Koji Asano / composition, realisation
Asano’s compositions are never simple or straightforward, neither immediately accessible nor open to lazy categorisation. Many share more in commmon with art projects than with most music, although they’re always realised not only with absolute precision but also with impressive musicality. There’s no doubt, as there is with some projects in this field, as to whether one is listening to music at all, but there is a delicious lack of clarity about how to approach it nonetheless.
This has hardly been more true than in the case of the current project. Initially it sounds like an analogue version of the digital noise out of which he built the wonderful The Secret Path of Rain, being formed as it is from the crackle of radio static and other electrical sounds. It’s almost an acoustic project, then — except it isn’t like that at all.
There is in fact nothing quaint or nostalgic about these sounds. There often can be; they can make the music itself seem to appear from a haze of distance. Radio static can form a vaseline-smeared lens redolant of huddling over wartime radio broadcasts or seeking out foreign or clandestine stations at the extremes of the tuning band. That is, of course, when static is added to something, when something (if only occasionally) emerges out of it.
There’s nothing, in fact, on Asano’s radio at all, however hard he searches. The dial seems to move through various bands of electrical disturbance of different sorts, but they might well just be storms; there’s no sign of human presence here. Except, that is, for one very important sign. For the hand turning the dial (or whatever — this is more layered and more cunningly pieced-together than the analogy suggests) is very distinctly present. The analogue nature of the work extends to the analogue of human action in the response of the sound. One can, at times, quite clearly hear Asano’s gestures in the sounds he uses. That’s something that feels valid whether he used such gestures, quite different ones, or none at all in the actual process of making it; the human presence, real or apparrent, is the thing.
This very personal element removes any question of this music being categorised with the impersonal, “isolationist” school of electroacoustics, despite the apparently depersonalised nature of the sound itself. It’s almost intimate, at times. Yet one is also conscious of the highly-wrought nature of what one hears, because it sounds nothing like someone actually fiddling with a radio dial. Superficially it’s identical, and that’s where some or even all of the material might have been sourced, but it’s been cut together and subtly layered to create a kind of dramatic monologue.
There’s little question that Asano is working at the bleeding edge of experimental music. His work is conceptually rich but also uncommonly well-made. Anyone who complains of a lack of craft in new music ought to listen to what he does; they may have to inspect it closely before they notice the intense care with which it’s been made, but anyway that’s not atypical of fine craftsmanship in general. Asano makes music which speaks a very contemporary language, and almost everything he does requires more than one listen before it becomes apparent that it’s in fact extraordinarily good. This isn’t by any means his most accessible piece, and it’s probably not a good place to start with his music for that reason, but it’s a profound, even moving composition. Richard Cochrane