Parazoan Mapping CD
Une musique faite d’amoncellement de bruits… Bruits les plus variés, appareils électriques, moteurs, bruits humains issus de multiples lieux publics, tels des salles de sports ou des dojos. Oui, une musique car l’auditeur est vite capté par ces enchaînements sonores qui ne cessent d’impressionner, comme il peut en être pour toute autre musique.
Alors… d’où vient l’envoûtement suscité par l’écoute de ce disque ? Où réside le mystère de ces sons, certes familiers, mais qu’il nous semble entendre pour la première fois ? Comment ses deux concepteurs parviennent-ils à entrer en phase avec nos réflexions ? Éric La Casa est devenu, on le sait, un maître de l’enregistrement de situations sonores ; il multiplie les expériences les plus diverses sur le terrain, souvent avec des improvisateurs. Taku Unami reste ce personnage insaisissable du monde des musiques improvisées de ces dix dernières années, autant apte à nous émouvoir en pleurant pendant une heure (avec son comparse Mattin), qu’a créer des situations mystérieuses, diffusant des cassettes audio, caché dans la pénombre, derrière des piles de cartons dépliés.
Dans ce CD enregistré aussi dans des intérieurs domestiques à Tokyo, les sons imposent, à chaque instant, leur personnalité surprenante et stimulent notre écoute. Ce ne sont pas des sons « déjà là » qu’il a suffi de capter en posant quelques micros. Loin d’être neutre, le dispositif d’enregistrement est un objet intentionnel qui implique une écoute active éloignée de toute esthétisation. Ici ne transparait aucun fétichisme incitant à s’extasier devant un prétendu field recording qui semblerait en vogue aujourd’hui.
Côté auditeur, cela évoque bien sûr le « cinéma pour l’oreille ». L’enchantement opère, même à l’écoute d’une banale, voire exaspérante, perceuse. Côté musiciens, c’est la force d’une construction. Le choix des matériaux sonores et leur transformation amplifient cet effet de construction, encore accentué par le travail final de montage. Une construction complexe faite de juxtapositions, superpositions et enchaînements de nombreux éléments. La manipulation et la modification des sons confèrent cette qualité éminemment musicale à ces enregistrements sur le vif.
On retrouve là les éléments de tout discours musical : effets de surprise, alternances, contrastes, brisures et effets répétitifs, mises en parallèle de différents plans sonores. Entretenu par de fréquentes réminiscences, l’effet de subjugation sur l’auditeur est constant. Qu’il s’agisse des sons agressifs des machines ou des bruits sur des tatamis (corps qui tombent ?), des bâtons de kendo qui s’entrechoquent, des rebonds de ballons et glissades sur des parquets (on dirait alors du scratch), la puissance émotive déploie une poétisation d’un quotidien sonore transformé. Soudain, on comprend que les sons machiniques et humains finissent par perdre leurs identités originelles et à échanger leurs statuts.
Nous sommes alors au cœur de ce à quoi aspirait Russolo : les bruits d’un environnement moderne comme objet propice aux inventions sonores grâce à un travail artistique destiné à aiguiser notre sensibilité.
Jacques Oger, revue & corrigee, septembre 2015
“Is section 3 based around the sound of a basketball court? Does section 4 comprise a song?” When your own release notes aren’t sure what’s going on, you’ve got a real puzzle on your hands. These releases (Hour House : Chiltern, Penultimate Press LP and Eric La Casa & Taku Unami : Parazoan Mapping, Erstwhile CD) take the 60 year old promise of electroacoustic music to perhaps its furthest extreme yet. Aided – I guess – by miniaturisation of microphones and recording devices, and the availability of audio editing to anyone with a laptop, they blur of natural and manmade events, of synthetic and organic sounds. Part of their pleasure is that they leave you free to apply your own imaginary narratives as to what’s happening within, and spinning them on your hi-fi is a confounding experience, as a soundfield poised between outside and inside is beamed in through your speakers. Parazoan Mapping seems at first to be a more rigorous documentation of contained sound events. What sounds like food processors, washing machines and electronic printers click in and out in some sort of sequence. There are echoes of the scientific context of Ernst Karel’s Heard Laboratories, as if material collected from an unknown planet is being subjected to an intricate process of sieving, sorting and centrifuges. But as it reaches the fourth track, the ambience shifts outside and voices are heard. Oddly, the basketball court referenced above – in the release notes to Chiltern – could apply to track 8, where an echoing gymnasium-type space is filled with thunkscategories of objects on floors and male exclamations of drills and workouts. Answers received in correspondence with Eric La Casa solve some mysteries of Parazoan Mapping, but, tantalisingly, present many more. The idea was to record electric objects sequenced by a human control system, but precise editing is used to try and create confusion between what’s man and what’s machine, as a comment upon the parallels between the two. Maybe that was a basketball court I dreamed of after all.
