Michael Pisaro/Taku Sugimoto - 2 seconds / b minor / wave (CD)
The collaboration of Michael Pisaro (guitar, sine tones, field recordings) and Taku Sugimoto (guitar). Six-panel digipak.
For lossless (16/44) files, go to this page.
The collaboration of Michael Pisaro (guitar, sine tones, field recordings) and Taku Sugimoto (guitar). Six-panel digipak.
For lossless (16/44) files, go to this page.
1. 2 seconds (20:00)
2. b minor (20:00)
3. wave (20:00)
(released December 14, 2010)
composed and recorded separately by Michael Pisaro and Taku Sugimoto in August-October 2010
design by Yuko Zama
Michael Pisaro and Taku Sugimoto are not generally closely associated, but have quite a bit in common. Both are composers whose primary instrument is the guitar, both have close ties to the Wandelweiser collective (Pisaro is a longtime member), and both have pursued their unique paths without much concern as to how the rest of the world will perceive them. 2 seconds/b minor/wave marks their first collaboration, but these aesthetic overlaps allow their independently conceived recorded parts to fit together remarkably naturally.
Michael Pisaro has been associated with the Wandelweiser collective since just after their formation in the early nineties. The departure points for his music were John Cageâ€™s ideas of the durational frame, Ben Johnstonâ€™s work with alternate tunings, Christian Wolffâ€™s opening of the relationship between composition and performance, and Alvin Lucier and James Tenneyâ€™s use of scientific hypotheses to explore sound phenomena. Pisaro has spent much of the last decade making field recordings, and occasionally using them in his work. Much of his recent composition, and especially the work with his primary collaborator, percussionist Greg Stuart, has concerned the massing and then the spatialization of sound to create â€˜homemadeâ€™ environments. Pisaro lives in Southern California, teaching at the California Institute of the Arts, running the Experimental Music Workshop, and curating his own recently launched recording imprint, Gravity Wave. This is his first recording for Erstwhile.
Currently Sugimoto's interest focuses on composition and its performance, rather than improvisation. With Taku Unami and Masahiko Okura, Sugimoto organizes the almost-monthly Chamber Music Concert at Loop-Line and the irregular Taku Sugimoto Composition Series at Kid Ailack Art Hall, both in Tokyo. He runs the label Slub Music, which in addition to Sugimoto's own recordings has released CDs by other Japanese musicians as well as Wandelweiser mainstays Radu Malfatti and Antoine Beuger. He has just issued the first four discs compiling the abovementioned Composition Series, a strong statement on two double CDs documenting his work over the past few years. This is his second recording for Erstwhile after 2000's seminal The World Turned Upside Down, and he also took part in the AMPLIFY 2002 festival in Tokyo and is featured on the box set of that event.
2 seconds/b minor/wave is a long distance collaboration, with each musician composing and recording their own parts, before hearing what the other had done. Pulse, pitch and wave were the three areas they wanted to explore on the three pieces, and loose rules/guidelines were agreed on beforehand, as follows: '2 seconds' was a unit of pulse, either as a basic unit or a point of departure; 'b minor' was a key, with Sugimoto playing harmony and Pisaro playing melody: and 'wave', with no further details, simply whatever that word brought to mind. This was the extent of the specific discussion between the two, and thus the entirely fluid melding of the results is a testament to their deep understanding of the other's aesthetic/s. Yuko Zama's intuitively empathetic design is a perfect symbiotic fit for the music contained within.
Matthew Horne, Tiny Mix Tapes
Ever since the Tokyo-centric onkyo coalesced as a sound in the late 90s — or as a way of listening, as Taku Sugimoto describes it — it has had a connection with the Berlin-based, ‘non-national’ Wandelwieser Composer’s Ensemble. Although onkyo historically has concerned itself more with improvisation, both aesthetic (e.g., an understanding of silence) and methodological (e.g., self-imposed limitations) overlaps exist between the ‘collectives.’ Moreover, the two subgroups of experimental music have had an increasingly interactive relationship over the past decade, best exemplified by the releases of Radu Malfatti and Antoine Beuger (both Wandelwieser mainstays) compositions on Taku Sugimoto’s Slub imprint in the second half of the oughts.
