CD Reviews

Friday 12th March

March 12, 2010

Toshiya Tsunoda Michael GraeveWell that’s work over for nearly three weeks. Absolutely exhausted tonight but so glad to get to rest a little now. I had half intended to make the trip across to Reading tonight to catch the Butcher / Lash / Russell trio play, but I ended up leaving work far later than expected having said goodbye to every man and his dog three times over, and then being just too tired to rush there at the speed that would have been required to make it. A big sorry to the musicians. Tomorrow I will be in London at the most recent installment of the Interlace series of concerts however, way over at Goldsmiths Great Hall. Say hi if you are there.

Tonight I have been listening to another CD that has been here a few weeks, a duo album by Toshiya Tsunoda and Michael Graeve released on Tsunoda’s Edition. T label in a joint venture with a label apparently called Meglomania, micromania, which could be Graeve’s own imprint. Like the majority of Tsunoda’s more recent work, this release combines an acute understanding of the properties of sound with a conceptual musical structure. The methods used, and compositional approach taken to put this music together is somewhat complicated, and unhelpfully the liner notes are only written on the face of the disc itself, making consideration of them while the music plays impossible unless you go here and read them on the screen. The release has a minimal amount of packaging, but I still suspect that the notes’ placement on the disc isn’t an accident.

I don’t know the work of Michael Graeve at all, but his website here describes him as an artist working in visual and sound media. Tsunoda I know very well as one of the most consistently creative field recordists working today. The pair set out by choosing a series of  words and their antonuyms (Division and Unity, Whole and Parts etc) and using these as initial themes for the work. The pair then set about making separate recordings, apparently independent of each other that involved continuously moving sound. Tsunoda recorded the sound of a running brook via an underwater hydrophone, while Graeve recorded a room filled with old domestic record players playing without any records. Then, using a score derived by a colour-field painting done by Graeve these recordings were divided up into parts, and arranged alongside sections of recorded low frequencies, mostly outside of the reach of the human ear, but present enough for the artists to include a warning that playing the disc loud could damage the listener’s hi-fi equipment. The way the pieces are cut up and arranged is complicated, and reading the notes made my head hurt, so I will leave you to enlarge the photo above and read fro yourself, but it would seem that the artist’s intentions were partly to try and create a work that is formed via a seemingly symmetrical structure, but to test the listener’s ability to listen for different structures and patterns in the music, with each listener potentially hearing the work differently. At least that is how I read it in my overly tired state. Maybe others can give their thoughts on the liner notes if they read them differently here.

However it is arranged, the music is a curious, partly unsettling, partly hypnotically relaxing work. It is divided into nine tracks on the CD, but there are a greater number of definite sections in the music as you listen. Tsunoda’s bubbling brook seems to appear a lot less often than Graeve’s softly roaring gramophone abrasions, but perhaps this is an illusion. The sounds of each recording appear at differing volumes throughout the CD, and each “Section” starts and finished abruptly, the music sliced up at seemingly random points. Sometimes the bass tones cannot be heard at all, sometimes they are a distant presence, and on occasions they appear audibly alongside one or the other recording. I may be mistaken, but I don’t think the recordings of both artists ever sound together at the same time, but maybe they do, the music’s decentred nature making it hard to focus at times. Throughout, the sounds we hear are quite lovely, never aggressive or confrontational, just arranged in such a way that they refuse traditional listening approaches. The sounds come and go as they please, flicking on and off rather than fading in and out, beautifully recorded but then sequenced with a ruthless precision.

It is really hard to know how to respond to this music, or to know what to write that could possibly describe how it really sounds. In many ways it is an ascetic, harsh work, but then on the other hand the recorded sounds all have an emotional attachment, either the restful sound of nature of the nostalgic sound of a misplaced record player needle. With this release, as with other more recent discs Tsunoda seems to be taking his approach to field recordings beyond mere documentation or simple discovery of hidden sounds and instead producing music designed to nudge listeners out of their comfort zones, challenging what we might expect from his music, and perhaps music in general. I enjoyed this (untitled) disc quite a bit, but it is hard to say why. Certainly I enjoyed just listening to the sounds for what they are, but also I liked the uncertainty of the structure, which retains its sense of jigsawesque confusion even after several listens. An odd one then, and probably not a disc that will appeal to many, but I quite enjoyed it this evening.

Comments (4)

  • robert

    March 13, 2010 at 1:22 am

    Have a good vacation Richard. I too also start vacation today (in an hour – can’t wait) though not for three weeks alas.

  • Dominic Lash

    March 13, 2010 at 12:45 pm

    Kind of you to think of coming along Richard. Sorry you didn’t make it, I’d have been interested in your response to the music… We’ll just have to do some more gigs I suppose!

  • Richard Pinnell

    March 13, 2010 at 3:18 pm

    I’m just sorry I couldn’t make it Dom, it sounds a really well matched trio. Yes, play more concerts please!

    Have a good holiday Robert!

  • Brian Olewnick

    March 13, 2010 at 3:53 pm

    Graeve was in town here a few years ago for a residency of some kind (iirc) and I had the opportunity to visit his studio and attend an installation, both very exciting. The wall of old turntables produced a really great, complex noise.

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