Moskitoo: Mitosis

Ryuichi Sakamoto + Taylor Deupree: Disappearance

Mitosis and Disappearance—two stylistically contrasting releases from 12k but both evidencing the high standard we've come to expect from the long-running label. The first recording is a sparkling collection of glitch-laden vocal pop songs and instrumentals from Tokyo-based Sanae Yamasaki under the Moskitoo name, the other the first collaboration between acclaimed pianist Ryuichi Sakamoto and 12k head Taylor Deupree.

Yamasaki's Moskitoo follow-up to Drape, her 2007 debut album, features twelve songs marked by dream-like swirls of electronic noises and acoustic sounds (vocals, guitars, xylophones, toys). Though the music is heavily scattered with electronic micro-particles, Moskitoo's sound is anything but cold and clinical: the album-opening “Wonder Particle” might begin in pronouncedly glitchtronic mode, for example, but it's humanized when her delicate, breathy voice enters to warm the micro-electronics whirring and clicking in the background; flute and muffled bass tones also appear to give the material a relaxed buoyancy that suggests the warmth of a summer's stroll.

The insistent flutter of electronic micro-organisms aside, the hushed, subtly treated vocal delivery Yamasaki brings to “Fluctuations” even begs comparison to David Lynch's favourite chanteuse Julee Cruise. While a pastoral serenade such as “Fragments of Journey” conveys quiet uplift, “Night Hike” presents a less upbeat side of the Moskitoo sound in its melancholy mood and the sadness expressed in the vocal delivery. If there's one track that perhaps captures the Moskitoo style more than any other, it might be “Velpecula” in the way it merges insectoid micro-noises with airy vocals, acoustic guitar picking, and xylophone accents.

As Mitosis progresses, it becomes clear that the album title wasn't randomly chosen. The scientific term mitosis refers to the division of a cell into two identical sets of chromosomes, and by extension one detects similarly bifurcated strains within her music: between the human and the machine, the electronic and acoustic, the digital and analogue, cold and warm, and so on (the biological bent suggested by the choice of album title also extends to the track title “Fungi”).

It was a concert appearance scheduled for April 27, 2012 at John Zorn's NY club The Stone that planted the seeds for Disappearance as the raw material for the album was laid down during rehearsal sessions at Sakamoto's studio (aside from the ten-minute setting “This Window,” that is, which was actually recorded at the live performance). United in their commitment to meditative soundsculpting, the two opened themselves up to the possibilities of the moment, with the pianist playing the instrument in both natural and prepared manner and Deupree devising sound strategies in collaborative response.

Throughout the recording, scrapes and shuffles emerge alongside ghostly synth whorls and the bright strum of the piano's strings. While the five settings are characterized by a general mood of placidity, occasional undercurrents of turbulence surface within the material (such as when scabrous smears punctuate the crystalline calm of “Frozen Fountain”). While it might appear that the two dramatically change things up by adding the vocal sounds of Ichiko Aoba, a rising singer-songwriter from Tokyo, to the closing piece, “Curl to Me” doesn't depart radically from the style established by the other four tracks. That she contributed the sound of her own heartbeat in addition to her breathy musings makes perfect sense, given Disappearance's textural concentration.

Above all else, what most stands out about the recording is how fully integrated the two contributors' sounds are on the recording, with Sakamoto credited with piano and electronics and Deupree synths, tapes, loops, and acoustic guitar. The worst scenario for the album would have been one that presented the pianist's lyrical melodies and Deupree's soundsculpting treatments side-by-side as entities one could split in two. But, not surprisingly, that's not what we get. Instead, there's a realization of a considerably more effective scenario: their respective sounds interwoven into an indissoluble mass of multi-layered, electroacoustic textures. Sakamoto refrains from playing distinct melodies or themes, aware that doing so would separate his playing too much from the surround. His playing, noticeably sparse, is instead more improv-like and textural, responsive to the rich sound design evolving alongside it.

November 2013