AMM October 13th 1995

In the autumn of 1995 AMM engaged in their first tour of Japan, details of which seem to have escaped much documentation on the Internet.  The only two confirmed dates are October 13th at the Nagoya City Art Museum in Nagoya which is the bootleg in question and October 22nd at the Egg Farm in Fukaya. This later concert was released as From a Strange Place on PSF Japan. It is interesting to have these two documents from nine days apart, to compare how AMM is sounding at this point in 1995. Any additional information on the Japan tour would be appreciated.

From a Strange Place begins immediately with piano work from Tilbury and a restless working of the strings on the guitar from Rowe.  Taps and hits of the drums from Prévost interject here and there but are not dominate. He does move through objects signifying the full percussion setup, but unlike the previous. The beginning of this piece is rather helter-skelter with a worrying behavior as a dog at a bone. Sounds come in and stop but aren’t developed for long without a gap or a change. Rowe seems the most persistent, working his strings again and again without manipulating the electronic aspect, but with a wide degree of variance. When it does build into a denser structure it includes Tilbury’s arpeggios and grumbles and percussive string manipulations from Rowe’s guitar along with more vigorous drum work from Prévost. While overall this is a restless piece of music and it varies from silence to aggressive outbursts as a whole it seems less dense then the show from the week prior. There is a great section of a sustained spoken radio grab that Prévost responds to with more aggressive drumming, both rolls on the drums and singled pounded events that demonstrates the effectiveness of more muscular drum work (in contrast to the set under consideration today).  The center of this piece is a long, spacious very tentative feeling section, made of squeaky bowed metal, oscillating but low intensity guitar feedback interspersed with string manipulations and chording from Tilbury whose decay takes far more precedence then the attacks. The weakest part of this show though was a Prévost led assault on the drums, but here (and again in contrast to the boot) Tilbury and Rowe match him in density and volume.  But the gesture, that of a jazz drum solo, pulls you out where pure sound, however loud or ugly does now. But this event was short lived and the ending of this set, culminating with a Kabuki like clapped object amidst far away scrabbles on Rowe’s pickups, softly grinding metal and rumbled chords is among the best in its uncompromising yet stunningly beautiful nature. Here it feels as if all the musicians are finding their way, working through something which I think is characteristic of the best AMM sets.  In that regard this recording is a think a nice example of a “typically great” AMM set if not as transcendent as the absolute top tier pieces.  It also has my favorite of Keith Rowe’s painted covers 🙂

AMM October 13th 1995
Nagoya City Art Museum, Nagoya Japan

AMM has always been about searching for the sound in the performance.(5)

The recording begins with applause, presumably as the musicians took the stage. It begins quiet, with Prévost bowing some object and then rubbing on the surface of a drum. Apart from maybe some occasional moans from Rowe’s electrics the beginning sounds are all Prévost and move on to include short snare rolls, the occasional taps on a larger drum and at one point the shaking of some object.  Even so it is spacious and tentative with good gaps as Prévost’s stops or switches objects. Tilbury eventually comes with a a very prepared piano sound, chords on strings that have been muted or had objects on them. A few of these and it goes silent again, followed by Prévost stroking a metal object and letting it ring. He seems to have had a kit here as he seems to be playing a kick drum with a pedal whilst scratching the surface of another drum and bowing something – rather active if still a bit subdued for a short burst.  A very quiet, very thin electrical sound come from Rowe and the single piano notes from Tilbury on heavily muted strings. This is really one of the more exploratory openings with severe restraint from Rowe and Tilbury and Prévost almost seeming as if he is playing head down in his own space, not worrying or listening to anyone else, not concerned with sudden flurries of sound widely spaced out.  A near drum solo comes from him, in that scattered jazz style that is all drums, but seems to just skitter over surfaces. Of course being AMM there is no obvious rhythm.  Rowe is now letting a ripping static come from the radio, sometimes resolving into garbled speech, but all at a super minimal volume, just barely present.  And then with a rip of feedback it all explodes, with Prévost pounding the skins and several abrupt big chords from Tilbury. More volume and more active now, it is still quite stilted though Prévost seriously flirts on drum solo territory rolling across all of his drums and even working a cymbal at the end of some of these gestures.  Rowe is more aggressively attacking the strings, but in short bursts.  The spaces between events widens a bit but with no decrease in intensity for a minute or so and then it becomes spacious and soft.

Oscillations on prepared strings from Tilbury, skittery bowed metal from Prévost and a warbling sound from Rowe, perhaps a knife under his guitars strings all of this allowed to run for a bit a kind of sickly stasis. Low end radio added to the mix, plus additional groaning sounds, purer bowed metal and tapped drums from Prévost with almost buried repeated gentle high registered piano chords from Tilbury continue this queasy miasma, that even a few big drum hits from Prévost can’t resolve.  Most of this slowly fades away, leving a dentist drill wine and gentle piano playing, almost music box like from Tilbury. Finally it all fades away.

From a short gap, piano notes, now more mid-register and some of them prepared return joined shortly with brushes on the drums. A quiet electronic grinding whine whirls in and away, followed by gently tapped drums. Mallet work on the drums now, picking up the pace and as Tilbury begins to roll out big arpeggios on the ivories Prévost begins to work the cymbals, back in drum solo mode.  The occasional roar and groan from Rowes electronics are buried under this assault, which even as it drops in intensity does not reveal it any clearer. Short, spaced out events now, squeaks from Rowe’s strings, shorter spaced out drum assaults and a tenacious working of a few piano keys all stops and now a whine, thin and upper mid-range from Rowe dominates the nearly empty soundfield. Prévost begins to rub a drum head, contrasting the higher pitch whine with short, low interjections, Tilbury works the piano strings directly.

Everything fades away leaving just Prévost working a drum head. After a bit of this the sound of Tilbury striking the pianos strings with an object is heard along with  a low, quiet oscillation from Rowe. This continues apace until as it all fades away Prévost returns to gently and then not so gently pounding a floor tom. The brings Tilbury back to the keys, restless working a few bass notes. An uneasy tone come in, almost more felt then heard, just at the threshold of audibility amongst the other sounds. When it goes it away its absence is more obvious then its presence.  As Tilbury rolls chords Rowe returns now with a more persistent buzz, restless and more at a volume with the others. Things become wobbly: the bobbing sound of a spring or utensil on strings, Prévost drumming arrhythmically, fragments of chords from the piano. This fades out, almost into a false AMM style ending, with Tilbury’s chords getting quieter and quieter, Rowe’s rumbles being turned down, and very soft bowed metal.

But the bowing of the metal picks up a bit in intensity and the piano chording is still quiet, widely spaced but persistent. Tilbury now playing quiet fragments of little melody’s and Prévost adds the odd strike of the drum to his bowing.  Background roars and amplifier hums from Rowe come in and out, very widely spaced and then a grinding sound. Things keep pausing, as they seem to struggle to bring it back up. Now its that hurky-jerky style that is so oft driven by Prévost – start/stop little rolls on drums, hitting of other objects, short gestures. Rowe, as also is pretty common, with turn up a guttural roar and just as quickly cut it off sometimes seeming to work these sounds in parallel with Prévost’s staccato style. Vigorous rubbing of the guitar strings now and definitely the most aggressive from Rowe as Prévost now vigorously works the skins in true drum solo mode. This section played blind for most people would just sound like a jazz drum solo, not very AMM like at all. Prévost eventually backs it out, fading away on a long roll, Tilbury and Rowe now silent. A very quiet sound, perhaps a rubbing on Rowe’s strings, or a metal object of Prévosts is all that remains.

An electronic buzz comes up, a broken chord. Steady bowing now, quiet and thin. Rowe’s background hum. The last 8-10 minutes of this piece are beautiful – very spare with low end rumbles coming in and out, Tilbury putting in these deep chords that seem to come from the very depths and lots of space and silence. Out of this a little Feldman like broken chord, or a single stroke on the metal edge of a drum, or the the buzz of Rowe’s electronics. Very, very nice ending to what overall is a pretty mixed set.

