November 12, 2003

various artists, amplify 2002: balance

label: erstwhile records
year: 2003

for those of us unable to make it out to japan last year to attend erstwhile records' amplify 2002 festival in tokyo, jon abbey has graciously produced a wonderful box set that documents the week of performances and also provides a definitive snapshot of the current onkyo/electro-acoustic scene. more stylistically narrow than the at times unwieldy improvised music from japan set that came out early last year, balance provides an intense listening experience for adventurous music.

there are seven cds in all, with four discs from the festival itself, two discs of performances from outside festival shows, and a studio recording by toshimaru nakamura and gunter muller. also included is a 52 page booklet of comments by various festival participants.

this type of improv has, to me, always been about creating textures and exploring the physical space of sound (and the blank spaces inbetween.) from taku sugimoto's minimalist guitar playing to thomas lehn's twitchy outbursts from his analogue synthesizer, a variety of methods and attitudes are utilized in a way that almost stops time and focuses on the immediate sound rather than the piece as a whole.

highlights include cosmos (sachiko m on sine wave sampler and ami yoshida on voice), who give a subtle and restrained performance, while gunter muller and otomo yoshihide display an exhilirating playfulness in their piece, using everything from contact mics and percussion to an ipod. as an added treat, the seventh disc contains seven guitarists interpreting a few pages from cornelius cardew's treatise and a free improv.

and, of course, there's keith rowe. what can the man not do?

the real gem of the box set, though, is the accompanying dvd, balance beams. clocking in at just under two hours, it contains a multitude of performances and interviews. for those who haven't been lucky enough to witness the performers in a live setting, this is the next best thing. sometimes keith rowe clicks even better when you can actually see him manipulating his guitar with springcoils, handfans, knives and other assorted implements. the dvd captures the visual aspect of improvisation that can only accentuate the performance. extras on the disc include a couple of extra short performances, keith rowe discussing performing cardew's treatise, and 5.1 surround sound mixes of two of the cd tracks.

the only possible complaint i might have are the digipaks, where the cardboard is a bit thinner than i would have liked. but that's a packaging quibble, and a minor one at that.

the music on here is superb, and if you're at all interested in onkyo/electro-acoustic improv/whateverthehelltheycallitthese days, you owe it to yourself to track down a copy. only 800 of these were produced, but once you get your hands on one, you won't want to let go. we are truly in debt to jon abbey for organizing and documenting, as sachiko m calls it in the liner notes, this 'reckless festival.'

may we have many more reckless festivals like this in the future.

rating: 9/10

Posted by kilgore at November 12, 2003 07:51 PM | TrackBack
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