Thursday 12th NovemberNovember 12, 2009
A day off today, spent tidying and cleaning mainly, but also waiting for the endless pounding rain to stop for long enough to walk to the post office and back. The postal strike is very much over here now, and over recent days I have been inundated with new CDs to listen to, enough to keep me in one review a day for a good few weeks. One of these is Omni, the third release on the Presqu’ile label and the work of three Japanese musicians, Tetuzi Akiyama, Kato Hideki and Toshimaru Nakamura.
I first heard about this recording quite a while ago, and was immediately intrigued. Nakamura and Akiyama were at one point virtually inseparable, playing together all the time when they first appeared on the improvised music scene. In recent years however their music seemed to have moved in different directions, as Nakamura’s no-input mixer sound became louder and more abrasive, so Akiyama moved off into a heavily blues influenced guitar style. Kato Hideki however, after playing in Otomo Yoshide’s Ground Zero groups in the late nineties has since moved to New York, where he plays bass in and around the contemporary downtown improv scenes. This album was intriguing because I wasn’t sure how these three could play together now.
Its actually very difficult to tell what is going on on Omni. We know that Nakamura plays guitar and mixer here, and Akiyama guitar and electronics, while Hideki occasionally plays a sythesiser, but primarily plays electric bass with prime number tuning. What the prime number bit means I really am not sure, particularly as the majority of the music here sounds to me as if tuning systems were generally not considered that much while it was made. Omni is an ugly collection of grinding, wailing feedback, dirty grungey electronics and very little that sounds all that much like a guitar of any shape and size. It is all a bit of a noisy, vaguely formless racket. There are piercing wails, skittering scribbles and dirty smudges of feedback, all quite different but blended together cutely to form a blurry mass of guitar by-product. Nothing much sounds in tune, whether prime numbered or not, and everything sounds electronic, and cloudy, formless electronics at that. Many of the sounds we hear seem borrowed from noise music, but played here at lower volume. While Omni isn’t at all quiet it never feels out of control or uncomfortable in any way, just somewhat smeary and unclear. I really struggle to tell who is making what sounds here, on either the main forty minute long track or the brief five minute piece that follows right after, but to be honest might as well be just an extension of the first track.
I’m not sure if I like Omni much. Actually I don’t really dislike it, but I struggle to see what there is to really enjoy here. It is difficult to tell who is making which sound, so the interplay between the musicians, (if indeed there is any at all, Hideki has spoken of the trio as three trains driven separately through dark tunnels) is indecipherable. The sounds themselves are all quite ugly, and their massed form is just something of a mess, its structure chaotic. I did find listening through a few times an interesting experience, as trying to make sense of Omni, trying to find something solid to cling to is an intriguing exercise. Certainly this is also unusual and original music, unlike much I have heard by any of the three musicians here. (In a blind test I might just about have identified Nakamura, but never Hideki and certainly not Akiyama.) Somehow though it lacks anything solid, anything to bring me back here again in years to come.
Another recent recording, this time a duo of Nakamura and Akiyama minus Hideki is on the way here this coming week. How that one compares to the Omni recording will be interesting.