Wednesday, December 08, 2010
Michael Pisaro/Taku Sugimoto - 2 seconds/ b minor/ waves (Erstwhile)
Short of Yuko Zama, I may have been trumpeting the hosannas about Michael Pisaro's music as much as anyone over the past couple of years so it's interesting, to me, that recent efforts have given me a little pause. Not so much, but some. The first two releases on Gravity Wave each had aspects that mildly gnawed at me, as does this one, the highly anticipated, long-range duo with Taku Sugimoto.
The pairing is an inspired idea, of course, given Sugimoto's music of the last six to eight years which, at times, out-wandelweisered Wandelweiser at least in terms of sparseness. Add to that the fact that, quite recently both he and Pisaro have allowed faint traces of melody and expansiveness into their playing and it would seem to be a perfect match. And it is quite wonderful in some ways. Those who have been pining for Sugimoto to take a baby step or two back to the realms so beautifully explored in "opposite" will be very pleased on that score alone while listeners who may have found Pisaro's compositions a tad too acerb (I'm not among them) will certainly appreciate the large amount of pure sonic gorgeousity on display here. Me, I find myself going back and forth, experiencing a certain degree of discomfort.
For those unaware, the deal for the recording was this: Pisaro sketched out three compositional ideas, each for a 20-minute duration and relayed them to Sugimoto. Knowing his scores, I'm sure that there were levels of complication that aren't necessarily directly perceived by the listener. The two musicians performed the works in isolation from each other and the results, à la MIMEO's "sight", were layered atop one another.
This works absolutely beautifully in the first piece, "2 seconds". I'm not at all sure what reins the title put on the performers--sometimes it seems a "2 second rule" of sorts is in effect but often not--but the (partially?) serendipitous effects of the sounds (ringing tones, wooden clicks (a metronome?), a door or drawer opening or closing, what sounds like a coffee grinder, etc.) all slide across and through each other, floating with a calm quasi-periodicity that's enchanting and stimulating. There's a kind of dust-motes-in-the-sunlight effect, quite wonderful. This piece ranks among my favorites in Pisaro's oeuvre.
The trouble begins on the second track, "b minor" which, oddly enough, is the one that'll cause Sugimoto nostalgics to drool. Two guitars, one assigned "melody" (Sugimoto, I believe), one "harmony" (Pisaro), I'm given to understand, though I've no idea what other rules are in effect. It's pretty. It's very pretty. And for four or five minutes, it floats rather well, serene and rosy. But all too soon, for my taste, it begins to cloy. That sense of miraculous discovery attained on the initial track, of being pleasantly surprised and/or irked by what wafts into you, is largely absent here. There's a hint, perhaps, in Pisaro's playing, of the Beefheart of "Peon" or "One Red Rose That I Mean" but splayed out. It's attractive enough but I'm not sure more than that; halfway through, I'm aching for some real-world reference, some grime. I don't necessarily experience that with much similarly scrubbed Wandelweiser material; perhaps it's the overripe rosiness here that creates that thirst.
The last piece, "wave", is problematic in a different way. It's composed of two elements (I think. As I know from experience, I often underestimate just how much is occurring in Pisaro's music): a steady, complex drone with an organ-like feel (Sugimoto) and "waves" of field recordings emerging and ebbing (Pisaro), said recordings sounding rather abstract, wind-sourced, I think, but I'm not sure. The former, the dronage, is utterly wonderful; I could listen to an hour of that in sheer bliss. But the site recordings strike me as intrusive and, often, awkward. as though they were something hastily tacked on to enhance the drone. There's an oil and water aspect to the combination, something I hadn't heard in other Pisaro works where two such sound worlds intersect (the "Transparent City" series, for instance). Intentional? Perhaps but it never quite clicked for me.
As with the Gravity Waves, don't get me wrong--this is a fine recording and that first track is entirely fantastic. It's just not the whole ball o' wax that one's first hearing of the participants and methodology might have led one to expect. Get it and decide for yourself, though.