Entries tagged with “Toshimaru Nakamura”.

Amplify08 day 3: Keith and Toshi

Amplify 2008: Keith & Toshi @ Kid Ailack Hall, Tokyo Sept. 2008


I was in the mood for something a bit more harsh today so I put on Erstlive 008: Keith Rowe/Toshimaru Nakamura and played it loud.  If  you have a system capable of serious bass  reproduction, which I do, and you play it a sufficient volume to properly propel the bass, which I did, this album throbs with sub-sonics. There are sections of it that are like the sea: an unstoppable, unimaginably powerful force rolling over you again and again. And floating in that sea are cutting blades that slice into you from the completely opposite end of the dynamic range. While there are moments of near stasis it is a restless piece, using continuity of sound like a killing floor that bounces the detritus of the machine age upon it.  It feels like the end of something, something more than end of Amplify 2008 which it was.  Particularly interesting to me is that for such a roiling, harsh piece it ends with a whimper, not faded out, nor utilizing long stretches of silence, but simply increasingly delicate sounds, punctuated with bursts of tearing feedback for a time, and then tones, whispers, shrill whines of tortured electronics.  In this piece the world ends with a bang — and a whimper.

Amplify 2008: LightI was in Tokyo for Amplify 2008: Light and was of course in the audience for this show. This was the second time I’d seen Keith and Toshi perform as a duo and this cd is the fourth of theirs released on Erstwhile Records.  Their two studio albums on Erstwhile Records, Weather Sky and Between, were each landmarks in the Erstwhile catalog and in my personal musical listening.  Weather Sky seems to take ideas that Keith had worked through in AMM and look at them from another another angle. The laminal aspect is there but its much fuzzier, not so intentional with none of the exhaustion of the final AMM performances. Weather Sky gives you much less to settle into and its restlessness, which is a hallmark in my mind of the Keith/Toshi collaborations, undermines any surface stasis.  Between is a completely different beast that over its two discs runs the gamut of concerns of this music.  While the decision to make this album was a deliberate move it is immediately clear that retreading old ground would not be acceptable.  This is not the recording of musicians who are spinning their wheels; their restlessness, pervasive questioning and unwillingness to compromise cut through any notions of a rehash. The improvised music that they participated in hadn’t sat still since the release of Weather Sky, in large part due to their work, but it was already becoming difficult to express what was becoming familiar notions with what was becoming codified gestures. It is a testament to these two musicians that they found so much to explore.

ErstQuake 2: Keith & Toshi @ Collective Unconscious Sept. 2005

Keith Rowe played four shows at Amplify ’08 and rose to this heroic task with aplomb (you can read my reviews of these shows here).  His duo’s with Sachiko M and Taku Unami (released as Contact and Erstlive 006) seemed like breakthroughs and a new direction in contemporary improv while his solo show was a tour de force exploration of his concerns, influences and the ideas that motivate him (all thoroughly explained here) . This duo was of course well established with the two aforementioned studio albums plus a live document from the last time Keith was in Japan contained in the Amplify 2002: Balance box set. I’d seen them the first time at the ErstQuake 2 festival in New York City, a festival prior to which I’d seen very few shows in the burgeoning “eai” subgenre.  That aspect of course colors things but at the time I felt that this show was similar to that contained in the Amplify 2002 set: an engaging and solid piece of music if not ground breaking. Keith had recently constructed his Cubist Guitar and was still working through it, perhaps explaining the greater relience on radio during this festival. Back in 2005 I wrote this about this set:

No set at this festival was more anticipated by me and it did not disappoint. Nakamura seemed more active and upfront while Rowe explored a wider space and allowed a dominating role for the radio.

Keith & Toshi at Erstquake 2

As I write this I’m listening to the Keith and Toshi track on disc 5 of the Amplify 2002 box set and it does reaffirm these recollections, though there is a long section of rhythmic feedback from Toshi that so often cropped up in his solo albums from this time, a feature of his playing that rarely cropped up in the studio recordings.  [As an aside it has been quite a while since I’ve pulled the Amplify 2002: Balance box set off the shelf and I have to say that among a catalog of handsome releases this box set is simply stunning.] There also is a bootleg of Keith and Toshi floating around from around this time of them playing in Texas that is in a similar vein, what I’d call typically great: the communication between these two is solid enough that whenever they play it is a great set. But what is I think is really quite impressive is that on occasion they transcend that familiar greatness and produce something transformative.  Established groups rarely do this as part of the familiarity of frequently playing together is a toning down of risk: you anticipate too much and perhaps you settle into a subset of your own behavior, settling for what you know works. With this duo though it seems much more like they are working through something and it might take a while, so they have these clear “periods” but then they begin to struggle through something else.  It is a working relationship akin to AMM come to think of it.

