Akiyama / Nakamura / Sugimoto / Wastell
[Confront Recordings, 2020]
Foldings, released last month on London’s fearless Confront Recordings (est. 1996), is the final product of a now nearly two decade old collaboration between four of experimental music’s most devoted vanguards of musical silence and lowercase sound art. Tetuzi Akiyama, Toshimaru Nakamura, Taku Sugimoto, each master practitioners from unique corners of Japan’s experimental onkyo scene, here join English multi-instrumentalist Mark Wastell in this hour-long journey into the depths of reductionism and ultra-quiet electroacoustics.
On this two-part opus, Akiyama, more normally a guitarist, is equipped instead with an air duster and placed promptly behind a turntable. Nakamura, the grandmaster of the no-input mixing board, graces this recording with it in flawless form. Sugimoto, one of my personal favorites, gives a masterclass in instrumental deconstruction and sonic chameleon. Finally, Wastell, equipped with a violoncello, amplifier, and contact microphones, time and time again throughout this release ties the proverbial string around an ocean of sonic whispers, brushings, glances, and glides with the at times forceful physical nature of his contributions. Akiyama and Nakamura provide sharp porcelain sine waves and refractments of static and buzz, beautiful and barely there, sculpting the longevity of silence and flying dizzyingly overhead to accompany the earthly pursuits of Sugimoto and Wastell’s hands-on acoustic manipulations and tactile contact-based improvisations. The two are never at odds with one another however, as each mysterious mirror adds a unique shade of gray to this most overcast oeuvre.
Foldings is best contextualized as a success when we first establish “silence” to be the tangible ground zero of sound. That sounds easy when you read it quickly, but in reality, each of these artists, myself included, could probably debate for hours on what constitutes absence and what instead could be characterized as emphasis. In a human way rather than a musical way however, I’d like to establish silence as an important threshold through which we pass in any space or span of time, regardless of it being unwillfully part of a recording or listening experience. Even in the chaotic din of a city, even as I clack and click to type these words, when my fingers finally stop, there is no skip between the sound and the silence. There is no buffering, no turning wheel. It was there waiting for me. It was always there, I was just obscuring it; and when I hit play on this record’s first track, titled “First Fold”, I am not interrupting silence, I am joining it. I am “folding” the record into silence, into a world that transcends tracks and turntables, a world that has reached far before our lives, and moves far beyond this hour of playtime. Foldings exists somewhere within this immense and immortal wingspan.
This fascination with silence, with the “in-between;” this celebration of the minute, the rejection of ego and the embracing of cosmic storytelling; this “tuning in” with the world around you — these are not just the sonic qualities that make up this record and countless others made by outsiders, visionaries, and academics in the experimental world for the last near century. They are important emotional and intellectual considerations to be made by the listener, appropriate and essential to understanding or even, god help you, enjoying music from schools of discipline such as lowercase, reductionism, and onkyo. Foldings is such a success because we are given four artists who, through years of practice and work (and in this writer’s opinion, something like blistering fate), are deeply attuned with these empathetic qualities that make experimental expressions such as these successful. Expressions that are begrudgingly humanistic in their explorative qualities, and enjoyable because they recognize our place within larger notions like silence and absence, in the quiet, and through the aspects of their musicianship they will for us to dimly perceive they bring us closer to the threshold of something eternal and perhaps genuinely pure.
A record of pure silence, however, would not be much to write about, would it? Thankfully, throughout Foldings’ 57 odd minutes, our four guides are not dedicating themselves to silence, but are instead dedicated to compromising said purity of it. Often, sounds are indistinguishable as being electronically or acoustically sourced. Often however, the best of which are: Nakamura’s work in the first half is incredibly affecting and sparse, and Wastrell’s wiedling of the piezo in the second is diverse and dynamic. In between much of that, there is the rustling of coat sleeves, creaking chairs, and a quiet so intense that I can cherish the sound of Sugimoto’s fingers moving across the fretboard. I nod as he again commits to no note at all.
Sounds that seem to be human-made are found to be unreliable, as the sound of sweeping along a table slowly recedes into the uncanny; machine-like motion, dusty washes of static gentle feedback further obfuscate the truth. Each player mimes a marking on the whiteboard and the following sound is negated or negotiated by the group as a whole. There is a gentle flow between sounds sent for the air, which tend to have a more electronic or synthesized character, and sounds left for the ground which wonderfully plant the performance’s feet in the physical space (Offsite, Yoyogi, Tokyo, on January 19th, 2002) and reminds the listener how astounding it is that this is a recording of a live improvisation and not a carefully orchestrated piece. Company is exchanged for closed eyes, as I picture the movements of the artists in the room, walking to and fro as the sound of a case being opened, the sound of a switch being flipped, the sound of a speaker going quiet, breath itself, folds into the silence around me and reminds me where I’m not.
Foldings reminds me, as I think all good quiet music does, of how little of the world I have seen, how little I will see, and how important it is to interact with the small part of the world you do experience in as genuine and open a way as you can; to fold into your world. While Foldings is disciplined listening, it is not without its rewards, and a reserved sense of calmness and beauty is perhaps thanks to the sympatico mined from four masters meshing to form something cosmic and organic and spiritually significant. While it is at times prodding, searching, and sometimes brooding, Foldings is ultimately celebratory, a collage of the final remnants of sounds left over from the universe, not swept up and carelessly tossed away, but placed in our pockets, joined like a rosary for us to crease, knead, and fold forever.