Michael Pisaro/Toshiya Tsunoda - crosshatches (lossless)
Lossless AIFF (16bit/44.1kHz)
Crosshatches is Michael Pisaro's second release for Erstwhile after 2010's '2 seconds/b minor/wave', and the Erstwhile debut for a long-time favorite musician of the label, Toshiya Tsunoda. Crosshatches was composed, recorded and assembled by Tsunoda and Pisaro over a period of 14 months, as a single 85 minute work in eight sections.
For CD format, go to this page.
(released June 6, 2012)
A composition by Michael Pisaro and Toshiya Tsunoda recorded and mixed in California and Japan, February 2011-April 2012.
cover photographs by Michael Pisaro and Toshiya Tsunoda
design by Yuko Zama
Lucas Schleicher, Brainwashed
Performed, composed, and recorded over a period of 14 months, Crosshatches is a massive and exquisitely constructed 85 minute piece stretched across two compact discs. On it, Pisaro and Tsunoda sketch and blend non-musical sounds into musical ones, erasing the seemingly natural distinction between them as they go. The vehicle for that transformation is crosshatching, which the duo elegantly transforms into a musical mode.
Hatching is a technique used in the visual arts that consists in placing roughly discrete parallel lines next to eachother at various distances. Cross-hatching is a similar technique. By varying the angle, closeness, thickness, and lengths of their lines, artists such as Albrecht Dürer used it to create the illusion of volume, texture, and contrast in his drawings, woodcuts, and engravings. I keep thinking about these qualities when listening to Michael Pisaro and Toshiya Tsunoda's Crosshatches on Erstwhile. Beside the pleasure of hearing the album, which is subtle, sometimes delicate, and quite beautiful, I've enjoyed thinking about the ways Pisaro and Tsunoda translate this visual technique into a musical one.
Crosshatches is made up primarily of sine tones and field recordings. The field recordings come both raw and in a manipulated state, whether they're chopped, looped, distorted, or otherwise. Guitars are used briefly in a few passages on the first disc, and a piano shows up near the end of the second. I assume that Michael plays both and that Toshiya provides the field recordings, but there are no credits to confirm that suspicion and no other information online. Static, interference, and possibly other sources are also used.
Initially, the music sounds one-dimensional. Michael and Toshiya's contributions bleed into one another, forming a hard, smooth surface. It's the musical equivalent of seeing a polished marble block or rolling a glass bead around in your hand. With time, variations and contrasts emerge. Instruments rise above the surface and draw shapes in the air, and tiny imperfections, little details previously unnoticed, come into focus. I hear people laughing in the distance, insects, and maybe the shuffling of equipment in a studio. The music branches out, diversifies, and confuses simultaneously. There's a beautiful crescendo on the first track of the first disc that culminates in little bursts of guitar and a heavily plucked bass. Buzzing tones continue underneath, but I can no longer distinguish which of them are recorded and which are performed, and I can't even be sure that the guitars themselves aren't a kind of modified field recording—maybe just the sound of someone warming up.
One of my favorite sections is on the second track of the second disc. It is, as far as I can tell, a mostly untouched recording of a storm. The recording captures the sound of rain, wind, and the whipping of tree limbs; I can close my eyes and half imagine the bushes outside my window bending and dancing in the downpour. Only after listening to the album a couple of times did I notice the sine waves shimmering at the edges of the storm. They were there when the recording started, but I thought they had disappeared. Were they invisibly present the whole time? Or deftly re-inserted into the mix? It isn't easy to tell and since the wind and waves pair so well I can't be sure what would happen if any of the elements of the recording were taken away. I also can't be sure there aren't more invisible elements swimming quietly in the background.
There's a corresponding section in "1.1" where Toshiya and Pisaro combine apparently random static with more obvious field recordings. Listening to the static closely, it sounds like a heavily modified version of the storm recording; the rhythmic character of the water is at least intact. There's some fun in trying to guess which sounds come from which sources and I enjoy the way the music draws connections between cricket sounds and the crack of water on the ground, or between plucked guitar strings and the sound of far off voices. But that says only a little about why the album is beautiful. The way the sounds are combined and folded into each other is pleasing in its own right, as are the moments of near silence and melody that dot the album under different guises.
