By Nicola Negri
Sachiko M – sine waves
Eddie Prevost – percussion
Free improvised music by definition allows musicians to work completely outside of established languages and traditions, and historically it has produced strikingly original musical worlds, radically different from anything that was before: Derek Bailey and his unique approach to the guitar, John Zorn in his duck calls period, etcetera.
Sachiko M, a Japanese artist active since 1994, has brought this approach to the extreme. Originally a sampler player operating in the “plunderphonics” movement, she soon departed completely from what electronic musicians were doing at the time, devoting herself to the manipulation of the sampler internal test tones, since then laconically billed as “sine waves”. This recent album documents a concert held in 2014 at London’s Cafe Oto, released as a digital download by the venue’s label Otoroku, and sees Sachiko M meeting one of the key figures of European free music, percussionist Eddie Prévost. A founder of the influential AMM in the 1960s, Prévost is another one of those musicians who consistently tried to go beyond the idiomatic boundaries of traditional music making, deconstructing the drum set and employing extended techniques to better explore his musical vision.
The album highlights from the start the musicians’ strengths and peculiarities, developing a slowly evolving soundscape based on surging waves of pure tones and subtle dynamics, reaching earsplitting extremes just to promptly recede to low volume drones, the sine waves and bowed cymbals effectively complementing each other in different layers of ethereal, high-pitched sounds. The careful attention to shape and form is exemplary of an approach to improvisation that favors texture and space, creating a fascinating, strangely soothing musical ambience. There’s a cyclical increase of density in the proceedings, and some recognizable percussive sounds begin to emerge in the second part of the performance. But they are always taken from a distance, appearing as minimal episodic gestures or ghosts of rhythm patterns. The overall structure keeps the music suspended between the mystery of silence and the perplexing beauty of pure sound, with few peaks of activity on an otherwise static base of slightly shifting sounds, slowly fading away into a long silent coda.