This year the Seattle Improvised Music Festival brought in Taku Sugimoto from Japan. Regular readers of this blog will know that I’ve been a long time follower of Sugimoto’s work though certainly have not followed him everywhere he’s gone. Regardless of the end product, the journey has always been fascinating and it’s always been worthwhile to keep up with his current activities. I’ve managed to see nearly all of the musicians in the small modern improv scene that has dominated my interests over the last decade but Taku Sugimoto has always managed to slip out of my grasp. So I was particularly pleased that SIMF brought him by this year.
Taku Sugimoto wasn’t the only non-Pacific Northwester that SIMF brought in this year, and they did do sixteen sets over four days all told. I’ve really moved into a space where I try to not over consume music, both in buying of physical objects but also in how much I hear. I’ve come to find it a lot more valuable to let music that I find really compelling to sink in, to not immediately overwhelm it with another piece. So I only saw nine of those sixteen sets and even that was too much in my mind. Each night that I went I’d come home and put up a short report onto Google+ of the Sugimoto set from that night. I’m going to collect those here, perhaps slightly expanded and with a couple more photos. I should not that the lighting was low and overall my photos were fairly bad.
Thursday February 9th, apart from being my birthday, was also the second night of SIMF 2012 and the first of three nights with sets featuring Taku Sugimoto. On this night we had a world premier Taku Sugimoto composition: Two Contrabasses, Viola and Guitar. The performers were Mark Collins and John Teske handling the contrabasses, Mara Sedlins playing the viola and Taku Sugimoto handling the guitar. I really enjoyed the piece, it was mostly long bowed tones from the strings and Sugimoto cycling through eBow, muted plucked strings, chords and then open plucked single notes. Dynamics were low throughout and stayed in a single register giving it a kind of Feldman-ish feel. The string players almost always seemed to bow in one direction which I assume was for a particular timing or sound. The slow, soft bowing the the occasionally dry percussive elements of Sugimoto’s playing also made me think of Jacob Ullman’s A Catalog of Sounds. Good piece, afterwards I had to leave without seeing the next two sets as I wanted to let this one settle through me.
Taku Sugimoto and John Teske
Friday February 10th featured a solo performance by Taku Sugimoto. This was of course going to be interesting as Sugimoto solo has gone anywhere from him continuously playing scales, to playing only a handful of notes over the duration. Tonight though he stuck with his recent practice of sticking to composition and performed Michael Pisaro’s Melody, Silence. This was a nice piece like most of Pisaro’s compositions. It was made up of single plucked tones that were sometimes allowed to fully decay, other times strung into simple near melodies. These different modes of operation cycled and between then they were interspersed with short segments on the eBow. There wasn’t a ton of silence, the longest sections when he’d pick up the eBow. In that regard it reminded me more of how John Cage would use silences in the number pieces which were mainly short (though still longer than you’d normally find in a “classical” piece) and seem more about allowing each sound to be allowed to breathe. Taku’s touch on the guitar is really quite good, he’d gently pluck the strings giving a rich, full tone that was really compelling in and of itself. The hollow body guitar he uses has a particularly nice sound for what he does. The piece wasn’t too long, I’d say maybe twenty minutes and it definitely kept me captivated throughout.
Taku Sugimoto performs Michael Pisaro’s Melody, Silence
Saturday February 12th was the final night of the festival and the only night that Taku Sugimoto engaged in improvisation playing in a quartet with Gust Burns, Jeph Jerman and Tyler Wilcox. As they were setting up Taku put stools on either side of the rear stage with (at least on my side) a wine bottle on it. He poured out a glass of this wine into a styrofoam cup. On stage Jeph scatted about his collection of items: a small zither, some mallets, a radio, small speakers, rocks and twigs. Gust opened the lid of the grand piano but had none of his usual dowels (perhaps he is post-dowel now). Tyler simply had a chair and his sopranino sax. Wilson Shook came on stage to announce the group and that the lights would be turned off.
Jeph Jerman, Gust Burns and Tyler Wilcox
The group played in the near darkness with only the exit signs and the light through the chapel stained glass windows coming in. Playing in the darkness seems to always lead to even more hushed music than normal and it was very low dynamics throughout. Jeph rattled things and tapped on the floor, Tyler emitted very quiet mostly short tones and Gust held back for quite a while. Taku wandered around and shined lights on things. At first seemingly just on the crowd but then on a mic stand with his hat on it. Later he had a shoe on the mic stand. Jeph placed an eBow on his zither and let it run for some time, first high, then low then high again. Tyler would match this for brief intervals creating sections of beating tones that was quite nice. Gust began playing single notes, fairly high and usually damped fairly quickly. Taku walked to my side of the stage and place a blinking green light that was shaped like a glow stick into the bottle of wine. At this point a regular beeping sound began, but if this was something of Taku’s or one of Jeph’s little toys I don’t know. It beeped for a while as Taku was behind the rear stage curtain playing with a white light.
Wine bottle, stool
Taku also had a red light in his belt and eventually he made his way to the opposite side of the stage and set it up (presumably also in a bottle). So on either side of the stage a red and green light was blinking away. Jeph finally removed the ebow and seem to focus more on rustling sounds and wobbling rocks. Gust was still just playing the occasional single note, now more mid-range. Tyler was doing a bit more hissing sounds at this point. Taku shined his light on the back of the heads of the audience a bit but then made his way to the back where he returned to the show on the mic stand. He placed his flashlight in another mic stand and proceeded to manipulate the shoe for a bit, slow lowering it and then rotating it. This was cast as a huge shadow on the screen that is behind the stage curtain. This was the climax so to speak and after he cut that light I think he only projected lights once more for a short time. The musicians were slowly winding down as well, though of course it had never gotten more intense then the eBowed zither. At the end they just sat in the dark for a bit making no sounds. Eventually Tyler said thanks and it was done.
Great performance, I really enjoyed it. While the theatrical stuff was really engaging what I think made it completely compelling was that there was great music throughout.