“Time cannot be put into words” a bored voice says in German, and the music falls apart into atonal bursts of pseudo-brass. Nobukazu Takemura’s latest release tells you right from the start that what is going to happen is not going to be easy or clear, nor will it be coherent, but definitely worth it.
The album starts off tame with some electric piano lines and digital glitches and quickly introduces it’s theme. The main guidelines for the whole album are identifiable from the opener The Calendar Play with its utter minimalism, bad instrument samples and mechanical voice snippets. Takemura mixes musique concrète sections where crackle, hum and other noises are arranged into somehow coherent phrases with purely electronic bleeps and bloops and with sampled acoustic instruments, but manages to keep the end result contained within a very austere environment. The pieces have a very detached feel to them, but the human element is always kept somewhere close. The vocal samples which pop up every now and then may be extremely mechanical and may have undergone hard digital manipulation, but they keep an air of conversation floating above the album.
On one hand, the album is a very precise, digital work of selection and arrangement of noise and instruments, but on the other its movement is very playful, childlike. It could very well be the background for a theater piece underlining the artificial within it. It is a set, a backdrop and very obviously so. The instruments are evidently fake, the lead speakers sound like over emphatic actors and noises are used as compositional elements, simply for their intrinsic value. The aura of artifice is one of the main reference points for the album, the other being European culture itself.
As Takemura’s first album after moving to Berlin from his longtime home in Kyoto, Zeitraum tries to handle the huge cultural heritage inherent to Western culture, while also remaining within this electronic, artificial area. The pieces are clear tributes, but also parodies of fugues, sonatas and the like, disassembling classical musical forms at their core structure and also at their performance level, replacing the instruments with crudely drawn replicas. Interlocking phrases and counterpoint movement almost bubble up between the bleeps, but are consistently dissected and exposed as arbitrary constructs.
A keen eye would by now have deciphered the keyword (so clearly suggested by the album’s cover) I have been tiptoeing around, namely surreal. As Giorgio de Chirico, to whom the cover is clearly a tribute, dissected grave cultural reference points like the Renaissance and Italy’s marvelous architectural heritage, Takemura does his best to dissolve Western classical music. At first, Chirico’s paintings don’t seem that surreal compared to someone like Dali’s flamboyant fantasies, but at a second glance, his landscapes are stagings of Mediterranean urban spaces. The recognizable architectural structures are used as references to grave and grand European heritage, while their minimalist employ give the whole scene the artificial, otherworldly feel Takemura was going for on Zeitraum. Strict musical rules are reduced to recognizable elements arranged according to a highly subjective point of view and underlining a great emptiness which resides at its core. Like Chirico’s streets, Zeitraum defines itself as a clearly artificial backdrop waiting for you to stop waiting for the centerpiece and realize that the artifice itself is the lead here.
Takemura’s pieces are a constant interplay between pretentiousness and the submission of that pretentiousness. Magician & Prediction, While the Crow Weeps and Clepsydra & Toy could be titles of high romantic operas while their content is mostly recorded noise or instruments which are denied their pitch and rhythm and are also used as noise generators. Now and then, Takemura throws you a bone with some phrases actually congealing into actual melodies, but these exceptions are only meant to show what it is that he tears apart.
The attempt to take apart such a huge entity like Western classical music is in itself a grand gesture and can be seen as just as pretentious as the entity itself, but luckily, Takemura infuses at least some playfulness into his pieces, so as to relieve the tension. So what can you do once inside these artificial landscapes based on high culture? Just gaze at the emptiness inside, pet your cartoon dog on the head and listen for the sound of canon crumbling.