CD Reviews

Saturday 9th May

May 10, 2009

I’ve never really felt comfortable advertising Cathnor releases here, but seeing as people seem to be interested I will quickly announce that the seventh full length release on the label is now available, more info here. I am on something of a positive surge with Cathnor right now, having been working on two different sleeve designs at once today, switching between the two.

Anyway I can justify the plug above by linking it to today’s listening here, solely because the Cathnor release wedding ceremony and the CD playing right now both feature the playing of Taku Sugimoto. The disc playing is his second release of duo improvisations with Taku Unami, entitled Tengu et Kitsune II. The first volume is one of my favourite discs by either Taku, so I have been eagerly awaiting this one.

It is really good too. As one has come to expect from this pair it sounds quite different to the first album and quite frankly quite different to much else at all. There are two pieces, each of them a live recording made at Loop-Line in Tokyo, with six months between them. It should be noted at this point that the recordings are technically excellent, crisp and clear with little background sound. This fact does not really matter in terms of the music, but it is worth noting just how good Unami has become with a microphone and mastering software.

The first track features Sugimoto on “metronomes” and Unami using his computer to drive mechanical rhythmic processes of some kind. The metronomes are (I think) of the electronic variety, and it sounds like two are being used, each with a slightly different pitch. Sugimoto seems to set them running in little bursts, out of synch with each other, interrupting them after a few seconds at at time. Unami creates similar sounds himself, though usually of a much faster woodpecker variety, though again they suddenly switch gear and move faster or slower without warning. The overall effect is of a patchwork of stuttering tinny rhythms of two types, layering over each other, playing off of each other and generally creating a mesh of interesting shapes and patterns interleaved with little grabs of silence.

The music here on this piece may be of the dry, potentially emotionless kind, but there is something extraordinarily musical about this piece. The two sets of sound converse with each other just as well as on any other improv disc, and their distribution across the twenty-two minute track is expertly done, somehow maintaining this listener’s attention 100% despite the limited sound palette in use. In some ways this first track has quite a bit in common with Takehiro Kawaguchi’s recent solo n that was in fact released on Unami’s Hibari imprint. On that release Kawaguchi created hypnotic streams of sound from overdubbed recordings of his “remodelled counters,” mysterious instrument(s) that sound not dissimilar to much of what we hear on Tengu et Kitsune II. However whereas n sounded like the sound of machinery in hyperactive, yet automated mode, Unami and Sugimoto’s music here is undeniably human, and their individual, idiosyncratic voices shine through. I could listen to this all day.

The second track utilises a similar angular, rhythmic structure, but the instrumentation is much different. On this track of similar length both musicians are credited as playing “mandolin, etc.” The etcetera here basically being assorted percussive items knocked together and their own hands, as there is a lot of slow clapping throughout the disc, probably by Unami, maybe by both. There is also a few seconds where one or the other adds to a rhythm by clicking their tongue slowly. The music then takes on a similar shape to the that on the first track, carefully placed patterns of tapping and clapping but weaved into the gaps between these sounds there are little bursts of almost melodic mandolin, sometimes played in a stilted rhythm, but sometimes just the start of a chord left hanging. If a pattern of knocks and clicks is left to run for too long it is usually cut short by either one single loud intervention or a burst of mandolin. Near the end a slow series of claps and bangs is gradually brought louder in volume until it sounds like one or the other music is thumping his fist down on the body of his instrument, only for it to suddenly stop as if on a cue. There are so many sudden changes and right angled chops in this music that it is almost fitting to call in cubist in its form, the gentle flowing edges and blending of other music is sharpened here into jagged edges and sudden changes.

I suspect this release will annoy many people, particularly those that hopelessly still long for the bluesy guitar improv Sugimoto once played, but for me this is inventive, captivating music of a genuinely original and exploratory type. This is the eighteenth release on Sugimoto’s Slub Music label, and as it joins the other seventeen on the shelves here it is also worth noting just how solid a group of releases this is, though some fifteen years after the label began operations it amuses me to note that it still has no website. All that has ever mattered is the exploration into the music itself, and long may that continue.

Comments (4)

  • RFKorp

    May 10, 2009 at 3:33 am

    Not that it’s a terribly important point, but I’ve been running on the assumption that the Kawaguchi album is NOT overdubbed/edited pieces. Do you have anything to back up your assertion?

  • Richard Pinnell

    May 10, 2009 at 8:48 pm

    No Richard, sorry. For some reason I had a memory of the disc as being multitracked, possibly because the titles of the pieces sort of suggest that to me, but you are right they probably are not and my memory has failed me here.

    n still sounds mechanical though, and less “human” than Tengu et Kitsune II, which was the point I was haphazardly trying to get across.

  • RFKorp

    May 11, 2009 at 3:23 am

    For sure. n is definitely a music of mechanical processes set in motion in a calculated manner to play out in particular juxtapositions against each other.

    Which is definitely an important distinction. Even when in the dry territory of mechanical metronomic tapping or periods of computer-triggered clatter, Sugimoto and Unami use instruments that require they manually trigger the end of the sound as well as its start. It cannot play itself out in the completely mechanical way Kawaguchi’s sounds do. There’s an extra layer of humanity in the manual control necessary for these sounds to exist. A mindset further exemplified by this recent move towards body sounds such as hand clapping and tongue clicking.

    Your writeup has definitely gotten me more excited to hear the new Tengu et Kitsune soon.

  • jon abbey

    June 13, 2009 at 1:56 pm

    pulling this up as I’ve spent a fair bit of time the last two nights talking to Kawaguchi (with the help of Yuko’s translation skills), and can confirm that his Hibari disc is not overdubbed at all, all but one track (8N) is live and 8N was edited later but not overdubbed.

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