But even with this heightened coexistence, little has approached how monumental this collaboration between composers Michael Pisaro and Taku Sugimoto is. These two gentlemen aided in both defining and charting the development of Wandelwieser and onkyo, respectively, each directly involved with some of the pinnacles of avant-garde music from the past two decades. On 2 seconds / b minor / wave, with a bit of help from Jon Abbey’s Erstwhile, every iota of expectations one might attach to a joining of these two composers is met.
This ‘meeting’ is a peculiar one: the three tracks on 2 seconds / b minor / wave were composed and recorded with the artists in near-isolation from each other, with Pisaro and Sugimoto only communicating to establish simple motifs for the three compositions. Pulse, pitch, and wave were the sole common points of departure, yet in each piece, the two sound so in harmony with one another. Sugimoto’s metronomes on “2 seconds” (pulse) are perfectly in sync with Pisaro’s electronic rhythms. Likewise, Pisaro’s electric guitar offers an otherworldly counterpoint to Sugimoto’s scaling acoustic guitar on “b minor” (pitch). The feedback of “wave” evokes titular images and a balance and serenity seldom found as affecting as in this piece. The synergy on 2 seconds / b minor / wave is incredulous, a tip of the hat to both the composing skills of these two and their understanding of one another’s aesthetics.
As with MIMEO & John Tilbury’s The Hands of Caravaggio, this divorced production might have been the headline if it weren’t for how gorgeous every sonority is on 2 seconds / b minor / wave. Each moment trickles into another, whether it be silence or a filled void. Pisaro and Sugimoto capture stillness herein, somehow even in the more dynamic phrases of “2 seconds”; movement seems insignificant and unadvised in comparison to their stationarity. The whole of this album, including Yuko Zama’s lovely art design, is an incredible testament to Michael Pisaro’s and Taku Sugimoto’s unique and utterly captivating approach to sound, and, in this writer’s opinion, no other release from 2010 is 2 seconds / b minor / wave’s equal.
Brian Olewnick, Just Outside
Short of Yuko Zama, I may have been trumpeting the hosannas about Michael Pisaro's music as much as anyone over the past couple of years so it's interesting, to me, that recent efforts have given me a little pause. Not so much, but some. The first two releases on Gravity Wave each had aspects that mildly gnawed at me, as does this one, the highly anticipated, long-range duo with Taku Sugimoto.
The pairing is an inspired idea, of course, given Sugimoto's music of the last six to eight years which, at times, out-wandelweisered Wandelweiser at least in terms of sparseness. Add to that the fact that, quite recently both he and Pisaro have allowed faint traces of melody and expansiveness into their playing and it would seem to be a perfect match. And it is quite wonderful in some ways. Those who have been pining for Sugimoto to take a baby step or two back to the realms so beautifully explored in "opposite" will be very pleased on that score alone while listeners who may have found Pisaro's compositions a tad too acerb (I'm not among them) will certainly appreciate the large amount of pure sonic gorgeousity on display here. Me, I find myself going back and forth, experiencing a certain degree of discomfort.
For those unaware, the deal for the recording was this: Pisaro sketched out three compositional ideas, each for a 20-minute duration and relayed them to Sugimoto. Knowing his scores, I'm sure that there were levels of complication that aren't necessarily directly perceived by the listener. The two musicians performed the works in isolation from each other and the results, à la MIMEO's "sight", were layered atop one another.