This set is one of those that rather defies the ethereal floating nature so oft ascribed to AMM in the 90s.  Taken along with From a Strange Place one can see that this is fairly typical for AMM at this point. The trio in fact constantly worked with eruptions of volume and density even in this configuration. The sounds are just a lot more recognizable, usually being piano chords or big drum assaults then the more pure noises they’d have used in the 60s.  While I enjoy the roller-coaster nature of this period of AMM, I find that whenever Prévost has a full kit there is often a bit too gestural drumwork for my taste. When it becomes like a typical jazz drum solo, my interest wanes a bit.  Interestingly the other members tend to just let these events play out,  laying out (as it were) until space opens up again. I do feel that I should note that it is quite possible that Rowe was lost in the mix as I’m not sure what the sourcing on this one is.  However being pretty familiar with AMM boots at this point I do listen for his playing as opposed to its relative volume and it clearly was not present at many points.  Tilbury was pretty audible when he chose to be and I can more confidently assert his more withdrawn performance.  As always when the music seems the most ego free it was immediately familiar as AMMMusic and as powerful as ever.  As the decade would wear on it would seem that Prévost would pare down his tools and this I think would lead to the more austere final phase of the trio AMM.

1) AMM From a Strange Place (PSF Japan) 1996
2) Edwin Prévost, No Sound is Innocent, Copula, 1995
3) The AMM page at the European Free Improvisation Home
4) Notes on AMM: Entering and Leaving History Stuart Broomer, CODA Magazine no. 290. 2000
5) Keith Rowe Interview, Paris Transatlantic, Jan. 2001


Sounds from the Floating World

Sounds from the Floating World
Robert j Kirkpatrick Sounds from the Floating World (HER 010)

1) Ten Ten Kyoto Overlay…………..(10’10”)
2) Ryoan-ji (for John Cage)…………(13’13”)
3) Tokyo Electric……………………….(33’33”)
4) One Ten Over Kyoto………………(01’10”)

Press Release:

Hollow Earth Recordings are pleased to announce the immediate availability of our tenth release: Sounds from the Floating World. This compact disc contains four tracks assembled from recordings that Mr. Kirkpatrick made in the parks, public transportation, gardens, temples and various other venues in the environs of Tokyo and Kyoto Japan in the fall of 2008. The pieces contained within are examples of what the artist refers to as assemblages and overlays. An overlay is a field recording which is used as a sound source for a new recording along with an additional performance. An assemblage is a piece constructed from field recordings to form a new narrative in which this individual recordings are single elements, sometimes layered, sometimes allowed to play out on their own. The compact disc comes packaged in a vinyl sleeve allowing it to present the artwork in an ideal five by seven format. Each of the three major pieces on the compact disc have an associated photograph which can be best appreciated in this format. For additional details on the pieces and their associated art please see the Sounds from the Floating World page.

Considering the integrated nature of the artwork and the music a physical copy of this release is the ideal way to experience it. Thus this release is being initially offered as a limited run CD-R with handmade packaging by the artist. As with all of our releases it will be made available for download, in this case after it has gone out of print. As per the artists intentions these will be sold for little more then material and shipping costs: US$5.00 domestic, US$7.00 international. For inquiries or to order via PayPal please contact us at mgmt AT hollowEarthRecordings DOT com or use the PayPal buttons located on the Sounds from the Floating World page.

So this is my latest CD released on my own Hollow Earth Recordings label.  This one is pretty different then my usual abstract experimentation’s in that it is constructed pieces sourced from field recordings I made in Japan.  Each of these pieces has a narrative arc which in itself is fairly abstract especially considering that this arc is fairly removed from the source recordings. It also works as a sketch of parts of modern Japan, I can’t be help reliving my visit there every time I listen to it. Anyway it is harder for me to assess the potential audience for this one, those who aren’t as into my purely instrumental music could find more to like here, but perhaps some that do like that music will have little time for lo-fi field recordings.  So if curious one of the tracks was created for and published as part of Bagatellen’s excellent Listen project and can be downloaded here. With not necessarily indicative of the entire album (its an Overlay, and the other two main tracks are Assemblages) it still makes for an excellent taste.

Pictures from Japan : Kyoto part 2

BuddhaThis was my third day in Kyoto and my last full day here and in Japan.  I had been in the northern region the day before, on this day I was heading over to the Southern Higashiyama area which has the most famous (and popular) temple walking tour.  This was to see the temple that friends who had been here in February told me was their favorite (Kōdai-ji) and also as the Lonely Planet had said this walk was pretty much must see. It was again a bus ride over but looking at the map I realized that I had walked further then the distance there the evening before when I went to the nightlife area.  So I decided to walk.


For the third day I walked past this walled structure about eight blocks from my hotel and this time I decided to figure out what it was. This was fortuitous as it turned out to be this stunning garden practically right down town. I ended up spending several hours there and as it was about lunch time now, I ended up walking back to my hotel afterward and getting lunch at a conveyor belt sushi place (Kaiten-zushi) that was near Kyoto Station.

Covered bridge in Shosei-en

Southern Higashiyama Walk
After lunch I headed back out and onto my original plan.  I did have less time now, but I knew I could only really do a couple of temple anyway before I wore down.  Once again I took a pretty long trek, but once again this proved so rewarding.  Even in Kyoto which is packed with sightseeing areas, everybody takes public transit so in between you see no tourists and you are in places where the residents live and shop.  I was mostly walking along a fairly busy road but I got to see plenty of the “real” Kyoto.  As I approached the temple filled edge of the valley the shops all became pottery, lacquer-ware and masonry.  I had arrived at Teapot Lane.

Teapot lane
Walking up teapot lane to Kiyomizu-dera

The above gallery contains pictures taken while walking in between various temples in Higashiyama. The first couple are leading up to Teapot Lane and then the lane itself.  Teapot Lane was up hlll and the final climb up to Kiyomizu-dera was up stairs with an orange pagoda visible above the trees.  Kiyomizu-dera was packed with tourists and Japanese students. Once again I was used for English practice this time it was kids from Hiroshima who asked me to write them a message of peace. The temple had a big gate and an open area with the pagoda and a shrine and this interesting shrine where you walked through a passage underground in total (and I mean total) darkness till you got to a room with a Buddha in it. There a tiny hole let a shaft of light fall on top of the Buddha. This was super cool I have to say. From this area you paid and went through a second gate to the primary temple area at Kiyomizu-dera.

One of the little halls at Kiyomizu-dera

Kiyomizu-dera was crowded but I had a great experience here. It was just outside the secondary gate that an elder showed me how to perform the purification ritual (which I knew by now but was sweet I thought). Inside I encountered Maiko (Geisha in training) who were doing some tourism of their own (and featuring in plenty of photos from the other tourists) and I witnessed another elder demonstrating to interested kids another ritual. This is clearly a big and wealthy temple but it was as usual packed with neat grottoes, beautiful wooded areas and so on.

Maiko walking down the scenic streets
Southern Higashiyama Walk (from the Orange pagoda on)

The day was winding down and I wanted to get to Kōdai-ji with enough time to do it justice so I headed out. Following my walking tour I went down a much more crowded and even more scenic street which was fully lined with shops and packed with students in their yellow rain hats. Following the route I went down stairs and around corners in ever increasingly traditional and kick ass narrow streets. Eventually ending up at the “most scenic street in Japan”.  From there it was up a stairway to a parking lot for several temples. You could see a gigantic (as in probably 6 stories) Buddha peeking above the wall of one of these temples. Perpendicular from this was Kōdai-ji which I headed to forthwith.

The grounds and a little building at Kōdai-ji

Kōdai-ji was another Zen temple (Rinzai) which were definitely the most appealing to me.  This one was tucked into a corner of the valley and was a beautifully integrated into it’s surrounding bamboo forest.  It had a dry rock garden  which had mounds of raked gravel instead of rocks as at Ryōan-ji.  It also had curved edges on two sides instead of the rectangular area at Ryōan-ji. This gave it a very natural, organic feel as if it was the edges of a pond (which is sort of the metaphor of these rock gardens).
I stayed at Kōdai-ji pretty much until closing time which was signaled by the booming rings of the temple bell.

Dry garden at Kōdai-ji
Dry Garden at Kōdai-ji

I headed out from the temple area and walked around the narrow streets a bit more. I knew my temple touring was over (which was okay as I’d spent many hours in these two) but I intended to do the rest of the Higasiyamai walk, which would go past a couple more temples. This would take me north and then I’d head across the river and I’d end up at Pontochō where I had decided to get dinner. It was evening now and as I followed the walk I ended up at Maruyama-koen park. On the edge of that is Yasaka Shrine which was now all lit up. This was incredibly stunning and something I had not seen before.