KAH SignTwo years ago in Tokyo after seeing three impressive sets from Keith, and two very solid sets with Toshi one settled into ones seat for this duo with some expectations.  After the twin breakthroughs of Weather Sky and Between and a series of always engaging concerts one would be not be remiss to expect another typically great set. Which was certainly delivered and at the time it seemed like a rousing end to an amazing festival. Even at the show I was impressed with how they had seemed to have picked up where Between left off and by perhaps by channeling the energy of the festival, or the sprawling urbanism of Tokyo or perhaps a looming sense of endings everywhere.  But since then this set has come to seem increasingly powerful, that sense of uneasy doom increasing; a breakthrough of synthesis. It seems to take the pieces of Between, orient them orthogonally and reassemble them against the overwhelming sense of spareness of Kid Ailack Hall into a singular musical document.  It is irrevocably colored by the experience of having been there for me, of course, but this is music whose relevance grows, music that doesn’t have that flush of fresh novelty to it but the deepness of intimacy which, from musicians who are always struggling with those ideas that are never tapped out, results in music that constantly unfolds and reveals more.

Keith & Toshi
"The music doesn't happen without you"

Annette Krebs/Toshimaru Nakamura SIYU (SoSEDITIONS)

I have spoken at length about the transformation of Annette Krebs in my discussion of Berlin Electronics and of the recent work of Toshimaru Nakamura in my review of One Day, so it is interesting to hear these two in collaboration.  The question of timing is of course important; Krebs has really come into her own in the last few years and Nakamura has been in a certain state of flux for the same.  So it isn’t overly surprising that SIYU was recorded in 2005. At this period of time I’d say that Nakamura was at the height of his game, in the midst of a series of amazing and innovative collaborations: Erstlive 005, Erstlive 002, 4G, a duo with Sean Meehan, the next year would bring between(1). At the same time this was the end of Kreb’s period of isolation and her process of reinvention from which her current stream of great collaborations have come from.  From the artist page for this release on the SoS Editions site:

since 2003, she has worked to combine composed musical sounds with layers of concrete meanings, including word and visual materials. in her pieces, all materials are composed in a very equal and abstract way; the possible decorative function of sound is averted.

similar to an acoustic collage, fragments of language, words and field recordings are integrated as musical materials together with tonal and rhythmical abstract composed sounds, noises and silences. concrete meanings, fragments of memory are sometimes softly suggested, and then reintegrated immediately, as reminders of short fragments of thought in the abstract soundlanguage.

musical hierarchical structures, foreground and background, exist in her pieces in a mostly fluid form; they can appear for a short moment, however, immediately disappear again into each other, framed together like images in a kaleidoscope. seconds later, they reveal themselves in other combinations, in new, surprising ways. (2)

This description (which oddly I hadn’t seen before writing this) pretty much puts into words exactly what I’ve been hearing in her music. It also confirms that this strategy and system has come from that post 2003 period. The “samples” I’ve mentioned before are these composed elements and clearly the use of pre-composed vocal elements is a major component of this ‘abstract soundlanguage‘ she is working with. The “…possible decorative function of sound is averted.” shows an adherence to the Cagean notion of letting the sounds speak for themselves (or perhaps reflecting Feldmans intention that you can’t push the sounds around).  Her techniques and subsequent sound are a direct reflection of this statement: her sounds come and go, rarely lingering, you can definitely sense an equal weight to all sounds and there is always surprise there, even to the performer it appears when you witness a Krebs performance.

