The Rambler :: blog

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Susumu Yokota: symbol 

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One of the most interesting upcoming releases is probably Japanese electronica musician Susumu Yokota's 25th (twenty-fifth!) album, Symbol, out on 6th June. Yokota is, for my money, one of the most subtle, inventive artists making ambient-ish electronica. Normally I'd recommend any album of his with absolute confidence - I bought several on the strength of hearing just one track from Sakura (alongside Grinning Cat probably his best record), and didn't hit a dud. There are few of his tunes available to download via his label Leaf.

Symbol though is a little provocative: it's composed to a large extent of samples of - mostly well-known - classical works. Classical mashups if you like. This is an idea I've always wanted someone to explore well, and by my reckoning Yokota would be the man to attempt it, so on one level I'm really pleased that he has. However, the first review I've read - in The Wire last month - was less than happy with the results. The BBC have three tracks available for streaming, and I'm left pretty ambivalent myself. The third track, 'The Dying Black Swan' is certainly the best of three - and I think stands up well to a lot of Yokota's other work. It's the only one of the three to completely eschew a beat, which has been the case with many of Yokota's better tunes (much as I love the harder, housier things on 1999). The other two, 'Purple Rose Minuet' and 'Song of the Sleeping Forest' tread the fine line between inspired and naff; the limp beats on 'Song' definitely edging it towards the naff side. Pulling riffs from Debussy's 'Au clair de la lune' at the start of 'Minuet' is also a pretty high risk strategy - to most people who've watched much British TV over the last few years it sounds like it could lapse quickly into an advert for soft cheese. The feel of the track is unmistakable Yokota - lots of lovely, rich loops, given the space to really sound - but his source material is just that bit too obvious. 'Song' relies much more on late 20th-century minimalism: plenty of Meredith Monk loops in here, plus some marimba riffs that I'm guessing are Reich. Yokota's clear take on his material here make the mistake that minimalism is a comforting, relaxing, musical trend, rather than the radical, unsettling phenomenon that it is. Again this is a surprise from Yokota, since I've always felt that his strongest ambient work has been coloured with enough dark shades to keep it interesting, and here he's been tempted to indulge in some cheap coffee house sounds.

'The Dying Black Swan' does keep that darker edge - the lack of an emphasised pulse keeps you unsettled, and a few of the samples don't completely lock harmonically, making for some tangy clashes. On the strength of this, I'll probably get the album when it comes out, so here's hoping there's more like it.

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