Fred Frith & Ikue Mori: A Mountain Doesn’t Know It’s Tall

Mark Corroto By

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Have you experienced a performance of John Cage's composition "4:33"? If you are not familiar, while studying Zen Buddhism, Cage wrote "four minutes, thirty-three seconds" to be performed solo or in any combination of instruments or players. The instructions were for the performers to NOT play their instruments for the allotted 273 seconds. Their 'silence' was not silence at all. The audience was immersed in the environmental sounds of the concert hall, amphitheater, or room. What one heard was the 'noise' (Cage's notes) of the space, which could be the audience's muffled coughs and breathing, and the wind or creaky chairs, and if you listened closely enough, one's own heartbeat.

That same Zen Buddhist experience is available to you with Fred Frith and Ikue Mori's A Mountain Doesn't Know It's Tall. Not that the pair played nothing, but the sounds they created could easily be those heard during a performance of "4:33," at least one performed on an orbiting space station's soundstage. Frith, first known for his guitar work in Henry Cow and Art Bears and later as bassist for John Zorn's Naked City, only picks up a guitar on two of the fifteen tracks here. Mostly it is home—made instruments, toys and unidentified objects that he (plays?) manipulates. That same massage happens with Mori's electronics. Her progression from drumming in the downtown trio DNA with Arto Lindsay in the late 1970s and early 80s to drum machines in Death Ambient evolved to laptop electronics. Mori can be heard with Satoko Fujii, Mette Rasmussen, Ken Vandermark, and Wadada Leo Smith, to name just a few musicians. Like Frith, in improvisation circles, she is in high demand.

That Zen connection is the motivation here. After scoring music for a radio play and soundtrack, both Zen Buddhist-related, Frith and Mori found they had an extra studio day. These 15 tracks came together, not as random improvisations, but more like a continuous whole. The music is, if anything, extraterrestrial. Woolly electronics, are they emanating from the body, the soul, or the mind? Does the Bladerunner have a dial-up modem? Is there a basilica on the moon? Mori's sound has evolved from beats to an electric elocution. Her language is circuits and atmospheres. Frith and Mori participate in a cyborg dialogue, part binary code/part organic. If we haven't told you enough about the actual sounds, that's because everyone hears something different during "4:33."

Track Listing

Bodaishin; The Biggest Lie; Stirred by Wind and Waves; Nothing to It; Fushiryō; The Biggest Idiots; Nothing at All; Shōdōka; Good for What?; The Same Moon Sometimes Seems to Smile; Things as They Are; Hishiryō; A Thief Breaks into an Empty House; Now Here; Samadhi.


Additional Instrumentation

Fred Frith: home-made instruments, various toys and objects, electric guitar; Ikue Mori: Laptop electronics.

Album information

Title: A Mountain Doesn’t Know It’s Tall | Year Released: 2021 | Record Label: Intakt Records

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