Monday, December 8, 2008

Nobukazu Takemura - Scope

This 1999 album marked Japanese DJ savant Nobukazu Takemura's debut into highly experimental, difficult to classify music, which had previously been primarily club oriented or at least closer to the traditional side of IDM. "On A Balloon" kicks things off ambitiously with more than 20 minutes of utterly alien, amorphous sounds, whose original sources we can only guess at. His process for generating these sonic wonders involves sending some of the outputs of his mixing board back into the inputs, creating a feedback loop with many exotic possibilities. The palette of sounds constantly changes, but many melodic and textural themes do recur - Takemura's use of building up and breaking down patterns keeps the careful listener in constant attention and surprise. His use of stereo panning is also very impressive here; headphones are recommended to appreciate all the detail present.

Next is "Kepler", the most accessible song on the album and arguably the highlight. It finds Takemura in a minimalistic setting reminiscent of Steve Reich's most textural pieces, with beautiful warm synthesized melodic figures repeating in a meter that one would rather just cruise with than hope to count. Soon micro-aural vocal samples enter, unpredictably fracturing and interacting until they form steady rhythms. All the while the underlying harmony undergoes sudden modulations, drastically changing the mood from serene to ominous and back. This song is a gem among the best electronic creations this author has heard.

The remaining material maintains a high standard, though much of it is a good deal less accessible. On "Taw", many jarring, dissonant, awkward, and confusing sounds are juxtaposed in complicated ways that many listeners may not find musical in any traditional sense. This is not music to tap one's foot to. Nevertheless, Takemura's imagination is always at full force, and even the most bizarre moments have a sense of humorous invention to them. There is also beauty to be found all the way through, especially on "Icefall", in which a fuzzy opening melody is joined by bubbling bleeps and bloops to create a joyous, frenetic texture of bouncing notes. Closing the album is "Tiddler", a sluggish, good natured piece with the feel of a hymn or lullaby.


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