Sumumu Yokota - The Boy and the Tree
The Boy and the Tree is Sumumu Yokota's fifth record for Leaf and is a return to his more ambient, introspective environments. Yokota says that the inspiration for this record came both from forays into the woods near his home as well as an island called Yakushima which, because of its status as a world heritage site, has trees growing on it that are several thousand years old. The Boy and the Tree is a reflection of what Yokota hears and feels when he leaves the glitter of the city and loses himself in the natural world.
"The Colour of Pomegranates" begins with bird song, night birds calling out in the deepening glow of the evening, and Yokota gently brings in a number of exotic instrumentation -- Japanese flutes, marimbas, xylophones, pedal steel guitar -- weaving the polyrhythmic patter of the marimbas over the imitative flute melody and the dusky echo of the guitar. These songs are Zen contemplations of the natural world, single frames of visual time caught and given a soundtrack. "Live Echo" perches us on the edge of a ravine in the forest, listening to the sound of water far below and the wind echoing in the trees. Our voice hangs over the ravine, an alien sound which is gradually subsumed into the texture of the forest.
Yokota, like other ambient soundscapers, infuses an impression of the rhythm of the nature world into his music, though, in his case, the work is fertile with Eastern instrumentation and melodic inferences. "Secret Garden" has the occasional cry of a small bird, the hum of cicadas, the delicate string work of something that could be a koto, and the quite lullaby of a single female singer. The song has two parts; the second is much more frenetic, split by drums and bell trees, an allegro to the adagio of the opening section. "Rose Necklace" is built around two soloists, singing fragile melodies while plucking the strings of a shamisen. "Beans" is Middle-Eastern in flavor, the ululation of female voices rising over bowed sound of a Turkish fiddle and the sudden rush of voices from a village market glimpsed through the trees. "Future Tiger" is flush with hand claps and marimba over a squelchy tone and lengthy drone, a land-based sound which scurries beneath soaring Gypsy voices.
It would be easy to categorize this record as background music, the type of sound which soaks into your walls and colors your room while you busy yourself with something menial. Yokota would only shrug and smile; it isn't his fault that you can't be bothered. The Boy and the Tree rises out of an effort he took to listen to the natural world and, if you want to really hear what he's done on this record, you'll do the same. The complexity of this record will fill you with the same overwhelming sense of space and majesty that you find in the forest when you are standing beneath trees which have lived longer than your entire civilization.
The Boy and the Tree has been lauded by some as being part of the classical minimalism movement (even counting composer Philip Glass as a fan), and its complex co-mingling of exotic instrumentation and ambient states is clearly part of the new exploration between the traditional world of classical instruments and more modern electronic composition. Sumumu Yokota probably isn't so concerned with the labels and the commentary which follows his music. He's a prolific worker, and, even now, he's probably off in the mountains, listening to the trees, well into the composition of his next record. But, in the meantime, we've got this snapshot of childlike innocence, a recorded moment of being lost in the woods as a youngster, surrounded by the wind, rock, and trees.
Yagya - The Rhythm of Snow
Aalsteinn Gumundsson lives in Iceland and has been producing records for more than a decade under a number of names, most of which have been connected with the Icelandic musical collective known as Thule Musik. With Yagya, he's found an appropriate home with German label Force Inc. The Rhythm of Snow is definitely Force Inc. material and would fit nicely on your shelf right next to Wolfgang Voigt's Gas records.
Through the course of the ten "Snowflakes" on this record, Gumundsson elaborates on a soft techno rhythm, forgoing the usual room-quaker of a beat for a more minimal approach. Each theme and variation is wrapped around his reflections of the natural environment of his home. "Snowflake 7" is filled with rain, the gentle stormburst of the early summer when the fields are actually green and verdant. "Snowflake 9" is the early autumn storm where the leaves are rustling in the trees and the water drops on the windows and roofs seems sharper, more insistent, as if the drops are more ice than water. The other tracks take you into swow-swept landscapes, valleys and hills of light powder and bright glacial moraines. You are left with the feeling that the horizon is infinite, stretched out beneath either a brilliant blue sky or sealed up in a world of mist and fog. The rhythms undulate perpetually beneath you, permanement loops which spiral you across these stretched landscapes.
I'm a big fan of Voigt's work as Gas, of the "being lost in a dark German wood" feeling of his records, and there is a direct line connecting Gumundsson to that style of minimal techno beat-scapes. Though in the case of The Rhythm of Snow, the sonic landscape is more open, more white, and there is more space for winds to sing and moan. I think "crystalline" and "expansive" when I drop myself into these ten tracks; I think of mile-long glaciers moving on an eternal scale; I think of snow being whipped off the crest of towering mountain tops, a ten mile gossamer streamer flowing behind the sunlit peak. I think of Iceland and how warm the people who live there must be in order to survive. I think of snow and I'm not cold.
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Publications I've Written For
- Eraldo Bernocchi
- Fields of the Nephilim
- Peter Gabriel
- Chris Randall
- This Morn' Omina