Yasaka Shrine in the Southern Higashiyama Walk

From here I walked along and through the park, past a massive Pure Land temple and then through normal Kyoto streets ‘tll I hit the crossroads and headed over to Pontochō, I’d seen a Thai place there the night before and that sounded really good tonight. Alas they were closed but I ended up going to a traditional Japanese place which for my final dinner in Japan was probably for the best. I got my last taste of the amazing fresh tofu there on a balcony that overlooked the Kamo River. I walked through Pontochō and then the covered shopping area and finally the downtown shopping district before completely worn out I caught a cab to my hotel.

Kyoto Station
Kyoto Station from my General Kyoto Gallery

The last gallery above was pictures taken from all over Kyoto. Beginning at the fantastic train station and including pictures from all of the walks I did. It ends with a couple of (poor) pictures of the Shinkansen (bullet train) as I caught it back to Tokyo station the next day.  And that pretty much wraps up my trip to Japan.

Shinkansen pulling into Kyoto Station
Shinkansen from my General Kyoto Gallery

Pictures from Japan : Kyoto part 1

Kyoto TowerI was only in Kyoto for about three days with two days completely without any travel. Each of those two days I spent on long walking tours of regions that’d be just packed with temples. Evenings I spent in the shopping and nightlife districts.  This entry is from my first day where I did a walking tour up in the Northwest of Kyoto. The main temple I really wanted to visit in Kyoto was Ryōan-ji which has the most famous of the karesansui (Zen rock gardens) which I’ve long been a fan of. It was also one of the more difficult regions to get to, but I figured out the bus and took it up to Kinkaku-ji temple which was the start of a three temple walking tour with Ryōan-ji in the middle concluding with Ninna-ji. It was fairly early in the morning which was good as these are some of the most popular tourist sites.

The Golden temple at Kinkaku-ji

Kinkaku-ji‘s main feature is a beautiful golden temple on the edge of a pond. The grounds are stunning as well. From Kinkaku-ji I walked along the temple grounds down to Ryōan-ji. I got off the route a bit at first and walked through a more suburban route. I ended up encountering another shrine, Waratenjin, on the route that was a more pragmatic but still beautiful

Temple Walk Gallery
Waratenjin can be seen in the first 20 pictures in my Temple Walk Gallery.


I got back on the path and shortly made my way to Ryōan-ji.

Dry Garden at Ryōan-ji
The dry garden at Ryōan-ji


Ryōan-ji‘s grounds were stunning, it’s a very old Zen temple and the grounds are just filled with neat areas all over. The lake was the most stunning one I saw and of course the dry garden was amazing. It was probably my favorite of all the temples I visited and I’d love to visit it again at a time when there is even less people there.

Cemetery I encountered in my Temple Walk


From Ryōan-ji I continued on the route and as I walked along the road I noticed a path/stairway into the woods at my right. Well I couldn’t resist that and took those up into what turned out to be a large and crowded cemetery. This can be seen in the Temple Walk Gallery below the shrine pictures.

Temple at Ninna-ji
Pagoda like temple at Ninna-ji


From the cometary I visited the last temple on the walk, Ninna-ji. This was a large complex with many diverse buildings in it. Looking it up on the web it turns out it had huge sections that I totally missed (or were closed). But I was pretty templed out at that point so that’s okay. One amusing thing is that I encountered a group of junior high school students who wanted to talk English with me. It was clearly an assignment but cute.

View from the highest point in the part
View from the highest hill in the park.

From Ninna-ji I headed off on my own to intersect with the JR rail line. The route I worked out took me to this great wooded area that was a park but mostly wooded.  It had paths up to a fairly high point with great views over the valley. Pictures from the park make up the third part of my Temple Walk Gallery.

Pictures from Japan : Tokyo

Sushi self portraitIt’s been about a month in a half since I’ve returned from Japan and apart from my reports on the live music I saw there I haven’t posted much about the trip. I took a lot of photos there and I have been compiling galleries of said photos pretty much since my return. I took around 1800 pictures and I’ve culled these into about a dozen galleries.  This is still a lot of pictures so I’ve been pretty slowly making the galleries and uploading them.  I’ve divided these into four separate sections: Tokyo, Kyoto 1, Kyoto 2 and Miscellaneous.  So this is the first in a series of four blog posts about these separate galleries.  The galleries themselves are all hosted on my website and have thumbnails and larger pictures. I’ve added comments (of varying value) to each picture so I pretty much recommend clicking the first one in the thumbnail gallery and navigating through them all. They look far better at the large size and you will get more information about each picture then I’m going to write up here.

The view from my hotel window

Musashi-Sakai: This was where I stayed while in Tokyo. It’s a bit outside of the usual Tokyo tourist zones which was kind of nice. It was 9 stops up the Chuo Line from Shinjuku so still convenient enough. It was one stop from the Ghibli Museum stop.

Temple in the park at Kichijoji

Mitaki/Kichijoji Parks: When I visited the Ghibli museum I took the cute little “cat bus” there from Mitaki Station, but I walked back. I walked through a series of parks and actually ended up walking to Kichijoji and I took the train from there. As you can see in these pictures it was raining pretty steady this day.

Laputian Robot at the Ghibli Museum
Laputian Robot at the Ghibli Museum

Ghibli Museum: While it was the Amplify festival that finally got me to make my long desired trip to Japan, one of things I wanted to do most was visit the Ghibli Museum. Fans of Studio Ghibli will love this museum, it is like a slice of Miyazaki’s world made real. You can’t take pictures inside but it is absolutely perfect in there with huge amounts of stuff that will apeall to animation fans.

Streets of Shinjuku

Shinjuku: Being the biggest region nearby I spent a lot of time in Shinjuku. Which worked out well as it is kind of a microcosm of all the different Tokyo regions – it’s got modern skyscrapers, crazy electronic shopping areas, quaint little alleys lined with Izakaya and Yakatori stands, a crazy huge train station and so on.

Your humble narrator in front of the Imperial Palace
Your humble narrator in front of the Imperial Palace

Various Tokyo: Scenes from various areas that I didn’t take enough pictures warrant their own album. A bit of Kichijoji, downtown Tokyo and Akihabara.

So there’s a few pictures from Tokyo. I personally have kind of a hard time taking pictures with people in them, it always seems a bit rude. As there are always throngs of people in Tokyo I took a lot less pictures there then I did in Kyoto. Of course I did spend time every day at concerts while in Tokyo which is well documented in my Flickr Amplify Gallery.  The next couple of entries will be from Kyoto where I took more pictures in a third of the time.

AMPLIFY 2008: light day 3

lightSeptember 21st
Erstwhile Records presents
AMPLIFY 2008: light day 3

Kid Ailack Art Hall, Meidaimae, Tokyo, Japan

Disk UnionThe last day of the festival dawned again overcast and rainy.  I’d broken down and bought a cheap umbrella, which I have to say for this Washington State resident felt like a major defeat.  It did make it easier to take pictures and such as I wasn’t getting rain on my camera lenses.  I had again ended up in Shinjuku and on this weekend day they closed down some of the streets and there were people vending everything from yakitori to champagne in the streets.  I wandered around the shopping districts enjoying the varied sights from cosplayers to barkers in front of electronics stores. I randomly found Disc Union and checked out two of their stores, one was three stories of just jazz the other eight stories of varied music. The avant section was of course on the eighth floor.  Some neat stuff there, especially cool to see all of the Obscure Tape Music from Japan series laid out as well Stockhausen-Verlag releases and that amazing Alga Marghen Charllote Moorman set.  Later I found the Tower Records which has an amazing 20th Century classical section. Again I didn’t end up buying anything (the internet kind of makes this moot, unless you find OOP stuff) but great to see these stores packed with obscure music.

