Saturday, March 14, 2009
Went to Roulette last night to hear Carl Stone, Aki Onda and Y***** T*****. (The latter was a shamisen player who, apparently, was violating some term of her visitation rights here by performing, hence she was billed as "surprise guest" and Stone asked that this be respected, so she'll be YT here. I'm sure some perspicacious readers can figure it out)
I first heard Stone at, iirc, a New Music America performance around 1989-90 at the Kitchen where he impressed mightily. This was in the halcyon days when digital sampling was in its infancy and most any decent example of same was pretty cool. (I'm sure were I to go back and listen to some things, I'd cringe. Previte's record for the Moscow Circus comes to mind) But Stone brought to bear a lovely melodic sense as well as a willingness to calmly sit and elicit very slow strings of beauty, often taking a tiny sliver of sound and stretching it out to amazing lengths, discovering all manner of granularity within. A couple of years later, he released "Mom's" on New Albion, which was a huge favorite of mine for many years. Subsequent music I enjoyed to some degree (including a duo with Otomo) though he, at least as far as the recordings were representative, largely moved on from the delicious stasis achieved on pieces like "Banteay Srey" and "Chao Nue". I saw him 5-6 years back at the old Roulette (Jon, I think you were there?) and didn't get much from it, though his encore sample-istic version of "Axis: Bold as Love" was pretty juicy.
I hadn't heard anything of his in a good while so I only had general expectations. The evening was in two parts, the first comprising solo sets by Onda and Stone. I'm not hugely familiar with Onda's work, though I've heard a decent amount over the last 7-8 years, enjoying his found cassette music the most. His set here was disappointing. He was using cassettes (a hand-held device, connected via wire to...a mixer? not sure but it seemed to react to physical movements of his arms) generally overlaying two or three sound sources. Toward the latter half, it was a scratchy Arabic song (sounded like Mohammed Abdel Waheb, but who knows?) and some low, deep tones. But something about it just didn't connect, seemed dry and arbitrary, lacked any sort of resonance. The last minute or two, when things dwindled down to some soft, simple but grainy tones, was quite good, otherwise...not so much.
Stone, on computer, began with tiny but precise smudges of sound, ably dispersed throughout the three room speakers. Somewhat in the manner of his "Gadberry's" from "Mom's", the isolated sonic patches gradually began to coalesce into something that almost resembled cohesion but remained enticingly unformed, still swirling restlessly. One had the impression there were at least a dozen elements and wondered when/if they'd "make sense", which I don't think they ever quite did and which was one of the attractions of the piece. There was, however, a substantial lull during the set's middle where the enjoyable confusion crossed the line (for this listener) into groping for material, which wasn't found until the concluding several minutes, once again reaching that earlier state of addled bliss. Overall, some problems, but ample success.
The second half was single trio performance which was very enjoyable throughout though, in an odd way, I think this was almost entirely due to the presence of YT on shamisen. For most of the duration, she played it lying flat on a table (the shamisen, not her!) using extended techniques involving various implements, string, wire, etc. The resultant sounds were almost all high-pitched, squeaky and relatively harsh, the sort of thing that you'd normally expect (fairly or not) to serve in more of a "color" capacity. Here, however, I heard them as the true spine of the piece, bolstering and giving focus to the contributions of Stone and Onda who, on occasion, generated tones that were a bit loopy for my taste. The improv had a natural flow to it, ebbing and advancing, the shamisen ensuring that matters never flagged. Really interesting to hear how such generally gossamer sounds managed to wield such power; I'm tempted to chalk it up to YT's inherent sense of placement and musicality--I've only known her work in group contexts before; be curious to hear her own music. Toward the end of the set, she picked up the shamisen and played it in standard position, often tightening and loosening a tuning peg resulting in some fine bent cascades which Stone duly sampled and messed with.
Very satisfying set, in an intriguing area somewhere between eai and a slightly older electronics school; I'm not sure at all that type of collaboration would work out consistently--the underlying premises don't jibe enough, perhaps--but the inclusion of YT was the leavening agent that made this evening more successful than it otherwise may have been.