From Island to Ocean to Ocean

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Japan Noise Tour Kicks Off in North Portland

The term “noise” might be derogatory in some cases, implying uninvited sound. But there is another view which contends that all sound, invited or not, is music, so it just depends on how seriously the musician takes their noise. One might suggest that the latter would be embraced by the diverse lineage of John Cage while the prior would be embraced by less humorous atonal composers. On Halloween night, there was a first time improvisation from Tetuzi Akiyama (electric guitar), Bryan Eubanks (saxophone, electronics), Jason Kahn (drums, percussion), and Toshimaru Nakamura (mixing board); it definitely invited the noise.

Their improvisation came together for the first time at Disjecta, North Portland’s premiere contemporary art and music venue, but the evolution will continue throughout the cardinal points, on a 16-date U.S. tour. Sponsored by the Japan Foundation and presented by Creative Music Guild, this show represents a significant cultural crossover between experimental musicians spanning the Pacific Ocean. That crossover is noise. Japan is responsible for some of the most intense electronically induced sounds on record. What occurred that night was a beautiful confusion of four people whose conviction to produce a complete and whole sound together overrides their disparate methods of making sound in the first place.

The only artist however not to use a copious number of wires in their processing was Kahn (drums). His use of a stark six-piece drum kit with a bag of bits (bells, sticks, cymbals, stuff) that he could place on the drum heads has become a standard, effective, and economical method of finding a rich diversity of percussive elements. Here, it punctuates the chaos of wired instruments. The most heavily wired instrument was probably the mixing board of Nakamura. This is a fascinating development from the noise lexicon: simply using electric signals surging through a passive mixer to produce amplified sound. I’ll explain.

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Toshimaru Nakamura (left), Tetuzi Akiyama (right)

The audio console used to mix sound from a source, like a rock band with numerous instruments, into a stereo field that you listen to, at the club or concert hall, is transformed into an instrument itself. The mixer becomes an instrument when you force its small bit of electric charge to feedback on itself, routing that inaudible signal around the mixer’s maze of circuits into a feedback tone, while using the mixer’s utilities for emulating musical principles like pitch and volume. Nakamura obtained tremendous sound from his mixer and wires. I could hear it grow and roar and vanquish; he controls the beast that he makes. This minimal approach to sound production can only be matched by the stylings of Bryan Eubanks.

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Bryan Eubanks (electronics), Jason Kahn (drums)

Eubanks makes some of the most simple and yet transcendent sounds I have ever heard. Actually, we share some mutual friends, I’ve played with him. Put it this way, I was falling asleep while playing, waking up, continuing, and falling asleep again — and I totally enjoyed it. His goals seem to be to make the softest possible sound from a sharp instrument, like a soprano saxophone or sine wave oscillator, and to hold that note for the duration of a breath. Throughout the show, his sound mostly blended in and it was easy to forget he existed, which is perfect for this. At one point, I singled him out, and he was dropping what sounded like radar pulses at a near-dead tempo, adding just soft reverb to every other tonal droplet.

No matter what experiments have diversified the field of musical instruments, it is the electric guitar that continues evolving far beyond the angels and demons unleashed by Jimi Hendrix fifty years ago. Akiyama’s guitar stylings have been featured on almost one hundred recordings from dozens of music labels around the world. With a range of pedals laid out before him, it is at times almost impossible to hear what he is doing with it. I sat closest to him yet I struggled to differentiate. He was busy though, constantly responding and feeding on everyone else. His technique is solid, and if you listen to his repertoire, he can teach you some mean blues licks, but he prefers to experiment. Like so many artists of his stripe, he seems restless, always hunting for a never-before heard sound.

Together, their sound will definitely become refined and certain themes and automatic responses will most likely emerge. Kahn and Akiyama will produce the more dynamic elements while Eubanks and Nakamura will continue laying the bed, the ambient background. I am not sure what they plan to do with the recordings, but I hope a compilation becomes available. Better yet, a streaming version of each performance from night to night, would be great, because I want to treat it like a study, on how improvising artists with unique approaches respond to one another over time.

You can get a taste of what they sound like sans Eubanks from the Soundcloud post below via Jason Kahn. You can catch them in other cities throughout November and a complete listing on Kahn’s website.




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