I’d spent enough time in Shinjuku that for once I didn’t arrive in Meidaimae all that early.  Early enough though, the hall was still pretty empty when I arrived.  Tonight was all duos the first being amongst the most anticipated sets of this festival by yours truly. Toshi/Keith I’d seen before and of course there are two recorded documents of this duo.  Yoshimura/Yamauchi was sort of an unknown, but I have to admit at this point I was pretty weary of Yamaichi’s playing.  The reports of an earlier collaboration of theirs was highly intriguing though, so I was still cautiously looking forward.  The drizzle that had been pretty persistent this day had now turned into a driving rain, far exceeding the rainfall from the earlier “typhoon”. I thought the rain if audible inside would added to the proceedings, but I don’t really recall hearing it during any of the sets.

Empty Sampler

Keith Rowe/Sachiko M
The third set from Keith this festival, this one a first time duo meeting with Sachiko.  When Jon Abbey first mentioned this duo to me, I said something along the lines of “they’ll have to really push themselves to not make this sound exactly how I imagine it”.  Now how I imagine it would be great music, something I’d enjoy a lot, but I can’t deny that I’d love to see these two exceptional musicians surprise me.  The options that one could pretty easily imagine are; Sachiko providing her trademark long pure tones with Keith working in spikier, more discrete territory above that. Conversely it could be Keith in his laminal sound world providing the ground upon which Sachiko, in Salon de mode, interjects her micro events.  A third option would be both of them working with continuous sound which I think would be the least successful and not something I’d expect (why you ask, well in this realm it would actually rather sound like a Keith solo, as there are times he layers in things that aren’t too dissimilar to a  pure tone). Finally of course would be various combinations of the above.  Well what they ended up doing was none of these and granted me the surprise and delight I was hoping for.

Sachiko did indeed work in the Salon de Sachiko territory with its clicks, pops, short tones and other micro events. Keith though eschewing any droning worked with equally discrete event creating this bristling sound world.  This worked incredibly, tension filled, constantly engaging.  Keith worked with the Brillo pad, with contact mics, with metallic objects but no fan, no radio and no Bluetooth interference.  It was as if the bulk of the tools he’d used to date were set aside so he could focus on the bare essentials. The music was very spacious, events coming into the environment, colliding or not, letting the room provide as much, or more perhaps, of the music as the muscians.  There were intrusions as three times late comers came in and squeezed themselves into spaces at the front and by the door. But this fragmented world of pops, clicks, pongs, sprongs, twitters and hisses allowed these interjections and incorporated them. Like his earlier duo with Unami there was an aspect of exploration, of feeling each other out, but by mostly sticking with a finite realm, almost as if each were playing solo, it never felt tentative. There was a confidence in both their playing, they were working with tools they understood but in a fresh context. They worked with these tiny events, many from Keith seeming inaudible (he later said that he’d practice some gestures, trying them out silently before repeated them at volume) over the course of thirty-forty minutes, constantly moving ahead though these sounds could be the background hiss of stasis.  In the end Sachiko dropped in a few longer tones, inching the development along perfectly. They stopped playing, there was a pause, then one final pop! from Sachiko and the set was over.

This was fantastic music and an incredible set by two giants pushing each other into fresh territory.  It reminded me in parts of Good Morning, Good Night but with Keith not trying to necessarily complement Sachiko but to push it further. The activity was a lot more seething and varied then in that recording and different in that this duo was more contrasting then complementing.  I have to say that this duo’s forthcoming Erstwhile recording is pretty much tops on my anticipation list.

the hands of Yoshimura
The hands of Yoshimura

Katsura Yamauchi/Mitsuhiro Yoshimura
After seeing Yamauchi solo twice and in duo with Nakamura it really seemed like he was doing the same thing every set. There was always a bit of a surprise from him: the jazz numbers the first show and those blasted tones at the first night of Amplify. In general though it seemed like he had a formula and was sticking to it.  Now as I intimated earlier this duo has occurred before and it was one of their earlier performances that led to Yamauchi’s inclusion in this festival. So it is possible that he had a different shtick that he saved for use in this duo.  Yoshimura was against the far left wall with his mic literally turned against the wall. He also was working with only one set of headphones in contrast to his solo set. It again was pretty dark as they started, a light on Yamauchi and his alto but Yoshimura again in near darkness.

I was only one seat from the wall on this day, so I was quite close to Yoshimura which turned out to be to my advantage as his sound was much quieter then it was the night prior.  He generated his high thin wail of feedback and would simply modulate it by careful manipulations of the headphones.  Yamauchi I’m sad to say ran through the exact same series of events he had done on the three previous sets I’d seen.  He started with the hissy breathing, moved to the near circular breathing rattly metallic sound, then the key clicking and finally looped around to the dry hisses. I honestly got bored in this set and it felt like it went on way too long. The dry hisses worked the best with Yoshimura’s sound but I’d tired of the routine. From what others told me Yoshimura was nearly inaudible further away so even these small moments of nicely contrasting sounds was limited to only a few of us. This for me was musically the least interesting set of the festival, my expectations had been quite low and even those weren’t met.

empty nimb

Keith Rowe/Toshimaru Nakamura
Concluding the festival was the Erstwhile supergroup of Keith Rowe and Toshimaru Nakamura.  Their first album Weather Sky was the musical document that shifted my interest in this area of music from tentative dabbling to full on obsession.   I’d saw them live once before at ErstQuake 2, where they produced an enjoyable if not very exciting set.  Their second album, between, was the first time an Erstwhile project had been revisited and it amply demonstrated two artists that were not standing still. These two consummate musicians know each other inside and out and push each other constantly and I think are about as reliable a duo working in music today. So it wasn’t too surprising that they headlined the entire festival, but the surprise was in the music that they produced.

The began right off with loud aggressive waves of feedback and grinding industrial metallic attacks.  This wasn’t a simple burst of energy, they took these loud sounds and worked with them, pushing them further and further. It was in the realm of 13630 kHz from between but longer and denser then that track.  This slowly morphed into this completely insane post-industrial sound world at one point sounding like nothing more then a massive warehouse filled with and infinite number IBM Selectric typewriters being assaulted by an infinite number of monkeys. On crack.  Incredibly mechanical and industrial sounding.  But the set wasn’t simply aggressive mechanical sounds, at many points one or both would drop out leaving sounds hanging in the air and revealing the underpinnings of the affair. After the aforementioned Selectric section Keith turned off some fans, Toshi dropped out and you could hear this crazed chittering of Bluetooth interference which combined with those other activities had created that maddening effect.  Toshi brought it back up with dense rips and tears of feedback that cut through these sounds but were never allowed to fall into any sort of pattern. Keith cut the Bluetooth interference and worked more with abusing his pickups with various objects.  Again a dense wall of sound was created, again it was cut back bringing this to a point of near total silence at this juncture.  A sine wave from Toshi wailed through this space as Keith ground his pickups with the Brillo pad and used the contact mic on his charcoal pencils as he drew a few characters on his pad. Again it fell to near silence, this piece was structurally dynamic and they were really working their full ranges.  A very low pitched stutter in this space, probably from Toshi, a hiss of static then things were brought to a conclusion.

and in the end
Keith and Toshi after the festival

They stood up and Keith thanked Jon and Yuko for putting on this incredible event and then us, the audience:  “The music doesn’t happen without you” and also the room. Which was well deserved, Kid Ailack Art Hall is a cramped tight black box but damn if this kind of music doesn’t sound amazing in it. The smallest details were revealed and the loudest attacks never turned into mush.  It reinforced sounds but didn’t just bounce them all over the place. A great room for this music and the musicians in this festival fully took advantage of it. Toshi then translated Keith’s words, perhaps adding some of his own and that was it, AMPLIFY 2008: light, was official over.

This festival was probably the single most successful event of this type I have attended.  The percentage of fantastic music was very high and even the sets that I didn’t think were entirely successful were incredibly fascinating. There was really only one set I’d say I didn’t like and even that had its moments.  Keith’s four sets were all amazing, as good of music as I’ve heard all year, or the last couple of years. It is not a surprise to me that Jon was willing to release all of these sets. The festival was ran impecciably with no issues seeming to impact any of the music or related events.