The disc contains two tracks, both created in 2005, the first, longer track having been previously released on Kreb’s self-released CD-R Various Projects 2003-2005(3).  While so much of that CD-R presaged Krebs work to come (the solo material invoking Berlin Electronics, the duo with Heyward) this track was the real standout.  The CD-R was never easy to get a hold of and in that alone this disc was incredibly welcome, but the addition of the second, short track from the same session really promoted this into a fantastic release.  While half the length of the previous track the second track acts as both a second movement and coda to it and makes for a whole that transcends its two parts.  They are both great as solo pieces but together I think that make for a complete piece.

Wrr finds Nakamura deep in background territory which in this case compliments Krebs’ style of interjections and bursts of activity.  The track begins in stasis with a background hiss from Nakamura and within the first couple of minutes you hear brillo pad on Krebs’ guitar, a shot of her tweaked vocal samples, some radio and other bits of sonic clutter.  Nakamura simply responds with a mid-range pure tone, backed with a lower drone that this activity rises out of.  They aren’t wildly off in dynamic range which keeps this from seeming two aggressive and as Krebs always puts these bursts of activity into wide spaces it never gets overly dense and busy. But as she drops out Nakamura subtly changes his sounds – for instance that mid-range tone just discussed was slowly rising in volume until the point where Krebs drops out, to which he responds by backing it off. This is brilliant interplay in that he didn’t just drop out in kind but he changed the texture in response to her dropping out.  This track all works like that, with Nakamura taking the lead in a real subtle way. That is to say that Krebs more or less does what she would do solo and it is the collaborative aspect that is driven by Nakamura’s playing. He works a lot with continuous sound in this piece, but he mixes it up enough that his sounds are quite textured.  The near static parts are always my favorite in this where there seems to be almost nothing going on but maybe a subdued hiss, or a low background hum and then little burbling radio grabs, higher pitched tones, bleats of static or short cut off bit of vocals.  But in the more intense parts there is a lot to hear as well: washes of static, swarms of bees, ringing tones, cutting feedback.  In interplay with Krebs diversity of sounds, both in character as well as in dynamics this is a varied and intricate collaboration that pulls me in every time I listen.

Brr, begins with a low rumble from Nakamura to which shortly a vacillating tone is brought in contrast against. An oddly hollow scraping sound flutters across the stereo field as the oscillating tone comes up only to be replaced by a brief moment of feedback. Burst of radio static and then a return to stasis. Like the previous track this quick series of events comes in and out quickly, never shockingly, but again restlessness pitted above stasis. But unlike the first track this stasis from Nakamura doesn’t last; he works with longer events but is constantly shifting in this piece. Although it is shorter than the previous piece this one is a constant miasma of sound, layers of washes, sudden bursts of feedback, and moments of silence with only a faint trace of hiss probably from inactive electronics.  This activity from Nakamura, though at a dramatically lower level, than Krebs gives this whole piece a feel of sands shifting under ones feet: there is no solid ground on which to rest. In the end though this piece transforms into a shift decrease in activity; still never falling into stasis but the events from both partners are more drawn out and low energy as if they were fading out through self-editing.

1) Toshimaru Nakamura Discography
2) SOS Editions Artist Pages
3) Annette Krebs’ CD-R Various Projects 2003-2005

Toshimaru Nakamura/English
One Day (Erstwhile Records)

This album was among the first to reach my ears in 2008 and thus is one of the albums I have spent the longest amount of time with. I was immediately taken with this album, enough so that I did a rare full review of it.  Thus this entry is going to kind of be a “bye” – I don’t really have  much more to say. This works out as this falls on a day of travel for me, I am writing this in-route to visit family. So while I’m mainly just going to point interested punters in the direction of my previous examination of this album, there are I think a few points of new business.

One thing that often comes up w/r/t music, especially that of an experimental bent is the issue of longevity.  Perhaps its because I don’t buy every release in this area, or get any free discs sent to me I instead choose what I’m going to buy fairly carefully and then spend a decent amount of time with it.  Sure sometimes I’m pretty quickly turned off, or I miscalculated or other circumstances conspire against me, but I’d say that in the main the albums I really like get dozens of listens in a year.  I think that if you listen to an album a couple of times, or even a half dozen times and then move on you can review it a lot more superficially, in a “I like how this sounds” sort of vein.  That is to say issues of how it holds up aren’t really encountered.  Short reviews lend themselves to this as well I think, which is why perhaps brevity is not my hallmark.  If you are really delving into something, it takes a lot to actually examine it.  Context needs to be established, some attempt to communicate the content and ideally some analysis of some sort.  This all takes time and a constant stream of releases makes that impossible.  A small number of well researched in-depth reviews is a lot more valuable in my mind then dozens of short superficial quick hits, because you get to the issue of longevity.

