Certain things disappear: a person disappears; your pen that you had a moment ago disappears; a tiny speck on the horizon lingers for a moment, and then disappears.
Ryuichi Sakamoto and Taylor Deupree are both eminent figures in the world of contemporary ambient, experimental music. Sakamoto’s piano playing has by now become as distinctive as any pianist I can think of, and it returns on Disappearance in its usual sparse, meditative form against an ambient backdrop by Taylor Deupree. It is immediately evident that both artists communicate well: their interaction, which still contains the spirit of improvisation, is both considered and inhibited. Sakamoto’s long, softly-sustained piano chords and inquisitive flurries are based around interesting tonal shapes, while Deupree’s electronic drones inhale and exhale underneath. Added into the mix for a real homemade feel is the sound of chair-shuffling and other ambient (in the narrow sense of the word) noises of the performance space. I follow the logic of such an addition, which hints toward the conflation of ambient noises with musical sound, so that each is seen in the other’s place: music becomes the room’s ambience, and noises become part of the musical experience. It succeeds generally well in this regard, especially since the album is flecked with ornamental touches of prepared piano: the scraping of its strings and the creaking of the chairs relate cleverly, particularly because they are not adjacent but occur at a distance.
Like many of its kind, Disappearance drifts and floats rather than argues or narrates. Its parts are given an immense freedom to come and go, as it were, with no particular goal in mind. The resultant effect is one of apprehension: you feel the constructive work of parts interacting and exploring, searching to find their place with respect to the whole — you sense that something is taking form. Oddly, on an intuitive level, you are thereby presented with the opposite of the album’s title — with appearance, not disappearance. This is reinforced by the final track, “Curl To Me,” which is the most developed and embodied of all five. It features Tokyo singer-songwriter Ichiko Aoba, who graces the piece with not only serenely contained vocals, but also her heartbeat. As her voice faintly emerges, a certain solidity and contentment takes form, almost as if something has finally, but only fractionally, appeared.
If there is disappointment to be found here, then it’d be conceptual in nature. Disappearance, even if gradual, is radical: a person disappearing is horrifying; your pencil disappearing is, albeit banal, a stupefying mystery. Even for a romantic and slow disappearance, you have to ultimately cross an infinite amount of points, from being into non-being. The shift is essentially the fall into nothingness or, if you like, death. In musical terms, this equates to silence, but unfortunately Disappearance has virtually no dialogue with silence: its tracks open, develop, and fade out conventionally and, on the whole, undisturbed. And for all its beautiful sparsity, Sakamoto’s playing also doesn’t particularly reveal that moment when sound resumes its refuge in silence: with hands above the keyboard, the room still.