Thursday, March 17, 2011

Matsuo Ohno - The World of Electro-Acoustic Sound & Music (King, 2005)

Matsuo Ohno is another Japanese composer of unparalleled imagination, most commonly associated with his tape-based sound production for the animated version of Astro Boy, airing from 1963 until 1966. The three volumes collected here team those productions along with several other works across his career. He began as a freelance sound designer, inspired by surrealist film and NHK broadcasts of Stockhausen.

The first volume, Astro Boy / Yamatoji / Yuragi / and the Others, is dedicated largely to the television sound work for which he is most known. Armed with radio transmitters, reel-to-reel machines, echo, and eq, Ohno and his then assistant, the equally innovative Takehisa Kosugi, crafted a slew of warped bursts used for various cues and transitions throughout the cartoon series along with the various pieces of Astro Boy background music, each futuristic minature bizarre in its own way. Included as well are several musique concrète works from the 1980s and '90s. Most impressive of those is Yamatoji A, a deep tape piece built from Ohno's own recordings of bonsho and Tibetan recitations.

I Saw the Outer Limits / The War in Space pairs two of Matsuo Ohno's soundtrack productions from 1977-78, each reveling in the intergalactic splurt that is unmistakably Ohno. The titles throughout I Saw the Outer Limits are almost as entertaining as the cosmic warble Ohno produced. It is only appropriate that "A Brief Tour of the Solar System and Interplanetary Space" would give way to "A Slightly Longer Tour of the Galaxy and Interstellar Space", both pieces ranking among Ohno's deepest and spookiest sound worlds. The material for The War in Space appear to be both transition music and sound effects, among them Ohno-crafted explosions and laser fires, as well as some extended space war scenes. The filter use is a bit harsher, opening blasts often giving way to stasis-heavy washes. One can't help but wonder if the film might have been relocated to space after Ohno unveiled his sound work.

The closing disc, Memory in the Beginning, compiles a recent gathering of pieces, dating all from 2004. Ohno spent much of 2002 and 2003 in and out of medical centers, emerging in '04 with a drive to craft new material. Again, there is no mistaking Ohno--though the recordings hold a clarity missing from the earlier pieces, the woozy echoes and spiraling, otherworldly ripples are in full effect. New to these pieces are a penchant for rhythmic chattering and a somewhat baffling heavy use of flanging, which Ohno owns as only he can. The creativity found in these modern pieces is every bit as infectious as that of his early days as a sound designer.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Monday, March 14, 2011

Jo Kondo - Standing / Sight Rhythmics / Under the Umbrella (CP2, 1981)

These deceptively simple compositions demonstrate the blossoming of Japanese composer Jo Kondo's ideas over a short period in the early 1970s. Kondo initially described his style as Sen no Ongaku, translating that roughly as Linear Music. At its foundation is the use of a steadily unfolding melody, with little in the way of variation in rhythm, dynamics, and timbre, and a limited pallet of pitches, focusing not on the individual character of each note, but on how the notes interrelate.

Standing (1973) is a somewhat more sophisticated take on his linear approach, utilizing three disparate instrument groups--in this case, marimba, flute and piano--rather than his usual one or two. Arranged in an interlocking, hocket-like form, the three instruments sound in close succession, the flute and piano essentially shadowing each step of the marimba. After selecting the tones, Kondo arranged them in a random sequence, forming a shifting tonal center rather than an actual key. On occasion, a tone will repeat, disrupting the steady back and forth rocking onto which much of the melodic line unfolds. As the piece progresses, rapidly echoing tones emerge, which, because they are performed on instruments of varied timbre, have the effect more of a stutter than a cascade. Kondo composed the piece for Sound Space "Ark", an ensemble specializing largely in contemporary Japanese pieces; appearing here are three of its members, Aki Takahashi (piano). Hiroshi Koizumi (flute), and Yasunori Yamaguchi (marimba).

Aki Takahashi appears again on Sight Rhythmics (1975) for solo piano, distilling onto one instrument a piece originally intended for violin, steel drum, banjo, electric piano, and tuba. The piece features a more intuitively determined, pointillist approach to melody, which presents with much more subtlety on this piano rendition than in its ensemble form. In reducing the instrumentation, Kondo's melodic approach to the seemingly repetitive figures is revealing, giving way to near imperceptible variations that get lost in the ensemble version.

The closing Under the Umbrella (1976) marks a number of departures for Kondo, the most immediate being that this is his first piece for untuned instrumentation. The work calls for 25 cowbells, with the pitch and range determined by the five performers, and one low gong. Structurally, the piece differs in how conceptually different each movement is, some focusing on the rhythmic cells formed through the interlocking arrangements, others on the resultant melody in spite of the more ambiguous pitch of the instruments. With each movement, Kondo demonstrates a number of different effects that occur due to the specific timbral nature of the cowbells. Although the cowbells create a sound world much different than the previous pieces, the result is distinctly a Kondo creation.

Standing / Sight Rhythmics / Under the Umbrella
& in .flac

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

V/A - Elektroakustische Musik Aus Finnland (Edition RZ, 1989)

Fascinating collection here, following that less traveled road to tape music by way of Finland. Of the four composers featured here, I knew only two, Patrick Kosk and Harri Vuori; of those I have only previously heard Kosk. These five pieces are bound by time and location, having been produced in the early to mid 1980s at the Yleisradio electronic studio in Helsinki, Finland. Despite emerging at the dawn of the computer age, these works are undeniably borne of tape, conjuring for me much more welcome images of the previous decade.
1 Patrick Kosk - Transmissions In A... (1981)
2 Petri Hiidenkari - Kräftig Und Bewegt (1985)
3 Harri Vuori - Nagual (1986)
4 Tapio Nevanlinna - You Offer Me Out Of Water The Sun (1985)
5 Petri Hiidenkari - Kreuzwege (1987)
Opening is Kosk's side-long Transmissions in a..., a filter-heavy growl with only a hinting of metallic sourced clank, calling to mind the actions of the Schimpfluch-Gruppe a decade later. The two pieces by Petri Hiidenkari are quite different. The first, Kräftig Und Bewegt, seems at times to be something of an ode to the locomotive and displays Hiidenkari's knack for combining natural acoustics with his studio manipulation. His other work, Kreuzwege, closes the collection, bending and expanding sharp clicks in a manner that would make Raaijmakers proud. Though I knew of Harri Vuori mostly for his ensemble works, his piece here has me hoping is much more to uncover. Nagual is a fast-paced montage built from wave after wave of vivid sound chunks. Equally captivating is Tapio Nevanlinna's You Offer Me Out of Water the Sun, a kinetic piece constructed from slapdash shards of glass and creaky wood, kind of a proto-Bryan Ruryk.

The collection unwittingly fills in those gaps in chronology between Love Record's Arktinen Hysteria collections of 70s avant Finnish sounds and the current crop from Fonal, 267 Lattajjaa, and the like. My one hope is that there is more to be found.

Elektroakustische Musik Aus Finnland