Susumu Yokota: Symbol
Lo Recordings

Yokota weaves samples, most of them classical, into often mesmerizing electronic wholes on Symbol, with songs like the wistful opener “Long, Long Silk Bridge” and “Fairy Dance of Twinkle and Shadow” as sonically striking as their titles suggest. In one of the strongest pieces, “Purple Rose Minuet,” Yokota arranges fragments of Debussy's “Claire de lune,” Arabic vocal ululations, harpsichord filigrees, and orchestral bombast into a sparkling multi-layered fusion that shouldn't work yet somehow does. Unlike some sample-based artists, Yokota hardly camouflages the identity of his source material; samples of Meredith Monk and Steve Reich, for instance, appear liberally on “The Dying Black Swan” and “Blue Sky and Yellow Sunflower” respectively. Sometimes that's a problem; tastelessly coupling a string sample from Mahler's Fifth Symphony “Adagietto” with techno beats in “Symbol of Life, Love, and Aesthetics” does neither Yokota nor the Viennese composer any favours.

A couple of pieces veer a little closely to New Age bombast for their own good (the World Music episode “Flaming Love and Destiny,” all sawing strings, dramatic vocals, and cymbal crashes, and the raucous “Capriccio and the Innovative Composer”); more satisfying by comparison are quieter, melancholy vignettes like “The Dying Black Swan” and “I Close the Door Upon Myself.” Yokota wisely closes the album in similarly delicate manner with “Music from the Lake Surface ,” a pretty coda of strings, piano, and voice that reprises the Mascagni sample to haunting effect.

Still, as pretty as the music often is and as imaginative as Yokota's treatment of the source material may be, the worm at this apple's core is that it's at root parasitical, or at least remains too conspicuously so when samples are left unaltered. Furthermore, sometimes the sheer number of quotations incorporated into a given song is excessive (“Symbol of Life, Love, and Aesthetics” and “Song of the Sleeping Forest”) and at times their juxtaposition can be jarring; Monk's voice doesn't really merge comfortably with marimba patterns at the beginning of “Song of the Sleeping Forest,” for example, though the lovely orchestral elements (the “Intermezzo” from Mascagni's Cavalleria rusticana and Ravel's “Pavane pour une infante défunte”) that follow definitely do, making for one of the album's most affecting moments.

July 2005