Yuji Takahashi - ATAK006
Composer/pianist Yuji Takahashi, born in 1938, came of age during the flowering of experimental electronic composition and studied for several years with Xenakis before becoming involved with explicitly politically oriented music in the 70s. He’s maintained a dual role as interpreter of music from Bach to Chopin to Rzewski to Zorn while also collaborating with musicians like Bailey, Frith and Yoshihide.
I often have some problems with this “school” of composers (whether or not they actually have any connection, I tend to group them conceptually)—people working with electronics in the 60s and 70s who emerged from academic and/or serial environments. Unlike Xenakis, who possessed both a superb ear for the nature of sounds themselves and an overarching sense of structure that, though often mathematically derived, usually had a powerful understanding of drama, I find many of these composers lacking in both. The electronic sounds chosen often have little resonance in and of themselves and their sequencing comes off as either disinterested or “dramatic” in a manner that’s essentially kitschy. There tends to be a dryness, an aloofness, that’s off-putting. Not that it’s usually so clear cut and some, like Raaijmakers or Koenig (among many others), fluctuate between an academic aura and more earthly, life-informed visceralness. To these ears, that’s slightly the case with this selection of Takahashi’s works for electronics, ranging chronologically from 1963 to 2005, though overall it’s a very satisfying collection.
Most of the pieces utilize text. The opening and most recently composed track, “gertrude – a portrait” mixes electronic sounds of a largely percussive nature with the composer’s reading of his own poem in homage to Gertrude Stein. As is everywhere the case on this disc, the music itself is vividly recorded, leaping almost sculpturally from one’s speakers. The percussive patterns (and some are notably rhythmic) blend with staticky patches and rough moans, the composer’s low, calm voice weaved through. It’s a solid work, the fractured nature of the collage-like music matching that of the text and, at four minutes, is of perfect duration. The next five pieces are a suite of sorts, combining improvised electronics with swatches of Russian poems and field recordings. The elements aren’t dissimilar from the first composition, but they’re more densely packed, rapidly leaping from one sound area to another. There’s arguably a little bit of “kitchen sink” approach here and I occasionally had the impulse to say, “Hey, slow down a bit and consider that last sequence!” but, apparently, that isn’t Takahashi’s way. Think of it as a melding of Richard Teitelbaum and Jon Oswald. The third in the series, “wktnwb” (all the sections bear such enigmatic titles), is especially impressive, its watery passages existing in dangerous-sounding apposition to the purely electronic ones.
“kumorinzets260795”, a live computer/sampler performance from 1995, lets a tad more air into the room and proceeds at a relaxed pace, though the samples employed get a little loopy, including what I’d almost bet were bits from Lester Bowie trumpet smears. As it progresses, layers accrete, kotos appear and a tasty sonic lasagna bakes for a minute or two before sparseness takes over again. “und flieder in die sonne”, a 1989 work reflecting on words from the end of Kafka’s life, is the most powerful piece presented here. At the beginning, a deep throb underlies bitterly spat out text, harsh whispers and small explosions of electronic noise. Later, a calmer voice is positioned against echoing bursts to disquieting effect. There’s a hint of George Crumb to be found; very enticing. It shuffles back and forth between the staccato nightmare and ringing, relative calmness until the territories ultimately collide and mutate into an altogether different Hell. The disc closes with Takahashi’s 1963 work, “time”, a sound-collage piece intended to portray 24-hour cycle in the life of a “salaried worker”. Using what appear to be field recordings of both industrial and natural origins, he combines them with playing on a porcelain percussion instrument invented by Junosuke Okuyama (who also worked with Toru Takemitsu). It’s another impressive track, again beautifully recorded, wherein the sequence of abstract, apparently unrelated sounds manage to convince the listener of their poetic logic. Whether or not the salaried worker would care is another question.
“ATAK006” (as near as I can gather, the disc’s title and its catalog number are identical) has a tinge of academe here and there, but fans of Raaijmakers and, to an extent, Xenakis should greatly enjoy it.
Posted by Brian Olewnick on September 17, 2005 11:50 AM
How odd - I'm just finishing a review of this one myself, Brian.. synchonicity or what..
"I often have some problems with this “school” of composers (whether or not they actually have any connection, I tend to group them conceptually)—people working with electronics in the 60s and 70s who emerged from academic and/or serial environments."
Who do you have in mind here?
"Unlike Xenakis, who possessed both a superb ear for the nature of sounds themselves and an overarching sense of structure that, though often mathematically derived, usually had a powerful understanding of drama, I find many of these composers lacking in both."
Again, I'd be interested in a few names here - are you thinking of Stockhausen and Koenig (Elektronisches Musik) or the musique concrète people? (There's a huge conceptual difference between the two "schools" after all.) In either case I quite disagree with you that their music lacks drama and a superb ear. I may be wrong, but, bearing in mind some of your earlier reviews, I do sense a rather old fashioned anti-serial anti-academic slant here.
I also think the 1963 piece is quite extraordinary and would recommend readers to get hold of this set for that alone.
Anyway, he wrote with a malicious smirk, how many times have you listened to this one, Brian?
I'm taking the 5th re: # of listenings, now and forever!