Derek Walmsley, The Wire 380, October 2015
So difficult to think of things to say about this release short of simple descriptives. Less "field" than "situational" recordings, I think, some difference there though hard to pinpoint. You might start with the fact that there are fifteen tracks, rather unusual in this neck of the woods, leading one down a snapshot analogy path, which might not be all that far from the deal. But the three main photos on the sleeve, by Éric Coisel, featuring abandoned car hulks in various states of takeover by plants and animals (recalling very much the paintings of John Salt) and a bicycle in the beginning stage of blanketing by beach sand, argue for a more overtly meaning-laden reading. At the same time, the one in the CD tray of a golfer strolling atop a green is almost a cipher, hardly even a snapshot.
I wrote the above then had some communication from La Casa, filling me in somewhat on what actually occurred, saving me the embarrassment of many a wrong guess. In a nutshell, some of the sound sources are from machines with additional controls designed by Unami, more or less household devices but programmed to generate sound in various patterns, many of them rhythm-oriented. These are combined with "naturally occurring" machines in their own habitats as well as human activity sounds, both of which were processed by Unami and La Casa into sequences, again with a kind of rhythm at their core, though not always an obvious one. All this goes to develop some kind of an understand of machine/human relationships. This description may not be entirely accurate but it's much closer than my ears alone would have gotten me.
I'd been confounded early on as to where the balance lay between existing machine sounds and those initiated by the duo. Clearly, things were being turned off and on (the sharp ka-chunks of the switches sometimes prominent), relatively small engines, like those for vacuum cleaners or washing machines, revving up and dying down, the listener hearing both the whir of the engines and, often, affiliated clicks and knocks. Too, these were set within larger spaces so that, as on the first track, you hear cars, birds, etc. You have the impression of a language being spoken though the grammar is alien and obscure. You also get a sense of struggle on the part of the equipment, a constant striving, failing, striving again, failing again. It's rarely aggressive, although the opening rat-a-tat of the second cut will grab your attention as will the buzz-saws on the penultimate track. More often, knowing what I know now, I have the image of larger, modified, somewhat misshapen Roombas trying desperately to interact with their creators. Humans answer back to an extent, in (what I read as) processed kendo classes (plus one with balls of some kind), the wooden taps of a knife slicing vegetables, door hinges squeaking. Track six contains what seems to be spliced switch sounds of varying origin, sequenced in a kind of rhythm that's not really apparent until you squint your ears looking at it, very fascinating, set against an open background with muffled voices and traffic. I'm confident I'm missing a ton here and will peel back layers over time and repeated listens. It's less about aural pleasure, I think, than ideas though once in a while, both combine beautifully. My personal favorite is Track 13, comprised of a mysterious, soft swishing sound that I sometimes hear as a paintbrush scouring a small wooden box though it may well consist of hyper-thin slices of sounds from totally unrelated incidents, rapidly sequenced--a fantastic few minutes, in any case.
"Parazoan Mapping" is quite unique, unlike anything you're likely to encounter elsewhere. Perhaps willfully obscure, you nonetheless have the impression of a huge amount of thought having gone into its production, any obscurity being a necessary byproduct. Bold work, something to return to often, I think. Mandatory listening.
Brian Olewnick Just Outside http://olewnick.blogspot.fr/2015/03/eric-la-casataku-unami-parazoan-mapping.html
With fifteen untitled vignettes and varying source material, Parazoan Mapping often feels like an aural scrapbook. And when looking through any scrapbook, the different photos and pieces of ephemera always point to something bigger: a sort of unraveling of the people contained within. The pictures of your family’s vacation from several years ago may not explicitly show it but you very well understand how then compares to now—that feeling of joy when you conquered your first wave after hours of learning to surf? You know that same dedication has carried into your hobbies today. That picture of mom in her crazy, vibrant dress? You know that’s the same woman you continue to admire for her eccentricities. That picture with everyone eating the ice cream dad bought? You know that’s the same father who sacrificed everything to make you happy since day one. Similarly, Parazoan Mapping may seem like a random assortment of stuff on the surface but La Casa and Unami enhance our appreciation of each individual sound they trace by making known the cohesiveness that exists within the numerous aural landscapes of our everyday.
Parazoans are part of the kingdom Animalia and, when translated, literally mean “beside the animals”. Parazoan Mapping, then, feels like an apt title; it acts both as a signifier of what you’ll hear but also as a statement regarding its function and purpose. Recording from mostly familiar and recognizable settings, La Casa and Unami want us to feel the liveliness of the sounds all around us. Perhaps most exhilarating is the sound of a basketball court on tracks eight through eleven. The first two tracks highlight what’s specifically happening on that court; we’re barraged with the noise of basketballs bouncing and shoes sliding but it’s the mixing and editing here that make the intensity palpable. The thud of each basketball feels surprisingly forceful and the movement of players even becomes dizzying at one point. The following track focuses on those waiting to see the game while the track thereafter combines the two groups of people to showcase the energy radiating from inside the entire gym, both on court and in the stands.
