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Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Kazuya Matsumoto - Mizu no katachi (Spekk, 2015) ***½

By Nicola Negri

Percussionist Kazuya Matsumoto’s first album is an undefinable musical object, suspended between sound catalogue and performance art. Aptly titled Mizu no katachi (The Shape of Water), it’s a collection of field recordings gathered during a period of five years, to which Matsumoto added (in real time) mainly harmonic percussion instruments – gongs, singing bowls, hamon and various sound-producing objects, carefully selected for their ability to achieve a literal resonance with the natural scenery in which they were employed. The focus on this album is strictly limited to sound itself, embracing the spontaneous occurrence of simultaneous rhythms, timbres and accents in the sounds of water, fire, insects and birds, investigating nature’s sonic dimension without forcing a particular musical vision, supporting it in subtle ways or letting it take center stage, contemplating its narrative qualities.

The second track, 'Odoru minamo', is exemplary of the record’s construction: a complex ambience of different water sounds, birds, frogs and wind on the foreground, with Matsumoto adding discreet rhythmic figures in an attempt to blend with the surroundings more than trying to shape the piece into a traditional compositional structure. This approach is the starting point from which Matsumoto develops most of the pieces, with the balance of natural and artificial sounds alway shifting, from the sonic postcard of Meinou to utakata, in which the percussions are kept at a minimum of arhythmic activity, to the more traditional interactions based on clearly outlined rhythms like in 'Kizamu', or the more complex structural development of 'Higurashi sonohigurashi', growing in intensity with carefully orchestrated superimpositions that sound like electro-acoustic permutations.

The mimetic quality of Matsumoto's performance is at times disorienting, and this album needs repeated listens to fully decipher its full scale, and to appreciate his rigorous and almost ritualistic approach to music making. Sometimes the more minimal pieces verge on New Age blandness, and the whole record is more a catalogue of different situations than a unified musical experience. But this aspect of sound collection is clearly deliberate, emphasizing how much beauty can be found by simply listening to the complexity of natural sounds, and for the most part the richly layered ambience and the carefully crafted percussion work create a captivating experience, showing Matsumoto's genuine love for nature and the musical potential of the world around us.