Kouhei Matsunaga Self VA

[Important; 2010]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: noise, techno, avant-garde
Others: Stockhausen

Kouhei Matsunaga’s beats parse as techno, but his music is really about the productions: postmodernist installation pieces, not minimal so much as big and dusty, with wobbling, oversized bass tones, harsh electronics, and little melody. Unlike many of the better-known names in the electronic avant-garde, Kouhei Matsunaga does not work everything over with texture.

Instead, his productions rely on space: the drone and sheets of electronic junk subtly shade the space without occupying it. “Huui” is a study in this approach; nearly all of its sounds are slotted into a rhythm grid like pointillist dots, the sole two-dimensional object a wandering anti-melody. It’s given a minor shade by the pizzicato plucks that slowly invade the rhythm, but the core harmonic conflict is never rationalized.

Like a real high-brow, Matsunaga often refuses to cohere his stems into tracks. Ideally, one senses, each is meant to be an elegant design built to house a single idea. “Telephatic 170708 from 18pm” sets pleasurable synth-blots against a drone. “291107” hides a beat, loud enough that you can feel it, beneath a blinding, high-frequency wash. “210409” succeeds at posing an oscillator party as free jazz. Occasionally, the idea is inscrutable or seems arch, but usually one is left with the sense that the artist had a clear purpose for each. That’s an admirable and difficult thing.

But there’s another side to this record, too: a weedy hip-hop sensibility that imitates lovingly and maladroitly. Now, hip-hop is excellent grist for experimental processes, but (and I quote “92”):

Here I go after all of these years
yellow orange childhood standing listening
and this world just ain’t gone straight
What the fuck?
What you lookin at?
Fuck black, fuck white,
I don’t know what took me so long,
my story’s told by Mr. Gray,
I don’t know day,
I don’t know night,
I don’t know night
I’m constantly continued,
play me something of yours.
Though I need you to point it out
I can hear pink sirens shout

The raps are best when they match the record’s deliberate obscurity. “1,2” rides a wobble-and-burn bass that feels like a drug; the mumbled rap moves in and out of audible, and its glancing contact with the ear evocative. By contrast, the rapping on “92” is left naked, and it’s so raw that the primitive formalism in Matsunaga’s hip-hop clashes gracelessly with the eccentric, advanced formalism of his techno.

What I would most like to see Matsunaga do is step-up the caliber of the poetry or minimize it. His art can benefit from words; indeed, rap seems like the ideal marriage to his aesthetic, promising solid ground beneath his airy figurations. But the words need to be of consequence, or the hip-hop will always be an ornament, like newspaper glued to a bricolage painting.

Links: Kouhei Matsunaga - Important

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