As with any piece that uses crosshatching, the music on Crosshatches is spun out of elements that are invisible from a distance but discernible with attention. I think of Albrecht Dürer's engravings and notice that his lines rarely call attention to themselves. I notice the subjects in his work first: the people and the shading, the scene and the illusion of depth. Only later do the lines come to the fore and only if I choose to look. Nearly the same thing happens on Crosshatches, except Pisaro and Tsunoda also work with duration, so elements of their work pop in and out of focus over time. Translating a visual technique into an musical one forgoes the unveiling of a completed work. Unlike Dürer, Michael and Toshiya don't build up familiar images with their lines. What we get instead are illusory scenes that converge and fall apart; the coming and going of sounds produced, recorded, rent apart, and blended together again.
Massimo Ricci, Touching Extremes
Crosshatches is the result of a 14-month long distance collaboration between artists whose respective worlds appeared reasonably far to this reviewer until now. An 85-minute, 8-track double CD that conjures up deepness by suggesting critical concepts through the sheer clout of the sounds that it contains, even though it’s not a “concept album” under any aspect.
The record’s fundamental nature lies in the closeness of field recordings and sine tones, infrequently complemented by piano and guitar. Speaking of which, and immediately getting rid of the chaff, the momentum-destroying plucked notes appearing at the closing stages of an otherwise imposing massive accretion of low frequencies in the opening movement represent the only disappointment of the entire set.
What was perceived since the very beginning is the accurate development of the compositional structures: a scrupulous exactitude that definitely adds impact to the project. A further point of attraction is constituted by the nonexistence of confounding theories and speculations. Great choice: sounds looking after themselves is exactly what is needed.
The intelligibility / vagueness ratio of the field recordings changes across the chapters, an extremely captivating trait. The “veil” that partially masks certain echoes from unspecified places elicits a measure of aural distrust, as one’s not sure – at least initially – of hearing, say, the whooshed roar of a distant sea or a cloth rubbed against a microphone. In the second track, looping is applied on the screaming and laughing voices of children at play, adding a slightly repetitive quality to the palette. The merging of real scenes and sine waves is well exercised throughout, the transitions from a sonic substance to another occurring with a considerable degree of naturalness.
There are discrepancies in how the music is received according to the type of listening session. By moving ourselves right in front of the speakers we noticed key details that, from afar, were mostly lost in favour of a somewhat blurred “presence” which didn’t differ from lots of other works conceived on comparable premises. In that case, contingent external intrusions tend to contaminate the music’s quintessence. If it is true that a room enhances resonance, the best approach to understand the value of Crosshatches is enjoying it via headphones and without pauses. You’ll realize about indispensable subtleties furnishing the whole with unspoken meanings, pushing it beyond the mere status of collage/assemblage. There’s always a human element struggling to be caught by our ears amidst a droning mass. There’s always a weak tweet by some lonely bird trying to resist the advance of a wall of deafening noise somewhere. These juxtapositions are plain thrilling in most cases, the pinnacle being a remarkable piece of sorrowful motionlessness towards the end dyed by a tolling piano note, indecipherable stratifications and practically inaudible glimpses of “something” underneath the mix’s surface.
The authority of the artificial emanations ultimately prevails in terms of consequence on the neural / psychical system, restoring a stasis of the imagination where the concrete events could lead to a modicum of loss of focus. Think of this: on my first headphone sitting I fell asleep several times, and each time it was the might of the humming waves – not the intensity of the pictures, not the alterations of the scenarios – that abruptly woke me up, in cold sweat.
No matter how the mind tries to clutch at straws: an actuality of dullness and threat remains stronger, often causing people’s inner valves to burn out little by little. The ultimate sensation conveyed by this work is this: whatever the natural beauty or the compelling evocation of a given sound, everything can cease at any moment because of an inexorableness that we cannot wrestle.
