Review of Ocean Fire [12k1046]

The Wire (UK)

Ryuichi Sakamoto has covered plenty of ground since he co-founded the pioneering Yellow Magic Orchestral back int he late 1970’s. His career has moved from naively infectious electro-pop through plengently orchestrated soundtracks to a multiplicity of niche projects, fleeting experiments and politically engaged statements. Recently, he has been keen to collaborate with a newer generation of sound sculptors. This joint outing follows hard on the heels of questing recordings with Carsten Nicolai/Alva Noto and Christian Fennesz; here, as elsewhere, the austerity of the digital sonic treatments are offset by a profoundly human grounding in improvisation.

Christopher Willits is no stranger to this previous balance between the organic and the schematic – he’s spent much of the last decade feeding his guitar through custom-built software to create finely nuanced and constantly regenerative textures. He’s another compulsive collaborator, too – the sense of easy, consensual exploration that characterises Ocean Fire underlines how both participants have a comfortable history of opening their music up to outside influence.

The album mimics the seas of its title, garlanding deep, looming tidal movements with lighter, more localised ripples and countercurrents. At times, the music has the dark, irresistible thrust of a mid-Atlantic swell; at others, the transient flutter and glitter of an inshore breeze. For the most pat, things are serene enough; but this is not an exercise in amniotic vapidity – in fact, compared to the steady, oceanic pulse of Gas or Markus Guentner, the mood is strikingly restless, shot through with agitated, microscopic detail, and as prone to capricious changes of mood as the high seas themselves. The lush exhaltation of “Sentience”, for example, is disrupted by distant, metallic shudders, while the radiant chimes and languorous swoops of “Chi-Yu” are rendered astringent by twitching clusters of processed detritus. – Chris Sharp

View Release