As much as anything else I was exploring in undergrad, it was a 2001 CD release on Improvised Music from Japan that led by extreme example and a year later changed the way I would think about, enjoy, and make music. I’m not sure how I came to know about it — it might have been a review or reference in Wire – but downloading this 10-CD set threw me deep into a world of sound that trampled my familiar musical conventions.
This is where I first heard Toshimaru Nakamura. The release gives 35 minutes to Nakamura, now known for his work on the “no-input mixing board” (NIMB), basically a mixer with no external sound generators running through its inputs. Line noise, feedback, and electricity itself generate the audio.
Nakamura brought his NIMB kit to Brooklyn’s Issue Project Room last night for a 45 minute set in the dark. It’s hard to describe the music — pops, highest-pitch drones, bassy beat frequencies, split-second white explosions. Unlike the music of other noise artists with such an “electric” sound palette, there was something unaggressive and at times even soothing about this music. Long drones, near silence, and exclamatory screeches formed their own vocabulary for tension and release.
With no verbal references or melodic phrases and few timbral motifs, the music was very physical — heightening awareness of the audio’s interaction with the space and one’s body. High pitches tickled the ears, clicks resonated in the back of the neck, and sheets of bass bubbled between the walls.
Music like this may require some primer or familiarity. I once saw Nakamura at REDCAT in Los Angeles, and after my cousin’s girlfriend left because of a “headache,” two guys stood and profaned the performance with shouted curses (which most of the audience seemed to enjoy). This time the two friends who were with me enjoyed the show.
Photo by Flickr user andynew.