I’ve listened to One Day twice over the last day or so in preparation for it’s “day” and I have to say I still find it as striking as I did in March when I first heard it.  What I find particularly captivating in this disc is its restraint.  English (Joe Foster and Bonnie Jones) have been known to generate some pretty wild sounds, barely on the edge of control flirting at the boundaries of noise and more deliberate musics.  Risky, chaotic stuff roiling with unexpected sounds and incongruities. While there are the occasional outbursts here, especially in ‘The Color Of‘, its nature is one of stasis, especially in the opener ‘Ong Time‘.  This in itself is a bit misleading as on the surface it comes across as static, but this stasis is built up of a series of micro-events that through remarkable control and restraint stay in a finite dynamic range and create this sensation.  There is a tentativeness to this first meeting between the new kids and the old hand, as if they didn’t want to screw this up.  But that tentativeness was displayed as that remarkable restraint which ended up creating something that is unique in its way.

Nakamura here seems to have fallen back into slightly older patterns here, working partly in his accompanist role he took on a lot last year but at the same time stepping up where the music needs a push. Again restraint.  It reminds me a bit of his work in his duos with Keith Rowe in that the two of them feed of each other and push each other into ever new territory.  Here it seems like Nakamura starts off as he had so many times in 2007, generating a static bed for his partners, but then English subvert this by displaying equal restraint. So he brings it up a bit, never aggressive, never dominating or going too far. But pushing just a bit and thus English ease up a bit and slip in a bit of their wilder side.  The results of this are remarkable: probing, testing and always stretching things further. Structurally this is a bit old school – you can say that this is how almost all great improv of the “make a group of these players who’ve never played together before” conceit works. Feel each other out a bit hesitantly and then push it as far as it will work.  The strategies here though make this more interesting and I think results in it’s depth and that is what makes it constantly rewarding to listen to.

For more on this album read my previously published in-depth review.

lightSeptember 21st
Erstwhile Records presents
AMPLIFY 2008: light day 3

Kid Ailack Art Hall, Meidaimae, Tokyo, Japan

Disk UnionThe last day of the festival dawned again overcast and rainy.  I’d broken down and bought a cheap umbrella, which I have to say for this Washington State resident felt like a major defeat.  It did make it easier to take pictures and such as I wasn’t getting rain on my camera lenses.  I had again ended up in Shinjuku and on this weekend day they closed down some of the streets and there were people vending everything from yakitori to champagne in the streets.  I wandered around the shopping districts enjoying the varied sights from cosplayers to barkers in front of electronics stores. I randomly found Disc Union and checked out two of their stores, one was three stories of just jazz the other eight stories of varied music. The avant section was of course on the eighth floor.  Some neat stuff there, especially cool to see all of the Obscure Tape Music from Japan series laid out as well Stockhausen-Verlag releases and that amazing Alga Marghen Charllote Moorman set.  Later I found the Tower Records which has an amazing 20th Century classical section. Again I didn’t end up buying anything (the internet kind of makes this moot, unless you find OOP stuff) but great to see these stores packed with obscure music.

I’d spent enough time in Shinjuku that for once I didn’t arrive in Meidaimae all that early.  Early enough though, the hall was still pretty empty when I arrived.  Tonight was all duos the first being amongst the most anticipated sets of this festival by yours truly. Toshi/Keith I’d seen before and of course there are two recorded documents of this duo.  Yoshimura/Yamauchi was sort of an unknown, but I have to admit at this point I was pretty weary of Yamaichi’s playing.  The reports of an earlier collaboration of theirs was highly intriguing though, so I was still cautiously looking forward.  The drizzle that had been pretty persistent this day had now turned into a driving rain, far exceeding the rainfall from the earlier “typhoon”. I thought the rain if audible inside would added to the proceedings, but I don’t really recall hearing it during any of the sets.

