Review of Not A Leaf Remains As It Was [12k1069]

Sound Projector (.COM)

<b>Death, Thou Shalt Die</b>

Just noted Steve Roden yesterday and here he be again, this time in a team-up with Steve Peters. Not A Leaf Remains As It Was (12K RECORDINGS 12K1069) is largely a vocal record of extreme delicacy and subtlety, with near-hesitant vocal wisps unfurling their washed-out tones to the accompaniment of gentle ambient music and small percussive sounds. The content for the lyrics was derived, in an extremely circuitous fashion, from a book of Japanese Jisei, a form of poem supposedly written by Japanese monks at the very point of death (though according to some scholars, warriors and poets did it too). Neither creator can read or speak a word of Japanese, but they weren’t about to let a little thing like that stop them making a covenant with this highly charged spiritual content. Sorting out the poems using a classification system that would have delighted both John Cage and Brian Eno (a methodology that involved using index cards), they proceeded to perform the fragmented texts in a remarkably selective fashion, at times settling for the utterance of a mere syllable simply because they liked the taste of it in their intoning mouths. Even English translations of the Japanese words were fair game in this phonetic approach. It’s thus something of a lottery whether any of the original jisei texts get through at all. In this manner, they hoped to avoid all the obvious pitfalls that await any Westerner who attempts to flirt with Oriental cultures, so there is not a trace of Zen Buddhism anywhere in the finished product. Seattle studio whiz Doug Haire has to be given a lot of credit for making the final assemblage and mix from these evanescent sounds, a task which to many would seem on a par with knitting fog. To its credit, this album completely eschews the use of electronic instruments, and any sounds which we may at first mistake for commonplace “ambient” drones are largely produced by the combined voices of Roden and Peters, as they quaver and whisper like avant-garde choirboys in Westminster Abbey. It’s also notable how, despite being so far removed from the original source material by dint of the elaborate near-conceptual cut-up methods used, the record still resonates with a deep spiritual feeling. It also preserves the very starkness of the jisei, a form which ought to “vividly express the sentiments of an individual standing face-to-face with death.”

1 Received 18 March 2012. From, retrieved 07/10/2012. ↩

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