February 10, 2006

Tetuzi Akiyama "Pre-Existence"

This CD begins with the most atonal acoustic guitar chord I’ve ever heard in my life. It sounds as if a toddler got a hold of the guitar five minutes before the artist started playing, and inadvertently re-tuned it to the key of Z. This chord is then dragged even further away from consonance by a bottleneck slide across the frets. I heard plucking and knocking noises that sounded like strings popping and nuts being wrenched from their bridges. The strings buzzed so hard that the sound caused discomfort to my ears. Everything the guitarist played was played very slowly, and usually between long gaps of silence. After almost four minutes, the song ended. The only reason why I knew this was because I stared at the timer on my CD player for its entirety. I then looked at the CD booklet and noticed that the song is called “Atheist.” It was appropriate, considering that the song had just dismantled my expectations of what an acoustic guitar should sound like with the same vehemence that an argumentative atheist would dismantle a Christian’s belief in Jesus. If you think I’m exaggerating, let me rephrase it: this song makes Jandek sound like Enya in comparison.

Tetuzi Akiyama is a guitarist associated with the Tokyo improvisational scene. He has been playing guitar for almost 30 years, and has formed various bands during the ‘80s and ‘90s. He played with the legendary Keiji Haino in the band Nijiumu, and at one point even took up viola to form a classical string quartet. Put simply, he isn’t some random charlatan who mangles his instrument and calls it “experimental.” Anyone who doubts his ability to play conventional music should seek out another of his 2005 releases, Route 13 to the Gates of Hell. During the first half, he plays pretty blues meditations on his acoustic; during the second half, he plugs in his electric and churns out fuzzy boogie-rock. Pre-Existence, the album from which “Atheist” is taken, is an entirely different story. Part of Locust Music’s Wooden Guitar series, it finds Akiyama playing an album’s worth of acoustic improvisations built almost entirely off of queasy dissonance, violent prepared techniques and ominous negative space.

On “Reinforcement,” Akiyama plays harmonics and solitary notes that ring out with the clarity of dulcimers, and then interrupts them with rattling noises that sound like the closing of creaking doors. The fourth song, “Fireside,” contains majestic open chords that have actually been played by other people before. The next song, “Hollowness,” briefly hints at meter before abandoning it mere seconds later. Portions of “Mutuality” sound as if Akiyama is hitting the strings with a random metal object. On “Condemnation,” unison strings are made slightly out of tune with each other to generate warbling beat frequencies as he plays them, a technique which is employed quite often by the guitarists in Sonic Youth. On the closing track, “Yearnings,” Akiyama actually repeats some of the riffs he plays, and it feels like I’ve just seen a ray of light peeking out of a dark cloud during an all-day thunderstorm.

I can’t lie...Pre-Existence was tough going for me, even though I listen to loud and dissonant music on a regular basis. This was my first exposure to Akiyama’s music, and I had to do research on him and listen to some of his other works before I had the desire to give it a second listen. Even now, it’s not something that I will frequently listen to for pleasure. However, I respect the thought that was put into it, and will continue to seek out more of his work, if only as a challenge to myself.

--Sean Padilla

Artist’s Website: http://www.japanimprov.com/takiyama
Label Website: http://www.locustmusic.com

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