Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Tough, tough, tough.

There's a kind of monumental quality at play here, the sort of essence you might not ascribe to this area or music too often, or want to, really. "contact" arrives with huge expectations. In terms of "pared-downed-ness", of the relentless stripping away of non-essential information, Rowe has been dealing with that for years, coming at it from one direction (and, too, bouncing back and forth between that notion and a flood of densely packed information) where Sachiko more or less began there and, if she's budged, it's only been a fraction of an inch, necessarily as there didn't seem to be very much more ground available to occupy. So the meeting of the pair, their first as a duo, has something of a mountaintop rendezvous about it resulting in both a stunning breadth of vision and a massive subjugation of ego. Of course, that latter idea gets paid lip service all the time; rarely do you hear it in practice to the degree encountered on "contact". They're not erased entirely--that possibility remains far off, I think--but "contact" comes closer than most.

It's so vast--some two hours of unrelievedly patternless sounds--no real footholds proffered, making it extremely difficult to mentally encompass any of the four tracks, much less the whole thing, that a descriptive analysis seems pointless. I could say that for about half of "square"'s 41 minutes, Sachiko emits one pure sine tone, possibly adjusting the volume level now and then, perhaps not, maybe splitting the tone subtly toward the end of that stretch; it comes and goes after that. It's not so much a "background" for Rowe, more like a needle that pierces his every scrabble. (Who does what here, of course, is often guesswork, though idiosyncratic noises emerge throughout). As has been her practice in recent years, she doesn't move a hair and it's up to her collaborator(s) to fit in. Rowe does so perhaps more beautifully than anyone I've heard by using it as described above, not as a scrim against which to project his images but as a "solid" form on which to hang things, to adhere sounds, to pierce back in return. He's quiet (as is the sine tone) but hardly evanescent, active without being insistent, all scumbling sounds, small clicks, rough like sand but gentle like sand in its fine grainedness. I'm not at all sure the above description is of any value.

If there's one overriding sensation I get from this release, it's of a natural process in action, maybe a geological one. I was reminded several times of Xenakis' great "Concret pH", where the hyper-amplified pockets of air within burning charcoal were captured as they microsonically exploded. Here, the pacing, the dispersal of sounds has something of that beautiful inhuman property, of a process that occurs for reasons other than human sensibility though, of course, that's exactly what it is. I said above that there's an extreme of egolessness here, and I think there is, but there's the contradiction, perhaps, of two clear sensibilities mingling, mindful of each other and their own contributions.

For Rowe, it's almost an opposite attack from what we've heard on "The Room" or the live set from last fall with the classical samples. It's spare but by no means dainty. Graceful, yes, but by its own set of rules, I think taking his cue from Sachiko. Perhaps it stemmed from being in Tokyo (and the issues he dealt with in the live, solo set) but he seems to be almost deferential to Sachiko here, allowing her to set the terms initially, then engaging her rigorously but without any defensiveness. I think maybe it's Sachiko who's more "at home" in this world, Rowe who has to sublimate certain "classical" urges--arc, for instance--even more than usual.

[I pause to note the distance traveled by Rowe in the past decade. To get from, say, "Harsh," to here is remarkable enough. For that journey to have been accomplished by someone in his 60s is...well, one shakes one's head]

Inevitably, I think of visual analogies and, just as inevitably it's Twombly who first surfaces, the flyspeck scatterings slung across white space, the small clusters that form almost by chance (and when they do here, it's rather sublime), the balance wherein you have to mentally encompass a vast area wherein information is thinly distributed but voluminous, keeping it all in mind. Like I said, tough, tough, tough. Like some huge, abstract sumi painting where you can only take in a few square inches at once. As is, repeated listenings offer an endless source of newness, of guessed-at logics, of a language that I'm sure is a step or two beyond my grasp. I can easily imagine "contact" sounding just as imposing, if perhaps a tad more decipherable, ten years from now.

Great, great record.



Dave said...

Brian, do you see any significance in the album's title (other than literal, i.e. the contact mic)? I mean, specifically... with a previous album called 'between' - one that stressed the space between people, objects, etc... and now we have 'contact' - things not being so separate...? a part of the between-ness momentarily erased...? or maybe not...?

Jon Abbey said...

I'd like to hear Keith's response to that. mine would be that the Keith/Toshi partnership had been going for quite some time when they recorded 'between', and for me the main meaning of that title is being 'between' what came before and what would come next, in terms of the whole area of music (from Keith's and my perspective, anyway). it was recorded in 2005, which for me and Keith was a time of transition in this music. you can see this in the cover painting, 'before' is the left side and the future is the right side, unseen around the corner (the photo inside makes this even clearer).

'contact', on the other hand, takes place around the corner. I think for Keith, finally playing in duo with Sachiko was a hugely important thing, and I primarily read 'contact' as literally that, a first long-awaited meeting. I didn't quiz Keith on what he meant by this, but that's my educated guess.

Brian, fantastic job on this. it's pretty different from how I see/hear it, but that makes your thoughtful perspective even more interesting, so thanks for that.

Brian Olewnick said...

Perhaps he felt that, in the time between 'between' and 'contact' he'd gained enough understanding of the Tokyo musicians to warrant use of the term. Though I'm sure the dual meanings of the word were part of it (mic and meeting).

(thanks, jon)