Otherworldly Improvisation (series: Listen Here! part 8)

Koto and modular synth.

by Dave Skipper


Although I often prefer the more aggressive streams of noise music, that is by no means my exclusive modus operandi. Calmer versions of noise excursions veer into such territories as ambient musics, soundtrack work, explorations in microsound, prepared acoustic instruments, and the wide umbrella of improvised music. My overlap into the world of free improv in Tokyo’s underground music scene/s has led me to enjoy the creativity and friendship of a diverse array of electronic and acoustic musicians. The playground in sound inhabited by these improvisers incorporates both expected and unexpected forays into rhythms, melodies, textures, techniques, dynamics, and noises.


Primarily, though, it’s in the collaborative interplay between musicians that the real magic often takes place. Listening, bouncing off, call and response, tumbling, colliding, colluding, surprising, converging, diverging, submerging, emerging, delighting. In the collaboration zone there is more often than not no discussion, rehearsal, plan, or score. Musicians get to know each other through the mutual bond of sound, equally contributed to. Relationships deepen unspoken. Although I dip relatively infrequently into this not-noise-but-fully-open-to-noise strand of the underground, it is always very enriching to do so. Some of my repeat co-conspirators include improvisers on turntables, sax, vocals, and guitar.


One of the more intriguing and satisfying collaborations I have had the privilege of enjoying was with a local koto player. The koto, being a traditional Japanese stringed instrument with a long history, usually comes hand-in-hand with a strict tradition of expected techniques, repertoire, performance contexts, and so on. Hitomi is an unusual koto player in that she seeks to find freedom of expression outside normal koto culture. I have always loved the sound of the koto, it’s haunting tones and magical sound a treasure to my ears, so I jumped at the chance to play together. Melding noise-tinged ambient timbres from my electronic modular synth with the acoustic purity and twang of the koto was an intriguing prospect. True to form, we had no prior discussion before embarking on our collaboration, but just dove in and felt our way along.

Listen Here!

So, please enjoy the results in the video below. The audio recording is just from the video camera, but it is sufficient (in headphones, PLEASE LISTEN IN HEADPHONES!) to appreciate enough of the form and subtleties of the performance. This is my most-watched YouTube video by a country mile with more than 1000 views, not bad at all! (The attentive ears of modular nerds will notice soon enough that the Make Noise Erbe-Verb is the protagonist here on the electronic side of the equation!)


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