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Experimental composer Koji Asano explores the beauty and terror of electronic sound

Wednesday, Apr 25 2001
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Over the past six years, composer has explored the beauty and the terror of experimental sound on 20 self-produced CDs for his Barcelona-based label Solstice. An adept pianist and guitarist, the 27-year-old Tokyo native has improvised solo concerts and played noisy, altrock-ish instrumental tunes in various combos throughout Europe. He's also scored pieces for string quartets and orchestras. But his more recent work eschews the well-worn path of familiar musicmaking contexts for a less traveled route involving feedback, computers, and electronics.

On The Last Shade of Evening Falls 4/4 -- the grand finale of a 260-minute composition issued on four separate albums -- Asano takes a recording of original music performed by the violinist and contrabassist in his Tokyo Ensemble and reconfigures the sounds in the studio, using computer processing and digital editing equipment. The trancelike results blend variously pitched synthesized drones with a looping bottom-end riff that somewhat mimics a video game soundtrack. Think of it as the meditation music you'd find at a hot-wired ashram, with PlayStation burbling in the background. It's surprisingly beautiful until about halfway through, at which point the drones breach the upper register, your fillings begin to resonate, and a thousand needles stab your earholes.

Asano goes for even more aural extremes on Momentum, a solo recording derived from live electronics and controlled microphone feedback. If you've ever stuck your head inside a PA cabinet at a concert and become one with the pulsing membrane of the loudspeaker, then you know where this artist is coming from. He manipulates disparate noises -- subterranean hums and thumps, midrange buzzes and crackles, piercing high-end cries -- into a well-developed sound sculpture that's fascinating, frightening, and at times painful to the naked ear. The best parts are when he plays crunchy static as if he were the lead drummer in a New Orleans marching band. Most likely, he'll perform similar feats during his debut tour of the Bay Area. Earplugs are strongly advised.

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Sam Prestianni

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