I'm not real well-versed in a lot of the music I haven't cared ofr over the years (no surprise!), but I'm thinking of things I've heard from people like Babbitt, Mimaroglu, Wuorinen and such like. "Old-fashioned, anti-serial, anti-academic"? Well, in a word, yes. I make exceptions of course (Walt got me to re-listen to Boulez a few years back and while I enjoyed some individual works--Pli Selon Pli, eg, I still retain something of a dislike for other things), but as an overly general, blanket statement, I'm not very fond of a lot of it. Others, like Raaijmakers and Koenig (from the sets I have heard, the ones on Donemus and BVHaast) strike me as inconsistent, sometimes beautiful, sometimes lapsing into what I hear as a bit sterile or, if you will, academic.
Maybe a clearer analogy would be the difference between George Lewis' structuring/playing on "Homage to Charles Parker" and works like "Voyager" or "Changing with the Times". They just provide me with vastly different levels of enjoyment and I can't help but think that his involvement with academe had at least a little to do with the arid nature (imho) of the latter two.
Lotta gray area, though, to be sure.
"I'm not real well-versed in a lot of the music I haven't cared ofr over the years (no surprise!)"
Understandable, but in that case I'd caution against making blanket statements like the one in the second paragraph of the above review! "Time" certainly sounds to me as if it's in a whole different ballpark from the serialists you mention (as far as I've been able to work out, Takahashi's never been all that into serialism): Babbitt, and Wuorinen (the latter not exactly known for his electronic music, I'd say) were more interested in extending serial principles, and - this is true for Babbitt - tended to use computers as giant synthesizers. Babbitt's oft-quoted "nothing grows older faster than a new sound" indicates how far removed he was (is) from Xenakis.
"Old-fashioned, anti-serial, anti-academic? Well, in a word, yes."
Glad Walt prepared a little primer for you there; I'd also recommend you check out Stefan Wolpe's music, and go back to the early (pre-Momente) Stockhausens.. you'll be surprised how fresh they sound.
"Others, like Raaijmakers and Koenig (from the sets I have heard, the ones on Donemus and BVHaast) strike me as inconsistent, sometimes beautiful, sometimes lapsing into what I hear as a bit sterile or, if you will, academic."
The Raaijmakers stuff is fun, but a little patchy; I do though like Koenig's music a lot, but agree it's a fucking tough listen.
Funny though in recent years how REALLY tough stuff like Xenakis has been accepted by hipsters (maybe we should thank DJ Spooky for that, in part) and other composers have slipped off the radar. Thank goodness for labels like Pogus who've been digging up and dusting off some of the lesser known pioneers: Rune Lindblad, Jorge Antunes, Kenneth Gaburo (none of them serialists but all working in areas of electronic music that the ideological spats between Paris / Cologne tended to ignore).
Anyway, stick with the Takahashi - I've been listening to this one non stop since Friday afternoon (I think I'm on the tenth playthrough as I write) and I find it thrilling stuff. Funny you mention Lewis and Teitelbaum, Brian: I find myself thinking of Domenico Sciajno quite a lot. I wonder why..
Hey, I liked the Takahashi after all! But I will give it continued listens.
btw, maybe just me, but I got into Xenakis pretty early on, picking up the Electronic Music album on Nonesuch when I was around 20 (1974). For some reason, that never gave me any trouble (not saying I *understood* everything about it then--or now--but I liked it a lot). Around the same time, I picked up Stockhausen's 'Microphonie II' (on Angel?) and also thought that was great. Part of it, I think in retrospect, was the mysteriousness to me, at the time, as to how the sounds were created, despite probably having been detailed in the liner notes. That eerie sense stayed with me a long time until I saw it (Microphonie) performed 6-7 years ago at a Bang On a Can fest. Oddly enough, *seeing* it played took away a lot of its magic for me.
You lucky lad.. never seen either of the Mikrophonies played live! (Which one did you see? No 1 (for the gong) or No 2 (with the Hammond organ and choir?)) Shame old Karlheinz shot himself in both feet when he pulled the plug on the DG contract.. there's a whole generation of kids who've never heard his stuff (unless they're rich enough to order them direct from the Stockhausen Verlag). As far as I know, there's no other way to get hold Telemusik and Hymnen (to name but two DROP DEAD MASTERPIECES). It's more than a shame, it's a fucking disaster! Makes you wish KS hadn't started his website at all.. at least then Kenny G could put the bloody stuff on free mp3 download at Ubuweb! Joking aside, it's nothing short of criminal that the stuff isn't distributed.
Man I'm having fun here today, and I've lined up a great evening's listening once this Takahashi CD finishes: Noah Howard at Judson Hall followed by Stockhausen's Telemusik. The neighbours will thrill.. and if they bang on the wall in pure joy I might just have to spin "Domiabra" from Black Ark at ear melting volume.. hoho
OK, off we go. See y'all later
No shit that Stockhausen's expensive! But man, do those discs sound great!! I have the one with the earliest electronic works on it "Gesang der Junglinge" (sorry if my German's busted) and it certainly does sound as fresh today as it must have in the early 50s. I also tossed my bread at the four-disc Hymnen, which I wish had been only two cuz who really needs that instrumentalized one? There are currently 77 discs available on the Stockhausen site--I wonder if he'd give me the bulk discount, that imautoed little ... Anybody know what happened to that DG contract? Diddling going on on several fronts, I expect.