Dustin Wong’s loops reach an ‘Ecstatic’ finale

by James Hadfield

Special To The Japan Times

Using just his six-string and a set of effect pedals, Tokyo-based guitarist Dustin Wong creates blissful symphonies of chirps and cascading arpeggios, shot through with searing leads and throbbing bass pulses. At times they recall the exuberant psychedelia of Animal Collective or the heady experiments of 1970s German synth innovators Manuel Göttsching and Cluster; at others they sound more like a duel between thumb pianos, or Malian guitarist Ali Farka Touré in a hall of mirrors.

Wong is hardly the first solo guitar player to multiply himself with delays and loop pedals, but while many of his contemporaries use those tools to summon heavy drones or repetitive minimalist pieces, his music is far more intricate and playful. “Create a loop, cook breakfast, drink coffee, have it playing,” he says, gently mocking the typical approach of his peers. “I feel like there’s a lot more potential than that.”

Over the course of a trilogy of solo albums, starting with 2010′s “Infinite Love,” Wong has investigated the possibilities afforded by his hardware — the complexity of which is frequently overstated. “A lot of people talk about my pedals, and they say, ‘He had 20 pedals!’ ” he says via a Skype chat, and I can picture him rolling his eyes at the other end of the line. “Actually it’s only eight. It’s like: okay, I have these eight pedals, and how can I use those to their fullest potential.”

His latest missive, “Mediation of Ecstatic Energy,” is certainly the boldest sounding album in his solo discography, with punchy sonics and an almost prog-rock sensibility. That’s partly due to a change in the recording and mixing process: while last year’s “Dreams Say, View, Create, Shadow Leads” was recorded live (and “Infinite Love” was just “messy”), this time he captured each guitar line separately, allowing him to “touch on every frequency of sound, from the lower ranges to high frequencies, and have that clarity and that sheen.”

The songs themselves are also wildly ambitious, pushing at the confines of loop-oriented music: Wong manages to introduce multiple key changes into a single song, or juggle different time signatures to create dense polyrhythms. “I looked back into how many drafts I had, and it was over 14 different mixes,” he says. “I think I got really obsessed in this one, since I felt like this was going to be the last (album) of the whole guitar loop thing. I felt like I can’t really go any further — I’ve explored all the different ideas I could, with the setup I had.”

Anyone wondering where he might head next need only look to his recent joint effort with singer Takako Minekawa, “Toropical Circle,” which Patrick St. Michel wrote about here.

“It’s been such a pleasure to be able to work with her, using different instruments and acquiring new gear,” he says, clearly energized by the collaboration. “For me, it’s a sound that I have never really worked with: There’s more voice and singing, and different types of timbres involved. We’re still writing music, so we’ll probably be releasing something, maybe next year.”

“Mediation of Ecstatic Energy” is on sale. The album’s release party will be held at O-Nest in Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, on Oct. 30 (8 p.m. start; ¥2,500 in advance; 03-3462-4420). For details, visit www.artuniongroup.co.jp/plancha/top/dustin-wong.