Toshimaru Nakamura maruto

[erstwhile; 2011]

Styles: post-eai, onkyo
Others: Sachiko M, Otomo Yoshihide, Keith Rowe, Klaus Filip

It perplexes me how frequently people reject Toshimaru Nakamura’s music solely due to its piercing tones. Am I wired differently? Or perhaps there’s something wrong with their sound system? While I personally enjoy Nakamura’s extreme frequencies, I also experience a profound physical resonance with his music that goes beyond these superficial elements, akin to Jon Abbey’s (proprietor of erstwhile records) experiences:

One thing I guess I will say is that Toshi in general often uses a lot of extreme frequencies in every direction, some that most people cannot hear, but to me they’re often physically affecting, not to my ears as much as my whole body. I had a stretch where I had to struggle not to pass out when seeing him live, he would often just hit (and hold?) a frequency that I guess would trigger some kind of ‘off’ switch in me, and if I wasn’t a bit on guard for it, it could knock me out.

Starting at the eight-minute mark on the 46-odd-minute long maruto — Nakamura’s 13th release for erstwhile — there is an intense, trans-aural sensation; sound becomes intertwined with every other sense, and in this singularity arises a fundamentally physical reaction to maruto. In this duration, there is an incredible fullness to Nakamura’s no-input mixer, a density that envelops tones likely not even heard by my damaged hearing. The first time through, the throbs of this segment radiated throughout my body — a shiver down my spine, tingles in my fingertips, and arrested feet. It was a near-catatonic state, during which only what I was hearing seemed to matter.

This leaves me in awe of the most persistent (pernicious) criticism of eai/post-eai/onkyo/whatever: that it lacks a human component, sounding detached from the traditional emotional clichés found within most other music. Two points: (a) It’s lame if, in order to appreciate sound, music must be entangled with overt emotional gestures like love, puppy kisses, or the sensual embrace of a sleek guitar (I’m sad because my girlfriend just broke up with me; we just won the Superbowl!; that summer feeling, etc.); (b) Toshimaru Nakamura has it all anyway! I feel everything when I listen to maruto. To be more precise, the music itself is disengaged from emotion, maybe giving some credence to sentimental critics. However, in this nihility, the listener can project herself and her feelings onto the sound, reverberating against maruto’s purely aural qualities to generate an elevated experience.

And the medium through which one hears Nakamura does seem to matter. As Abbey said of maruto, “It’s especially system-specific, I’m finding it harder than usual to piece together perceptions from the three systems I’ve heard it on.” My headphone listens are claustrophobic, ensconced within myself, whereas each stereo listen permits maruto to orbit around me, never sucking me into its singularity. But maruto can’t be state-dependent; the heart pressure I feel cannot be subjective. The act of properly listening to maruto seems as fundamental as auscultation: attentively mixing pure sound devoid of anything but itself with all of oneself.

Links: Toshimaru Nakamura - erstwhile

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