Last week a friend of mine complained about a performance of “laptop music” he saw recently. “If I wanted to elbow through a crowd just to watch someone sit behind their Powerbook,” he snarled, “then I could just go to my office — and it’s not as smoky.” He’s got a point, but computer-generated music obviously can’t be summed up that easily, especially when it is evolving in so many directions. Three Japanese artists have recently garnered attention for pushing the data-DJ medium forward, in both their live sets and a collaborative studio project — their first as a trio.
It’s been called folktronica, acoustica and laptop-folk, but Aoki Takamasa, Ogurusu Norihide and Takagi Masakatsu seem wary of classifying “Come and Play in Our Backyard,” released on Beams Records. One reason may be that this album differs from each of the Kansai denizens’ other projects. Aoki punches out organic club-beats in Japan and Europe, while Ogurusu records ambient minimalism for both New York’s Carpark Records and Tokyo’s P-Vine. Takagi is also a visual artist whose music often accompanies his video installations.
Silicom, a project he and Aoki undertook for Tokyo’s Progressive Form label, used similar ideas, blending computer-based music with digital images.
Their styles converge on “Backyard” to create a collection of mixed media varying from delicate to decadent. Most of Aoki’s compositions delete the beats to clear room for crystalline chords from an acoustic guitar. The track “Get on the FNK,” done in a “glitch style” that incorporates the circuitry’s sputter and click, is the only contribution in which he allows software to take precedence over strings. The opener, “Humming Song,” finds Aoki and Ogurusu plucking a simple, infectious melody for over three minutes before the hum of their G4 computers becomes audible. On “Change,” Ogurusu’s clear picking on the six-string bears no sign of electronic manipulation at all. Most of Takagi’s contributions, however, are unfiltered, digital euphoria. His “Star Every Morning” runs through a million megabytes of bliss before ringing feedback shimmers and fades into the distance.
The music here is mostly a sit-down affair, with spare vocals buried deep in the mix to keep the focus on the instruments — whether played in the key of G or F4.
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