After each night of shows we’d head to the Book Cafe below the venue and drink wine, eat great food, and chat until the last train of the night.  This is a great tradition and something that really should be adapted outside of Japan.  I had great conversations with Keith, Jon, Toshi, Yamauchi, Mark, Joe and a number of other fans. I got to talk a little bit with most of the other musicians and members of the extended community. Truly a remarkable experience that was rewarding on so many levels.  I especially enjoyed all the time I got to spend with Keith, with whom I had breakfast every morning and shared many a walk and train ride with.  Additionally I highly enjoyed the time I got to spend with Jon and Yuko – it was great to be able to see them as much as I did. Finally sharing these shows and the uchiage with IHM friends Mark and Joe was all kinds of good times, something I hope happens more often.  So thanks to Jon and Yuko for bringing us this and thanks to all of the musicians for the fantastic music and extra-special thanks to Yuko for all the help in Japanese which my skills are non-existent.

see all of my  Amplify08 photos.

read all of my Amplify08 Reviews.

AMPLIFY 2008: light day 2

lightSeptember 20th
Erstwhile Records presents
AMPLIFY 2008: light day 2

Kid Ailack Art Hall, Meidaimae, Tokyo, Japan

Once again I arrived to Meidaimae via the Keio line from Shinjuko. Though I pointed out earlier that coming from Kichijoji is more direct I always was in the Shinjuko area and so for all four days of shows at Kid Ailack Hall I would take the train from there.  I of course returned via Kichijoji inscribing a great circle which I always prefer anyway.  Today I again arrived a bit early and on this day I decided to swing by the PSF Records shop.  It was about two blocks away from the venue, up a little side street. Its on the second floor of what just looks like an apartment block and you had to ring up to the room to be let in the gate.  Another patron arrived just as I was figuring out the intercom and he helpfully handled that for me.  After taking the elevator up to the second floor you find a tiny rectangular room stacked with boxes in the entrance. It gets no more spacious as you enter the room, with the walls lined with CDs, books and DVDs and as you got closer to the window bins of records.  Crammed into one edge was a counter, also stacked with boxes, and  with the proprietor just behind it along with a stereo which was blasting out some free jazz while I was there.  There were two guys talking to him and a fellow gaijin browsing the records in the back. You had to wait for a person to leave to get into these narrow aisles.  I did a pretty thorough survey but I wasn’t really planning to buy anything unless something absolutely amazing revealed itself to me. Not too much in the area of improv I’m into but there were some nice selections in the classical music section, a couple of Cage discs that probably aren’t that easy to find anymore.  Anyway after worming my way around the whole store I left without purchase.

psychedelic speed freaks

The second night of Amplify 2008 was three solos. All of these were incredibly interesting to me and were highly anticipated.  I’ve seen Keith Rowe solo on several occasions and they have been amongst my favorite shows, so I expected another great set.  Sachiko M I’ve only seen in duo with Ami and the trio with English up to this point and her solos are of course legendary. With her palette restricted to contact mics this was sure to be a unique set that could honestly go anywhere.  Mitsuhiro Yoshimura sprung to global awareness just last year, seemingly out of nowhere, with two interesting and impressive discs and all reports were that his feedback technique was far more impressive live.  All of this combined with being one of the only people in this fest I’d never seen live made his solo one of my most anticipated of the fest.

I made my way to the venue finding myself the first person there with the proprietor setting up the tables and signs out front.  Inside Yoshimura was sound checking and I leaned against the wall and enjoyed a free set of distant pure tones and mild traffic noise. Very nice.  Not too long after that the sound check ended, things were setup and I was able to coral a seat. Again Jon, Yuko, Mark and myself were rocking the front row with Joe just behind and Keith took a seat in the back. The room again filled up to capacity (it sold out every night, with usually a couple people arriving a little late and sitting on the floor by the door or up front).  It was pretty warm and with all the people there a bit oppressive, especially combined with those chairs.  Yoshimura made his way front and center then the lights went out with only a very dim flood light on him.

yoshimura's setup
Yoshimura’s setup

Mitsuhiro Yoshimura
Yoshimura utilized a stereo microphone on a stand in front of him and two sets of headphones, one on the floor at his feet the other clasped in his hands.  Immediately his signature high thin tone of pure feedback was introduced.  This sound was pretty all enveloping, resonating in the inner ear in a slightly disorienting manner. He let this pure tone play for a bit and then using the headphones in his hand began manipulating the second tone.  These two tones were for all intents and purposes identical and by subtly changing the dynamics of one of them he was able to create a fairly wide range of sounds. His basic technique is to hold the headphones with the earpieces pressed together and by increasing the distance of the gap between the two earpieces he could dramatically influence the character of the feedback.  This could range from the thin pure tone, to these scittery hollow electrical sounds, to more aggressive ripping sounds and if he gave them free reign (which he never did) would probably fall into that characteristic oscillating pattern modulated by the room dynamics.

Through careful manipulations he could slightly change the tone thus creating beating patterns between the two source tones and he worked with this for a while, an effect that created a buzzing ringing sound in ones inner ear. As the set developed he’d drop in a quick tear of feedback, louder though never aggressively loud. Dual tones, beating tones and this rising sequences of feedback were the elements that he constructed a tight piece of about a half an hour in length.  In the closeness and warmth of the room it could be found oppressive but I in general found it pretty fascinating, especially when you factored in the extraneous sounds. The aforementioned chairs were nearly an equal participant in the latter half of this set, first with the occasional squeak and shuffle, latter with a cascade of these sounds at times overwhelming Yoshumura’s tones. One of my favorite moments was when a group of teenagers (most likely as I’d seen multiple packs of them earlier) stopped in front  of the venue and had a short conversation (driven by the sounds from within perhaps) with much laughter. It combined with Yoshimura’s tones was really magical I thought. The distant traffic and at least one car going by out front also layered in nicely.  I really enjoyed this set and was really excited at how Yoshumura was mixing it up from the pure single tone that he used on his recordings to date.


Sachiko M
With only three sets every night (an amount I prefer personally) there was always a nice break between sets and the performers were able to stretch out as much as they wanted. Yoshimura’s set hadn’t been too long (though long enough in my opinion) and it was somewhat anticipated that Sachiko’s wouldn’t be too long either.  While she has used contact mics in concert with her sine waves, this apparently was the first time she was using them on their own. Or at all in the past few years it was revealed.  She had a table with a small mixer and four or five contact mics connected to it.  The set began awkwardly with apparently no sound coming from her mixing. Switches were flipped, chords jiggled and eventually whatever was off was made to be on. Immediately the sounds revealed by the contact mics filled the room. Anyone who has worked with contact mics is famalier with the sounds she was getting:  amplified scrapes, metallic grinding, hollow ringing, buzzes, amplified crinkles and so on.  She seemed to mostly just let them ride, blasting out big sounds as she’d untangle the cords and drop or pick them up.  In general I found this set totally unstructured, pretty much had a feel of working out of things on the fly.  She’d fiddle around with the mics ’til something seemed to work and then develop that for a bit. The best of these were putting them in her clothes and carefully moving about, rubbing them on the table and the very best in my opinion was at the end where she enclosed a mic in each hand and gently massaged it.  The transitions between these events were always terrible, not so much transitions as dramatic shifts with big clanks, thuds and ringing sounds as she’d reposition them and untangle wires.

There was no sense of deep structure, dramatic arc or anything of the sort. Just an exploratory working with the limits and possibilities of these tools. A lot of the sounds were great, I for one have spent many an hour with contact mics and love their metallic grinding range, but they were just thrown out there with no attempt to create music. For me this was the most disappointing of the sets as there is no one I respect more for her incredible touch, sensitivity and ability to shape the simplist of sounds into a structure piece of music.  It was incredibly brave to explore these tools in front of an audience and I highly respect her for that. However I think that there is no reason she couldn’t have worked out in advance how she would use these tools to actually create coherent music. It has been pointed out to me that if you were listening to this on a recording the sense of figuring things out on the fly would not be nearly so obvious.  This is probably true, but I personally think that one would still find this lacking in deep structure that the absence of intentionality would come through on repeated listens.

