Stylus, Joe Panzner
For some improvisers, the trend toward extreme sonic reductions is little more than a fashionable shift in sonic palettes, an easy road in to the willfully obtuse camp of "less is more" theorizers and near-silent charlatans. For the more thoughtful improviser, reduction is often a necessary, almost urgent, means of transcending instrumental identity and of reconnecting with the raw material of sound itself. Sachiko M and Ami Yoshida, who comprise the Tokyo-based duo Cosmos, are definitely of the latter group. In her post-Ground-Zero work, Sachiko has emptied the recorded sounds from her sampler in favor of its sine-wave test tones, which she shapes into sharply focused meditations on extreme register prickles and subtly tweaked arcs of sustained tone. Vocalist Ami Yoshida's sonic parings are even more extreme, the outer projections of "voice" reduced down to little more than a splintered stream of close-miked sputters and gurgles or the fractured whimpers of injured birds. Stripped of any foreknowledge of the origins, the listener would be hard-pressed to pinpoint the source of the exquisitely well-honed ticks and sputters that comprise Tears, the duo's first full-length after only a handful of live performances since 1997.
Cosmos music builds from its inherent difficulties - a dynamic range teetering on the silent, the relative dryness of the sonic materials available, the conflict between the infinite sustain and register of Sachiko M's electronics and the decidedly more earthbound character of Yoshida's vocalizations. For the most part, Sachiko offers the most significant strategic modifications in deference to her partner. Her contributions - save for the glistening, stratospheric tone that lingers on the second half of the first track - tend toward short, agitated bursts of modulated sine waves and the clattery scrabble of a rubber-band-clad contact mic. Sachiko's relative quietude allows for Yoshida's breath-limited rasps and gurgles ample space for interjection, and the amplified ticking from Yoshida's windpipe stands as an organic-yet-alien counterpoint to the cooler, more synthetic sine wave spikes. Together their dialogues are as tightly wound as they are minimal, and the extreme intimacy of their interactions more than compensates for the austerity of their sound.
The two tracks that bookend Tears highlight the disjunctions in Sachiko and Ami's approach, playing to the "fissures" interpretation of the album's dualistic title - presumably, Yoshida's wounded inflections account for the title's alternate interpretation. The first track initiates a bristling exchange between spiny sine wave flickers and tight-throated rasping, with Sachiko's ear-cleansing injections patrolling the space around Yoshida's grainy mid-range gestures. There's a coolly scientific playfulness that lurks below the music's surface, a focused interplay of alternately congruous and opposed timbres unfolding in splintery bursts - a scratching of the contact mic to draw the textures together, a taut sine wave fizzle to push them apart. After a brief foray into contact mic scrape, Sachiko deepens the sonic divide by suspending the aforementioned stratospheric drone well above Yoshida's highest pitch gasps and establishes a considerably cooler interaction between the sampler's effortless arc and the straining of Yoshida's remarkable lungs. The final track charts similar territory by marrying the more muted interactions of the first track's conclusion to the prickle-and-snap timbres of its introduction. Tenses silences abound, cleaving space between the isolated upper-harmonic squelch emanating from Yoshida's vocal cords and Sachiko M's metallic tics. Both tracks are tied together by the careful placement of materials within their musical frame such that the juxtaposition of elements is every bit as important as their raw, physical character. The effectiveness of this approach is highlighted by the duo's insistence on a low dynamic range that demands listening every bit as focused as the performers themselves.
The agitated bustle of the inner track proves itself to be considerably more complicated. A duet for Sachiko's contact mic and Yoshida's grainiest vocal inflections, its textures are dry to the point of aridity; by comparison, the already-barren landscape of the outer tracks is a veritable sonic jungle. What remains over the course of eighteen minutes is a narrow range of almost tactile scurrying noises punctuated by terse rattles and hissing outbursts. Careful listening, however, reveals a vast network of tiny particles fidgeting within the seemingly uniform landscape, like individual grains of sand bristling in a monochrome desert. The sharp separation of performer identities disappears as a complex network of microscopic phenomena emerges - the track is not as much a dialogue between Sachiko M and Yoshida as it is a fragile exchange between density and sparseness or activity and stillness. It's a difficult stretch of music whose inner workings take time - and repeated listens - to become familiar to the unsuspecting ear.
