These three outstanding musicians opened their Japanese tour in the intimate surroundings of a small lower basement venue in Tokyo. Following a proper concert programme, the first half consisted of Kishino, Kawabata and Tanaka performing in a cycle of duos; the second half an orchestrated maelstrom of the trio collectively sculpting a soundscape of morphing dimensions.
Kishino took centre stage, operating his software through various finger pad swirls, audio-mulching and occasional screaming into a contact mic. He has progressively fine-tuned his performance with this set-up to generate a series of atmospheric multi-layered veils of sound – sometimes lugubrious shrouds, other times glistening mist. While those preferring KK Null’s classic 1990s noise attacks might find Kishino’s work off-topic, he has long moved from those narrow tropes to generate a strangely theatrical take on the quasi-televisual aspects of his sounds. In any one set he might deftly switch from 1960s Russian sci-fi films to 1970s giant robot electricity even through to 90s electronica – but always pushing their sonic characteristics somewhere in the red. It’s a challenging and fascinating amalgam of styles, arguably more polyglotic than most attempts to be diverse within the territory of exploratory music. Importantly, it’s the deployment of theatrical imagery in sound which marks Kishino’s difference (and separation) from the dogged pursuit of abstraction which determines Max MSP-oriented excursions into unadulterated noise.
Similarly, Kawabata bears the tattoos and scars of noise-making from decades of fuzzed guitar monumentalism, and like Kishino, he now sifts through his own history to provide a series of strategies and gestures which jar and excite from one moment to the next. If Kishino’s history via Zeni Geva is one rooted in the punk/metal/noise nexus, Kawabata’s history via Acid Mothers Temple reaches further back into the sonic decimations of the original group sounds (GS) phenomenon of 60s Japan. While punk was always from the outset antagonistic and confrontational, GS was a form of pop plugged into too much electricity. On the surface it resembles British beat or American stomp combo rock from the same era, but the Japanese form of imitation created an overloaded hyperactive explosion of those subgenres. Kawabata’s guitar playing tonight is like a time-warping jukebox, randomly cross-wiring blues lines, fuzzed waterfalls and harsh digital sword swipes. It is masterly and breathtaking in its sophisticated technique and vertiginous effect.
Bearing a shorter history of performance than her counterparts, Tanaka nonetheless provides an inspired and active engagement with her own trajectory of sound-making. Ranging from traditional shamisen playing and joruri singing (a beautiful and chilling form of narration) to onkyo-style dissonance and digital abruption to fractured free-improv transformations of her shamisen into a multi-percussive prepared string contraption, Tanaka generates an unworldly amalgam of identifiable and unrecognizable sonics. Like Kishino and Kawabata, she concentrates not only on moments, passages and gestures – to create hovering snapshots of texture and grain – but also on unexpected transitions and sudden switches. The result bore schizophrenic formations of the liberating kind, and her contribution to the overall sound greatly expanded the aural perimeter of the trio’s colourfully miasmal music.
But perhaps the most fascinating thing about this performance is not simply witnessing three skilled performers dancing on that vibrating tightrope of live improvised music – the kind that sometimes deteriorates into a circus of humanist display. The concert’s programme of duos and a trio gave the audience multiple perspectives on the sonic identities conjured by the performers. And not just their own identities: Kishino, Kawabata and Tanaka effortlessly zap through cross-referenced histories of Japanese music over the past 100 years, sometimes overt, but mostly densely entwined in the rapid spurts of parallel energies which retain their musics’ identity. I’ve often found modern and contemporary improv somewhat skeletal when it engages in issues of representation, where a slightly mocking tone rises from a radical musician decimating something more conventionally musical. In painting, these ideas were debated during postwar abstract expression; music often still belabours those binaries. Kishino, Kawabata and Tanaka joyfully operate in a realm beyond, where music-making and noise-making enjoy their glorious mutation.