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Keith Rowe / Toshimaru Nakamura: Between

John Eyles By

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Although it was released some six months ago, there has been a reluctance to rush into print with judgments of this album. In common with other Erstwhile releases, this is music that takes time to properly percolate into the brain and leave its mark.

Together and separately, Rowe and Nakamura are Erstwhile's most recorded artists and, with this album, the first grouping to have a second release on the label. Their first, Weather Sky was recorded and released in 2001. At the time, it sounded revolutionary and extraordinary; Nakamura's use of no-input mixing board to subtly shape and modulate a series of hisses was comparatively new and unheard. Today, Weather Sky remains an extraordinary piece of work, but it hardly sounds as revolutionary, a measure of the changes that have happened in the intervening five years. Where once it was uncommon for "electronics" to be listed among a musician's credits, today it seems more uncommon for it not to be.

Mainly studio recorded in July 2005, between contains just five tracks totalling well over two hours. It is a much more extreme work than Weather Sky. It has extremes of volume, frequency and tonal quality, and it makes extreme demands of the listener; it can be very difficult to listen to it in its entirety from start to finish. I was reminded of the "health warning" on the recent Paul Rutherford album Iskra3 (Psi, 2006)—"The music on this CD is rich and concentrated; it is not necessarily intended that it all be heard in one listening"—true of Rutherford's album, even more so here.

For evidence, one need look no further than the opener, "Vienna." Starting at an extremely low volume level, it temps one to turn it up high, to reveal the details that are lost at "normal" volume—and it doesn't disappoint, as a wealth of microdetail is revealed, including strange, ghostly disembodied whispering sounds and shortwave radio hiss. Nakamura's ability to produce a seemingly endless variety of subtly differing hisses takes time to appreciate, but it is an investment of time that is worthwhile; to appreciate the nuances of Nakamura is to begin to hear in a different way.

But there are penalties to pay for succumbing to the temptation to turn this album up loud; sudden unexpected, unheralded spikes of noise or intense bursts with a chilling fingernails-dragged-down-a-blackboard tonal quality are nerve shredding! And repeated listening does nothing to lessen their impact.

Across the five tracks, there are great contrasts. If "Vienna" is largely spartan, "13630 kHz" is at the other extreme, dominated by sounds of awesome power including bass frequencies that one feels more than hears as they move internal organs around. Finally, the album's highlight, "Amann," has an ominous brooding feel, generated by a rumbling low-frequency drone, that creates and sustains a sense of impending doom and never fails to get the adrenalin pumping more reliably than any high-octane rock music. Beautiful and scary.

Uneasy listening throughout, but also strangely addictive listening. Raw power.


Track Listing: Vienna; July; 13630 kHz; Lausanne; Amann.

Personnel: Keith Rowe: guitar, electronics; Toshimaru Nakamura: no-input mixing board.

Title: Between | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: Erstwhile Records

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