CD Reviews

Friday 28th October

October 29, 2011

While I am only really familiar with Takahiro Kawaguchi’s work through his CD releases, the few times in recent years that I have been fortunate enough to see Taku Unami perform in person have been thoroughly inspirational affairs. Very similarly to the Balloon and Needle musicians’ performances his work has contained as much visual information and expression as it does aural, and I have come away from each of the shows feeling that an audio-only recording of it just wouldn’t do it justice, and that if Unami was to document his current live approach it would have to be on a DVD.For his recent duo release with Kawaguchi on the Erstwhile label; Teatro Assente then, given that Unami typically gives absolutely nothing away with liner notes, much of what takes place to create the sounds we hear is a mystery, but perhaps given his recent leaning towards visual spectacles over the purely sonic, it doesn’t come as a surprise that cinema and its processes seem to play a significant part in the release. Given that I have watched only one film all year, only one all of last year, and my interest in cinema is close to zero, maybe any attempt I might try and make at decoding Teatro Assente would be hampered. The problem is, this isn’t a CD you can really just sit and listen to without trying to decipher what its all about, simply because it makes every effort to be as ambiguously distant as it can. Trying to listen from an entirely aesthetic, sound-based perspective is a bit like being stuck in a maze and stopping to admire the quality of the hedgerows rather than try and figure the way out. Its fair to say then, that this isn’t an easy CD to try and write anything about.

Merely listing what we hear here then is also a waste of time, but as has been widely discussed elsewhere already, we do seem to hear a degree of Unami’s recent preoccupations going on here- there seems to things falling from the ceiling to the floor, possibly the cardboard boxes tied up high he has become known for. There are the rattling, vibrating sounds of Kawaguchi’s familiar motor-driven devices, but then we also get the series of sharp, mastered very high bleeps, the telephone conversation, the sudden switch to recordings of birdsong, and that interlude when a very loud heavy metal guitar suddenly obliterates everything. The cinema references are everywhere. The title of the album apparently refers to a couple of horror movie directors, the album was recorded in a disused old picture house, the sleeve images, of the same cinema were taken by a famed cinematographer, two unknown names, (presumably the voices that are heard just after a mobile phone vibrates) are credited as “starring” on the recording, and recent hints from the CD’s label owner suggest that all of the eight tracks here were scripted. Note, scripted and not composed. Whether the structure of the whole work refers to any particular films, or any particular elements to be found commonly in any genre of cinema I really couldn’t tell you, but in a way that perhaps musique concrete sometimes attempted to do, Teatro Assente could potentially be hard as cinema for the ear, but given what I have seen from Unami live in the recent past my own personal mental images lean more towards theatre, or perhaps early silent movies rather than anything we normally link to the modern film oeuvre.

There is then also the element of Duchampian absurdism in here as well that I have attempted to apply to Unami’s work in the past. At one point late in the CD we hear the same sample of a helicopter that we heard on hisMalignitat CDs, albums that (to me at least, again nothing was ever officially explained) seemed to try and subvert what we expected to hear on a CD of improvised music when traditional, or at least expected instrumentation was suddenly replaced by seemingly random samples. The use of the helicopter here, albeit briefly hints back to this, as does the appearance of the metal guitar, which comes out of the blue and surprises many who listen. Personally, having heard this kind of oblique gesture from Unami before, I might have been more genuinely surprised if nothing like this appeared on the album. Given his back catalogue, perhaps the most conceptually radical thing he could have done here would have been to make a straight “instrumental” album… The guitar, as it is, just annoys me a bit in that it is the least interesting sound here. This is probably the desired impact of this section of the disc however- to irritate anyone who was enjoying the album as a work of traditional “beauty”. Clearly its sudden arrival is deliberately distasteful, though I personally wouldn’t rank it higher than the use of artificial reverb effects here and there on any musical ugliness scale.

What I am not sure about is how much of all of this CD was constructed in advance and how much follows a live “script”. In places things cut away abruptly, as if moving from a mixing desk recording to an open room mic, but besides these changes of perspective, maybe akin to the shift from one camera angle of the same scene to another, it is possible that what we hear is an uninterrupted flow of events, at least maybe split into eight sections for each of the tracks here. Again though, we naturally find ourselves trying to figure this album out. Unami and Kawaguchi seem (and this is entirely my perception I know… ) to revel in producing something wholeheartedly incomprehensible. Given that, in the past, Unami appears to have tried to subvert what we expect from a CD by filling it with non-musical objects, and then seems to have tried to subvert what we expect from a live concert by placing non-sounding events on an equal level to the more “musical” elements, are the duo here trying to flip all of this over by trying to put a film onto a CD without pictures? Is Teatro Assente then less of an album and more of a movie, but presented in only audio form, without the usual obvious elements found in cinema? All guesses of course, but this is currently how I view (hear?) the album, as some kind of clash of media, showing a complete disregard for the “rules” of both cinema and music alike- following the horror genre’s lead by sidestepping good taste often, but retaining not only a tight sense of craftsmanship but a sense of infectious mystery that leads us to seek out the story, resolve the plot. Teatro Assente clearly holds a lot more in there besides, and sounds to me like the result of many months of experiment and gradual movement towards this completed work. As an album it is fascinating and thoroughly original, and while it isn’t really a CD I have found myself wanting to play over and over, simply because I find it a frustration more than I find it musically arresting, its a CD that has lead me to think long and hard, as all good conceptual music should do. While we need music that sticks to forms, attempts no more than beauty, we also need work like this that pushes the envelope about as hard as it can be pushed. Where they go from here I haven’t a clue. I await a sequel with much interest.

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