It’s completely unrelated musically-speaking but these tracks naturally made me think of “The Courts” from Jam City’s hugely influential Classical Curves. On that track, Jack Latham utilizes the sounds you’d hear on a court (bouncing basketballs create a 4x4 beat, the sliding of shoes weave in and out) to make the stadium-ready dance number even more grandiose. It’s the relentless excitement we associate with basketball games that informs the listener and consequently makes the track so enthralling. What La Casa and Unami do here though is completely different; they're the guides and we as listeners are invited to explore and understand what’s being heard through close inspections of an object’s timbral qualities. This participatory element isn’t particularly unique when considering these artists’ previous works but what makes this record so satisfying is that in the process of appreciating these seemingly mundane sounds, we see an apparent continuity that exists between them. The ticking on track two sounds similar to the ticking on track three, sure, but they also resemble the isolated rain drops in track five. The sound of someone chopping food with a knife is punctuated by squeaking that undoubtedly sounds like the aforementioned sounds of shoes sliding on a basketball court. And soon after, we’re hearing more quick-moving feet and balls but recontextualized on a tennis court. It’s as if La Casa and Unami are slyly winking at us, telling us that if you enjoyed any of the sounds on one of these tracks, it won’t be long before you enjoy the sounds on every one of them.
Here’s another challenging, provocative album from the recent Erstwhile Records batch. Like a lot of records in this area of late, it’s a tricky blend of styles and approaches, seemingly highly conceptual in nature but without spelling out what its concepts are. That makes it an enjoyably confounding and surprising listen, an album that keeps revealing new pleasures and new details every time I put it on.
Parazoan Mapping consists of 15 untitled tracks, all of them fairly concise (the longest is the first, at just over six minutes). There’s a great deal of variety here, and the sound field often shifts abruptly, but the tracks nevertheless flow seamlessly into one another as a fluid collage. The CD sleeve credits the musicians jointly with “recordings” and “devices,” which makes sense given their respective histories: La Casa works primarily with field recordings, while Unami is an unpredictable figure who, among other things, has assembled handmade motorized noisemaking gadgets. Unami is as always tough to pin down, and in addition to providing recordings of his own may be responsible for any of the odd, often unclassifiable sounds that work their way through the mix across these tracks.
The overall form of the album, with various mechanical or quasi-musical sounds intruding upon or blending with processed and unprocessed field recordings, is pretty familiar from lots of other experiments, both recent and not. But the particular slant that La Casa and Unami take on this aesthetic lends it a freshness, humor, and thematic depth that make this album stand out from any number of superficially similar field recording projects.
That uniqueness becomes apparent early on, though not necessarily during the first track. The longest track here, it’s also the most conventional: a gray, blurry drone of tape hum, unidentifiable rustling, faint insect buzzing, a bus coming to a stop, hints of piano so subtle as to be subliminal. It’s lovely, with surprising nuances packed within its layers of nature sounds and urban bustle, but it’s also precisely what many listeners might expect from an album of field recording collages. Perhaps that’s why this tranquil soundscape gives way, with the second track, to the harsh repetitive pounding of one of Unami’s mechanical gadgets. It’s a jarring transition, but the initial grating repetition soon morphs into a fascinating stop-and-start assemblage of machines warming up, hammering, grinding, buzzing, and jangling. The sound is dense and industrial, like some kind of primitive robot factory; these gadgets, whatever they are, sound more robust and scary than the miniature devices Unami was using the last time I saw him years ago, or else they’re just more closely mic’d and amplified.
Unami has been fairly quiet for the past few years. After a decade of prolific recording, experimenting, and searching, the restless guitarist/composer/sound artist reached a pinnacle with the 2011 masterpiece Teatro Assente (recorded with Takahiro Kawaguchi) and has fallen nearly silent on record ever since. His only albums in the intervening years were a live disc with frequent collaborator Radu Malfatti (recorded around the time Teatro Assente came out) and a sideman slot on Hontatedori with Taku Sugimoto and Moe Kamura. Parazoan Mapping is thus Unami’s first major statement since Teatro Assente, and the new album finds him and La Casa extending and tweaking that predecessor’s destabilizing abstract theater in some unexpected directions.
I’m not trying to slight La Casa in focusing on Unami’s role here, I’m simply less familiar with La Casa’s career. Most of what I’ve heard him on is rather old at this point, but I have enjoyed his work. He’s always struck me as a conceptually sure-footed sound artist. Here, I assume he’s responsible for many/most of the location recordings, both processed and untouched.
