Yoshio Machida: Steelpan Improvisations: 2001-2008

We reviewed sound artist Yoshio Machida's Baskaru release Hypernatural #3 last summer but this new release is a completely different animal: a fifty-four-minute collection of live Steelpan recordings performed between 2001 and 2008 in Holland, Germany, Finland, and Tokyo. Sequenced chronologically, the nine pieces trace Machida 's bold handling of the strikingly exotic instrument.

His original approach involved downplaying its Caribbean associations to emphasize its Gamelan-like potential and to allow the influence of Indian traditional music to surface. Mid-decade, he brought the instrument into a contemporary technological context by manipulating live Steelpan playing using Max/MSP processing to create a drone sound similar to the tampura in Indian music (the material sounds conspicuously “electronic” at the June 2005 performance at Loop-line in Tokyo). Unlike the hard, percussive sound in the recording's 2001 and 2002 pieces, the Steelpan's notes are less sharply defined and more liquid-like when subjected to the Max/MSP treatments. When Machida performs at ICC in Tokyo in 2006, the Steelpan's sound turns even more malleable, with clangorous accents heard against a flickering stream of electronic fluidity. Interestingly, Machida thereafter decided to scale back the computer-based manipulations in order to let the acoustic sound of the instrument move to the fore. Consequently, the three closing pieces exude a natural character that brings the album full circle. That dimension is strengthened even more by the inclusion of environmental sounds in the 2007 piece recorded at The Bathhouse Gallery in Tokyo (the traffic sounds in particular are so loud they at times compete with his playing). Admittedly, an album of Steelpan playing wouldn't be at the top of my list of “desert island” recordings but Machida goes a long way towards making a compelling case for the instrument as a viable vehicle for experimental music-making.

April 2009