Keith Rowe
Keith Rowe solo

Keith Rowe
Keith was playing four of the nine sets of this festival and the question of how he’d mix it up was always in the air. The spiky event based duo with Unami yesterday was one direction, would we see the opposite for tonight? This being the fourth solo set of Keith’s that I’ve seen I’m fairly familiar with a lot of the structures and techniques that he uses. The way that this set developed turned out to be almost entirely novel, a real surprise to me and an incredibly exciting event.  He structured the set with four long clips of classical music from his iPod, all European composers from the baroque era. He would let this run for some time and then begin playing along with them.  ‘With’ is the important concept here: there was no destruction of the music, ironic reference or banal commentary.  He was literally playing with the music, adding his own sound world to the gorgeous music of the past. The first of these pieces was the adagio from the Concerto for Oboe in d-minor, by Alessandro Marcello which he let play for a good piece before carefully adding in some subtle Brillo pad work on the strings above the pickups.  When this was allowed to fade away the elements used were harder – metallic objects on the strings, the butter knife slapped into the pickup and so forth. Perhaps this was meant as a deliberate contrast but however he intended it, it was effective.  He had told me earlier that he was revisiting a lot of his older techniques that he’d retired: the Brillo pad, the bow, springs and so on and these certainly came into play a lot (except for the bow, he didn’t use it all weekend that I noticed).  The springs made a lot of play in this set, especially after the second of the classical pieces which unlike the first piece was a vocal piece, byJean-Joseph Cassanea de Mondonville.  Further removed from the instrumentality of both Keith’s performance and of the first piece this one was of incredible beauty. Again he didn’t corrupt this beauty but worked with it, enhanced it eve.  He did toward the end bring in the radio, which was playing this syrupy smooth jazz, before fading out the iPod. The jazz wasn’t treated as reverently and static, feedback and various attacks on the strings cut through it’s banality.

The set continued on in this way with two more vocal pieces being utilized,Jean-Philippe Rameau’s Castor and Pollux and near the end the lament from Henry Purcell‘s  Dido and Aeneas.  This last piece was particularly effective, again its great beauty standing in a certain contrast to the music and the surroundings of this weekend but also in it’s obvious melancholy and despair.  While again the music was treated with utmost respect as the notes were fading away Keith’s attacks on the guitar became increasing violent and the volume was on the rise. Static and distortion, files on the strings, the fan adding its helicopter menace as the whole built to a crescendo and then ended.  An amazingly powerful piece, once again somehow transcending the previous amazing solo sets I’ve witnessed from Mr. Rowe.  While his collab with Unami was probably my favorite piece of music from the weekend this I think one could argue was the most powerful, the most important and well executed.  He is working with ideas here that I think are of a greater depth then most people in the field and this piece in particular was very carefully thought out in its intentions. He freely spoke to those who asked about what he was trying to do, what the purpose of the classical music was.  I don’t think I can really give his thoughts justice here but to give a bit of an idea it was the concepts of beauty and what it means in this music.  He said also that he deliberately used these four European composers as that was his heritage and that this was the lineage he was part of.  Working with these concepts, trying to resolve them in music is what gives his performance so much depth and power and I’m constantly reminded of this every time I see him perform.

Another great night of music, with for me personally getting a chance to see a new performer, a performer trying new things and what I would say is among the greatest solo performances I have ever seen.  A fantastic night filled with new experiences and interesting music.  Tokyo is a long way to travel for concerts but this festival is proving to be well worth the trip.

see all of my  Amplify08 photos.

read all of my Amplify08 Reviews.

AMPLIFY 2008: light day 1

lightSeptember 19th
Erstwhile Records presents
AMPLIFY 2008: light day 1

Kid Ailack Art Hall, Meidaimae, Tokyo, Japan

The news was that a typhoon was hitting Japan and the remnants would make it to the Tokyo area this evening.  It’d been drizzly the day before but the forecast now was for serious amounts of rain but primarily after midnight tonight.  The day dawned overcast but still plenty warm and very humid. Keith had to head to the venue for soundcheck pretty early so after our (now traditional) breakfast and walk we parted ways. I headed to Shinjuku and spent the afternoon in the skyscraper district and Shinjuku Central Park. Soon enough it was time to head to the venue, which I’d been advised to arrive early on this day.  As I was already in Shinjuku I again simply took the Keio line to Meidaimae (which is the first stop on a special express).

biiruI arrived in Meidaimae about an hour early and as I was walking up the block I encountered Keith and Toshi coming the other way.  They were heading for a traditional soba restaurant and invited me along. I’d forgotten to get dinner (this happened more often then you’d think, my schedule being all messed up I’d get hungry at odd times and was always eating late or missing meals) and I couldn’t pass up this opportunity.  The soba place was fantastic, menu only in Japanese and Toshi helped us navigate through the many options.  We had an amazing sashimi plate to begin and then I had soba with fried tofu that was so much better then any other soba I’ve had. Getting near to show time we headed back to find the hall pretty crowded. Again Jon had saved me a seat up front which was again much appreciated.  Also in the audience was our man Joe Foster whom I totally failed to recognize at first do to the lack of his ‘stache.  I had enough time to check out the scene and the downstairs merch table before Jon and Yuko introduced the festival in English and Japanese.

Katsura Yamauchi solo
The opening set of the festival was not very surprising to those of us who had caught Yamauchi two days earlier.  Well it was surprising in that he once again followed exactly the same formula that I’d done that night.  Once again it was the hissy breathing sounds, the continuous hollow metallic tones broken up by the sharp inhalations, a couple of pauses, the empty keywork and so on.  It played out a little longer this time and there were several measurable gaps as he’d change between techniques.  Also this time the breathless keying seemed much more clearly to be an actual piece, one of his own or a jazz standard, being played without being vocalized.  At the end of this he began to put a tiny bit of air through the horn which is what made this more clear.

However after this improv (which was beginning to feeling quite familiar) he did two other shorter pieces.  The first was basically oscillating between two notes, played pretty loud. He hold each note for quite sometime creating a long droney feel that worked quite nicely in the room.  Pretty much right at the point where this would become overly long for what it was he stopped. Maybe ten minutes all told.  The final piece he did was a single, very high pitched tone on the sopranino played as loud as he could managed. This was incredibly intense and seemed to resonate at the rooms frequency. I got this effect in my inner ear that sounded similar to that wobbly low pitched wah-ing sound you get when you wave a thin sheet of metal.  Very short, probably no longer then five minutes, but powerful and a great way to end his set.

Keiths tables
Keith’s Table

Keith Rowe/Taku Unami
Keith was wearing his classic Rick Reed designed AMM shirt and Taku was wearing a Hose t-shirt which was an interesting coincidence that was like a commentary on this collaboration.  There was no set in this festival that I was anticipating higher as this collaboration had the most potential for greatness or disaster.  Unami is a wild card who has been involved in some of the best and some of the worst things I’ve heard in recent years.  I keep following him with high interest though as the degree of creativity, risk taking and willingness to destroy exceptions and convention are unprecedented. He has a playfulness that I never get from some of his collaborators that I think demonstrates that his is playing with expectations, not the audience.  Keith always rises to a challenge so how he would react and match Unami’s inherent unpredictability was certainly piquing my curiosity. Keith had his usual table of detritus, laptop and cubist guitar to which he had also added a new “guitar” this time made from a small neck that was used by classical guitarists to work on their fretwork. Unami had a laptop in front of which was a sandwich of two boards with various effectors attached to them. Small motors with various beaters, flails and whips attached to them and maybe small speakers as well.  He also had a mandolin and a double necked acoustic guitar on the floor below him.

The structure of this piece was super interesting, it was like swarms of events that would rise up out of a spaces or the textures of one or the other participants. Rowe used a lot of contact mic, short sharp metallic sounds, blue tooth chatter, swarms of buzzing feedback. Unami began almost right away with a rhythmic tock, tock, tock from a motor with little paddled beating on the wood it was mounted upon.  He would bring this various rhythmic sounds in and out layering them to disrupt their patterns and cutting them off at points that’d seem random but would either reinforce or eliminate stasis.  He would reach down and pluck notes on his acoustic guitar and it was the use of this that was the most startling.  Keith at least at one point responded with recognizable points from his guitar reinforcing the alienness of these sounds in this environment as opposed to seeming like any sort of call and response.  Other points of synchronicity would be the persistent swarms of buzzing that the Bluetooth interference creates with multiple clicks and tocks from Unami creating this post industrial cacophony of damaged mechanical devices.  Unami strummed a few chords on the mandolin but it was the bizarre double necked acoustic that he’d turn to over and over again always shocking in its entry but always perfect in its unexpectedness.  At one point he ran down maybe five of the strings in an open chords progression and at the end he violently strummed the guitar as the bulk of his motors frantically worked away creating a loud and dense wall of many sounds. Keith responded to this as well with sharp attacks on the pickups.

