Wednesday 26th AugustAugust 26, 2009
20:30– I recently managed to get a friend to load a workable version of Linux onto the cute little netbook I bought early this year, and so tonight’s post begins as a bit of an experiment because I am writing at least this first couple of paragraphs on the train home from work, having left two hours late after a less than ideal crappy day. Playing on my iPod right now is a new release by the duo of percussionist Seijiro Murayama and Soundworm, just released on the Ftarri label. It might be really good, but then again it might not. The problem obviously is that right now all I can hear, despite having the volume at full blast is a distant drone of some kind, a woman having a telephone conversation about different kinds of spaghetti, and the roar of a train over railway tracks. I suspect that some if not all of these sounds are not actually on the CD.
Seeing as I can’t really tell what I should be writing about from what I shouldn’t, I will at least comment on the name of Murayama-San’s musician partner on this CD, none other than Soundworm. I don’t have the sleevenotes to hand as I type this, but I seem to remember that he is credited with “sound engineering and suggestions.” Â Actually I’m not certain why I am assuming the said worm is male, but then aren’t all worms male? Have you ever seen a female worm? Come to think of it, I can’t think of too many worms that work as sound engineers either.Â Joking aside, is it just me that thinks its a bit daft when serious musicians choose to use nom-de-plumes like this? Of course it doesn’t really matter but if the music is something to be proud of why not put your name to it? Anyway…
21:10– This third paragraph begins half an hour or so later as I sit on my kitchen floor (yes there are chairs but I couldn’t be bothered!) still with the netbook, and waiting for free range chicken with gruyere cheese and parma ham and asparagus to cook. The CD in question is now playing upstairs on my stereo. As I type I can hear it in the distance, there was that distant echoey drone for a while and now what sounds vaguely like birdcalls mixes with the gentle whir of the oven’s fan and the click of my fingers across this keyboard. I’m going to eat dinner and then I’ll go and listen properly.
23:20– So this paragraph begins as I sit listening carefully, halfway through the second proper run-through. Actually, earlier when I tried listening under unusual circumstances I really didn’t think I was hearing the music well, grasping just what my head thought it was hearing. I think now that I have heard the music properly I actually wasn’t doing too bad a job. The early part of the first of the six tracks, named Snow’s sun was indeed very quiet, and all that could be heard was a grainy distant droning sound, the result (I think) of Murayama rubbing a stick quickly along a piece of ribbed pipe (I am guessing this accurately as I remember the distinctive sound from the live shows I saw him play this year) while a cloudy, hissing drone builds around it, presumably Soundworm’s contribution? This track, along with the final sixth piece was recorded live at a French monastery though, and the recording is credited to someone else other than Soundworm. So was the drone added later? There is nothing Â else to indicate that this is the case, but I have my suspicions.
Track two is the first of four recorded in Koganei Japan, this time by Mr Worm. these four pieces are namedÂ (slightly boringly after the first great title) Â Composition for recordings 1 to 4. The first of them (they each last around eight and half minutes) indeed opens with the sound of birdcalls, and as traffic sounds, wind and overflying aircraft can all later be heard it is clear the piece, or at least some part of it was recorded out of doors. On this track, gently bowed cymbal sounds are the main (perhaps the only?) percussion sounds to be heard, and the interest in the piece develops from the way Murayama’s sensitive, minimal playing merges into the environmental sounds. I am reminded a little here of the recordings of Sean Meehan and Tamio Shiraishi’s annual outdoor, urban events. The piece is very gentle and understated, its strength coming perhaps from the way everything comes together naturally. Is this just a simple case of Murayama being recorded playing outside? If I had not heard the other tracks in this four part series I would immediately have said yes, but the later pieces lead me to wonder.
The second of the Composition pieces opens with the same vaguely urban soundscape appearing in just the right channel alone. A repetitve but always slightly changing scraping sound from the same ribbed pipe is there in the left channel, and trying to listen to both through headphones is a weird experience. After about a minute though everything cuts and the same scraping reappears, but this time in both channels, but buried away as if sounding underwater. A few seconds later it reappears loud and clear, then cuts out, reappears etc, always treated slightly differently, sometimes with sudden background noises, recordings of spaces added, sometimes not. At this point I remembered the album’s title Space and Place and its significance hit home as a recording of a passing motor vehicle seemed to sit nicely behind Murayama’s scraping for a moment before it suddenly disappears, reminding us of the illusion of space and time that is being created here.
The fourth track, Â the third then in the Composition series (are you keeping up?) continues in a similar vein, but with different sounds by Murayama, this time abrasive rubbing sounds that I can’t quite identify. Again they come and go from the foreground, each cut made abruptly by Soundworm, sometimes with natural, ambient sounds behind, sometimes not. We hear vaguely urban roomtones, distant industrial sounds, far off children playing and shouting, birdcalls again and sometimes just silence, or the hum of microphone gain. The fifth track begins again with the same recording of children and birds, but this time much louder. The motorbike suddenly appears, breaking the silence, but then the birds call again, and I wonder if the motorbike is there in the same place or not. Gentle chimes and whines from caressed metals drift quietly in from Murayama, and once again nothing stays the same for long, we are never quite sure of what we are hearing, what belongs together and what doesn’t. Although these pieces are put together using the most simple of ideas, different versions of the same recording of percussion placed amongst constantly changing environmental backgrounds, this music is really very original, refreshing and a lot of fun to listen to. When I look closer at the sleeve design I notice there may actually be a score used to dictate where sounds might come and go.
It may seem like I engineered the start of this post tonight to fit in with the concept of listening to music against different backgrounds but I swear I didn’t. I had not heard the disc at all before listening on the train on my way home. I ripped the music to my iPod without playing it, as I usually do before leaving for work, and there really is no indication of what to expect on the sleeve. Perhaps only the album title might give away the games played in the music regarding instrumental sounds heard against different background sounds, but this really did not occur to me. The irony of how I began to listen when considered in respect to the music on the disc made me laugh out loud tonight though.
The final sixteen minute track, the other one recorded live in France, is named Nothing is Everything. This track is beautifully constructed from gently shimmering metallic sounds drifting over humming backgrounds to begin with, until it begins to sparkle into clouds of clattering metal and warm tones, perhaps as a result of multi-tracking perhaps not, but the result is very pleasing to the ear, vaguely reminiscent of Mark Wastell’s tam tam solos, but using much more depth and variation in the sounds layered into it. The room in which the music was recorded in the monastery clearly plays its part as louder sounds can be heard bouncing off of walls, dying away only very slowly. This piece underlines Murayama’s exceptional touch. The weight given to sounds is just right, everything falls together in just the right places. When he utters deep vocal moans later in the piece they are added at just the right moment, with unwavering pitch. While my ear tries to tell me that there is overdubbed trickery going on here by heart suggests that maybe there isn’t. While the four middle tracks clearly play (quite brilliantly) with concepts of sounds placed against different fake backgrounds and tests how we respond as listeners to these continual shifts, I suspect the first and last track here merely underline what is possible in real time. Though of course I could be very wrong.
00:34– Space and Place is great. It had me gripped throughout, enjoying the delicacy of the music at the same time as trying to solve the puzzles. It is often very beautiful, occasionally completely disconcerting in the way it fools the listener’s ear, and always very interesting and original. A really great example of how the conceptual can be merged with the visceral very successfully. I’m playing it again now, sans headphones, with the window open and the distant clatter of the nearby railway goods yard able to be heard.