Cage

Music for Nine Postcards, Hiroshi Yoshimura (Sound Process, 1982)

Notice the space around the sounds, how the composer is conscious of the way sound exists within an environment (a heard environment) drawing our attention back to the act of listening, being present with the music.

The stillness of this music is so affecting, but has a determination about it and confidence. All those ‘relaxation music’ CDs, with the tinkly sounds of waterfalls strike me as claustrophobic as with these constructed soundscapes everything is so manufactured and decided for you. Here, the music allows you to interpret it for yourself, rather than direct you somewhere: it has a kind of faith about it.

Information from the liner notes for the 1999 CD

'The first edition of this album was released in 1982 on LP. I composed "Music for Nine Post Cards" while catching the waves of scenery out of the window and feeling the sounds form. Images of the movement of clouds, the shade of a tree in summer time, the sound of rain, the snow in a town, with those rather quiet sound images, I sought to add the tone of ink painting to the pieces.

Differing from the minimal musical style in my former piece" Clouds for Alma- for two koto harps" (1978), in this music a short refrain is played over and over while it changes its form gradually just like clouds or waves, based on the sound fragments noted on the 9 postcards. I put the first fragment of the sound, a seed or a stone as it were, to seek the "prime number" of the sound.

One day when I was composing this piece, I visited the brand-new contemporary art museum in the North Shinagawa area I took to its snow-white Art-Deco style, but not only that, I was also deeply impressed and moved by the trees in the courtyard which can be seen through the museum's large window. At that moment, I imagined how it would sound if were to play my developing album there. Could it possibly be one of the best sounds that fit this environment? This idea developed into the strong desire to carry it out.

Finishing the mixing, recording it on cassette tape, I visited this museum again. They gladly accepted such an unknown composer's request and said "OK, let's try to put it on in the museum." That made me so happy and encouraged me. After a few weeks, 1 received a phone call from this museum, where staff were often asked by the visitors "Where can I get this music?" On hearing those words, my desire to publish a record with those sounds was getting stronger and stronger. I decided to consult with Mr. Ashikawa about this. He said that he would start up a record label to present this new sound. in this way, "Music for Nine Post Cards" was released as the first LP record of the "Music Notation for waves" series.

This was followed by Mr. Ashikawa's "Still Way". This label's first attempt to present environmental music in Japan was taken up in many magazines. Although this album was a small publication by a minor label, I am very happy that not a few people still remember it. Now this album is being reprinted. I'm looking forward to the reaction of the people who are going to listen to this music for the first time. The Nine Post Cards which were sent from outside of a window. I hope this sound scenery makes quiet ripples.'

Translated by Misako Matsuki  

Found on a very interesting website, ‘fromheretillnow’ based in Zurich, devoted to 'obscure and unconventional music since 2012'. The site description continues: 'in a world of abundance of things and choices, fromheretillnow offers guidance through its hand-picked musical selections and its carefully conceived podcasts. we let you discover obscure music and genres as no wave, experimental, avant garde, drone and lo-fi. get lifted by never-heard before pop-not-pop music: beautiful to listen to, yet miles away from the mainstream.'   

Here is an article on the work of Yoshimura (and two other Japanese composers) on a site called 20funkgreats (?) Yoshimura is considered to be a ‘pioneer of ambient music in Japan’ and one of the country’s great post-war composers. The article says how this music could have ‘perhaps been driven by a subconscious impulse to find refuge from nasty reality ....

Many of these records have natural or organic themes, which could well reflect the artists’ own search for spaces of serenity amidst the hyper-accelerated lanes of late-era capitalism. Today we bring you a selection of tracks with that vibe, hope that you find them as soothingly beautiful as we do, and also that when we get together this time next week we don’t have any more reasons to want to escape reality.

We cross our fingers, hard.

Related article: Cage

'Come clean' & instrumental, Jeru the Damaja, prod. DJ Premier (The sun rises in the east, PayDay/FFRR/Polygram, 1994)

My knowledge is full of holes, more often than not I come to things from another direction, this is perhaps the key virtue of having a lot of time these days, long may it last, to follow my interests, with no external pressure: living within a total 'beginner's mind'. This track is a case in point, as I listened to (and loved) the instrumental first and then came to appreciate the track - an undeniable classic, according to the critics and half the planet - with the vocals.

Now, I'm a fan of Jeru the Damaja - most recently listening to his second record, Wrath of the Math an album with a lot of depth, passionate intelligence and humour (at times). What immediately struck me when listening to this track (and reading the lyrics at the same time) is the way he plays with language in such a creative way. 

Control the mic like Fidel Castro locked Cuba
So deep that you can’t scuba dive

I like the way he uses pausing here, allowing some of the word to disappear almost in a way that goes against the grain of a standard style of speaking, as if it's an after-thought when it's the key idea of the sentence. And then he links words to create rhymes, running words on ...

Pseudo psychos, I play like Michael Jackson
When I’m busting ass and breaking backs
Inhale the putrified aroma

so that 'breaking backs/In .. hale' makes a connection with the earlier Jackson. There's a lot of skill here, captured in these details, a kind of elegance even if the subject covers (relatively) familiar territory, not that that is a problem.

But as I mentioned, I came to this music via the DJ Premier-produced instrumental which is something else.

Immediately it made me think of gamelan music from Indonesia, or John Cage ...

Now that striking, so distinctive sample in fact comes from the drummer, Shelly Manne's Infinity (1973) reinforced up by a very popular Funk sample, used by many hip-hop producers over the years. The way in which DJ Premier manipulates this sound, alongside that moment where there is a kind of explosion of noise & nuttiness ('Oh-oh! Heads up 'cause we're dropping some shit') is unexpected and inspirational.

Here's a video from Complex where Jeru the Damaja talks (with others) through the process of recording 'Come Clean'  ..

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Cage

John Cage talked about sound having no inherent, essential character, or personality and that it forever remained mysterious, unknown, resisting any of our attempts to interpret it (and then perhaps implicit in this statement is an idea that any effort to understand it was a waste of our time). 

I love this interview for many reasons (including the way it's recorded, with the traffic sound from the street, captured from New York's Sixth Avenue). 'If you listen to traffic it's always different ...'

(Though I'm not sure why there is a bit of Baker and a French composer added to the end; just skip that part maybe).

Cage is challenging us here because we like to interpret sounds; indeed it's an essential part of how we engage with art, keeping it at a distance from us while we also seek to possess it. We offer our opinions and make value judgements, or interpret sounds as having some kind of emotional quality. We hold onto the experience of listening as if it were fixed, reflecting something about who we are.

I sincerely appreciate the humility of Cage here, is it possible for us to just listen and respond to something as it is? 

'Our next contestant please will you come in ...'

I'll return to writing more about Cage later, funnily enough I started writing something else thinking that I could use the above interview and then ended up here (where?) trawling the archives and remembering why I ...

Here is one of my most beloved pieces of music.