I’m working an earlier shift this week, which sees me get home at a more sensible hour, so perhaps I will get some of my outstanding jobs sorted at last over the next few days, finalising sleeve designs being top of the list. A stack of new CDs arrived this morning as well, new stuff from IMJ and Wandelweiser amongst them. I’m looking forward to having a little more time to be able to listen properly this week. This evening I have been listening to a new release that has either only just been released or is about to be released by Robert j Kirkpatrick on his Hollow Earth Recordings label. Robert sent me a physical disc to listen to, so I imagine copies will be available to purchase from him very soon, though he also tends to give his music away for free download from the label’s website. So far this new disc, named Sounds from the floating world does not seem to be there in download format so I am not sure if it will be or not in the future. The last thing I heard Robert was reaching the end of a long cycling trip down the west coast of the USA so he will probably be back home soon and able to answer these questions.
I have known Robert for a while and have followed his music as it has progressed over recent years. He plays the harp, in a somewhat reduced, electroacoustic manner, and his previous releases have tended towards a kind of stark, ascetic minimalism, far from easy listening. This new release though Â sees Kirkpatrick use a very different approach. The disc contains four tracks that each make use of field recordings that he made during a trip to Japan in 2008, two of them being just collages of assorted recordings, the other two also involving additional overlaid instrumental (or at least electronic) parts. The first track, Ten Ten Kyoto Overlay is indeed 10’10″ in length and would appear to consist of just assembled parts of field recordings made around the city of Kyoto. Much of what we hear at first are natural sounds, insects chirruping, birds twittering, recordings made (I suspect) in or around the Ryoan-Ji temple. Scattered throughout though are reminders of modern Japan, the chatter of crowds, a revving up moped (I think) and an obscure, cut-up, partly looped sample of a grainy recording of a piano sonata, the identity of which I don’t know. This is a nice piece. the recording quality of the collaged pieces is good if not superb, giving an air of vaguely grainy mystique to the track. The piano parts, and other sudden, unannounced intrusions upon the otherwise calm feeling of the piece add something extra to what might otherwise be just another collage of natural sounds.
The second piece, named Ryoan-Ji (for John Cage) is a thirteen minute long recording made at the temple, over which Kirkpatrick has later layered a track consisting of two keys sounds, a high pitched, piercing sine tone and a lower, bubbling, popping tone that sort of sounds like dribbling water recorded against a metal surface but probably isn’t. Much of the field recording consists of people talking in low voices as they walk around. There are occasional footsteps or sudden bustling sounds, and the sound of tourist guides reading instructions. The overlaid sounds remain constant throughout until the track ends suddenly at. This track is OK, a nice idea executed well, but over thirteen minutes it begins to lose impact. While the album’s first track continued to spring little surprises this piece uses one single concept for perhaps twice as long as I would have preferred. I suspect much of the emotive power of the recordings used in this piece will be lost on anyone that has not attended the garden, leaving us just with what we hear on the recording. An extended period sat in the temple’s garden is probably a very beautiful experience, but this doesn’t translate so well to a recording without the associated imagery.
The third piece is named Tokyo Electrics and is a thirty-three minute long assemblage of recordings made around parks, trains, streets and venues in Tokyo. The bits and pieces were then somehow assembled using a score Kirkpatrick devised using images found via a Google search for “Tokyo Electric.” These recordings contain everything we might expect from Tokyo. There are busy streets, noisy shops, crowds of people chattering, traffic, music, amusement arcades, and a host of other loud unidentified sounds that are collaged together. It isn’t immediately clear how the score might work. It seems to consist of a single computer generated cartoonish illustration of trees and buildings that Kirkpatrick has divided up into four “zones” on one axis and the thirty-three minutes of the piece along the other. In theory then up to four recordings are heard at one time here, sometimes less, depending on what appears in the image at any one time. The piece sounds best when the field recordings are not so easily identifiable. Often there are sounds involved that could be trains, could be industrial equipment of some kind or other, or could be something else again. These parts have more of a musicality to them that merge well with the other elements of the recordings. Elsewhere, when birdsong or rain can be heard, or when station announcements are made on trains things verge nearer to the kind of playful aural tourism that all of us with handheld digital recorders have tried from time to time. As a result, over the full length of the piece some parts are much more interesting than others, Â but in general this longer, semi-composed track is the most accomplished here.
The final piece lasts just over a minute in length. It consists of several recordings from Kyoto pieced together in small parts. There is some kind of little tune played electronically, birdsong, wind and footsteps, all contained within this tiny timeframe. The piece was used as the backdrop for a live performance in Seattle over which Kirkpatrick added live sound, but that element is missing here. As a result I am not sure what there is to take from this little track we have not already heard in more detail. had we not already been entrenched in similar sounds throughout the album this little piece would actually work really well, perhaps if placed between two instrumental pieces, a little island of condensed sound. Placed here at the end of the album though it loses the impact that its brevity provides, though at first, without realising how long the track was I was surprised by is sudden ending.
Some nice material here though, and probably my favourite release from Robert yet. The extended Tokyo Electrics composition is certainly my highlight, but all of the pieces attempt to fuse some of the character and feel of modern Japan into otherwise abstract musical settings.