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V/A - Compositions for Guitars, Vol. 2

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Artist: V/A

Album: Compositions for Guitars, Vol. 2

Label: A Bruit Secret

Review date: Aug. 5, 2004

How nice to see a second volume of A Bruit Secret’s anthologies for guitar music. As with the first release from 2003, the players chosen to represent some of the latest strategies on the instrument are generally those associated with electroacoustic improvisation. On this second installment, however, each musician is from the very radical Tokyo scene. There are five compositions here: two by the incredible and prolific Otomo Yoshihide and one apiece by Toshimaru Nakamura, Tetuzi Akiyama, and Taku Unami. Fans of the first release will recall Taku Sugimoto’s piece for amplifier humming and feedback, on which several of these players performed. That kind of hushed, oscillating, mysterious music dominates here; these players have gone beyond the radical preparation or deconstruction of their instruments, enabling them to play seemingly alien music, to the point where the guitar is a vehicle for the transmission of a more elemental sound. Rather than the type of virtuosity associated with, say, Hans Reichel or Erhard Hirt – to name two of free improv’s mad scientist guitarists – each of these pieces features what Keith Rowe calls “the virtuosity of restraint.”

Nakamura is best-known for spartan improvising with his no-input mixing board. However, he was originally a guitarist. On his piece “gt flo #2,” he uses an electric guitar, two amps, and three pickups to create a slithering coil of feedback which pulses, shimmers, and vibrates into a thousand different shapes. As the record’s opener, it submerges you with sound and jars you into a different listening space. By contrast, Tetuzi Akiyama’s “Moebius Rings (for two guitars)” is a much smaller, more intimate piece featuring two overdubbed nylon string resonator guitars. Compared to the sharpened blades of his outrageous Résophonie, this is practically a garrulous piece: its tight, high-strung plucking veers between traditional court music, outer space Fahey, and Renaissance lute compositions (and if you think that last reference is hokey, just check out Akiyama’s eldritch duets with Dutch lutanist Jozef van Wissem).

Otomo’s first piece, “Plastics Pick & Mini-Motor,” will have you checking the sleevenotes to make sure this isn’t an old Ground Zero outtake. My comments about the virtuosity of restraint still hold for this one, but it is fucking loud. Halfway between a Keiji Haino amp-buster and a Keith Rowe treatise on harshness, Otomo punishes his amp with sudden squalls of feedback (broken up by silence) and brutalizes his guitar with a nasty little whining motor. What fun! The set shifts again with Taku Unami’s contribution. Unami, who usually plays laptop but here wields a pedal steel, joins up with Akiyama (on a regular old acoustic) for “The Whisperer in Darkness.” It’s the weakest of the pieces here, despite its admirable minimalism – the endless glissandi (and epic silences) grow tiresome pretty quickly. The disc is concluded with Otomo’s “Softly, as in five guitars feedbacks,” featuring Otomo, Nakamura, Akiyama, Naoaki Miyamoto, and Tsuguto Tsunoda throwing down layer after layer of rich, overtone-heavy feedback. As a compendium of contemporary guitar music, this volume is equally as strong as its predecessor.

By Jason Bivins

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