Aki Tsuyuko: Hokane (2006)

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Aki Tsuyuko: Hokane
The visual element in Aki Tsuyuko's music, amply emphasized in the shiny 48-page hardcover book of drawings that comes with Hokane, presents itself almost immediately in the swirling mist that opens the record. Step into the fairy land, beckons Tsuyuko, and let me be your guide. But her music would be far better suited for a cartoon film—that is, images in motion, not static ones on a page. It's got a surreal combination of childlike naivete and nostalgic romanticism, and it travels through a series of miniature episodes marked by occasional humor.

To take that idea further, the cartoon artist, Tsuyuko, actively becomes one of the characters in her story, passing in and out of the mist, adding feather-light vocals to the very digital universe she has created. Other than bits and pieces of her brother's voice used as (drab) color on one track, all of this music comes exclusively from Tsuyuko's own fingertips and voice. To say that Hokane is off the beaten track is simply to respect the singular vision embedded during its creation.

I once saw Aki Tsuyuko on stage doing a dual-laptop gig with Nobukazu Takemura, a master of laptop glitch electronica. His music was fluidly coordinated with her cartoon images, performing together in real time on a big screen behind them. The way those lifelike creatures sang and danced, it was like finally having the whole experience as it was meant to happen in the first place: electronic music brought to life.

In a twisted diminutive Japanese version of the music of Stalling and Esquivel, Tsuyuko strings together little vignettes with contrasting character on this disc, adding a generous helping of surprise along the way. Her music is usually woozy and occasionally repetitive. It's totally uninteresting at a timbral or performance level—pretty clearly synthetic, and the pieces, some of which are reprinted in sheet form in the book, demand no virtuosity. Lots of counterpoint, simple lines, simplistically interwoven textures... that's about it.

But take a step back, suspend your expectations and let Hokane move along at its own pace, and there's something rejuvenating and charming about the experience. Aki Tsuyuko's fairy world can make you feel ten again.

Track Listing: Como Suite; Owlet Hymn; Bud of a Song; Dune and Clarinet; Zou and Choi; Aquilo; Noel's Organ; Rainbow Train; Dance at Happy Night.

Personnel: Aki Tsuyuko: Kawai Dreamatone; harp, pump-pump organ computer, voice, etc., images & design; Kouki Tsuyuko: vocal (3). Book design and layout: Jason Pickleman, JNL Design.

Record Label: Thrill Jockey

Style: Electronica


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