Dusted Reviews

Keith Rowe / Toshimaru Nakamura - Between

today features
reviews charts
labels writers
info donate

Search by Artist

Sign up here to receive weekly updates from Dusted

email address

Recent Reviews

Dusted Reviews

Artist: Keith Rowe / Toshimaru Nakamura

Album: Between

Label: Erstwhile

Review date: Aug. 20, 2006

Preface: After first hearing Between, I decided I would read nothing about the album save any comments by the participating musicians, Keith Rowe and Toshimaru Nakamura. I have considered many approaches to discussing the music, finally settling on simple personal reflection on what I’ve been hearing. The music is very complex on many levels, but a certain visceralgia pervades, and I wanted to be as honest about that as I could be, as it seems the set’s most important trait. Blind since birth, I can’t engage the duo in the visual component suggested by their promotional commentary or by the cover art’s importance.

To say that Between is stunning belies the long-term experience of evolving along with it – the days, weeks and months of contemplation I found necessary to devote to these two CDs. Similarly, to place some sort of emotive qualifier on these sounds would diminish their importance, both historical and compositional.

Some predisposition toward the positive must be admitted, as I’ve respected these musicians for some time, but Between is different than any of their other projects. I find the title ironic, as I don’t hear anything “between” about the set at all. It seems to me that a definitive statement has been made, the components of which are new even if the formula, or container, is not. The seeds were planted on earlier Erstwhile releases, like the seminal Duos for Doris and the recent Four Gentlemen of the Guitar, also double albums involving Keith Rowe. For me, they offered moments of what I can only describe as revelation. Apart from the moment-to-moment delight I took in the multifarious possibilities, I felt changed as a listener; in a gentle flash, my intuitive understanding of form had been altered. On Four Gentlemen, it was the second disc’s epic that afforded the transition; on Duos, it happened about half way through the first disc, when John Tilbury plays some repeated chords to Rowe’s trademark hum and rustle.

Between’s first disc bludgeoned me with such moments, not so differently from the first time I read the opening of Finnegans Wake. The level of concentration in each gesture is overpowering. Yet, my initial sense of completeness, of every event occurring in the right place, both temporally and spatially, was too strong to be ignored and only grew as my familiarity increased. Comparisons with “Acousmatique” music, while apt, fall short of encapsulating the continuity that underpins even the most disparate sounds. From the lowest bell-like rumbles to the highest-frequency whispers, there is a constant rush and thrum sustaining everything, sometimes brutally intense but often almost imperceptible; it morphs when I move my head even slightly, becoming as much a product of where I am in the listening environment as of anything emerging from my speakers. Especially on “July,” the music is largely hushed and rapt, existing as much in the transient mundaneness of acoustic space as in the more stereotypically sustained world of eai, and the combination is continually enriching and regenerative. As might be expected, the ghost-memories of transmissive static appear and submerge, only the intricacy of the sculpture seeming more acute than on previous collaborations.

The first eight minutes of Disc 2 floored me. I have not heard this much raw power from a Rowe project since the AMM Crypt session of 1968, the rush of Between's first disc now replaced with a dull roar. Think Merzbow and you're in the ballpark, but such a comparison leaves out the nuance of dynamics, the crystalline whippoorwill thirds that grace the higher registers and the oscillating whoosh of white noise. Strangest of all is a beautifully menacing quasi-tonal language that emerges, as if a latent Webern sketch was elongated and carved up.

The mixture of delicacy and grit throughout the disc is spellbinding, but while the 41-minute “Lausanne” explores territory similar to that on Disc 1, extremes are placed in sharper and dirtier relief, the underlying unifying sound now a grinding mass of micropulses, possibly generated by Toshi’s no-input mixing board.

The closing “Amann” might be mistaken for an Eliane Radigue structure, but it’s even denser, Amiri Baraka’s legendary “changing same” recontextualized for an expansive 20 minutes. Never would I be able to guess the identity of the artists from this track, and it represents the boldest and most starkly powerful statement of the set. It yields different results in every listening environment.

If a new form has been achieved, it will be delineated in time. If nothing else, the set speaks to further diversification of this duo's already multifaceted music.

By Marc Medwin

Read More

View all articles by Marc Medwin

Find out more about Erstwhile

©2002-2011 Dusted Magazine. All Rights Reserved.