HERMIT – Ryoko Akama
CANADA Caduc CA10 CD (2016)
Three more recent releases from Caduc, the Vancouver-based label run by Mathieu Ruhlmann. I’ll start with HERMIT – here, immediately the listener is thrust into a world of uncertainty; it takes 22 seconds before the first note sounds. The forty-nine minutes and forty seconds of music that follow is full of suspense, anticipation, with a clear demonstration of restraint, resulting in the spare and economical delivery typical of Christián Alvear. This is a beautiful acoustic guitar treatment by Alvear of this Ryoko Akama piece. The inner sleeve has very little production information, but it does feature some text which I presume is all or part of Akama’s score for HERMIT – which is as follows:
“sound. Decay. Silence / Repeat one or two times / Short, soft, / Long and almost inaudible”
Alvear is a master of extended technique and wrings as many different sounds out of his Spanish flamenco-style guitar as he possibly can. He also manages to convincingly incorporate an electronic ingredient into the proceedings – this could be produced by an e-bow device on the strings of his guitar. It is not clear if this realisation of HERMIT is constructed – by which I mean multi-tracked – or performed in one take. It would come as no surprise to hear that Alvear performed all this live in one go, such is his skill and imagination as a player. Video material on his own website provides plenty of evidence of his commitment to “…the premiere, interpretation and recording of experimental and avant-garde music”, should you care to check it out.
There is also a quote hidden on the back of a folded part of the packaging, presumably from Ryoko Akama:
“what I miss most is somewhere between quiet and solitude
What I miss most is stillness”
This is a very, very quiet record due to its nature, and it needs – I think – a quiet place to hear it, study it and contemplate it.
Grado de potencia #1
CANADA Caduc CA15 CD (2016)
The translation of Grado de potencia I found is “degree of power”. Realised by a large ensemble of fourteen players, it is one forty-nine minute piece which involves environmental recordings being played back, along with the various instrumentation. The piece was composed by Astaburuaga who also co-mixed the material with Augusto Hernandez. It was recorded by Hernandez, Alexander Bruck and Jordan Topiel Paul. Bruck, a member of the Mexican National Symphony Orchestra who has recently branched out into New Music, also plays viola on this recording. The other performers are Gudinni Cortina, Rolando Hernandez, Enrique Maraver, Axel Muňoz, Alfredo Bojórquez, Jacob Wick, Ramón del Buey, Darío Bernal, Maribel Suárez, Jorge David Garcia, Aimée Theriot, Juan J. Garcia and Eva Coronado.
Grado de potencia #1 has a rich and vibrant textural clarity. There is a dead stop at the end of the first quarter circa 12-20 minutes where the next sound is recorded conversation in a reverberant location. A nice juxtaposition. Circa 25 minutes there’s the sound of a dog barking – it’s so incongruous, it made me laugh out loud. I’ve had conversations with friends recently about large groups improvising and how it only works in the context of performing a score which calls for improvisation? For sure, there is a fair amount of recorded evidence of improvising orchestras struggling under the sheer weight of numbers over the years, but here there’s a lightness and fluidity despite the large number of musicians participating.
Christián Alvear has also produced a realisation of another piece by Astaburuaga; Pieza de Escucha. Video on his website. There are a group of five harvestmen photographed on the rear of the sleeve, which further endears this release to me even more. I like harvestmen much more than spiders; so much more elegant, don’t you think?
Mastered by Alan Jones at Laminal Audio. Santiago Astaburuaga has previous releases in groupings including with Christian Alvear on Impulsive Habitat and Lengua de Lava which on the strength of this, I am now going to search out.
Ryoko Akama / Christian Alvear / Cyril Bondi / D’Incise
MADA – Taku Sugimoto
CANADA Caduc CA16 CD (2016)
Made with the requisite care and attention by Akama and Alvear - who have previous releases on the Caduc imprint; HERMIT – and Bondi and D’Incise who are perhaps better known as the duo Diatribes. Here are two longish pieces and a short “interlude” of silence in between. Sugimoto is well-known as a guitarist with a singular approach to composition. Since 1988’s Mienai Tenshi or 1996’s Myshkin Musicu, Taku Sugimoto has moved into writing scores. This is confirmed by the Improvised Music From Japan website which states, “Currently Sugimoto's interest focuses on composition and its performance, rather than improvisation.” I first became aware of Taku Sugimoto’s work when, while working at the Circulations multi-media event at Sussex University in the late 1990s, I witnessing a young man quietly abusing his archtop Gibson jazz guitar in a profoundly un-jazz way. A colleague of mine then informed me that this fellow was clearly a devotee of the Japanese minimalist.
Mada I features a staccato guitar pluck as crisp as a footstep in fresh snow. Repeated clusters of activity. Nay, flurries. Occasionally two or more instruments settle on the same note. Extensive use of pauses. This piece is perhaps more animated and delicate. Spread out. A piano note repeats. Harp? The interlude is around five minutes of silence and such a long duration is very effective. When the bassy drum/bell hits that start Mada II appear it is a genuinely disturbing jolt. All the silence of the interlude acts as a solid footing that anchors one piece to the other like concrete. Mada II doesn’t even start straightaway. Sugimoto specifies extremes of pitch. It’s like the musicians are slowing down time.
One early listen-through was while killing time in a carpark in semi-rural Sussex, England. Here’s a list of the things in the environment I heard while I was listening to MADA in the order I heard them:
The squeak of a hung metal shop sign blown softly by the wind
The bass rumble of a large motorcycle’s V-twin engine ticking over nearby
A tractor passing
The ever-present drone of aircraft
Crows. Make of that what you will.
MADA could be seen as a culmination of Sugimoto’s previous solo explorations/approach/practice. I’m looking forward to the prospect of discovering more.