Tears may be the most difficult offering in the relatively accessible Erstwhile catalog. Its extraordinarily resistant to comprehension on initial listens and the austerity of its sound palette hardly softens over time. There's little reference point for Sachiko M and Ami Yoshida's gestures in the works of other improvisers, and many of the exchanges found on this disc often defy the example of its creators' other works. The disc's challenges, however, mirror its ultimate appeal - its razor-sharp edges and quiet obstinacy become invitations to investigate a precarious landscape filled with hidden corners of beauty. It offers the intense thrill of contact with the alien and inexplicable, with sound treading beyond the confines of instrumental and performer identity and into a unstable middle ground between the mechanical and the organic. For those with the courage and patience to crack its difficult exterior, Tears presents a remarkably pure soundworld every bit as deep and clear as it is bracingly minimal.
Ink19, Matt Wellins
In a review published in Wire, David Toop discusses an earlier Sachiko M release on the Erstwhile Records label. Sachiko's high-pitched frequencies give Toop an intense impression of light, a very corporeal instance of illumination. It's a start.
At some point, high-pitched frequencies do become light. Sachiko M's work rests at that edge. With the human range of hearing rarely able to perceive tones beyond 20,000 Hz, and sound becoming gradually more and more quiet as it escalates, the tones produced are delicate, fierce, anddirectly concrete. With all of the violent and harsh music available, there is nothing out there that will go straight to your senses the way the Cosmos album does.
Tears shows Erstwhile releasing another album in its short, but nearly flawless history, that focuses on the dynamic between two unique, yet complimentary musicians. With Ami Yoshida's percussive voice, disseminating shards of crunches and squeaks somehow completely absent from any musical or language-based vernacular, a sense of depth and dimension is quickly established. Where Sachiko's sinewave tones cling to the ceiling of the room, Yoshida's voice squarely punctuates and modulates the pitches, providing context for something heartbreakingly pure.
The balance is perfect. The first and last tracks explore similar tones and timbres, while the second track seems to showcase Ami Yoshida's contributions. The smacks and bursts of her voice are matched precisely by Sachiko M favoring a contact microphone, providing a necessary respite between the two more actively visceral bookends.
With the fast-paced scraping and quacking, Cosmos reveals unbelievable timbres in the most fundamental instruments. Sinewaves essentially comprise every existing sound in some form or another, and of course, the voice is something definitively primal. Tears is a combination of the lustrous and the dirty. It is a consistently paced, thoughtful, and exhilarating release, dictating in a deft and glaring tone.
All Music Guide, Brian Olewnick
Cosmos is the duo of Sachiko M, known for her pioneering work on the empty sampler and Ami Yoshida, a young vocalist of extraordinary abilities. Yoshida does for singing what Bhob Rainey does for the saxophone or Axel Dorner for the trumpet, "reducing" her voice to whispers, squeaks, buzzes and breaths. Sachiko, who also makes frequent use of a contact microphone as sound source, stays relentlessly focused on abstract sound here, resulting in an album of icy rigor and great, surprisingly sensual, beauty. It remains very difficult to hear vocalizations of any sort without ascribing emotional qualities to them, no matter how removed from standard forms they may be. Thus, Yoshida's strangled moans tend to take on a plaintive aspect, describing a keening dance around the electronic squiggles and blips offered up by her partner. Drama of a Noh sort is also provided by Sachiko when, as had increasingly been her wont since her participation in the group Filament, sustains a single sine tone for minutes on end, creating huge, though subtle, tension. The disc consists of three tracks ranging from 12 to over 24 minutes and each is, to a degree, an exercise in pared down aesthetics, using a tonal palette that is at first blush severe but more than pays off close listening. It's demanding music, leaving the listener few convenient, easy to grasp handholds, but for those willing to make the investment (or for those already intrigued by the Japanese onkyo scene), the payoffs are enormous. Highly recommended.