Be it the crumbling earth, a rainstorm or a scrubber on wood, if beings react with dramatic emotional signals to an arresting acoustic combination it means that they’re still alive. For all the rest, we’re probably not primed yet.
Brian Olewnick, Just Outside
I should say right off that I think this is a fantastic, all-around great release. At first hearing, it seemed that it would be obvious how to quantify the whys and wherefores of this opinion but each listen made this task more and more obscure. Which is likely another reason I think "crosshatches" is pretty great.
I should say that it's tough for me to shake the notion that it's more a Pisaro set than a Tsunoda one, obviously an error but the overall conception of the pieces seem to fit quite well into a type of structure that Pisaro's worked with in the past, particularly the Transparent City pieces, of which "crosshatches" seems to be, at least in part, a beautiful, flowering extension, maintaining the rigor found there but elaborating on it. In the earlier works, sine tones were chosen to roughly correlate with the perceived "pitches" of field recordings, resulting in a wonderful, silvery strand weaving through the soundscape. Here, one hears echoes of that, sometimes (it seems to me) very clear echoes but that strand has become a vine with tendrils and rhizomes, embedding itself in the earth, water and machinery, become an integral structural component.
Given the nature of the collaboration and the assumption (doubtlessly not always correct) that Tsunoda supplied much of what's recognizable as field recoding, Pisaro most of the instrumental/electronic elements, I'm fairly sure that it was merely a matter of embedding roughly musical sounds within a landscape but that there was much give and take, including the soundscpes embedding themselves within a guitar or piano chord, etc. But that only hints at the complexity and breadth of this project.
The first piece begins with a strong rush of wooly sound (wind of some sort), stops, converts to a softer but related draft, stops, then sine tones enter, rotating along their axis, acquiring other, vaguer sounds, low rumbles (very low, often), weaving, pulsing, very much charged, like a power line buried only inches below the surface of the ground, mixing with dirt, water air, nitrogen. It waits there for a good while, every second exciting, One tone, medium in pitch, comes to predominate, pure at first "glance" but made up of more than I think I can directly hear, soon joined by a harsher buzzing hum (delicious combination!), single guitar notes--or piano?-- (prefiguring a darker sequence that will appear in the closing track), then several guitars, each plucking single tones, like fireflies appearing one by one. An abrupt turn into...I'm not sure--wind, surf? with deep, deep buffeting, as of a mic by wind. Subtle hums re-emerge, hisses and a hyper-deep tone to conclude. Cinematic? Yes, very much so and extremely evocative in a way difficult to describe except to say that it elicits memories of places, sounds, smells in this listener and I imagine it would do the same for many.
As said, the pieces vary enough that it's tough to think of this as a suite in a normal sense, at least, at the moment of transition between tracks, though looking back there does seem to be an elusive connectedness. I'm not sure that simply describing the subsequent music would be of much benefit--the array of sounds expands well beyond those heard on the opener and the structures vary marvelously as well. It's not all serene and contemplative--the third of eight tracks (I failed to mention that this is a double disc, @ 85 minutes in toto)is largely rough, irregular static (?) of some kind, garrulous and unwieldy. The interweaving of apparently "natural" and electronic sounds is a fair constant, though I'm sure I mistook one for another on numerous occasions. But the positioning, the admixtures manage to cross the boundary between the merely "beautiful" and connote something deeper if, inevitably, ineffable. Why, say, bird sounds, metallic clanks and thin sine tones act together to evoke these feelings and memories is mysterious..
I will mention that the last two pieces are especially powerful, Pisaro (I take it) introducing a funereal low piano tolling in the final track that's extremely moving, managing to bridge that chasm between the severely abstract and the sincerely (not sentimentally) emotive. That's the overall experience of this set for me: a series of balances--rigor/expansiveness, thin/thick, abstract/evocative. An utterly perfect balancing act, leading to a very new and rich music.
A deep, incredible recording.