CD Reviews

Michael Pisaro, Taku Sugimoto – D minor / Bb major

October 23, 2012


This new release, a collaborative composition by Michael Pisaro and Taku Sugimoto, both guitarists and composers with a history of producing quiet music behind them, is unlike their first collaboration from last year in that rather than being a duo work it contains a recording of a single forty-eight minute long realisation of the score by sixteen musicians. The pair created the piece of music by playing something like a structured version of an exquisite corpse game. The two composers decided upon a set of tunings, (a combination of just intonation to the 32nd partial and, more or less equal tempered tunings if that means anything to you) and then set about separately composing eight instrumental parts each without knowing what the other had written. At the recording, at the annual Dog Star festival in Los Angeles, the two composers/guitarists joined a group of mostly string and wind instruments to perform the work. While each individual part is scored, each musician was given a ten minute window into which they could place their contribution, allowing a lot of flexibility for when to play.

So, two sets of eight composed parts, written independently of one another and brought together on the day, then played somewhere within quite a substantial window of time. From one perspective then there seems to be quite a lot of control held over the music- precise notation, tuning etc, but then when you think a little more, sixteen is quite a high number of musicians to be coming and going at various times, playing at times not necessarily compatible to the person sat next to them. The music then is left to be formed from how one instrument might blend with, or react to the next, with the musicians given just enough freedom to be able to wrestle control from the composers and create combinations of sounds that would not necessarily have been planned. While listening to the music does not feel a particularly chaotic experience, when you consider how this music was created its a surprise it didn’t end up a completely incoherent mess, and one assumes that the composers’ knowledge of one another’s work, and ability to second guess how the final result may sound is what kept the music sounding, on the whole, very pleasingly coherent.

The musicians all play soft, and their sections each contain very basic musical structures, short sections of notes separated by short silences. These factors, given the composers are no surprise, and actually, even when taking into account how the overall work was created, there is no point at which the music here doesn’t seem to flow. The work is divided, as Pisaro scores often are, by a lengthy silence halfway through. Either side of this little intermission however soft tones resonate gently as what sounds like eBowed guitars smoothly vibrate and other instrumentation is solemnly plucked, dry strings and gentle reeds buzz away, softly chiming piano well, chimes. Its all a very relaxed, steady affair, with little absolute silence beside Pisaro’s trademark lengthy pause in the centre of the piece, which actually reveals the hum of the room where the rest of the piece did not. Its highly listenable music, with the way the different parts come and go keeping the structure of the work interesting, and nothing ever sliding into repetitive systems. The first couple of times I heard the disc, driving to and from work a few weeks back, I had not read the enclosed liner notes that helpfully reveal the way the composition was pulled together, and I remember thinking that the music was remarkably complex for these composers. Its not exactly physically dense music, as the way the ten minute windows are arranged seems to keep too many musicians from playing at once, but the way so many little interlocking combinations of different parts keep shifting over and another makes for intricate music that would probably have been very difficult for one person to have envisaged and subsequently composed. A fascinating project then, but also an engaging work of no little beauty.

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