Various Artists

Off Site: Composed Music Series in 2001

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The first six months of 2002 saw the release of a number of compilation albums on the Japanese free improv scene related to the Off Site, a club where Taku Sugimoto, Toshimaru Nakamura, and Tetuzi Akiyama run an influential series of concerts that developed a new aesthetic dubbed "onkyo" by certain critics. This two-CD set presents something different, despite the fact that it features the same core of musicians and silence-based, ultra-reduced music. These pieces were written, although Sugimoto comments in the liner notes that "there is almost no distinction between improvisation and composition." Disc one starts with a rather comical composition by Otomo Yoshihide for his 16-piece Portable Orchestra, here playing only home appliances (to hear the group on more regular instruments, check Deluxe Improvisation Festival 2001: Day Two). The sounds of radio, shaver, camera, food mixer, etc., follow one another in an on/off fashion that gives the impression of an in-store demonstration. Following is a set of three acoustic guitar trios (by Burkhard Stangl, Sugimoto, and Mari Furuta) performed by Akiyama, Nakamura, and Sugimoto. The spacy prepared guitars of "Echo" (bowed below the bridge) stand as a highlight. Worth noting on disc two: Sachiko M.'s "5 Seconds" for accordionist Shuichi Chino and Sugimoto's "Punkt" -- incredibly sparse -- performed by Yoshihide on acoustic guitar. It also includes three pieces from a trio concert by Sachiko M., Sugimoto, and guitarist Annette Krebs. Some of the material, particularly "Radios 1" from the aforementioned trio and "The Encyclopedia of the Hong Kong Foods" (by Otomo, performed by Akiyama) make unconvincing use of shortwave radios. This is extremely quiet music on the verge of hoax, maybe even more so than comparable compilations, but it is not without some force of attraction and it honestly documents the first important development of avant-garde music in the 21st century.

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