Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Kevin Drumm & Taku Sugimoto - Den (Sonoris 2000)

Sonoris 2000


I was a little surprised when I came across this album on the internet. I’ve known Kevin Drumm’s work for a while now and I’d just started to investigate Taku Sugimoto. So when I saw this I sort of expected it to be some schizophrenic mash-up, jumping from warped, pounding noise to sparse rolling guitar. I guess I was half right. Where Drumm’s output is usually nothing less than abrasive, Sugimoto’s is calm, sparing and filled with emptiness a la Loren MazzaCane Connors and this album certainly places more emphasis on the latter. The five live tracks are static soundscapes not dissimilar to Ryoji Ikeda’s electronic work crossed with the musique concrete of Michel Chion. Minimal, sporadic, disturbing.

Listening to Sugimoto’s sparse guitar work is a bit like being a traveller in a distant land. The steady, repetitive plucking sounds a bit like footsteps through which you journey into the crackling, buzzing noises of Drumm's manic electronic forest. Deeper and deeper you go into a dense world of sound, filled with drama and intrigue.

The second piece opens with a wave of electronics, high-pitched sounds, bird like song, fuzz before disintegrating to almost nothing after two minutes and making way for Sugimoto’s gentle guitar plucking. They reach their most dramatic interplay about nine minutes into this track. Drumm’s electronic sounds spiral and dive around Sugimoto’s more energetic playing, before Drumm unleashes a torrent of noise and drowns out Sugimoto completely. The latter remains at the forefront of the next track, but I’m not sure that his guitar work is interesting enough to lead and it’s only Drumm’s minimal presence that really holds the track together.

They’re playing off one another, sure, but Drumm seems to be more capable of surprise. Having heard Sugimoto’s solo record, Opposite, I realise that sparseness is the basis of his work. Emptiness literary makes up more of the album than actual notes. I’m a big fan of these highly minimal approach, but what actually makes Den more interesting, is Drumm’s ability to fill those gaps with something far more exciting. Occasionally this has the effect of disrupting Sugimoto’s playing, but on the whole, I think they manage to strike a good balance. Sugimoto’s notes still hang in the air as they do on his solo works, but Drumm’s electronics add an extra layer, which is the equivalent of nothingness required for those notes to have depth. They’ve worked together twice in the past, so it’s probably safe to say that both artists are at least a little pleased with the end result.

The beautiful droning guitar and crackling electronics of the fourth track fall into ambient terrain for the first time and drift away from the more disturbing, cerebral territory of the rest of the album, offering some relief in the thick forest soundscape. A moment of lightness. A clearing of some kind. But it’s then followed by an eerie stillness, which reminded me of those moments on a Tarkovsky film when time slows down. It’s one of those albums that keep you constantly wary. Tension is maintained throughout, but in the end that’s all there is. A series of disquieting moments without any real resolution. These pieces are like sketches rather than finished compositions, but it does provide valuable insight into the work of two of the more pioneering artists of the musical avant-garde.


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