This works absolutely beautifully in the first piece, "2 seconds". I'm not at all sure what reins the title put on the performers--sometimes it seems a "2 second rule" of sorts is in effect but often not--but the (partially?) serendipitous effects of the sounds (ringing tones, wooden clicks (a metronome?), a door or drawer opening or closing, what sounds like a coffee grinder, etc.) all slide across and through each other, floating with a calm quasi-periodicity that's enchanting and stimulating. There's a kind of dust-motes-in-the-sunlight effect, quite wonderful. This piece ranks among my favorites in Pisaro's oeuvre.
The trouble begins on the second track, "b minor" which, oddly enough, is the one that'll cause Sugimoto nostalgics to drool. Two guitars, one assigned "melody" (Sugimoto, I believe), one "harmony" (Pisaro), I'm given to understand, though I've no idea what other rules are in effect. It's pretty. It's very pretty. And for four or five minutes, it floats rather well, serene and rosy. But all too soon, for my taste, it begins to cloy. That sense of miraculous discovery attained on the initial track, of being pleasantly surprised and/or irked by what wafts into you, is largely absent here. There's a hint, perhaps, in Pisaro's playing, of the Beefheart of "Peon" or "One Red Rose That I Mean" but splayed out. It's attractive enough but I'm not sure more than that; halfway through, I'm aching for some real-world reference, some grime. I don't necessarily experience that with much similarly scrubbed Wandelweiser material; perhaps it's the overripe rosiness here that creates that thirst.
The last piece, "wave", is problematic in a different way. It's composed of two elements (I think. As I know from experience, I often underestimate just how much is occurring in Pisaro's music): a steady, complex drone with an organ-like feel (Sugimoto) and "waves" of field recordings emerging and ebbing (Pisaro), said recordings sounding rather abstract, wind-sourced, I think, but I'm not sure. The former, the dronage, is utterly wonderful; I could listen to an hour of that in sheer bliss. But the site recordings strike me as intrusive and, often, awkward. as though they were something hastily tacked on to enhance the drone. There's an oil and water aspect to the combination, something I hadn't heard in other Pisaro works where two such sound worlds intersect (the "Transparent City" series, for instance). Intentional? Perhaps but it never quite clicked for me.
As with the Gravity Waves, don't get me wrong--this is a fine recording and that first track is entirely fantastic. It's just not the whole ball o' wax that one's first hearing of the participants and methodology might have led one to expect. Get it and decide for yourself, though.
Yuko Zama, view from elsewhere
'2 seconds / b minor / wave' is a collaboration CD by the two composers/guitarists Michael Pisaro and Taku Sugimoto who had never worked together before, composed and recorded separately in the summer and autumn of 2010. The CD consists of three 20-minute tracks: '2 seconds', 'b minor' and 'wave', each based on one of the three keywords 'pulse', 'pitch' and 'wave' that Pisaro and Sugimoto had decided beforehand. After they finished recording each part, both parts were superimposed on each other and mastered by Pisaro.
'2 seconds' consists of their two pieces composed with pulses, pauses, frequencies and timings of various sound materials in intervals of 2 seconds or multiples of 2 seconds as the basis. Sugimoto makes simple sounds with some common household items (like striking clappers, hand clap, metronome, alarm sounds, pencil sharpener or coffee bean grinder, from my guess) to create rather acoustic, detached tones with a constant regular rhythm. Pisaro plays a wide range of tones and frequencies of electric guitar and electronic devices, in various lengths of sounds and silences that seem to be based on multiples of 2 seconds, with more flexible, fluent rhythms than Sugimoto. There is a strong contrast between Sugimoto's coolness using the solid sounds in linear rhythm and Pisaro' warmth using rather soft and round textures of sounds in a more elastic rhythm. While their sounds cross each other without melding and continually sustain a spatial boundary in between, there is almost a miraculous balance between the two sharply distinctive flows of sounds, which brings a mystic nuance and sense of harmony to the whole piece.
