Kazuya Matsumoto: Mizu no katachi

With Mizu no katachi (Shape of Water) sounding so convincingly like an undoctored collection of field recordings, one begins to wonder what exactly Kazuya Matsumoto did aside from gathering the sound files and organizing them into the release's sixteen-track presentation. Appearances are deceiving, of course, and we soon discover that Matsumoto's contributions to his debut album extend far beyond merely sequencing the nature sounds: not only did he gather the base materials over a five-year period, he subtly inserted himself into the recordings by using percussion instruments such as the Hamon, Dora, and singing bowl, as well as other sound-generating objects. Matsumoto's percussive contributions typically blend so indissolubly with the nature sounds, it's sometimes impossible to separate the two.

Central to Matsumoto's approach is a focus on the resonance of the overall sound design as opposed to conventional musical scale and melodies, and integral to the album's water-themed soundworld is the Suikinkutsu, a Japanese garden ornament whose soothing, echo-laden dribble appears a number of times on Mizu no katachi: “Fureru” (touch), “Tataku” (knock), “Naderu” (stroke), and “Kosuru” (rub) all present peaceful dialogues between the Hamon, a metal sound device, and the Suikinkutsu. But water isn't the only sound on the recording: frogs awakening from winter sleep and birds are heard alongside churning water and soft bell tones during “Tamemizusuru tetsuno tama,” while insects, chirping and cuckooing birds, and the croak of the Nebatago frog appear in “Meinou to utakata.”

As illustrations of just how small the distance is between Matsumoto and nature, “Odoru minamo” sees him using the ripples of a lake's surface as a sound element, whereas “Higurashi sonohigurashi” documents him augmenting the stirring wail of cicadas with the muffled roars of a large Dora. Some tracks are miniatures focusing on single elements; others are more elaborate and akin to carefully shaped collages. By way of example, the twelve-minute “Tsuyu no owari to natsu no hajimari” advances through many stages, with dense rainfall initially dominant and the soundworld gradually expanding to include birds, cicadas, and bell tones.

On a final note, mention must be made of the visual aspect. SPEKK has treated Matsumoto's material with care, from the large format of the package to the eight-page insert that displays photos and clarifying text (in Japanese and English) for each of the sixteen tracks. It's a fortunate artist indeed who's able to see his/her work presented so elaborately.

February 2016