Grooves, Joe Panzner
For the past half-decade, the three musicians comprising this subtly astonishing trio have formed the mainstays of Tokyo's vibrant electroacoustic improvisation community. Few sounds so thoroughly test the boundaries of the thinkable in music with the tenacity and clarity of Sachiko M's sine waves scratching the extremes of the frequency spectrum, Nakamura's mixing-desk aerating haunted whistles, or Otomo's turntable cartridge cutting deep into his turntable's bare surface. Like surgical lasers, they seem eerily transparent and yet invasive, mingling the paired suggestions of therapy and tactical small-scale destruction. Often delivered at the fringe of audibility, they creep into our consciousness not through the channels of metaphor and interpretation but by cutting directly to the auditory nerves or hijacking the electricity of their minute impulses.

On the double-CD Good Morning Good Night, the first meeting of these musicians in trio configuration, the negotiation of musical boundaries extends into even more alien territory. The sounds here are as quiet, unromantic, and tactilely rich as one could imagine - a handful of dry crumples, brisk particle storms, the thrumming of close-pitched tones, all delivered with ear-tingling attention to sharpness of texture. All traces of narrative have been scrubbed clear, leaving the traces of feedback to dissipate like radioactive particles leaking from a xenon balloon. While electroacoustic improv has long strained the parameters of conventional musical analysis, few recordings have left behind the trappings of pitch, rhythm, and harmony with such single-minded fervor. In their place emerges a vocabulary that privileges density, grain, and intensity above all. This is an economy of small and direct gestures given to endless permutation and recombination, a textured plane loosely mapped by networks of elegant fissures and tiny craters.

Such logic presents itself most clearly when one tackles all one hundred minutes in a single sitting. The search for overarching form eventually relaxes, leaving one peculiarly sensitive to issues of scale and irregularity - the way crackles and hums assemble and disassemble, how the particles pool and disperse. Good Morning Good Night is perhaps the most refined blueprint to date for this sort of listening, and only future releases will tell whether it's a turning point or terminus for the characteristic Tokyo aesthetic. For now, the program for listening laid out in its numerous pleasures and demands feels like nothing short of an imperative.

Stylus, Ed Howard
This trio of musicians will be familiar to anyone who's had a finger on the pulse of modern improv lately, and the idea of all three of them together on one disc-something that, quite surprisingly, has never happened before-will certainly get you salivating at the possibilities. Good Morning Good Night truly lives up to those lofty expectations. A double-disc set, this album is a daunting, challenging, but ultimately very rewarding recording. One whose pleasures are found in miniscule amounts of sonic information: the insectile twitter of Nakamura and Sachiko M, and the grittier but equally minimal contributions of Yoshihide.

The first disc starts with "Good Morning," a half-hour piece that lays the groundwork for the rest of the album. In many ways, this is an extension of the Nakamura/Sachiko collaboration do, released on Erstwhile almost three years ago. The music here is much more sparse and minimal; not as harsh as do's unrelenting sine wave assaults sometimes were, but drifting and gentle, often so quiet as to verge on inaudibility. Long stretches are taken up by wavering, twitching high-pitched tones from Sachiko's "empty" sampler (one in which all samples aside from the sine-wave test tone are removed), ear-twisting sounds that seem to flutter and change with each minimal shift in the listener's position. Nakamura buttresses these deceptively simple sounds with the crackle and buzz of feedback loops from his no-input mixing board, and Yoshihide (whose contributions are often the most subtle and hardest to spot) adds glitchy spurts of noise and scrapes on his bare turntables.

The second piece on this disc is comparatively brief at eight minutes, and it consequently takes a much more direct route than the sprawling, slow-moving "Good Morning." It uses fast spurts of static and compact beeps and pops to present a short and accessible window into the otherwise forbidding soundscapes contained on these two discs. In the space of this brief interlude, it's as though the long static stretches of the previous track have been folded up and aerated, the sound filled out-relatively, of course, since it's still stark and pristine-and the listener given a chance to absorb what's happening in a more digestible format.

But despite this short window of openness, mirroring the windows that comprise the four-paneled artwork, this album's true beauty and power doesn't become clear until the hour-long second disc. The two tracks here roughly divide the disc in half, but they might as well both have been part of the same surreally gorgeous piece. What's notable on this disc is the way the album's overarching concept becomes apparent in the music. Erstwhile designer Friederike Paetzold based her minimalist design on artist James Turrell's Unseen Blue, a wooden building with a rectangular hole in the roof with a view on the sky. That piece, with its emphasis on the passage of time and the way light changes mood and appearance, is a perfect complement to this album's ethereal sense of time.

