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Susumu Yokota: “Kinoko”

From the album Acid Mt. Fuji (1994)

The music of Japanese composer and DJ Susumu Yokota represents a style that not too long ago I would have dismissed out of hand. It could be described as “ambient techno”: beat-oriented electronic music better suited to ambient listening than proper dancing. (Yokota is also an active house DJ and has also released a number of albums in that idiom.)

Having come around a bit not only on techno (witness my ongoing obsession with Charanjit Singh’s sublime Ten Ragas to a Disco Beat), but also on music conceived for background listening (helped in part by Joseph Lanza’s fine book Elevator Music), I now find much to appreciate in this peculiar genre of music. One of the nicest things is how it can happily occupy different positions on the spectrum of auditory attention: you can play it in the background as a pleasant an unobtrusive sonic wallpaper, but you can also listen intently and discover in certain tracks an unexpected wealth of musical detail. This very quality was one of the fundamental criteria of “ambient music" as theorized by its founder, Brian Eno in the late 1970s.

The defining characteristic of this music is the almost unremitting presence of the four-on-the-floor bass drum. On this foundation, the compositional technique typically consists of the layering of loops within a static tonal framework. In “Kinoko” (“Mushrooms”), this template unfolds slowly, beginning with a soundscape of birdsong underlaid with a deep filter-swept bass drone. What sounds like the Godzilla roar gives the scene a decidedly mesozoic air. An eerie ostinato on a synthesized bell-tone enters, followed shortly by a syncopated tom-tom. When the thumping bass drum makes its inevitable appearance several minutes in, the tableau is complete and the music can run its course. The overall sound-image is strikingly evocative, providing the listener with enough substance to feed the imagination, but not so much that the experience is emotionally overdetermined. 

Played 629 time(s).

August 30, 2012, 9:55pm

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