Before coming together in this duo, the Chilean acoustic guitarist Cristián Alvear and the Japanese percussionist Seijiro Murayama were both well-established Potlatch artists. Alvear has built a reputation as a performer of compositions by Wandelweiser members such as Jürg Frey and Antoine Beuger, as exemplified by his fine album of Michael Pisaro pieces Melody, Silence (Potlatch, 2015). Seijiro is represented on the label by a pair of 2011 duo albums alongside French improvising saxophonists, Window Dressing with Jean-Luc Guionnet and Axiom for the Duration with Stéphane Rives.
However, knowledge or experience of the pair's previous releases is unlikely to fully prepare anyone for what they will hear on Karoujite. The album title (which translates from Japanese as "scarcely") and its cover (which repeats one small photograph of the musicians again and again) may be intended to drop hints about the content. The album has three tracks, running for just over forty-one minutes. Recorded in Mishima, Japan, in October 2016. they are titled "À Peine 1, 2 & 3," which indicates that they should be considered as parts of a greater whole. With reassuring consistency, "à peine" translates from French as "scarcely," which is fitting as the word applies to several aspects of the duo's music on the album.
So, for extended periods the playing features much repetition, meaning it scarcely develops or changes. The repetition does not resemble that produced by a tape loop or loop pedal, but sounds far more human and less metronomic or robotic. As Alvear plucks the same note over and over, there are slight differences in his timing and attack that are scarcely detectable. Behind him, Seijiro's subtle percussive scrapes on cymbals are just varied enough to prevent the music sounding static, but are totally in keeping with the guitar's repetitions. Neither guitar nor percussion would stand alone, but together they work well.
This is not music that can "just be on"; it needs to be given full attention to be properly appreciated. When time and attention are invested in it, the music handsomely repays the investment, giving a great deal back and revealing ever more subtle detail with each listen. The three tracks have elements in common but are distinctly different enough to be individually identifiable. Together they combine to create a listening environment that is by turns engaging and mesmerising.
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