CD Reviews

Sunday 1st February

February 2, 2009

Today the temperature fell below zero here and we had a sprinkling of snow, with more threatened for overnight. So no walking today. After Julie called to say she was off to her mother’s for the day I decided to spend it tidying up, hoovering, dusting, matching stray CDs to their sleeves etc, and with only a couple of breaks (to cook dinner and to listen to a football match) I listened to music all day. As I tidied I also wrote about some of the music I was listening to. My thoughts on those discs should hopefully appear elsewhere so I won’t mention them here.

I listened to a lot of other stuff though. Breakfast (scrambled egg and smoked salmon, very nice) was taken along with Shostakovich’s Violin Sonata op.134 performed by Gidon Kremer. A lovely, rousing way to start the day. I played the Jason Kahn / Takefumi Naoshima disc again early this morning though, and it is also playing now as I type this. I’m intrigued by this release, mainly because its not always clear what is going on, who is making which sound, or even which sounds are actually intentionally part of the music or not. In a room (the title of the piece) sounds to me like it is a recording of a very quiet concert, somewhere along the lines of his two CDR releases with Yasuo Totsuka, plenty going on but all done very quietly. However it then sounds like the gain on the recording has been turned right up, so that the small sounds are amplified, but also so a loud hum is heard right the way through, roomtone for want of a better term. This trick is similar to that used on the Septet disc released by one of the Improvised Music from Japan label a year or two back, a recording that also involved Naoshima.

This recording then captures the sound of passing traffic alongside the clicks, creaks, whistles and scrapes of the musicians, but all engulfed in this shroud of grey hum hanging across the recording. Its hard to assess the music on the same terms that I might consider many other improvised music recordings. The noises made by Kahn and Naoshima seem to creep out from behind the veil, sometimes staying around for a while, sometimes not, but its very difficult to work out who is doing what, how the sounds relate to one another, and which sounds belong to the room alone rather than the musicians. At one point running water can be clearly heard for a minute or so, but where does it come from? Is one of the musicians pouring it onstage? Are we hearing a played-back recording of the same thing? Or did someone working at the venue merely run a tap behind the bar?

As I type this, just before midnight, a thin fall of snow can be seen through the window. Looking back across the town street lights look a blur seen through the haze of the cold. This image is a good companion for the music that has just stopped playing, murky spots of colour seen through the greyness. Trying to make out the details is a futile experience, but overall everything comes together to form a very lovely view. In a room is like this. If you work hard to try and connect with any communication between the musicians, or to separate their sounds from those in the room or those caused by the recording process you will probably be frustrated. However if you take everything you hear as one field of sound and allow it to just mingle with the sounds in your own space then it works beautifully well.

Incidentally I found In a room a difficult disc to experience on headphones. As I suggest above it worked best for me when it was not listened to closely, but when it was allowed to exist in the room amongst everything else already there. Listened to via headphones the music felt claustrophobic and contained. The hum that sits in the foreground throughout the recording felt louder, almost oppressively so, whereas when allowed to play free in the room the sounds behind this were more obvious as the hum seemed to dissipate more given the space to breathe.

Anyway its a good CD. Available here.

Comments (6)

  • jon abbey

    February 2, 2009 at 10:37 am

    wait, really? a CD called ‘In a Room’ works better in the room? shocking!

    (sorry, I couldn’t resist)

    I have those for sale also, haven’t gotten to it yet myself. nice packaging as always from Ben Owen’s label, though.

  • Richard Pinnell

    February 2, 2009 at 10:54 am

    Actually it did come as a surprise. Certainly the other three or four live recordings I have of Naoshima from around that time work better (for me) as headphone listening, simply because they consist of very small sounds recorded very quietly, and they get completely lost to the listener unless the room is completely silent. My approach to In a room is to not worry if things get lost, or even in fact to positively encourage that.

  • Brian Olewnick

    February 2, 2009 at 5:17 pm

    I’ve only listened once so far (liked it) and not being very familiar with Naoshima at all, was defaulting to the assumption that he had something to do with that pervasive hum. But perhaps not!

  • jkudler

    February 2, 2009 at 8:43 pm

    actually, one would think if you wanted to enter in *that* room, headphones would be the way, as it will better recreate that specific acoustical space and block your current one.

    oh, the website says:
    “Due to the fact that we played very softly and sparsely the sounds of the room and even those from outside take on equal importance with the sounds we are making with our instruments. In a sense, listening to the CD could be approached in a similar way, with the volume of the playback somehow melding with the volume of the listening environment, so that the recording doesn’t dominate the listening environment–just as our playing didn’t dominate the recording environment, but worked with it. ”

    anyways, i just wanted to seize on this opportunity to go back to the headphones discussion from a few days ago, which i missed. not to get into the headphones versus speakers debate, but just to remark on the *type* of records. you can listen to yoshimura on phones? even listening on speakers, it’s pretty harsh stuff that really travels, i have to see. i have gotten looks from others listening to nakamura in phones, but i also realized that it’s probably really terrible for my ears too. too much high-pitched sine waves beamed right into the ear. you listen to it loud enough to be heard over a train on phones? do your ears ring afterward? huh.

  • Richard Pinnell

    February 2, 2009 at 11:58 pm

    Brian, although there are one or two short drones and sinewave-like tones buried on the disc I am pretty sure that hum comes from having the mic settings very high so as to capture quiet sounds. The sound is very reminiscent of my time in the audition studio, when after hearing something quiet we would open the mics to speak and find my headphones filled with the hum of roomtone.

    Jesse, I hadn’t actually read those notes from the website before, so thanks.

    Regarding listening to Yoshimura on headphones, well yes I have been, and at pretty high volumes. I must say though its been hell! Because I agreed to write a review of the discs, and because its been a real struggle to find something to say I have listened to them a lot, maybe ten times each. Because my listening time of late has been limited I’ve been forced to do this by headphones. Such is life. I’ve stopped listening to them now though, and as I said somewhere in one of these posts I may not play either again for some months now.

  • jkudler

    February 4, 2009 at 5:20 am

    sorry richard, just saw this. glad to point you to that note.

    i guess what i was wondering if that yoshimura actual causes physical pain, or if that’s just me. do your ears ring? something like that (loud in phones, multiple times) would actually really mess me up, i think.


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