Empty Sampler

Keith Rowe/Sachiko M
The third set from Keith this festival, this one a first time duo meeting with Sachiko.  When Jon Abbey first mentioned this duo to me, I said something along the lines of “they’ll have to really push themselves to not make this sound exactly how I imagine it”.  Now how I imagine it would be great music, something I’d enjoy a lot, but I can’t deny that I’d love to see these two exceptional musicians surprise me.  The options that one could pretty easily imagine are; Sachiko providing her trademark long pure tones with Keith working in spikier, more discrete territory above that. Conversely it could be Keith in his laminal sound world providing the ground upon which Sachiko, in Salon de mode, interjects her micro events.  A third option would be both of them working with continuous sound which I think would be the least successful and not something I’d expect (why you ask, well in this realm it would actually rather sound like a Keith solo, as there are times he layers in things that aren’t too dissimilar to a  pure tone). Finally of course would be various combinations of the above.  Well what they ended up doing was none of these and granted me the surprise and delight I was hoping for.

Sachiko did indeed work in the Salon de Sachiko territory with its clicks, pops, short tones and other micro events. Keith though eschewing any droning worked with equally discrete event creating this bristling sound world.  This worked incredibly, tension filled, constantly engaging.  Keith worked with the Brillo pad, with contact mics, with metallic objects but no fan, no radio and no Bluetooth interference.  It was as if the bulk of the tools he’d used to date were set aside so he could focus on the bare essentials. The music was very spacious, events coming into the environment, colliding or not, letting the room provide as much, or more perhaps, of the music as the muscians.  There were intrusions as three times late comers came in and squeezed themselves into spaces at the front and by the door. But this fragmented world of pops, clicks, pongs, sprongs, twitters and hisses allowed these interjections and incorporated them. Like his earlier duo with Unami there was an aspect of exploration, of feeling each other out, but by mostly sticking with a finite realm, almost as if each were playing solo, it never felt tentative. There was a confidence in both their playing, they were working with tools they understood but in a fresh context. They worked with these tiny events, many from Keith seeming inaudible (he later said that he’d practice some gestures, trying them out silently before repeated them at volume) over the course of thirty-forty minutes, constantly moving ahead though these sounds could be the background hiss of stasis.  In the end Sachiko dropped in a few longer tones, inching the development along perfectly. They stopped playing, there was a pause, then one final pop! from Sachiko and the set was over.

This was fantastic music and an incredible set by two giants pushing each other into fresh territory.  It reminded me in parts of Good Morning, Good Night but with Keith not trying to necessarily complement Sachiko but to push it further. The activity was a lot more seething and varied then in that recording and different in that this duo was more contrasting then complementing.  I have to say that this duo’s forthcoming Erstwhile recording is pretty much tops on my anticipation list.

the hands of Yoshimura
The hands of Yoshimura

Katsura Yamauchi/Mitsuhiro Yoshimura
After seeing Yamauchi solo twice and in duo with Nakamura it really seemed like he was doing the same thing every set. There was always a bit of a surprise from him: the jazz numbers the first show and those blasted tones at the first night of Amplify. In general though it seemed like he had a formula and was sticking to it.  Now as I intimated earlier this duo has occurred before and it was one of their earlier performances that led to Yamauchi’s inclusion in this festival. So it is possible that he had a different shtick that he saved for use in this duo.  Yoshimura was against the far left wall with his mic literally turned against the wall. He also was working with only one set of headphones in contrast to his solo set. It again was pretty dark as they started, a light on Yamauchi and his alto but Yoshimura again in near darkness.

I was only one seat from the wall on this day, so I was quite close to Yoshimura which turned out to be to my advantage as his sound was much quieter then it was the night prior.  He generated his high thin wail of feedback and would simply modulate it by careful manipulations of the headphones.  Yamauchi I’m sad to say ran through the exact same series of events he had done on the three previous sets I’d seen.  He started with the hissy breathing, moved to the near circular breathing rattly metallic sound, then the key clicking and finally looped around to the dry hisses. I honestly got bored in this set and it felt like it went on way too long. The dry hisses worked the best with Yoshimura’s sound but I’d tired of the routine. From what others told me Yoshimura was nearly inaudible further away so even these small moments of nicely contrasting sounds was limited to only a few of us. This for me was musically the least interesting set of the festival, my expectations had been quite low and even those weren’t met.

