

Panel (L to R): Sachiko M, Ami Yoshida, translator, Giorgio Magnanensi

The first act was Vivian Houle and Stefan Smulovitz. The was a laptop and vocal duo. This was so awful I began to regret leaving work early and dashing up to Vancouver. Thankfully there was an artist talk with Cosmos directly following this. The artist talk was in a dance studio with everyone seated in a circle with Sachiko, Ami and a translator all together at one edge. There were several knowledgeable proponents of their “style” of music that asked most of the questions and even answered some of them. There were two older guys who were clearly “experimental” music fans but were questioning this trend toward ultra minimalism. One guy mentioned seeing a performer play one chord in 30 min. He pointed out that to do this often becomes predictable. Interesting I thought, though not really the case with Cosmos in specific. When asked about “Onkyo” Sachiko replied that they don’t like be lumped together with that term, but they find it convenient to use. Finally as the time was up and some people were walking out Sachiko informed us that there is no philosophy or meaning behind their music they just want you to have fun. I found this interesting, in that I get a lot of satisfaction out of their music but I’m not sure if “fun” is the best descriptor for that. More intellectual to me, but maybe that’s just me. Sachiko had also made the point that they put the music out there and it is up to the individual to find in it what they may (this was in reaction to a guy comparing this to older traditional minimal Japanese forms) I wish I caught the name of the guy moderating the session (It’s Giorgio Magnanensi of course -ed.). He had a great story of going to see a Butoh performance in Japan with Otomo and Sachiko that had no music. Just silent dancing. He said that at first he was questioning this lack of music but then began to create associations with the ambient sounds. They ended up watching this for hours and he claimed that it was one of the most intense musical experiences he ever had.

Next up was Pierre-Andre Arcand who played laptop music with manipulated vocals along with projected video accompaniment. This was much better then the first act but was not super interesting. The video helped keep me entertained for the duration. Inoffensive but nothing new to see here. I skipped the next artist chat as it was with Vivian Houle and Stefan Smulovitz whom I pretty much had no interest in hearing what they had to say (not to mention any potential fawning since they were clearly the audience favorites!)

Cosmos at VNM Oct. 21st 2004

Finally around 10:30 Sachiko M and Ami Yoshida came out and the Cosmos show began. Sachiko’s initial playing was very similar to her work on disc 1 of Good Morning, Good Night with a very low volume low frequency sine wave that was more felt then heard. This is combined with short clips and cuts and busts of humming or static. Ami began with sparse squeaks and snaps. Sachiko used the contact mic frequently and later in the set much more audible (and more familiar from recorded Cosmos) continuous sine tones. Ami usually led the way with more activity, often rapidly moving between different aspects of her auditory catalog. A catalog which she has expanded BTW from the inventory on Tiger Thrush. Several points that stand out: About half way through the set Ami, slowly and musically removed the mic from it’s stand which she held for the rest of the set. At one point she held it close and drummed her fingers on her thigh which created this very muted texture. She often turned away from the mic or held it far from her body to create different dynamics. Really expert use of the mic. She also had an iPod at the base of the mic stand that she seemed to be using solely as a time piece. Occasionally she would slip a foot out of her trendy shoe and wake the iPod up from sleep. Sachiko was austere almost meditative over her equipment. Head slightly bowed and only minimal movement with her hands. At one point allowing a lone tone to run interrupted for a good five minutes she sat in the pose motionless the entire duration. The dynamics of the set were pretty extreme, often so quiet that a previously unnoticed background hum dominated the field. At other times shrieks from Ami or busts of static from Sachiko would erupt at a volume to make you take notice. The set ended with Sachiko fading out while Ami made muted, rather guttural sounds. Then Sachiko turned of her gear and Ami fell silent. Then a few seconds later a few more sounds from Ami. Then they stood, bowed and walked off.

Cosmos at VNM Oct. 21st 2004

Great show, about 45min long which is the longest I have heard continuous Cosmos. While I enjoy listening to them a lot, the visual components just add so much. The merch table was well stocked with most of the recent Sachiko and Ami releases (Good Morning, Good Night was there, but not Tears) Also the Filament BOX set which I was quite tempted by. At CN$85 cash only, I managed to resist the temptation. In fact I resisted all temptation and bought nothing and left. I sure did wish though that I didn’t have a 3 hour drive home afterwards.

See all the photos I took in my Cosmos at VNM Flickr set.