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Satoshi Sonoda - Mimi-Nuki: Secondary Works of Satoshi Sonoda 1982-1989

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Artist: Satoshi Sonoda

Album: Mimi-Nuki: Secondary Works of Satoshi Sonoda 1982-1989

Label: PSF

Review date: Nov. 26, 2012


Satoshi Sonoda - "Noise Rose" (Mimi-Nuki: Secondary Works of Satoshi Sonoda 1982-1989)


Mimi-Nuki serves not just as a testament to the wonderful talents of underrated avant-garde guitarist and experimentalist Satoshi Sonoda, but also to the ongoing creative effervescence of his native Japan’s experimental scene. Perhaps the best compliment I could direct at this collection is that these nine tracks sound like they could have been recorded in the 1960s, when pioneers like Yoko Ono and Toshi Ichiyanagi were redefining the parameters of music; or anytime in the past five or ten years, for they would sit nicely alongside works by Aki Onda and Otomo Yoshihide. As it is, Sonoda laid these improbable sounds to tape in the eighties, which only continues to highlight the creativity of the Japanese avant-garde these last 40-plus years.

Sonoda approaches this legacy with a welcome sense of humor and a wildly eclectic spirit. Opener “Noise Rose” lives up to its title, being a ragged shortwave radio experiment in which a brittle harsh drone dissolves into looped voices and unexpected hints of melody and rhythm (clearly inspired by the tape loop experiments of Steve Reich), predicting an approach that has paid dividends for current noise artists such as Aaron Dilloway. On “Yumbo,” Sonoda is joined, amongst others, by future noise superstar Masami Akita, a.k.a. Merzbow. Despite only lasting four and a half minutes, “Yumbo” is an extravagant collage of tape noise, live instrumentation and gurgling voices that heaves and surges with unbridled energy. Sonoda clearly had his hand on the pulse at a time when noise was lurching out of the realms of modern composition into the domains of rock and industrial music, and “Yumbo” neatly fits into a global continuum that connects Cage and Stockhausen to Throbbing Gristle and, later, Wolf Eyes. Indeed, it’s interesting to note that Fred Frith’s Skeleton Crew performed at the same event where “Yumbo” was recorded.

For all that tracks across Mimi-Nuki slot into the spectrum of international music, Sonoda’s music remains anchored in the traditions of his native Japan (and even Asia), with tracks like “Sound Event” and “Seasons, from morning till night” filtering Western musical styles through Japanese and Korean instrumentation and the distinctive aesthetics of Kabuki theatre, coming up with a strange hybrid that circumvents the stiffness of Western composition via atonality and repetition. “Sound Event,” in particular, feels particularly dislodged from time, as if Sonoda and his musicians have travelled back in time to record in a meadow in 16th-century feudal Japan. “Summer Landscape (extract),” meanwhile, could be a lost Joe Hisaishi soundtrack for a Studio Ghibli animation and carries a similar sense of graceful atmosphere combined with evocative imagery.

But, to these ears, Sonoda really soars when he takes these disparate influences and dumps them like a blob of sour cream over tracks that are resolutely “rock” in their musical style and instrumentation. “Shida” and “The Painted Bird” feature ramshackle rhythms and discordant string and guitar lines, and represent the surest realization of the spirit of White Light/White Heat-era Velvet Underground I’ve heard in a while. The melodies are sparse and gnarly, whilst the scraped strings and caustic, repeated drones owe a clear debt to the pioneering viola/violin styles of Tony Conrad and John Cale. It all coalesces most beautifully and unpredictably on the 22-minute title track, a rambling post-punk marathon that sounds like This Heat jamming with David S. Ware, with bristling sax, explosive temporal shifts and the unique presence of Otomo Yoshihide (whose Ground Zero project have echoes of Sonoda’s work) on turntables. With its dabbling in forceful rock, stripped-down minimalism and ecstatic Ayler-esque free jazz, “Mimi-Nuki” is impertinently ambitious, but somehow Sonoda never overreaches himself. In comparison, the alternately abrasive and sensual big band free jazz of “Funeral (extract)” almost sounds traditional.

Satoshi Sonoda certainly deserves to be mentioned among the roll-call of famed avant-gardists, and Mimi-Nuki is a rewarding showcase of his varied and unpredictable talents. Across these tracks, which artfully dart from rock and noise to the outer reaches, he remains solidly at the tiller, imbuing each track with similar shades of humor, adventure and melodicism. Mini-Nuki is a treat worth savoring.

By Joseph Burnett

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