The recording situation itself seems to be one of this album’s subjects, which is why I’m trying to work out just how this odd music was made, but it’s not so easy. The CD sleeve is more forthcoming than most recent Erstwhile releases. The recording was done in June 2014 in a number of public and private spaces in Tokyo, including Kawaguchi’s apartment, a sports center (for reasons that will become clear below if you haven’t heard this yet), and performance spaces like Pool Sakuradai and Higurashi-Bunko. An enigmatic “last day of the Unami/La Casa recordings” photo on the Erstwhile site shows Unami perched atop a ladder with a few onlookers clustered below and La Casa, presumably, hunched over something on the ground. This suggests similarities to Teatro Assente, a high-concept session with a great deal of physicality.
That physicality is especially interesting because the album is so dominated by recordings of various kinds. The use of field recordings alongside interjected musical improvisations or additional sounds creates fascinating juxtapositions between different levels of reality. This is, after all, a recording of musicians playing recordings, probably with even further levels of remove nested within. Unami and La Casa’s conceptual shenanigans are a way of reintroducing spontaneity and presence, injecting sounds that exist outside the captured, static sounds of the place recordings – even if, instantly, these new sounds are also captured, rendered static, layered into the tapes.
That interplay between what’s on tape and what’s “live” persists throughout the album. The second and third tracks are dominated by Unami’s motors and machines, but some of the gaps when the motors wind down are filled by birdsong and fragments of speech, suggesting that these sounds are continuously there, unheard beneath the rattling din. On the fourth track, the machines are switched off, but instead the undercurrent of tape hum is overcome by urban noise: vehicles, heavy objects being moved, a fan’s wobbly blades, lively but unintelligible conversation, the sounds of clinking plates and silverware in a restaurant. The rub is figuring out – or figuring out if it matters – which of these sounds were “native” to the room recording and which may have been added by the musicians, either in the moment of the recording or at a later time, reacting to the played-back recording. I find myself thinking that the fan sounds pretty suspicious, that it must be one of the musicians adding that in, and then I wonder why or if it matters. Echoes of Unami’s noisy gadgets can be found in a fan’s whir or a car’s motor, and the heavy footsteps and decontextualized thumps and bumps of Teatro Assente primed listeners to hear ordinary sounds as the theatrical stagings of the musicians.
There’s a rich back-and-forth here between sounds heard for their own sake, as documents of a place, and sounds that are complexly referential and freighted with meaning. The seventh track opens with the rapid slap of a knife on a cutting board, which is a natural analog for the hammering mechanisms from the earlier tracks. A subsequent suite of tracks locates another echo of those mechanical sounds in the slap of a basketball on a wood floor, soon joined by the drill sergeant-like chanting of a gym instructor as footsteps race across the sound field. This is soon supplanted by an even more insistent pattering basketball rhythm, a twin for the loud barrage of stiff beats that was so jarring on the album’s second track. The recording is allowed to play unedited for a bit, before getting spliced and chopped, sections looped so that the bouncing balls take on a stuttery, syncopated rhythm.
Implicitly, such moments question what it means to make music, making connections between Unami’s homemade “instruments” and the similar rhythms that can be found in domestic activities like chopping vegetables or in the frenzied activity of a group sport. Moreover, those near-musical rhythms can be found in the truest sense, recorded and left as is, or they can be manipulated into new forms. And does it matter if a rhythm is arrived at by a musician playing an instrument, by a musician composing through recording and editing, by a natural event, or by an activity not intended to be musical in any way? In this context, does the inclusion of some frantic scribbling and rifling of papers (on the sixth track) refer back to the related concerns of Keith Rowe and Graham Lambkin’s 2013 Erst Making A, which consisted of the sounds of the musicians drawing? That same track features some distinctive clattering noises that might be more of Unami’s gadgets, a guitar being tuned and plucked, the keys of a reed instrument being fluttered, electronic noise, or none of those, merely a vague signifier of some musicianly interference with the background chatter of a public space.
Again and again, these questions about intention, musicianship, materials, and sound bubble up to the surface of this spiky, playful music. They’re basic questions, some of the standard framing questions of 20th Century art music and its descendants, but Unami and La Casa deliver these queries with such charm, curiosity, and humor that they seem fresh again. This is lively music from a pair of artists who take great delight in presenting the rhythms of basketball and tennis games alongside mechanically stomping robots, audio documents of prosaic activity, and noisy drones like the thick clouds of uncertain origin that flow through the album’s final few tracks. This duo makes a gleeful game of playing, and playing with, these recordings, and the result is as irresistibly fun as it is thought-provoking.