Oba Masahiro: Prot
Symbolic Interaction

The second release in Symbolic Interaction's “Pragmatism” series, Prot's essentially a split release with Oba Masahiro's twenty-four-minutes occupying the first half and the four remixers' tracks the second. Born in 1988, Masahiro developed saxophone and laptop proficiency while in high school and currently performs in an ambient quartet named “nemuri” and is involved in laptop solo/collaboration performances. Interestingly, saxophone plays no audible part in his five pieces with Masahiro instead concentrating on piano, electronics, beat programming, and field recordings as sound sources.

In the prelude “Baku,” a pretty vibes melody shimmers against a busy mix of field recording elements (voices, traffic, typewriter). A woman slowly recites English text over a placid base of piano, synthesizer, and programmed beats during “Still.” Halfway through, a brief breakdown of electronic squiggles occurs, followed by a breezier and jazzier upgrade of the opening section. With its static-drenched and rain-soaked streams of processed piano chords, the meditative setting “Flit” brings a 12k-styled dimension to Masahiro's recording. Oddly enough, the most appealing original is the title piece, a graceful solo acoustic piano setting where Masahiro's well-handled slowing of tempo enhances the pastoral effect.

The four remixers drastically overhaul the originals, sometimes so much that very little trace of the original remains. The rain elements are retained but Freiband otherwise mutates “Flit” into weaves of elastic clicks, whooshes, and high-pitched signals. Set In Sand wraps “Oeil” in mangled voices and layers of electronic whirr and click, almost burying the original within it. Aoki Shintaro adds wind chimes, electronics, and field elements to “Prot,” a natural strategy given the stark arrangement of the original; Shintaro's makeover stays true to the reflective spirit of Masahiro's piece, but it can't match the beauty of the unadorned piano rendition. The most satisfying of the overhauls is a bit of a surprise too, in that Motoro Faam's “Still” is upgraded into a throbbing techno workout, a move which proves to be a not unwelcome treatment in this non-dance-oriented collection.

Masahiro shows promise but, with the five pieces amounting to an EP, there's barely enough material included for one to get a really solid handle on his abilities, though the blend of funky electronic programming and piano-heavy smooth jazz that constitutes “Oeil” sounds like it could be his most natural stylistic path.

February 2009