Wednesday 21st April

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Cafe Oto: Otomo Yoshihide

| Culture, Hidden London, Music | 23/09/2013

Project1
Photo credit: Fabio Lugaro
Rating:

Cafe Oto, Dalston

Cafe Oto is one of those places I’ve always meant to check-out. Easy to get to from Dalston Kingsland Overground – a three minute walk and next door to the Arcola Theatre. Doors open at 8pm but according to staff things usually kick off “sometime before 9…” Judging by the bustling queue, I was relieved to have some choice of seating though everywhere seemed comfortable in this relaxing and ambient place. During the following hour the venue became very busy and perhaps it’s wise to arrive early.

Avant Garde improviser Otomo Yoshihide emerged almost insignificantly in plaid shirt and fishing cap to slouch over the piano, hunched beneath its open lid, forearms dipping into its strings. Slow to begin and so quiet you could hear the street outside. The amplification became ever more vibrant and as the audience quietened the sound seemed to seep from within the shared space. But this imperceptible start became all too audible, searing pulsations scorching our ears in magnitudinous dynamic range. At home I’d have turned down the volume and marvelled at its genius but there were frequent instances when just trying to listen proved unbearable. A couple of punters covering their ears I suspect enjoyed a more pleasurable experience.

Feedback layered over feedback, frequencies meshing and dispersing to form a strange and unique ostinato. A murderous clash of notes crashed-in in the second section – an orchestra of electric guitars – of course at full volume – a demon from ‘This is the End’ stomping fiery ground across apocalyptic wasteland. It could not have sounded angrier or cruder. My ears were thrumming; the intensity and barbarism of sound impossible to convey with the written word. And then, a remarkable and delightful fly-like buzz in conclusion twanged-off petulantly.

It was an astonishing and extreme use of the instrument, the prepared-piano of John Cage after several Espresso Martinis, pushing our perceptions of what a piano is capable of and of what we are capable of listening to. ‘Music’ as we perceive it does not always need to be anaesthetising – so why not confrontational? I was only concerned for my ageing ear-drums, and the after-effect was having had the inside of my skull thoroughly scoured with a Brillo pad. Like it or hate it this was to witness an artist of immersive skill in the throes of creation.

For the first of two duets, Rie Nakajima and Daichi Yoshikawa took-up at intriguing table-tops littered with deconstructed percussion and pickups. You were almost expecting the rough coarse noise that invaded the delicate effects of an initially tinkling ensemble. Al fresco chatterers beyond the single-glazed window were annoying (can’t the street furniture be moved during performances?) Then again, other urban sounds such as a distant police siren seemed part of proceedings. Like some choreographed art installation, random audience members now and again stood-up to source the various sounds – a rattling tea-cup or a spinning saucer? I preferred the mystery. This beauteous sound-scape made me consider more scope for beauty and yet, the hoarse screeches and grunts set against a whirring motor were beautiful – if not the Japanese delicacy expected.

Yoshihide returned for another duet to actually play the piano keys (as well as bashing and tapping them). Double-bassist Guillaume Viltard bowed under the bridge then balletically across the whole of the instrument, rapturously reeling alongside the scintillating zither of piano-wires. Experimentalism never overtook a contradictorily naturalistic exposition. A lengthy piece of differing moods, absolutely gorgeous, and at stages completely transporting. Even its erratic, ecstatic closure maintained an exquisitely satisfying aural balance.

All performers returned in quartet, the jangling motorised beat reincarnated to accompany some lovely pizzicato from the double bass. Viltard then introduced the first elements of melodic repetition on false harmonics, eerie and unsettling. This athletic and articulate bassist was a star of the show to match Yoshihide. On a far table I caught sight of, twinkling in the half-light, Nakajima’s collection of rattling objects on a moving turntable. Yoshikawa’s prenatal snare, initially overpowering, became matched in fullness of tone and energy with the other forces. But for variation, I would have at times preferred some of the screechier elements subdued. In effect it’s like knocking-back a double vodka shot. With a mixer the vodka’s still there.

Nevertheless a spellbinding, knockout evening.

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