“I know that books seem like the ultimate thing that’s made by one person, but that’s not true. Every reading of a book is a collaboration between the reader and the writer who are making the story up together.”
&ndah; John Green, author of The Fault in Our Stars
So, yeah, while “preparing” for this review, I searched “collaboration quotes,” and after scrolling past dozens of quotes concerning peaceful conflict resolution and international politics and business management and all of that reductionist bullshit, I found the above quote, which I will elaborate on later in this review. What struck me as equally intriguing as this simple yet insightful quote though was how uniformly artists and entrepreneurs of all kinds openly value collaboration, despite being known as independent entities. Now, it isn’t particularly striking in itself that celebrity creators from various fields claim that collaboration is essential for success, and I am (perhaps) not (as) skeptical (as I should be) that these are sincere statements; what made me pause at John Green’s seemingly obvious statement about literature was how rare it appeared that other popular figures consider their audience as partners in a narrative’s resonance and interpretation. It’s an elevator speech version of postmodern lit crit, yet I find Green’s seemingly general observation an uncannily appropriate meditation when considering yet another collaborative performance and its merits as a synthetic work of art.
Philly-based free-jazz/hardcore punk group Many Arms and Tokyo-based no-input mixing board innovator Toshimaru Nakamura are engaged in full-on dialectic on this one-off self-titled recording, yet despite their lively musical banter, hearing it all play out is a bit like sitting in on conversation about people you’ve never met before; conversational humor, no matter how involved each member is, is rarely funny when you’re not a part of it. Furthermore, it seems like this exchange’s setting and mood results in a lot of incomprehensible noise, which although decipherable from within proximity, remains muddled from where we sit.
Sonically, Many Arms & Toshimaru Nakamura is far from impenetrable; for fans of Ben Bennet’s anything-goes percussion, ZS’s mercurial skronk, and Nakamura’s piercing and patience-testing solo work, this record is comparatively digestible (there are even some spiraling guitar solos reminiscent of Orthrelm that provide some formic grounding). It’s finding a meaningful way into this four-movement collaboration that proves tedious at times. As much as I dig what each member is doing here, I can’t help but feel like its personnel is a bit lopsided. It’s clear from its intense imperfections that each musician is in top improvisational form, yet Many Arms still sounds like a jam band playing from some sort of noise version of Fake Book, and if I didn’t already know that he was involved, Nakamura’s no-input mixing board squeals sound like they could just be extra feedback from whatever Many Arms is doing.
On a positive tone though (you wouldn’t call it a note here, would you?), the album keeps improving upon relistens (aesthetically, at least). I mean, who gives a shit about an underlying narrative in a noise collaboration anyway, right? Many Arms & Nakamura are at their most affective when they’re operating at either extreme: crackling chaos (“I”) or simmering quietude (“III”), yet it’s simply a lack of any sort of dialectical framing between these extremes that separates this collaboration from, say, a Keiji Haino or Otomo Yoshihide or even any other Nakamura record, which regardless of concept all highlight their dimensionality by accounting for personal space. If you can isolate its component voices yourself though, this performance reaps a plethora of rewards. At times, I hear Bad Brains echoes and wish that more noise collaborations pulled from this shared space between hardcore punk and noise; it’s refreshing hearing pure rock shreddage on an Onkyo-affiliated disc. Additionally, every musician on here is without a doubt a phenomenal technical player (scope those Portal-esque guitar breakdowns on “I,” those stampeding drums on “IV,” that gurgling bass on “III”).
Taken in snippets, Many Arms & Toshimaru Nakamura rivals masterpieces of its modality, and although it often doesn’t work as a whole, perhaps its avoidance of stark dynamic contrasts in favor of nonstop motion can provide a foil to those collaborations that risk losing listeners in a void of inactivity. While I’d still recommend Nakamura’s maruto, a study of introspection that begs an outsider response, there are bold narrative choices made on Many Arms & Toshimaru Nakamura that, if explored within a more defined framework, could be just as intriguing.