Saito Koji: Beautiful

Ornamenting an arsenal of guitars, keyboards, and piano with various effects and field recordings, Fukushima, Japan-born Saito Koji builds repetitive loop improvisations into enveloping sound masses. Beautiful finds Koji creating a single-track ambient dreamscape of epic proportions and ethereal design with a simple piano loop as the mantra-like nucleus. An almost-impenetrably dense blanket of vaporous textures surges and swells around the piano's cascading six-note theme, and the listener is encouraged to dive into Koji's ocean of sound and lose him/herself for forty-three minutes before re-surfacing. Not that Beautiful is a “religious” work in any conventional sense, but its static and time-arresting design does give it an Ikon-like character not unlike sacred objects of religious worship. Given that there's no dramatic development and no deviation in key, just incessant blurry waves within which the piano motif repeats, the listener will respond to the work much as he/she would to a Rorschach Test: one listener will be seduced by the rapturous character of the piece and declare herself mesmerized, another will reject it as repetitious in the extreme and bemoan its lack of development. I'm somewhere in the middle: more than a little receptive to the idea of a long-form ambient “sculpture” but not averse to development either. In short, I wonder how much more effective Koji's piece would be had he incrementally adjusted the volume from beginning to end, and had the theme's key ascended in micro-steps too as it inched progressively heavenward.

June 2009