This set was unexpected, slippery in that its structure and elements are hard to hold in ones mind and absolutely brilliant. This was the most interesting bit of music I’ve witnessed in a long time, a collision of two of the most interesting musicians around pushing each other outside of any sort of routines and boundaries. The set is so difficult to recall in detail as it was filled with constant left turns, change ups and dense amounts of detail. All of these sounds were incredibly well placed into the room and there was many gaps and moments of calm.  It is great news that this will be put out on an ErstLive, it is some of the most exciting music I’ve seen in a long time.

Ami in her duo with Toshi
Ami Yoshida in duo with Toshimaru Nakamura

Ami Yoshida/Toshimaru Nakamura
When word of this collaboration first popped up on the forthcoming Erstwhile Records releases it was one of those,” why hasn’t this happened already?” moments. The fragmented soundworld of Ami Yoshida seemed like such a natural contrast to the layers of feedback and sonic detritus that makes up Toshimaru Nakamuras.  Thus getting a chance to see them in their first live meeting was nearly as highly anticipated by yours truly as the previous Rowe/Unami set. There’d been some news that Ami was a bit under the weather but she made it to the Hall for her set and produced probably the most intense performance of the four times I’ve seen her.

The set began tentatively with short guttural sounds from Ami met with short little cracks and pops of feedback from Toshi.  They didn’t really seem connected at this point, isolated sounds from the two of them not really connected to each other. Toshi seemed to be losing control of his feedback as well; working with this more isolated events there wasn’t the cover or control of the pure tones or white noise he’d been using in the days before. Rips of feedback would burst out and he’d quickly turn it down and start over. Ami, perhaps in response to this, increasingly used strangling sounds, gasps and near screams.  I’ve never heard her get as loud as she did in this set and especially toward the end there was some serious volume from some of her vocalizations.  Toshi began to work with more of his toolkit, utilizing pure tones at times, which usually gelled the most effectively with Ami’s micro events. But this forced inevitable thoughts of Cosmos and seemed like they were unable to connect with each others characteristic sounds. Lots of space in this set at one point some loud traffic sounds from the street outside being the most audible event. At times Toshi’s feedback would slip into its beating patterns, drowning Ami and reinforcing this disconnect as they traded off being in the forefront.  When they did gel it was powerful but it was only segments of this set interspersed with parts that just weren’t working.  The set concluded with loud near screams from Ami, a silence and then one last little tear of feedback from Toshi.

An interesting set, one that showed a lot of potential but that wasn’t a success in and of itself.  In general I liked a lot of Ami’s sounds and was really intrigued by the more violent nature of the sounds she emitted.  I think that Toshi had the harder task and I felt that the way he was trying to work with her was not conducive to how he uses his instrument.  It seems that using more continuous sounds as a base that Ami floats above is the easiest way to collaborate with her and I for one was hoping to see something else work.  Alas it was when Toshi fell into those patterns that this set seemed to work the best.  Perhaps to work with spikier sounds in collaboration with her you’d need something more controllable then mixer feedback.

The first night of Amplify 2008 was pretty fantastic. Sure not all of the music was something you’d want on a cd so you could listen over and over again, but for me that is hardly the point of seeing this music live.  Abstract music like this needs to be always experimenting always testing new ideas and that leads to things that don’t work or only partially work out.  The risk and the failures demand as much attention and provide their own rewards.  And much of the music tonight was amazing, the Rowe/Unami collab being the highlight, but those short pieces from Yamauchi were great and the moments when Ami and Toshi hooked up hinted at great things to come.  An exciting night. Oh and that typhoon pretty much came to nothing but a bit of rain and a some unimpressive wind.

see all of my  Amplify08 photos.

read all of my Amplify08 Reviews.

Toshimaru Nakamura solo at Kid Ailack Hall

September 18th
Toshimaru Nakamura
Kid Ailack Art Hall, Meidaimae, Tokyo.

Roughly three weeks before the festival a second outside show was added , Toshimaru Nakamura solo at Kid Ailack Hall.  This was originally described as Toshi perform a long solo set, perhaps two or three hours in length. When asked about it at yesterdays show, Toshi was a lot more conservative about the projected duration, stating that an hour and a half would be the upper bound. The set ended up being forty-five minutes.  It had followed its natural arc though so I think this was for the best.

Jon and Yuko had come in earlier after meeting IHM admin Mark in Shinjuku so Keith and I had dinner at an okay place next to the katsu place we’d gone to the night before.  It was kind of the Japanese equivalent of Denny’s I’d say, it had a wide variety of traditional Japanese dishes all rather mediocre.  From there we took the Chūō Line to Shinjuku Station and from there caught the private Keiō Line to Meidaimae (this actually is not the most effecient route, as it took one away from Meidaimae and then you kind of came back. Instead you want to take the Chūō to Kichijoji and then the Keiō Line). Keith had played Kid Ailack Hall in the past so once we got to the station he was able to easily find his way there.

KAHKid Ailack Hall is a small, rectangular black box theater type of space about half a flight of stairs above street level. The building contained the Book Cafe in a sort of half sub basement and apparently galleries above the hall.  The hall had maybe thirty or forth “chairs” of the strap of canvas between a scissored frame of wood, kind of like a folding camp stool. There was a decent crowd for Nakamura’s solo set but only about half filled I’d say. Jon had saved us seats up front and Mark was right next to him.  Good to meet a fellow IHM-er here, hadn’t ran into Mark at a show since ErstQuake 2.  We chatted for a bit until maybe 15 minutes past the advertised show time, Toshimaru Nakamura sat behind his mixer and the lights dimmed.

Toshimaru Nakamura
Toshimaru Nakamura solo in Kid Ailack Hall

Now I’d seen Toshi solo just the night before and while that was about fifteen minutes it actually turned out to be like a sketch for tonight’s show.  He followed the structure of the night before and utilized pretty much the same subset of his repertoire of sounds.  Everything was extended and explored a bit further and there were several unique events but the degree to which that short set was like an abstract of this one was quite high.  It began with a hissing of white noise which he brought up to a pretty decent level. Not loud per se but not setup as a wash to fill the background. After a bit of this he began to utilize the electrical pops and clicks as he had the night before. After a bit this was cut out and there was a decent interval of near silence. A long thin tone was brought up into this which he then manipulated for a good piece, modulating and tweaking it. The volume was brought done leaving this single tone still playing just very quietly. The white noise was brought back in and he began to build up the density using it, the tone and various rips and tears of feedback.  This was worked for a while and then he generated this odd bonging sound that I’d say was oscillating feedback run through a reverb at some extreme setting. He let this bong for a bit, but it out and with kind of a look of disappointment cut out everything else. He picked up his watch looking a bit ruefull upon noting the time and that was that.

So those chairs I mentioned earlier, well they themselves were an additional participant in this set.  The squeaked with the sound of canvas rubbing against wood when you shifted in them and some movements would make them quite audibly slide against the floor.  For a while this wasn’t an issue but a certain point, usually around a half an hour, you’d get cascades of these sounds as people had to change positions. Personally while I tried to avoid making sounds myself (failed of course) I tended to enjoy their additions to the various sets.  It was definitely a factor toward the end of Toshi’s set, but not as dramatic as it would be in some of the sparser sets.

As for the music itself I thought it was okay but nothing particularly special.  I’ve long been on the record of preferring Toshi’s collaborative work with only Side Guitar and this years Dance Music completely working for me.  I was under the impression that he was changing some aspect of his solo performance and that we’d get a chance to witness some of these new developments.  What seemed different to me from some of his other solo work was that we was working with a much more restricted palette. In the past he often let the oscillating feedback drive a lot of the structure, adding delays and other effects to create almost techno like pieces driven by that rhythm. There was nothing like that and when the oscillating feedback would arise he’d tend to tweak it into non existence. The odd ping-ponging bonging tones that ended this set was something that I’d think he’d have gone with on say the Vehicle sessions. Here he stuck with white noise, sine waves, open circuit sounding clicks and pops and various tearing bursts of feedback.

see all of my  Amplify08 photos.

read all of my Amplify08 Reviews.

