Taku Sugimoto may be absolutely unknown to the mainstream media, but this Japanese guitarist has become a legend in avant-garde circles. He has reinvented himself from head to toe a couple of times already, going from a psychedelic/noise rocker persona to ultra-minimal free improvisation. He is one of the key artists of what has been dubbed the "onkyo" movement, Tokyo's own form of Berlin reductionism -- music built on silence instead of sound. Since 1995, but even more since 1999, he tours regularly in Europe and America and leaves behind him a trail of albums.
Sugimoto took up the electric guitar in high school, like so many other teenagers. His musical interests began in rock, but quickly expanded to free jazz and the European school of improvised music. Still, his first professional experiences were rooted in alternative, noise-based rock. His first recording was a 7" single with the psychedelic rock group Piero Manzoni in 1986. This adventure ended in 1988, at which point the guitarist self-released his first solo album, Mienai Tenshi, and focused on session work.
In 1991, Sugimoto turned his career around by dropping the guitar altogether to pick up cello. He played this instrument in Henkyo Gakudan, a high-energy improv group comprising saxophonist Hiroshi Itsui and guitarist Michio Kurihara that lasted two years and self-released two cassettes. Sugimoto also appeared briefly in Ghost and in Tetuzi Akiyama's Hikyo String Quintet. This phase ended with the release of the cello solo album Slub in 1994, at which point the artist abandoned the instrument.
Back on the guitar in 1994, Sugimoto reversed polarities and explored ever-more quieter areas in music. He gradually stripped down his playing, first going through a period in which he played short, unstitched tonal lines and later moving to greater extremes, playing the body of the guitar or just slowly running his fingers on the freeboard. This evolution first took place in the Akiyama-Sugimoto guitar duo and in solo concerts, but Sugimoto also began to perform with like-minded musicians from Tokyo (Toshimaru Nakamura, Yoshihide Otomo, Sachiko M) and abroad (Günter Müller, Keith Rowe, Kevin Drumm, Burkhard Stangl). Starting in 1998, he co-organized (with Akiyama and Nakamura) an influential series of monthly concerts, Improvisation: Meeting at Bar Aoyama, later renamed Meeting at Off Site when they changed the venue. These are at the core of the "onkyo" scene (using the term loosely since it is not an organized movement) and have spawned a number of compilation albums in limited editions.