The Wire, David Toop
How very odd, and how very wonderful that this kind of sound work should be available in a superstore near you. Well, perhaps that's not completely true, but there is a faint chance of stumbling across it in some secret corner, racked not so far from all that exists in the currently available documented history of earthling music.
Why should that seem so strange? I guess because the improvised organization of sound that Toshi Nakamura and Sachiko M are currently pursuing seems so remote from the 20th century notion of producing recordings in multiples for commercial distribution to an unwitting public. Would it make equal sense to package tiny James Turrell light installations into boxes and distribute them for sale at a cost of less than £20 in a selection of cities across the world?
Perhaps so, though I doubt it, and perhaps this gets close to being an aural equivalent, though it's an anthology of surgical laser needles, halogen glare, epileptic neon, near-death light bulbs, and cathode-ray tube emissions rather than Turrell's epiphany of natural light. I don't know of any music being created anywhere that exerts such a profound physiological effect. If I try to write while I listen my hands freeze on the keyboard. If I'm concentrating or listening, my head falls into a sort of Rodin posture as if grabbed by the ears and eased downwards. I find myself staring at a spot on the floor, contemplating nothing very much. A bit like meditation then, if I could ever manage that, except that this state of reverie tends to be punctured quite quickly by our cat switching to red alert and the family rushing around the house trying to locate an apparently terminal system malfunction.
Not a popular choice domestically then, despite my expansive tolerance of Limp Bizkit, Eels, Leanne Rimes and heaven knows what else, but immensely rewarding in proivate moments nonetheless. As you may already know, Toshi plays a mixing desk with the input connected to the output and then runs the resulting feedback throguh looping and processing hardware, while Sachiko manipulates the pure tones in a sampler. They are a duo made for each other, since their squidging of soft buttons and fine tweaking of knobs and faders produces a whiskered, puttering murmur of spirit voices, bat chat, submarine proximity detection, hypobranchial rasping, and microchiroptera ultrasound that seems somehow inevitable and utterly right in its harmoniousness.
If I quote from one of the books on my shelves, Sounds of Western North Atlantic Fishes by Marie Poland Fish (I'm not making this up) and William H. Mowbray, that will suffice both as displaced description and as a mark of my deep admiration for this music. "Well-acclimated captives in glass aquaria," Fish and Mowbray observe in a brief discussion of pipefish and seahorses, "loud clicks similar to snapping of finger against thumb associated with feeding and introduction into new surroundings (ie, possible orientation)... During preliminaries to copulation, occasional high level snaps often produced alternately by two fishes and, during actual embrace, loud and almost continuous high-frequency clicking." The references to copulation and embrace should be construed as metaphors, of course, unless we choose to turn our attention to actual fish.
Fakejazz, Gil Gershman
A mixing board with functionless inputs; a sampler emptied of all but its test sine sounds. In less able hands, these elements wouldn't add up to much. Nor should they. But Toshimaru Nakamura and Sachiko M., working in various solo, duo, and group settings, have developed the responsiveness and instincts required to transform such self-imposed instrumental limitations into powerful musical means.
do follows un, an earlier duo encounter released on Japan's Minimalism-minded meme label. Where un was an enjoyable and disarmingly tuneful set, do immediately throws down the gauntlet. The two brief pieces that close the disc are actually very much in the un vein of crackle and looped feedback whistles, but the 36:34 centerpiece is something else altogether. Sachiko M's sine pierces through during the opening moments, sounding as indomitable as a diamond drill bit. Deft modulations focus its intensity to a hard, laser-like pinpoint, which Sachiko M. trains mercilessly upon Nakamura's broken mixing board. Rather than recoil, Nakamura faces the sine wave's white-hot glare with steeled concentration, absorbing its cauterizing heat into his mixer. He shapes Sachiko M.'s sine sound into an equally formidable dueling device, using specialized techniques of feedback manipulation to forge sine into sound-sword.
Thus armed, Nakamura and Sachiko M. engage each other in one of the most extraordinary electro-acoustic duels caught on record to date. Nakamura refracts most of the sine onslaught, soaking up into a broken stream of crackling digital noise what he can't deflect. In turn, Sachiko M. alters her waveform tactics to circumvent Nakamura's comparatively passive counter-attack. The sine sounds become more insinuating, seducing their way through the absorbent barrier of Nakamura's mixer, even as its output mutates under steady fire from her frequency fusillade.
Perhaps the most extraordinary element of do, however, is the impact of the third-party listener. While Nakamura and Sachiko M. wage war, you're able to affect the outcome. But it's not enough to move around and bounce sound off your body. Participation in do is a matter of perception and focus. Your level of concentration lends strength to one side or the other, fortifying Nakamura's sonic barricade or directing Sachiko M.'s sine battering. The opportunity for such direct personal investment makes it hard not to get swept up in the excitement of the battle. Their particle-wave skirmishes outshine all similar efforts and ultimately establish a new paradigm for interactive improv.
Other Music, Mike Goodstein
A groundbreaking release from two youngish Japanese improvisers. Sachiko M plays sample-less sampler, and Nakamura uses the no-input mixing board--both instruments which conceptually produce no sound, yet these two conjure it out, somehow.
"Do" was recorded live in Europe and Tokyo last summer, and features three improvisations varying in length from just over two minutes to slightly under 40. While the shorter tracks are worthwhile and hold moments of greatness, it is the first, very long track that is clearly the central piece of the album. Starting from a pure ultra-high pitched sine wave (remember: do not play for your pets), it gradually breaks down into sound vertebrae, which are linked together, gradually building a huge mass of sound. This flowing sound construction gradually envelops and captures the listener inside.
Like Xenakis's "Legende D'Eer", Parmegiani's "De Natura Sonorum" or even Amon Duul's "Psychedelic Underground", this recording is unique upon each listen, as even the slightest shift of one's head creates a vastly different experience. Put very simply: Yes, this is essential. Yes, it will top numerous best of 2001 lists. Why wait?