Katsura Yamauchi/Toshimaru NakamuraӬ

September 17th (Wednesday)
Katsura Yamauchi/Toshimaru Nakamura
Monnaka Tenjo Hall, Monzennakamachi, Tokyo.

izakayaMy first day in Japan was mostly devoted to travel and sleep though I did have a pleasant evenings nightcap with Keith Rowe at a little izakaya just down the road from our hotel.  This would actually be a pretty typical experience for my trip to Japan: there were no English speakers there but they were plenty happy to work things out by pointing and gestures. Thankfully beer in Japanese is biiru, so easy enough to stumble upon. We ended up with a couple of cold draft beers and a selection of tempura.  Our goal was to simply stay up late enough to try to go to bed in the Japan nighttime and it worked well enough.  Of course I did end up waking up around 5am and not really getting back to sleep.

Once day dawned I walked around Musashino City for a couple of hours checking out the surroundings which including several malls, a temple with a graveyard and a more traditional open shopping area. In the latter I found a Post Office which is one of the few places you are guaranteed to find an international cash machine. I was in need of cash so this was welcome.  Later I met Keith for breakfast followed by another walk around town. A short nap after that and it was time to meet Keith, Jon and Yuko for dinner followed by the first of two outside shows.  Dinner was at an excellent tonkatsu restaurant that Yuko recommended. Fantastic miso and while they stuck with the tonkatsu I enjoyed huge prawn katsu.

Monnaka Tenjo Hall

I had come to Japan primarily for Erstwhile Records Amplify 2008: Light, festival but prior to this fest was two nights of outside shows. Tonight’s show, not really associated with the festival but featuring two of its participants, was the only night at a different venue, Monnaka Tenjo Hall. This venue turned out to be an oddly shaped cement room on the 8th floor (IIRC) overlooking a freeway and some quality Tokyo street scenes. Decent sized and setup for theatre this was a nice room to see some live music.  The evenings program was Katsura Yamauchi and Toshimaru Nakamura in a classic solo, solo, duo format. Coming in with Jon and Keith I managed to avoid the cover charge: connections baby 😉

Television Power ElectricThere was a wide variety of merchandise spread out on a table in the back of the room, a collection of maybe 20 chairs and in the front Nakamura’s setup and on the floor Yamauchi’s saxes.  There wasn’t too much merch that I didn’t have barring a bunch of Yamauchi’s discs, but I wasn’t really familiar enough with his work to start acquiring those blind.  I did end up picking up a TV Pow/Toshimaru Nakamura collaboration that I didn’t have that came in beautiful homemade paper wrapping with an obi type binding holding it together. After a bit of time to allow stragglers in and to shift some merch there was an introduction and then Yamauchi came to the stage picked up his alto and began his solo set.

saxesHe began with this hollowed breathing sound, essentially blowing through the sax and even fingering at times but generating no recognizable sax like sounds. Of course for fans of abstract music these sounds were fairly recognizable and I would say in general his extended techniques were fairly routine. The question of course is how one uses them and he tended to stick with a technique for some time, exploring it at length before shifting to another one.  The whispery breathing sounds began to take on a bit of depth and as he approached perhaps the very edge of the more recognizable sax sound-world he generated this fantastic hollow metallic tone. He was in dire need of being able to circular breath as he’d take a deep breath through his nose and then generate a continuous sound for as long as he could and then gasp in more air.  This provided almost a rhythmic structure to this part but I think actual circular breathing would succeed better at the effect he was after.  Alas he only worked the metallic hollow sound for a couple of minutes and then moved to a keying the sax with no sound section. This was again quite rhythmic, almost as if he was playing some jazz standard or some such without any sound.  He concluded this piece by returning to the gentle hisses and rustling breathy tones he opened with.

After the applause he addressed the audience (all of this is of course in Japanese as Jon, Keith and myself were the only non-native speakers there) and then proceeded to play about five short pieces from his new cd, one of which he played on sopranino.  These turned out to be very traditional jazz sounding solo sax. Almost could have been a set of standards.  Very odd and unexpected for me.  Not my kind of thing really.

Toshimaru Nakamura’s setup

Immediately after the end of this set Toshimaru Nakamura moved to the stage, sat down and began to play. This was my first time seeing Nakamura solo (an event which would repeat tomorrow night) and was something I was definitely curious about. I’ve rarely been impressed with his solo recordings but with his recent impressive Dance Music, my expectations had shifted a bit. He began with white noise into which he’d intersperse ripping feedback.  Not overly aggressive but contrasting to the bed of static.  One of these however did become quite loud and upon this occurrence he cut everything out and silence fell. He allowed a decent interval, perhaps a minute or so, before he began dropping in electronic pops and crackles as you often hear in open circuit playing.  He built back up from this again, layering in the white noise and later a sine wave cutting though.  A return to the ripping feedback to conclude the set.  All of this occurred over maybe 15 minutes, perhaps less.

There was a break a this point which I for one used to run outside and find one of the ubiquitous vending machines and I bought a bottle of juice, which I downed immediately, and a bottle of water for later.  It was humid and I was always thirsty, so I count myself a big fan of Japan’s vending machine culture.  After a fifteen-twenty minute break the musicians took to the stage for their duo set.

Katsura Yamauchi/Toshimaru Nakamura

Yamauchi kicked off the set exactly as he had his solo set, with the dry hisses of air through the alto’s resonating chamber. He then proceeded in exactly the same structure, moving from the wind in the autumn leaves sound, to the the more continuous hollow sound reaching that long tones and gasps of air bit. Again that generated that neat metallic sound but it was odd to see him go through the same motions.  Of course there was also Nakamura adding an additional layer of sound to these events which after an initial pause were in the open circuit glitching territory.  These events were well applied pricks of contrasting sound to the windy sounds that Yamauchi was working with.  These coalesced into a more steady state sound that was mostly lost under Yamauchi’s rhythmic breathing/metallic sounds but were brought to the fore as Yamauchi abruptly stopped playing. This was my favorite moment of this piece, the sudden absence of his sound and a thin hiss and glitching pops and tears from Nakamura suddenly springing to the foreground.  Yamauchi paused for a nice stretch, perhaps expecting Nakamura to conclude but when he did not he moved on to the rhythmic key playing.  Nakamura brought up the volume at this point with rips and tears of feedback.  He cut this out, Yamauchi dropped out again and after a gap Nakamura played a single tone and then stopped ending the set.

I thought they were done at this point and began jotting down some notes as Yamauchi again spoke to the audience. But then he grabbed the sopranino and began playing one of his jazz pieces.  A coda of sorts I thought but then Nakamura began playing along with this. Bizarre.  Yamauchi is doing fast runs and trills and Nakamura just pops and glitches. But then Toshi begins to pick it up becoming louder and more aggressive with sharp bursts of feedback and static.  Rather like his playing on 13630 kHz from Between.  Yamauchi keeps up with his rapid, free jazzish runs but either reaching the end of the tune or just unable to compete with the electronics stops playing. Nakamura keeps it up for a bit and then cuts out the tears of feedback to reveal a continuous baseline tone. He lets this go for maybe a minute and then cuts it out ending this short followup piece.

Overall I wasn’t too impressed with this night of music.  Yamauchi I thought had some interesting sounds but I wasn’t really into the structure that he’d develop. I definitely wasn’t into his jazz playing, which of course one could say is a matter of taste but I tend to not seek out those kind of shows. Unexpected but interesting I guess to hear what his other work is like.  Nakamura’s solo was quite short and hence hard to really form much of an opinion on.  Again it seemed to not really have much structure. It felt like he setup some sounds and as he lost control of the feedback, cut it out and started over. This “second part” was more successful but it really just ran from soft and sparse to increasingly dense and louder. And of course it was really short, 5-10 minutes out of the whole performance.  The first piece of the duo was better, but would have been better still if there had not been the solos prior as the two of them basically were doing about the same things they had just done.  They didn’t seem connected at all, Yamauchi in particular just reprising the sequences from his solo and Nakamura falling right into the  comfortable accompanist role that marked some of his lesser collaborations from the previous year.  Then there was that bizarre final piece which honestly was the most surprising.  Yamaichi’s jazz piece obliterated by Nakamura’s electronics. It wasn’t at all good, but it was unexpected and different.

see all of my  Amplify08 photos.
read all of my Amplify08 Reviews.