Two from Seijiro Murayama

Seijiro Murayama/Soundworm Space and Place Ftarri
Seijiro Murayama/Eric La Casa Supersedure Hibari

Paris-based, Japanese percussionist Seijiro Murayama has a long discography of releases beginning with his stellar early full-kit abuse in improv thrash legends Fushitsusha and Absolut Null Punkt. If anything Murayama’s early work seemed to bleed an inchoate energy and power, and the results could be as stunning as they were formidable. More recently, Murayama has been working with a far smaller set up, often described as a single snare + objects, and has been collaborating with the likes of Jean-Luc Guionnet, Mattin, Masafumi Ezaki and Kazushige Kinoshita. These two albums, Supersedure with Eric Lacasa and Space and Place with Soundworm (wtf?), were released last year and document this more minimalist conception, but are no less powerful in their restraint.

Space and Place, released on the excellent Japanese label Ftarri (an off shoot of Improvised Music from Japan), is a limited release that probes the seemingly limitless sonics of the snare drum — from delirious ringing to scraping dinge — and Murayama conjures endless vistas of sound with what seems to be the simplest of means. The list of excellent improvised/extended technique percussionists is long: Le Quan Ninh, Burkhard Beins, Ingar Zach, Sean Meehan and Eddie Prevost spring to mind, and what characterizes the best work of these musicians is their impeccable attention to both detail and placement, making the most use out of the sound, letting the listener do some of the work. Muryama certainly has this quality. There’s a explorative sense to all of these tracks, a love for the sound that emerges almost immediately, but there is also an attention to power of space and timing — this isn’t a free jazz solo. And Murayama can’t take all of the credit here. Soundworm, credited with sound engineering and suggestions, seems to take raw solo recordings of Murayama in rural France and Japan and amplify certain aural peculiarities while subtracting others. What at first may sound like a simple scratching of the snare ad infinitum reveals a variety of sonic gradations, allowing for a stunning shifting mass. The tracks recorded in Japan seem to shift mercurially across the sound field; a bowled symbal in the right channel will suddenly cut out only to emerge in the left, revealing a different tinge and flavor. This leaves the listener in a precarious position, never sure where the right footing is and there‘s always that element of surprise, where ones expectations are shirked. Field recordings of birds, airplanes, voices will emerge than disappear often as soon as one starts to integrate them with Murayama‘s playing. One must assume Soundworm (wtf is up with that name?) has most of the control over these seemingly random elements. But there’s something absolutely beguiling over these additions and sudden cut-outs. Microphone placement seems to be key here, as one may hear the sound of a drumstick being rubbed over the taunt skin of the snare from almost inside drum itself then suddenly from far away as though across the yard, leaving a blurred and frustrated skein. The back cover shows a musical chart they used for the third track but it doesn’t make any more sense to me than a fragment of Aramaic. I’m not sure if it really matters in this context, as it’s an amazing listen without the structural intent. I’m not an adherent to headphone listening, but they do reveal the various gradations, segregations, explorations of microphone placement, filtering and room noise in an amazing way. The last track conjures a subtle and evocative drone of ringing cymbals and buzzing snare that reverberates through the inner ear; at around the 9:00 mark what appears to be Murayama’s disembodied howl rises over a shimmering din, lending it a ghostly, visceral intensity and culminating in a protracted slow burn. This is an album to revel in the pure sound of things, of all the unknown objects and semi-familiar environments. I would search this one out.

French audio mangler Eric La Casa has a good history in improvisation as well as more the more compositional area of sound art. He’s worked with Jean Luc Guinnet in projects including Afflux, as well as with Akio Suzuki and Philip Samartzis to name a few. And he serves as a similar foil to Murayama on Supersedure as Soundworm did on Space and Place, but the results are far more astringent and often land on the side of punishing in comparison. Supersedure may, in fact, be a more exciting listen than Space and Place, just possibly not one to play while trying to escape the overblown shitstorm of modern life. La Casa is credited with “microphones and field recordings” and everything about this one is more up front. He pulls out segments of cars lurching past, honking trucks, crowds, sirens and alarms and affixes them to recordings of Murayama’s snare cracks and rubs. Soundworm seems to showcase Murayama’s playing far more in Sound and Place, emphasizing linear compositions albeit from constantly shifting angles; whereas La Casa is a more aggressive partner, often blowing out Murayama’s textures with a well placed siren or drunken soccer reveler and creating compositions out disparate elements. Don’t get me wrong, these sounds are not blatant cartoon sound library rips, and how the competing recordings come together is apt, cohesive and complimentary. The first track has one of the more fascinating beginnings I’ve heard lately — a smack on the snare, repeated disjointedly, then slathered with aqueous plumbing, hisses and whines at once surgically removed from context and then reconstituted into something else familiar but alien. It’s a feeling that is fostered almost the entire album, this familiarity and alarm– scuffed atmospherics, rain on the tarp of your tent, windshield wipers across your windshield as a drum is rubbed and prodded. No sound is sacred here, indeed. And as I listen to it, I’m reminded of the possibilities of music where inventiveness and aesthetics mingle in such great ways. No, it’s not perfect. There’s only so many field recordings of cars, subterranean vaults, jack hammering industrial detritus, and people’s screams one can listen to, integrate, and use. It lends itself to exhaustion and collapse, which one may argue could be part of the point. In this way Murayama is the antidote–his rubbed surfaces, hesitant strikes, percussive burrows are tremendously musical and integrate so seamlessly. In track 3 there’s a movement where Murayama’s clattering rolls fit almost perfectly with the sound of machinery clanking and whirring, almost to a point where one could miss his input if not paying close enough attention. Ultimately, I would rather be overwhelmed than moved to boredom and sloth. And Supersedure can certainly be overwhelming. But it’s powerful, inventive and wonderful stuff.

Both of these albums deserved wider attention when they came out last year; hopefully they won’t be confined to the electro-acoustic ghetto entirely. It’s been some of the best stuff I’ve heard in a while.

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