Review of Tasogare: Live In Japan [12k2019]

Tokafi (.COM)

<b>Occasion and respect: Piling woodsticks with utmost care.</b>

On the „Future of the Music Business“ section of the 12k-forum, label-father Taylor Deupree once asked the community whether they thought record companies were „relevant anymore“. The question seemed to be less a philosophical than a practical one. After all, no one seriously doubted that imprints like 12k were still capable of commissioning and inspiring ambitious new work, of aggregating different scenes and trains of development into fresh musical styles and serving as a filter and outlet for exciting compositions listeners might not otherwise have discovered. What really seemed to threaten their relevancy was the market’s splintering into myriads of sub-genres and micro-niches none of which had the potential of reaching critical limits of profitability anymore, of lovingly designed physical products having to compete with carelessly posted torrent streams which ultimately threatened their status as art-objects and of a once fully-fledged distribution infrastructure crumbling to pieces. Implicitely, Deupree’s doubts as to the sustainability of a model based on passion in the face of a system thriving on profit expressed a bleak vision best described by British experimental pop artist Momus’s prophetic aphorism: „In the future everyone will be famous for fifteen people“. Or, to put it differently: When no one’s listening, relevance is pretty relative term.

And yet, the tasks of the most personal and memorable label were never just about music and distribution. Robert Raths still enjoys accompanying many of the acts on the Erased-Tapes-roster on tour. Dagobert Böhm, head of German jazz-label Ozella even spent a week on a remote island with Saxophonist Karl Seglem, collecting, cooking and devouring exotic mushrooms and jamming. And the close collaboration between an artist like Dirk Serries and the Tonefloat label for his microphonics-project has yielded a deep and mutually inspiring friendship. This, of course, is where 12k has always been headed towards, too. If Deupree speaks about wanting to establish a „family of artists“, then this is by no means one of those trendy slogans habitually churned out by leagues of labels as part of their pr-strategy. It is, simply put, a fact. Some of the relationships which have left an indelible imprint on the decisive early years of the company are still tangible today, from his ongoing liaison with the oeuvre of Richard Chartier – the recent emancipation of the latter’s Line-imprint notwithstanding – Kenneth Kirschner – for whom Deupree is not merely financing increasingly expansive box sets but with whom he is also continually engaging highly stimulating live exchanges – as well as Ralph Steinbrüchel, who has only released two works on 12k, but continues to be an important presence in the label’s field of interest.

In a way, one could interpret 2005’s Shining by Tokyo-based quartet Minamo as a culmination of these tendencies. The connection with Japan didn’t just lead to a short-lived but highly refreshing side-label, happy, and spark Deupree’s deep interest in the intersection between technology, acoustic instruments and organic structures and shapes. It also seemed to reinforce the notion of 12k as a community, of it representing a circle of friends who would foster each other’s work and generally help each other out whenever and wherever possible. It wasn’t just about stumbling upon an entirely new world of sounds, although releases by Sawako, Moskitoo and Fourcolor would quickly follow suite over the next two years and beyond. It was also about sharing thoughts on anything from politics to food, about traveling together and then looking at the pictures afterwards, about appreciating one’s differentness as a unique chance for oneness. This regional focus would not remain restricted to Japan alone, but expand to Australia as well, where artists like Cameron Webb (Seaworthy) or Paul Fiocco and Kane Ikin (Solo Andata) defined a related, but subtely differentiated vocabulary originating in nature’s beauty and mysteries alike. And if Live in Melbourne served as a document to the import of the Asian connection, then Tasogare: Live in Tokyo finally binds the whole community together.

Calling Tasogare the most representative 12k offering of the past five years – 2006’s Blueprint compilation, with its focus on an entirely new generation of artists possibly constituting a previous marker – is therefore not really an exaggeration. In fact, the press release actually implies as much, when it speaks about tapping into a rich potential of individuality and a pool of artists all actively contributing „to a collective spirit“. Of course, it is still about music, too, about allowing others to „hear what went on a world away in live sets that can’t, and won’t be duplicated again“. The disc captures the essence of what is described as two magical evenings, when some of the leading artists from the roster met in different pairings. To an outside observer, the sheer pluralism and multitude of not just sounds and styles, but approaches on display here must seem bewildering: From the sets by Sawako + Hofli and Moskitoo, which lead ethereal, at times folk-oriented vocals and passages of heavenly harmony through a maze of field recordings and sonic cubism, to the darkly flowing stream of splintered melodic figments and deep swells of Solo Andata and Deupree’s own contribution, which uses nothing but a few cycles of closely spaced intervals to create a tight web of motives and relations, Tasogare seems like a veritable sum and summary of the experimental music community in 2011.

So what is keeping it together? On the one hand, occasion. Tasogare was recorded at the Komyoji Temple and the Jiyu Gakuen Myonichi-kan, an architecturally visionary building complex conceptually (and, in terms of the CD, quite apt) fusion of Asian and European aesthetics, and locations therefore, whose mere presence suggest a reflective state of mind and a meditative depth. In the middle section of the Sawako and Hofli piece, the dense drone carefully built up over the preceding six minutes flows into a section of sounding church bells, which, in turn makes way for an epic finale composed of nothing but a few of Hofli’s tenderly plucked guitar chords and Sawako’s sweet, otherworldly chant – as in a dream, the borders between reality and fiction, between the tangible and fantastical are becoming permeable here. On the other hand, a shared and extremely sharp sensibility for the material dimensions of sound and an extremely respectful way of working with one’s materials. This is exemplified in the nine-minute improvisation by Minamo opening the disc, which bases almost entirely on ripples of movement created by a delay effect and goes from an almost evanescent introduction to a surreal outburst of banged cymbals and melodies orbiting tonality like a shooting satellite. It is almost as though the actors were treating their creations like a tower made of woodsticks, cautiously adding to the pile with utmost care.

But of course, this analysis is only skimming the surface of things. What really binds these pieces together is a common pool of ideas. Because that is were music, like any other form of art, originally comes from. The relevance of a label is decided by its ability of creating meaning, of establishing ties and then making them audible without compromising on their intangible nature. The idea of every sub-niche catering to no more than fifteen people is not a realistic proposition, because as much as we need individuality, we also need a feeling of communality. That is why labels still matter – and why a release like Tasogare, despite catering to what seems a fairly small audience, is important.

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