CD Reviews

Monday 11th October

October 11, 2010

offcellsNot such a bad day after yesterday’s relaxation, its 11PM as I type though and I have to be up for work again in a little more than five hours, so I will try and keep tonight’s review brief and cut the waffle (yeah right…)

This evening I have been listening to a new CD on the Slovenian label par excellence, L’Innomable, a disc by Off-cells, an all-Japanese quartet made up of Takahiro Kawaguchi, (objects) Utah Kawasaki, (analogue synth) Taku Unami (guitar) and Seijiro Murayama (percussion). The album, named 60/40 is a live recording in five parts made in September 2008 and January 2009 at the Loop Line venue in Tokyo. Now this is a curious release… The title 60/40 refers to the structure given to the timing of the five pieces. The first track is called simply 1, and lasts exactly thirty minutes. The second track is called 0.6, which is obviously 60% of 1, and the track is exactly 60% of the length of the first piece, clocking in at eighteen minutes. The third track then is named 0.36, again is 60% of the length of the preceding track, and so on, until the final fifth track, named 0.1296 lasts just 3’52”.

Now, the first thing that occurred to me after noticing this sequence to the track lengths, and given Taku Unami’s recent playful penchant for re-using music at different parts of a CD was that maybe each of these tracks were further distillations or edits of the same piece of music, so shortening the track each time by removing 40% of the previous piece. Listening as carefully as I can over several run-throughs tonight I don’t think this this is the case, though it can be a little hard to tell given the nature of the music, which is quite angular and tends to resist any easily identifiable flowing sections. Still, assuming the music is not put together in this way, the precise structure of the music does leave me to wonder if what we hear on the CD is improvised or composed, not that it really matters, but its interesting to try and work this out.

The four musicians seem to play in a way that quite often suggests a score of some kind, probably just timings, is in use. The sounds that each musician makes do not feel like they are being made in direct response to what their colleagues are doing, though the combined effect of everything works very well. Whether this is the result of the listener’s ear making sense of everything that has been pulled together, or whether this is an improvisation after all is open to discussion. I really can’t tell.

The music then is really rather good, but it has a certain character to it that for some reason reminds me of cubism. Unami’s guitar in particular has a very simple, no frills feel to it, clearly plucked notes repeated, played in rising or falling scales, often without any sense of soul or feeling as we might expect from an electric guitarist. These simple, almost geometric sounds seem to sit at odds with whatever else is happening, and yet when placed beside the next set of equally simple sounds the two seem to make sense, like two parts of a Braque painting, elements reduced to seemingly oversimplified shapes that take on new meaning when put together. Kawaguchi’s objects include some kind of metronomic clicking machine, Murayama’s percussion is reduced to simple blocks of texture and Kawasaki’s synth a very nicely controlled source of electronic distortion that is again placed in tight segments during which the sound might not change much, again suggesting the possibility of a score somewhere in the background.

Without the track titles, or overall album name, I would never have noticed the relationship between the track lengths, and so would have been more likely to have heard this music just as live recordings by a quartet, perhaps improvised, perhaps not. As it is the music makes me feel oddly uncomfortable as a listener. I want to relax and hear the music, listen to the interplay between musicians, follow the shapes formed etc… but I keep wondering what I’m missing, and on the five or six times now that I have played this CD since receiving it Saturday morning I find myself seeking out hidden codes in the music that may or may not be there. Whether or not there is a conscious attempt by Off-cells here to subvert the ‘usual’ listening experiences that we have when listening to live recordings I don’t know, but certainly I have found myself thinking differently as the CD has played, pulled out of my usual comfort zone as a listener, which can only be a good thing. Great music by a fine quartet, and maybe, or maybe not, there is more to this one than meets the eye. Really great sleeve design as well.

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