empty nimb

Keith Rowe/Toshimaru Nakamura
Concluding the festival was the Erstwhile supergroup of Keith Rowe and Toshimaru Nakamura.  Their first album Weather Sky was the musical document that shifted my interest in this area of music from tentative dabbling to full on obsession.   I’d saw them live once before at ErstQuake 2, where they produced an enjoyable if not very exciting set.  Their second album, between, was the first time an Erstwhile project had been revisited and it amply demonstrated two artists that were not standing still. These two consummate musicians know each other inside and out and push each other constantly and I think are about as reliable a duo working in music today. So it wasn’t too surprising that they headlined the entire festival, but the surprise was in the music that they produced.

The began right off with loud aggressive waves of feedback and grinding industrial metallic attacks.  This wasn’t a simple burst of energy, they took these loud sounds and worked with them, pushing them further and further. It was in the realm of 13630 kHz from between but longer and denser then that track.  This slowly morphed into this completely insane post-industrial sound world at one point sounding like nothing more then a massive warehouse filled with and infinite number IBM Selectric typewriters being assaulted by an infinite number of monkeys. On crack.  Incredibly mechanical and industrial sounding.  But the set wasn’t simply aggressive mechanical sounds, at many points one or both would drop out leaving sounds hanging in the air and revealing the underpinnings of the affair. After the aforementioned Selectric section Keith turned off some fans, Toshi dropped out and you could hear this crazed chittering of Bluetooth interference which combined with those other activities had created that maddening effect.  Toshi brought it back up with dense rips and tears of feedback that cut through these sounds but were never allowed to fall into any sort of pattern. Keith cut the Bluetooth interference and worked more with abusing his pickups with various objects.  Again a dense wall of sound was created, again it was cut back bringing this to a point of near total silence at this juncture.  A sine wave from Toshi wailed through this space as Keith ground his pickups with the Brillo pad and used the contact mic on his charcoal pencils as he drew a few characters on his pad. Again it fell to near silence, this piece was structurally dynamic and they were really working their full ranges.  A very low pitched stutter in this space, probably from Toshi, a hiss of static then things were brought to a conclusion.

and in the end
Keith and Toshi after the festival

They stood up and Keith thanked Jon and Yuko for putting on this incredible event and then us, the audience:  “The music doesn’t happen without you” and also the room. Which was well deserved, Kid Ailack Art Hall is a cramped tight black box but damn if this kind of music doesn’t sound amazing in it. The smallest details were revealed and the loudest attacks never turned into mush.  It reinforced sounds but didn’t just bounce them all over the place. A great room for this music and the musicians in this festival fully took advantage of it. Toshi then translated Keith’s words, perhaps adding some of his own and that was it, AMPLIFY 2008: light, was official over.

This festival was probably the single most successful event of this type I have attended.  The percentage of fantastic music was very high and even the sets that I didn’t think were entirely successful were incredibly fascinating. There was really only one set I’d say I didn’t like and even that had its moments.  Keith’s four sets were all amazing, as good of music as I’ve heard all year, or the last couple of years. It is not a surprise to me that Jon was willing to release all of these sets. The festival was ran impecciably with no issues seeming to impact any of the music or related events.

After each night of shows we’d head to the Book Cafe below the venue and drink wine, eat great food, and chat until the last train of the night.  This is a great tradition and something that really should be adapted outside of Japan.  I had great conversations with Keith, Jon, Toshi, Yamauchi, Mark, Joe and a number of other fans. I got to talk a little bit with most of the other musicians and members of the extended community. Truly a remarkable experience that was rewarding on so many levels.  I especially enjoyed all the time I got to spend with Keith, with whom I had breakfast every morning and shared many a walk and train ride with.  Additionally I highly enjoyed the time I got to spend with Jon and Yuko – it was great to be able to see them as much as I did. Finally sharing these shows and the uchiage with IHM friends Mark and Joe was all kinds of good times, something I hope happens more often.  So thanks to Jon and Yuko for bringing us this and thanks to all of the musicians for the fantastic music and extra-special thanks to Yuko for all the help in Japanese which my skills are non-existent.

see all of my  Amplify08 photos.

read all of my Amplify08 Reviews.