It is sort of comforting to me that when we see our lives stretched and mapped out in an uncompressed waveform that we will see mostly large segments of silence, or almost silence, interrupted by huge, relatively random, peaks of noise that diminish as quickly as they come. Those large peaks in activity where our lives changed in the blink of an eye are followed, naturally, by long lulls of inactivity where we acclimate and settle into our new lives, more characterised by ritual and repetition than wild upheavals. At least, thats how I hope our lives are. Settled into the warm, comfortable married life of rotating cooking schedules, divvied chore assignments and occasional outbursts of unfeigned passion and spontaneity, I take Tomas Phillips and Marihiko Hara’s minimal soundscapes, marked by flurries of unrestrained chord bursts and venturesome improvised acoustic instrumentation as a sort of guide through the domestic and ephemeral. A document proving that the safe can be just as beautiful and exciting as the random, the aleatoric and the aestheticized.

Somewhere between white noise and John Cage, Tomas Phillips and Marihiko Hara sculpt blanched ivory towers to sound, venturing between processed swells of noise and subtle, lovingly played acoustic instruments. This is his first collaboration between these two, Philips a University writing professor and Hara a Japanese musician and composer. It is difficult to tell who is responsible for what, pianos and guitars punctuate and disrupt large section of Oval-esque glitch-scapes with both restraint and force. This is the kind of egg-head modern classical that makes much of middle America reaches for their revolvers every time they hear it. Cage-like cluster notes played on top of bracing single-tone locust swells and metal-on-metal scraping don’t exactly have a populist appeal. I hear you. You want Sarah Palin and your professor is forcing you to read Chomsky. No fun. So yes, it’s that kinda thing… but it isn’t totally either. There are moments, like the glitched-out guitar lines on “Prosa II iv,” or the move from bracing to pastoral on “Prosa II i” that are entirely emotional reactions to the music. These communicate the feelings of loss and communal expectancy broadly, much more than an obligatory and cerebral move to fill up lines in a scale.

With moves this touching, it makes me wonder how planned out this entire collaboration was. Much of it sounds like two people looking each other in the eye, reacting to sounds like we would ideas in a conversation, but of course, this never took place.  Hara and Phillips were living in two separate continents, halfway around the world, reacting to the piece of the person left vibrating on the tape, adding their own personal voice and then moving on. Perhaps they obsessed over the pitch and intonation in later edits, but the inherent moves—the choice to pitch-this-tone-up-here, clank-this-piano-note-really-hard-here—all sound natural, spontaneous, and make up the audio peaks in the lifespan of one of the most thrilling modern classical/ambient albums I have heard all year. 

Following M. Ostermeir‘s brilliant debut this year, the Tench label now has a newly minted, amazingly solid release history (TCH02!!) and consistently gorgeous album artwork to boot.

Ryan H.

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