"Good Evening," the first piece, seems to move with total independence from time. A high-register sine tone from Sachiko hangs over everything, subtle enough that if it weren't for the overall sparseness of the piece, it would likely go unnoticed. Under this constant overhang, Nakamura and Yoshihide cluster bits of feedback, static, and crackling noise, grainy counterpoints to the purifying simplicity of Sachiko's glistening tones. Its 25 minutes stretch out into a seeming eternity, but without ever seeming to lag. In fact, it doesn't so much seem like a CD is playing at all. Instead, it's as though the very molecules in the room are vibrating with sound, the sound of the universe rearranging itself and reverberating around the space. This is some of the most powerful, beautiful music that any of these musicians have yet recorded.

The final piece, "Good Night," is equally impressive. It opens with crackles, pops, and motor whirs over Sachiko's wavery sine waves, bringing to mind bubbles rising up to the surface of an otherwise still lake. It's a warm, comfortable sound, seeping into the listener's pores and enfolding every part of the body, like a sensual bath in sound. How these musicians could elicit such a rich, enveloping sound from their minimal means is a true puzzle, and one that the actual music thwarts at every turn. Throughout the 37 minutes of this piece, the music again flows in such a way that it seems to both fly by without even being noticed, and to stretch on into the unattainable distance. Sachiko's sine waves are even more spatial on this track than elsewhere, seeming to actively move out into the 3D environment, lingering in corners of the room and revolving around the listener's head like tiny unseen insects-it's a disorienting sensation. Good Morning Good Night is a phenomenal new recording, perhaps the ultimate statement from the Japanese minimal improvisation scene known as onkyo. What's exceptional about this album is its very challenging nature: it's obviously distant and inaccessible in some ways, but it'd also be impossible to call it cold or uniniviting. There's something actually-paradoxically-warm and emotional in these abstract sounds, something that touches deep nerves and primal reactions in totally unexpected ways. It's avant-garde music that touches the body and the heart as well as the mind, sparse music of an exceptional physicality, simple music that seems complex and complicated: full of contradictions and possessed of an odd, untouchable, indefinable something. You'll know it when you hear it: it's an inner essence that's impossible to reach directly, but impossible to miss when this album brings you there.

The Sound Projector, Ed Pinsent
Well, 'Holy Good Night!' seems an appropriate reaction when faced with a substantial double-disc offering from the 'holy triumvirate' of Japanese reduced improvisation and minimal electronics, ie Otomo Yoshihide, Sachiko Matsubara and Toshimaru Nakamura. In August 2003, they quietly entered a studio in Tokyo and laid down the basis for this music in only two days. The following month saw a final mixdown issue from their hands. Amazingly, the roof did not fall in on the musical world as a result. Maybe it should have done.

The challenge for the trio seems to have been to set themselves quite extreme limitations: the least number of sounds, or variations thereon, being permissible at any one time. I imagine some sort of musical framework where the only allowable language comprised gentle purrs, vague hummings, high-pitched whines, grumbling, stutters of feedback, and sparkle-crackling. Every manifestation had to be completely abstract, off-white, and electronic; all elements bonding together within a chamber that was otherwise silent. Talk about your severe life-style...even hermetic monks lead a more exciting life than that! At least they only had to undergo this enforced restriction for 2 days...

Within this framework, our plucky threesome - now already starting to appear more like ghosts or shadows cast on white walls of the studio, than substantial human bodies - begin to form their random shapes, their vague patterns, their semi-regular configurations, following the improvisational and intuitive charts they carry around in their heads. Sounds are turned on, and cut off again; the stopping and starting method generates overlapping passages; everything placed there with a reason and with a purpose. It seems to be deliberately arranged so as to call attention to the very language they're using; in much conventional music, you rarely notice the basic 'grammar'. These are blank statements filled with meaning. Considerable discipline and restraint has been brought to bear to maintain this rigid stance so consistently. Imagine a drama school where actors are taught to express emotions and ideas, not through body language and posture, but through keeping very still for long periods of time. Tough going.

As to where this leaves us: this could be two discs of near-complete nothingness, or a truly momentous statement of severely-reduced minimalism. But the surprising thing is how good it is to listen to, once one learns how to accept the work on its own terms. I suppose a high degree of concentration is demanded of the listener, and you have to forget your preconceptions about 'music' and 'entertainment', But hey, I know all you Sound Projector soldiers by now, and you can stick this one out easily. In a world where it seems every other improviser is currently opting for the 'quiet mode', this CD has already set a new gold standard in excellence for restricted and reduced music. Along with records like Weather Sky, It will be seen as a major benchmark in this area.