CD Reviews

Ryoko Akama – Code of Silence

February 28, 2014

Melange Edition

The little I had heard of / knew of Ryoko Akama before this new release on what I think could be her own Melange Editions label wouldn’t have lead me to expect a CD like this from her. In fact, if I am honest only the extremely excited comments of Michael Pisaro about the disc lead me to purchase it, but I am very glad I did. Ryoko Akama is (I think) still linked to Huddersfield University in some way and is a member of the affiliated Edges Ensemble, but works as a composer and electronics based musician in her own right. Code of Silence is a five track album made up of mostly electronic and feedback work but it all has a very particular feel to it.

Ryoko’s brief comments at the Melange site talk about how the pieces here explore notions of the “Japanese phenomime and psycomime” with phenomime apparently “Japanese words/phrases that mimic certain physical forms/motions” whilst psycomime “depict psychological states, emotions or feelings. They are the sounding word for no sounding phenomenon.” As interesting as these suggestions are, and despite the fact that my review here would undoubtably be a lot more enriching with an understanding of these influences, I have to say that, despite some fervent googling I remain completely in the dark about how such notions relate the music on Code of Silence, and so I find myself writing purely about how the works impact on me as pieces of organised sound separated from their inspirations.

The opening Jiwa Jiwa is an extraordinary way to start. From the outset thick, heavy deep sine tones pulse over one another to form rapid beating patterns that shake your inner eardrum even at low volume. These gradually move in and out of phase with one another (I can’t quite tell how many separate oscillations there are at work here) so that for a while they come together to form one incredibly dense, gruelling drone that really gets under the skin before gradually moving off and separating, slowing down the pulse rate until little is left and the track ends. there is something quite simple, elemental and direct about this piece, though I suspect a high degree of mathematical thinking went into its creation. The end result is not a million miles from some of the less harsh recent work of Kevin Drumm, though Alvin Lucier is also an obvious reference point. The second track, Gussuri was apparently created with no-input mixer, and consists mostly of long silences that are regularly, but relatively sparsely interrupted by swells of carefully controlled feedback tone that  drift in and out, occasionally crossing each other and varying in depth and pitch. This track has an early Wandelweiser feel to it, and is quite beautiful just as it is remarkably simple.

The third track, Sotto is decidedly beautiful and a remarkable thing to sit in the dark and listen carefully to. A low, very low rumble appears after thirty seconds or so and remains throughout the twelve and a half minute piece. It is hard to pin down exactly what the sound is- on the one hand it often reminds me of some kind of distantly recorded industrial field recording (it sounds exactly like the power station local to me here when it is cleaning out its chimneys) but there is nothing quite discernible in there to suggest this is definitely the case, so I will assume it is an electro-acoustically generated sound of some kind. The rumble shifts, almost indiscernibly as it moves, losing its thickness in places, softening and smoothing in others, but it takes real attention to notice the changes, which are so subtle and gradual that anything but close concentration will lead you to miss them. The experience of listening is incredibly calming, strangely involving and somewhat addictive as I found myself replaying the track over and over in an attempt to hear more in it on each listen. One of the most subtle and clever pieces of music I’ve heard in a while.

The fourth track, Jili Jili is a positively cold affair in comparison. A piercing slither of an electronic tone makes up the piece, and again its consistency and texture changes throughout, though again the alterations are so slight that you often wonder if the sound is changing at all, or merely being affected as you turn your head, or as other sounds in your listening space are affecting it.  As the thin shimmer gradually disintegrates however it is clear you aren’t imagining things. As opposed to the womblike, enticing depths of Sotto however, Jili Jili is so acute that it bites at you nervous system as it develops in a similar manner to Sachiko M’s early albums. The disc then ends with Zowa Zowa, perhaps the most outwardly beautiful and ornate track here. Incredibly subtle, very quiet layers of white noise, crackle and stinging whistles slowly build behind initially a gently rhythmic thump of low end distortion, only to be replaced with what sounds to me like a field recording of the wind blowing against a thinly covered microphone. Across the fourteen minute piece these carefully entwined layers increase in volume through tiny increments every minute or so until they flow into a blustering gale of activity that still retains the subtlety and elegance of the way the track began.

This is beautiful, incredibly subtle and intelligent work likely to be missed by a wider audience. Many thanks to Michael Pisaro for drawing my attention to it, and I thoroughly recommend you to take a listen also.

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