Keith Rowe and Toshimaru Nakamura
Between
2006
B+



there is no appropriate time or place for this kind of music. No mood you can be in, no place in life, no planet in our solar system is accommodated by the new school of electro-acoustic improvisation. None. There’s something about this stuff, its all-but-total rejection of melody, harmony, structure, that makes it feel almost post-human. People can’t do this; we don’t have the discipline for such long stretches of almost-nothing. No one—no human—can hold out that long. It’s like roaming the desert without water just to prove it can be done. This is impossible music.

But here it is. In case you are as yet not indoctrinated into this music, there’s no easy road. The closest I know of to a simple explanation comes from the estimable Dominique Leone: “sort of an inverse of noise music.” That sounds about right. If you think of noise as a brick wall, then EAI is like a plaster mold of the cement in-between, an impression, a photo-negative, more silence than sound; it’s a constant hum, the first step up from complete silence; noise stripped down to a single sliver and stretched out, presumably forever. Since the idea is the fewest sounds possible over the longest span of time, this is a sound of nearly unbearable, endlessly escalating tension at its most pleasant. At its least pleasant, it's even more frightening than noise; it isn't just stripped of all that pesky sound, but also the gimmickry and shock tactics. Noise shows you the wrath of God. This brand of EAI scoffs at the very ideas of “fear” or “wrath” or “God” and just leaves you alone with the endless hum.

As for the rest of you, you’ll be overjoyed to know that this double-disc duo does even less than most of its kind. That’s the highest compliment there is, as the resonance is often in the silence and space—think Rowe and John Tilbury’s Duos for Doris or much of the Amplify 2002 box set. It’s a wide-eyed, stiff-backed session, bordering occasionally on outright malevolent. Perhaps you’ve read on I Hate Music that there is something resembling actual release for the tension on this one, and that’s half-right. For the nearly two-hour duration, our heroes hold a staring contest. They break off no less than four times, and it’s like a dam bursting: a dull roar of radio crackle over a mound of sawtooth waves, or a hiss of static grown vertical, climbing a wall of sound. It’s sudden—without fail, every time—but then it just goes, escalating to a point, then scraping across a plateau for just long enough. It should be release, and for a moment it is, but they rear up to attack, one would assume, and just stand there. It’s harrowing, over and over again, only more so as the dynamic shift is not only sudden, but precipitous.

The remainder is barely atomic; Rowe turns knobs ever-so-slowly on his transistor radio (there's also one, lonely clear guitar strum at the very beginning; it's his idea of a joke), and Nakamura taps gently at his no-input mixing board. Oddly enough, the latter seems to be modulating just a hair more than usual, even if it's often barely perceptible, doing his best to bounce off Rowe's stony immobility. For much of Between, they curl around each other like satellites on an axis, and the space between them—never truly resolved—equals meaning and purpose in this world. When Rowe teases us with a snippet of human voice, when Nakamura opens his maw for an eight-minute screech halfway through, and when someone introduces some familiar digital distortion (I know it well from when my cell phone and television duet)—those are the landmarks on the long, dark road. And the deep, dark-red smudge of “Amann,” a cavernous structure of low-end and ultraviolet hiss that makes it difficult to breathe—that's the end. Between is pure, distilled focus, a quietly gut-wrenching experience of gargantuan proportions, as terrifying as it is beautiful as it is simply impossible.


Reviewed by: Jeff Siegel
Reviewed on: 2006-06-22
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