'b minor' originates from the pitch both musicians chose together as a theme. Here, Pisaro composed and played a melody, and Sugimoto composed and played chord progressions, both based on b minor. While Pisaro plays a soft, pure electric guitar sound note by note in a long interval in slow motion, as if trying to stretch time and space, Sugimoto plays his chords on acoustic guitar quietly with a feel of retreating into a small private space. Pisaro's sounds evoke in me the distant light from stars reaching within a clear dark sky, while Sugimoto's sounds evoke in me some fragments of a philosopher's quiet inner self-talk. The contrast between their textures of sounds gives different dimensions to this piece at the same time – with Pisaro's sounds turning outward and broadening the world while Sugimoto's sounds turning inward to the small universe of his inner self. This contrast brings a unique sense of space and depth in this piece.
Sugimoto's guitar sounds are notable here – his simple and straightforward guitar chord progressions based on b minor is touching. However, it is not his emotional attachment or sentiment that will move listeners. The reason why Sugimoto's guitar sounds here will touch listeners' hearts is because he lets the sounds and chords appear in the purest forms – sounds as sound, chords as chords – not as his personal statement or expression of ego. In this track, Sugimoto seems to play each chord with an innocent mindset like a boy who is fascinated with the guitar and playing the instrument for the first time, carefully listening to each chord to enjoy and cherish the pure sound in every detail – a mindset which most grown-ups seem to have forgotten. Instead of depending on frills such as technique, personal statement or showmanship, he presents a complex and rich world of guitar sounds that is born from a chord and its progression, eliminating any elements that may cloud the purity of the sounds. Careful listeners will notice the pureness and the depth of the sounds here, with glimpses when his chord and a silence overlap. Sugimoto adheres to his humble approach throughout this piece, staying behind the chords, as a transparent medium to let the chords be born as they are. It is this humility that touches a listener's heart with a fresh surprise, together with the pureness of the sounds and chords which are made the focus by his modest approach.
In 'wave', each musician chose free sound materials from anything associated with the word wave, such as ocean waves, sine waves and sound waves, and again composed their parts entirely separately. The result of this juxtaposition is quite different from the previous two. While Sugimoto plays quiet, continuous drone sounds that evoke the sounds of an organ, Pisaro repeatedly inserts his field recordings of ocean waves. The contrast between Sugimoto's stillness and Pisaro's motion works beautifully. The sound of ocean waves seems to me to be a symbolic representation of the distance between the two musicians – Pisaro and Sugimoto, who had been working on this collaboration from across the Pacific, relying on the spiritual bond with each other. Pisaro's field recordings of ocean waves also let me visualize the images of the winds blowing over the sea between the two continents. The waves wash over repeatedly as if he were trying to communicate with his distant collaborator Sugimoto who is on the other side of the Pacific, trying to build a bridge between two artists who are standing in different positions not only physically, but also musically. The two distinctive worlds of Pisaro and Sugimoto, that have been interacting without fusing throughout the first two pieces, have finally integrated into one world in this track. At the moment when the two worlds fuse completely, the music ends with a crisp cut.
Despite having never worked together in the past, and even though each part was composed and recorded separately, in the end their parts synched with each other perfectly in incredible harmony from start to finish. Their deep understanding, respect and faith in each other's artistic strength and musicality brought this duo collaboration to a miraculous balance beyond their physical distance, and that must be the main reason for the success of this duo. Pisaro's mixing and mastering work, which bonded two musicians' sounds close to create an intimacy, is also remarkable. This is a completely new world of music - different from either Pisaro's past works or Sugimoto's - that could only have been born from the encounter of these two fantastic, unique individuals.
Having rather different musicality and directions, both Pisaro and Sugimoto seem to stick to one common attitude in this collaboration – pursuing the absolute purity of sounds and chords as often seen in many Wandelweiser pieces. In order to let a sound and a chord be as genuine as possible, both of the musicians have tried to restrain their personal egos as composers and performers as much as possible. This is a beautiful album in which you can observe the pure souls of two composers/musicians, devotedly concentrating their minds with humble attitudes for the sake of the birth of music. (12/17/2010)