Sunday, 15 September 2019

Toshimaru Nakamura, Dafydd Roberts, Angharad Davies, Rhodri Davies, Andrew Leslie Hooker - Exemption From Meaning.

Album: Exemption from Meaning
Artist: Toshimaru Nakamura, Dafydd Roberts, Angharad Davies, Rhodri Davies, Andrew Leslie Hooker
Label: Listen to the Voice of Fire

Catalogue no: N/A
     1.      Katsue Ibata_c1244 (an excerpt)
     2.      Pilgrim_c843
     3.      Ryoji Koie_1243

This album was sent to me by fellow Welshman Dafydd Roberts, and plants the flag for unabashed experimentalism and improvisation in the heart of Wales. These three compositions have been inspired by examples of Japanese ceramics held in the University of Wales in Aberystwyth, and were performed and recorded at the Listen to the Fire Festival of improvised and experimental music. This was also Toshimaru Nakamura’s first performance in Wales, and he was rewarded with a sold-out concert. All of these pieces were direct responses to the objects in question, using no-input mixing boards, prepared harp, violin, and modular synth.

As can probably be gathered, this is recorded live and in the moment. As such, we’re presented with noise cut-ups (as well as pure noise), snatches of familiar sounds and instruments, brutal mutations of treated sonics, hybrid mash-ups of tortured electronics, and abrasive modulations. Improvised experimentalism is a difficult genre to approach but the album title, I feel, holds a clue as to how to approach this: all three pieces are indeed exempt from meaning, insofar as it seeks an answer to the question why do we need to invest everything with meaning in the first place? It’s a peculiar weakness of mankind as a species that we can only quantify things if they have meaning – is it merely in order to understand what’s being said or has it got something to do with notions of perceived value? I lean to the latter, as we also have the habit of judging things according to how much value we place on them. This depends on whether they match our aesthetics and understanding. Who’s to say that noise, pure and simple, has its own message to convey? In the final analysis, though, all things are exempt from meaning until the individual creates it. Bearing that in mind, the following thoughts are nothing more than a series of necessarily broad responses and impressions of this music whilst listening to it a second time.

I’ve always believed that capturing the essence of any particular piece of art (or ceramic objects, as in this case) is ultimately impossible. When we attempt to do so, there’s a sense that we’re essentially grasping at ephemeral ideas and notions, intangibles that only really existed in the mind of the artist. Here, my own impression is that that struggle to understand (and that internal conflict) is a necessary part of art and its creation. For me this is reflected in part in the transient and ephemeral nature of some of the elements that make up each piece – sometimes the introduced noises are just brief flashes, lasting mere seconds. Background whines, whistles, and slabs of static, whilst providing a sense of appropriate solidity (just as the objects themselves are still in existence after hundreds of years), serve as mirrors upon which our own interpretations are reflected. Concepts, hypotheses, and conclusions abound: five musicians, each with individual responses, collaborating to produce a single three-dimensional approximation. Bear in mind, too, that having survived for so long these objects have themselves seen and absorbed much history, meaning they have so many stories of their own to tell. In some respects, the fleeting and momentary interjections often encountered here speak of a rushing outpouring of these stories, a tumbling cascade of narratives and impressions, many of which are inevitably lost before they’re caught. The ceramic pieces are more than just inanimate objects made for us to appreciate: they’re also storehouses and repositories of history and knowledge, available to those can read and interpret.

What we are offered on here are mere glimpses, a montage of all the meanings and aesthetic values attached to the individual pieces, by the artist and those who acted as custodians of them after their creator passed on as well as the ephemeral admirers who came to look at them in the ensuing centuries. If these were silk tapestries instead of ceramic vessels their size would be enormous, featuring the endless tableaux and vignettes they’ve witnessed. For such small objects they contain a universe within themselves – and as such, the artists on here could only access so much of that knowledge and information. But this is also an incredibly brave attempt to encapsulate and embrace all that these pieces mean and contain. And, if I may be so bold, improvisation was the only way to go about this, as a means of relating to the intrinsic essences and significances that the pieces hold.

It’s the living spirit­ of the vessels that’s on display here, and all that those spirits have witnessed. It’s also a testament to the interpretative abilities of the musicians that they were a) willing to venture on such a project and b) to have the sensibility to interpret. Yes, it’s extremely experimental in places, and it also tends more to the noisier end of the spectrum, which is why I think this would appeal to a broad audience. True music evokes mood and nuance, and the three pieces showcased here reward us with a rich array of narratives and atmospheres, the threads of which combine to create textural contexts and storylines. Give it a go: I can promise you that multiple listens will offer a constant stream of new revelations and tales. This is a celebration of both physical and metaphysical art.

Available as a CD with a 28-page 7” booklet and as a download from here:

Psymon Marshall 2019. 

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