Otomo Yoshihide: Multiple Otomo

An encompassing presentation of Otomo Yoshihide's provocative style and methodology, The Multiple Otomo Project pairs eighteen CD pieces (‘Monochrome') with thirty on DVD (‘Multiple'). In terms of sound generation strategies, he's clearly not concerned about concealing his methods, as both the titles (“Violin Bow with Handmade Needle,” “Contact Mic,” “Tone Generator”) and the DVD render his approach largely transparent—all the better for the listener and viewer who gains an enhanced appreciation for his approach by set's end. No longer puzzling over how he produces his sounds, one instead ponders the musicality of said results. Yoshihide definitely pushes the limits but open-minded listeners will be engaged by these uncompromising explorations. Wrenching screeches and hums from guitars, turntables, and electronic devices in unconventional manner, he effects a wholesale reconsideration of a given instrument's sonic possibilities.

Fashioned from feedback, static, random radio noise, and sine wave experiments, the ‘Monochrome' settings are often brutalizing (“Records I,” “Cut Records,” “Guitar and Rasps”) though surprisingly restrained too (“Handmade Generator”). The textural drift of “Surface and Sinewave” is at times downright peaceful, while the dissonant screeches that emerge during “Turntable Feedback II” verge on painful. In “Violin Bow with Handmade Needle,” a slow-moving stream of creaks, screeches, and mangled voices adds up to an eight-minute torture session soundtrack, while “Records II” offers a lurching slab of heavy-metal sludge that even includes beats. “Prepared Guitar” reveals a sensitive handling of space where resonant plucks and strums are given room to breathe.

The thirty video segments (by Masako Tanaka, Michelle Silva, and Tim Digulla) creatively exploit multi-frame displays, close-ups, and dizzying jump-cutting but the focus largely stays on the sound-generation process. Seen playing guitar, abusing the turntable, and dragging needles across vinyl surfaces, Yoshihide is clearly not interested in weaving vinyl bits into compositions but exploring sound possibilities using physical means. The collection's moods range from meditative and funereal (“Plucks,” “Turntable Graveyard”) to violent (the punk thrash of “Yellow Record,” “Quadrant,” the ear-piercing shriek of “Luminous,” the blistering guitar shards of “Frets” and “Corrosion”). Actually seeing the strategies he uses to generate his sounds is fascinating, whether it's stretching an elastic band from the tone arm to the central knob to generate pizzicatos (“Plucks”), literally melting vinyl (“Burner”), using tinfoil as a stylus to produce sounds from grooves (“Tinfoil”), or drenching the record with thick, paint-like glop (“Color Liquid”).

September 2007