Mitchell Akiyama: Small Explosions That Are Yours To Keep
Sub Rosa

On his fourth solo recording Small Explosions That Are Yours To Keep, Montreal-based Mitchell Akiyama uses digital tools and techniques to transform acoustic settings of strings, gamelan percussion, acoustic bass, and saxophones into refracted electroacoustic compositions. He liberally re-shapes pre-recorded sounds of piano, strings, and other instruments and rarely conceals evidence of his music's digital construction; electronic textures are generously included throughout and acoustic instruments are presented in both original and refashioned form. Still, it's easy to overlook the fact that the music in its final form never 'actually happened' but is, instead, a convincing simulacrum realized using source fragments; in fact, Akiyama deliberately includes 'human' traces like breaths and fingers scraping on strings to strengthen the illusion. The album at times approximates an electronic-classical fusion, the latter quality enhanced by string effects that recall the keening, rustic sound heard in Reich's Tehillim; in addition, the compositional style in parts of “But Promise Me” also recalls the American composer's 1981 work.

The album's natural sounds lend the music a warmth and humanity it would otherwise miss and, interestingly, the pieces that work best are those which follow a more straightforward compositional line. The abstract settings meander and consequently engage less (“Overhead Then Exit,” “Suggestions for Walking Alone”) while the formally structured pieces, like the opener “Strategies for Combatting Invisibility,” are more compelling. In that case, tinkling bell strikes and groaning string bowings eventually coalesce into an acoustic bass-driven waltz, with soft smears and typewriter-like clicks exposing its underlying digital character. In “Full Then Felt,” phasing effects stretch string flutter into thrums to an accompaniment of minimal melodica fragments while the memorable title track, driven by jazz-flavoured minimal acoustic bass lines and drum cymbal patterns, overlays gamelan bell patterns with brooding themes.

June 2005