2009: Yoshi Wada - Earth Horns and Electronic Drone

The 21st century has seen an influx of reissue/archive labels responsible for shedding light on obscure recordings nearly left behind by history. Some aim for nothing more than bootleg-esque production (which often caters to the mysticism of a “lost recording”), whereas others -- Numero Group, Finders Keepers, and Shadoks -- thrive on their role as musicologists, going to endless lengths to provide the thorough documentation of their subjects. In the last year, Em and Omega Point, falling into the latter category of archivists, have been busy reintroducing the world to the works of Japanese artist (by way of New York) Yoshi Wada. While they may be brushing the dust off of someone who was seemingly lost in the shuffle of the 20th century, pictures of Wada playing with Rhys Chatham, The Merce Cunningham Dance Company, and other big names indicate that he was indeed a key figure in New York’s avant-garde. Coming out of Fluxism and a contemporary of La Monte Young and Pandit Pran Nath, Wada’s work boasts pure, first-generation minimalism influence at its finest. Wada is an inventor as well, having constructed massive sound installations, homemade bagpipes, and, in the case of Earth Horns and Electronic Drone, four massive 10 to 20-foot-long horns built from common plumbing materials. These instruments, coupled with his methods of composition, keep Wada’s music as alien from Western culture as possible.

Culled from a nearly three-hour live performance from 1974 (and issued in entirety on an über-limited three-LP set), this piece combines Wada’s homemade horns with an electronic feedback-resonating system designed by himself and Liz Phillips. The horns are tuned to the naturally occurring frequencies of the room, and the electronic drone — sensitive to these instruments' subtle, wavering tones — responds accordingly to the room in real time, creating an endless interplay of sound that reflects on itself. Although methodically planned out, the result is something quite visceral and less scientific than its process would indicate.

I won’t say it’s easy to set aside upwards of three hours to sit in front of your turntable and digest a drone, and it’s certainly easier to champion this sort of aural experience in theory than in practice. But although seemingly little happens, length is quintessential to Earth Horns’ success; it’s impossible to judge its merits within the first five minutes of listening. There’s a reason drones tend to…drone on, and over time the ears become finely tuned to the acute changes within this piece. Although at first glance a monolithic work, the nature of the instruments interacting with each other and with the space in real time lends itself to a much more linear action — and this is exactly why the music takes such a great amount of time to absorb. As Wada’s continually changing sound environment trails on and on, acoustic nuances occur, feeling more like a subtle hallucination than the aural investigation actually at hand. That’s all to say that there’s a lot to be gained by listening to this recording with a degree of patience and attentive ears.

In addition to the near psycho-acoustic interplay flourishing between Wada’s instruments, this piece also emphasizes the importance of ritual in music. Often sounding like slowed, melting monk chants, the perseverance of each player involved in this performance is indispensable. Required to repeatedly perform a small task at such great lengths is a tall order, with all the performers working towards something homogenous rather than striving for individuality. Its streamlined design and notions toward infinite real time and space give Earth Horns mantra and ceremonial qualities. Not that anyone should be expected to meditate while listening to this, but it wouldn’t be totally inappropriate. Our culture generally doesn’t set aside time specifically to listen to prerecorded music, but Earth Horns is the antithesis to our bustling, ear-bud-sporting times. The notion of music requiring such attentive listening is more valuable to our society now than ever before.

As attractive as all this is, Earth Horns' falls slightly short of Wada's other recently unveiled archives, primarily Lament for the Rise and Fall of the Elephantine Crocodile -- though it's not the performance but the recording itself that dissapoints. Initially, it sounds as if Earth Horns is mastered at a volume far too low, but the reason for this quickly becomes apparent when loud, intrusive audience coughs and footsteps enter into the mix. These effects are easy enough to tune out, but this remains a mid-fi room recording at best, and not without its imperfections. We should be thankful that such documentation exists at all, though, and like Charlemagne Palestine’s landmark recording Strumming Music, Earth Horns' highlights the fact that it is a facsimile of a live event. The uninitiated would do best by starting out with the aforementioned Elephantine Crocodile or Off the Wall, but for those generally swayed by drone and early minimalism, Earth Horns and Electric Drone is an essential piece of music history.

1. Earth Horns and Electronic Drone

DeLorean

There’s a lot of good music out there, and it’s not all being released this year. With DeLorean, we aim to rediscover overlooked artists and genres, to listen to music historically and contextually, to underscore the fluidity of music. While we will cover reissues here, our focus will be on music that’s not being pushed by a PR firm.

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