In hindsight, the mano a mano with mighty technology was fitting. Nobukazu Takemura, one of the most compelling Japanese electronic composers of the past decade, was to pull the tour bus off the highway at a precise time so that his cell phone could receive a call for an interview. Simultaneously, the interviewer was to call Takemura's Japanese translator in NYC, connect the lines as a conference call and juggle questions and answers between the two. Follow-up questions would take the form of e-mail, which tour manager Juan could receive by way of satellite on his laptop and pass on to Takemura. Bits and bursts of information were to be shot up through the sky and land at a satellite, which would then laser them into a bus driving along the coast of Northern California. Alas, it all got fucked up when the thick-headed human interviewer couldn't figure out the conference call crap. Then Juan's laptop, which was to receive the e-mail, went on the fritz, so no e-mail interview could happen. Nobukazu Takemura was to tell the reader of the heavenly music he creates. But, alas, he couldn't.
Somewhere in the digital netherworld, now-useless bits of information are floating like dandelion parachutes through space, wandering aimlessly, lost but still beautiful. You can hear a similar sound in the work of Kyoto-born composer Takemura: digital bursts that roam throughout his compositions, little gusts of heavenly silicon sound that seem to drift in the speakers, hover for a moment and then disappear.
A rundown of Takemura's remix work tells one story of his scope: He's worked with jungle innovator Roni Size; drone-rock visionaries Yo La Tengo; minimalist master Steve Reich; techno genius Ken Ishii; Jap-pop purveyors Pizzicato Five and Takako Minekawa; meanderers Tortoise (for whom Takemura will open at Mississippi Nights on Sunday, June 17). They're the cream of the crop, and all requested that Nobukazu Takemura, a.k.a. Child's View, reimagine their compositions.
In the world of electronic music 2001, the words "remix," "computer" and "beats" more often than not combine to connote music considered synonymous with "house," "techno" and "electronica"; the result is generally across-the-board dismissal by the scholars and "serious music" aesthetes. But the music appreciated by the beatheads and ravegoers is the direct result of some serious experimentation by early innovators who broke off from the classical and jazz worlds to fiddle and compose with electronic devices. Specifically, the 1940s musique concrète of Pierre Henri and Pierre Schaeffer, the sound-as-music work of John Cage, the heavenly compositions of German Karlheinz Stockhausen, the strange and incredibly advanced computer experimentation of Raymond Scott (on his incredible Soothing Sounds for Baby series) and the mantra drones of Steve Reich all preceded and influenced the boom-boom-boom-boom sound of electronica. What's been lacking in electronic-music composition in the 1990s and '00s has been curious souls equally influenced by the music's precursors and current beatnuts: someone who appreciates silence, offbeat structures -- or no structure at all -- whose interest lies not in moving booties but exploring the hard drive's potential.
Takemura obviously knows his history and has the know-how to unleash the incredible potential of silicon sound. Starting in the late 1980s with Audio Sports, a crazy Japanese hip-hop group that had as its emcee Yamatsuka Eye of the Boredoms and Takemura as its DJ, through his stint with the cheesily named Spiritual Vibes, a mediocre acid jazz project, to his solo work as Child's View and Nobukazu Takemura, his output has been informed by hip-hop, jazz, classical and experimental music, and much of the resulting beauty, save said Vibes, has been nearly perfect.
One reason for this perfection is his background. Unlike many chipheads, Takemura started with acoustic instruments, and he still uses these sounds just as often as the digital ones. His solo output -- Child & Magic, Funfair, Milano: For Issey Miyake Men by Naoki Takazawi Parts 1 & 2, Scope and his most recent (and best) release, Hoshi No Koe -- contains loads of instrumentation, from cello to bells to chirps and bleeps to beats, most performed by Takemura himself. As often as computer sounds arrive in his music, acoustic sounds appear to take centerstage. The mixture sends entire compositions into a confusing netherworld; are human beings playing along with the computer? Is the computer replicating a cello? Is vocalist Aki Tsuyuko (who will be performing live at Mississippi Nights as part of Takemura's concert) really standing in front of a studio microphone, or has her voice been sampled and manipulated? Where is this sound coming from?
Take the song trio on Hoshi No Koe: "A Theme for Little Animals," followed by "Trampoline," followed by "Stairs in Stars." The first consists of Takemura playing, it seems, cello, oboe, voice, bells and a few mysterious tones. The composition sounds like a musical conversation in a wood-paneled rehearsal room. An instrument utters a few phrases, another responds, a few argue in the middle and the entire unstructured whole moves spontaneously for the duration. Then arrives "Trampoline," which sounds like R2-D2 with an upset stomach. There are no acoustic sounds within; tones burp and blurp, a beep morphs into a digital rumble and a fax-machine sound chirps and buzzes. It sounds nothing like the former, but it's a sort of conversation nonetheless. The pairing sounds like opposite sides of the same coin. This is followed by a simple, beautiful keyboard piece, "Stairs in Stars," which sounds like an outtake from Raymond Scott's aforementioned Baby series. It consists of a single, wonderfully pleasing melodic phrase that Takemura examines from every angle, careful not to ruin it but nonetheless fiddling with it enough to keep it interesting. It's this sort of variation that illustrates the scope of Takemura's curiosity and vision.
There's no telling what a live Takemura experience will bring; that female vocalist Tsuyuko, who has her own recordings out on Takemura's Childisc Records, is along for the ride is an indicator that the performance won't consist of a man bobbing his head in front of a laptop, which is the unfortunate current state of electronic performance. Other than her presence, though, the rest is a mystery. What's not, though, is that the first St. Louis appearance by Nobukazu Takemura will be transcendent. When the book on early-21st-century experimental electronic music is written, an entire chapter will be devoted to his output; lunkheads only interested in headliners Tortoise should pay attention earlier in the night.