Makino and Kudo revel in a laudable commitment to their strange mishmash of sounds and styles.
The reliably strange Black Truffle label has nearly outdone itself on its latest, a collaboration between the pianist Tori Kudo and electronic artist Kayo Makino. Originally conceived as in-between set music for an Eiko Ishibashi performance, Ein Traum Fur Dich is a curious album that collides Makino’s experimental collage and noise techniques with Kudo’s plunky, minimalistic piano playing. Each of the two sidelong pieces is bizarre in its own fashion; the album’s overall tone is an unflinchingly individual approach to this mixture, not so much a blending of styles as it is a rigid stack of one on top of the other.
The record’s first side is made up of a liberally interpreted performance of Satie’s “En y regardant á deux fois,” the first of the Danses de travers from Pièces froides, a set of solo piano pieces composed in 1897. The compositional style is somewhere between Debussy’s impressionism and Philip Glass’ Metamorphosis series. Some performers lean towards a soft, wavelike approach to the piece’s arpeggiated melody, but Kudo brings out the inherent playfulness of Satie’s music, bouncing along and throwing in lengthy, clever pauses between harmonic shifts. At first listen, it’s an interesting interpretation of the piece, and Makino’s introduction of a separate take of Kudo’s performance out of phase with the first is a surprising but welcome addition.
As the jaunty melody repeatedly cycles and overlaps itself, the piece becomes maddening in a way akin to some of the tracks from Unseen Worlds’ recent Carl Stone reissues. If you hyper-focus, each subtle gesture and new harmony formed out of the clash carries the piece into new territory, such as the way the dissonant but steady counterpoint around the six-minute mark shifts toward rolling, low-end muddiness just two minutes later. Even so, the phrase does become a sort of torture by the conclusion of “En y regardant…” Its drilling pace hits like needles every time it restarts, and its more than catchy enough to remain lodged in your head, haunting you while you try to sleep.
The album’s second side, “Pianoise ‘2018.12.1 or Last Super Flux’,” features more nuanced piano playing as well as a more unique electronic counterpart. Compared to the phasing effects and understated field recordings on Ein Traum Fur Dich’s first side, “…Last Super Flux” finds Makino delivering swathes of buzzing noise. Along with some ghoulish, time-stretched vocals, the effect is so grotesque that it eventually overtakes Kudo’s pleasant piano motif. The quasi-calypso melody never fully exits, though, and the climactic interplay between the hulking, industrial noise and Kudo’s unfazed performance of the core melody around halfway through the track is one of the album’s truly great moments.
Kudo slowly modulates the piano melody toward more complicated, jazz-influenced harmonies in the track’s final minutes as the energy and volume of Makino’s electronics ebb and flow. When the two elements are at an equal volume, the sheer oddity of the sound combination reveals itself: grating, metallic electronics and piano that sounds like Charlie Brown-meets-The Köln Concert isn’t an obvious pairing. Despite this, the result is engrossing, even powerful as the track concludes with solo piano over a bed of nature sounds. Ein Traum Fur Dich isn’t necessarily a perfect or easy listen, but Makino and Kudo revel in a laudable commitment to their strange mishmash of sounds and styles. If it doesn’t soar on record, perhaps its original incarnation as some of the most twisted background music around might be the key to understanding this music.