Susumu Yokota: Image 1983-1998


















Compact disc Bay 9CD 1998; Skintone Records, Japan, licensed to The Leaf Label, fax +44 (0)20-7733-5818; electronic mail; World Wide Web

Reviewed by Nico Schüler

The Japanese musician Susumu Yokota is actually known as a techno- and house music-DJ and arranger; some of his releases include jazz and disco. Interestingly, Mr. Yokota was one of the first Japanese techno artists to release music in Europe (most recently on the Sublime label in the UK). This release from 1998, however, presents Mr. Yokota also as a composer of electronic art music, and the cover even includes imprints of some of his paintings, photos, and collages (completed in 1987-1988). In the liner-notes, the artist explains that "not only the music, but visual images, films, and philosophies are also behind this album." Does he want to be seen as a multimedia artist? We learn only that everything is linked together with "KONA," a Japanese word for power: "I wished to be Kona. I wished to be Kona at the moment of death. Things I wanted to do were becoming very clear because of this wish." Mr. Yokota goes into more detail in explaining white Kona as super-particles that can never be placed in their original form, once someone blows on them. It is "like the vagueness of memories." Since Kona is dimensionally flexible, it can be seen as "trans-personal," which he prefers to choose as a theme for his art. The connection to music: "Encountering Acid House made me visualize music. Sounds were visibly formed like KonaÑI could clearly see the sounds sparklingÉ"

However, these and further, rather philosophical, explanations might be as artistic as it gets with the album Image 1983-1998. The music may have a deep meaning for Mr. Yokota, and may connect bits of memories (Kona?), but the general listener who is not familiar with the artistÕs deep dreams, wishes, and memories, can neither find a connection between the visual works reprinted on the cover and the compositional works on the disc. Nor can the listener identify any artistic compositional techniques that go beyond the first experiments in electronic music during the 1950s and 1960s. His music is rather a collection of minimalist melodies that are electronically modified by simple hall and distortion effects.

The music of his Image CD originates from two different time periods in Mr. Yokota's compositional work: five older pieces that were recorded with guitars and organ in 1983 and 1984 (tracks 1 though 5) and eight recent compositions (tracks 6 through 13), composed in 1997 and 1998. The music indeed brings both time periods together, though in a rather simple way: the recent compositions still sound like beginning experiments in electronic composition (like those of thousands of undergraduate students). We may admit that the recent works are a little more complex in their structures, integrating several layers of sound and making more use of synthesized sound. Some of the recent pieces , such as Nisemono no uta, are even reminiscent of some of Karlheinz Stockhausen's speech-based compositions (like Gesang der Jünglinge, 1955-56). Others are closer to the guitar or organ sounds of his earlier compositions. For example, an organ-like sound can be found in Enogu, track 12, and Amai Niyoi (track 11) resembles the guitar sound found on Tayutafu (track 2).

All in all, Mr. Yokota's disc is, at best, a rather uneventful collection of minimalist electroacoustic compositions with varying lengths between one and one-half and three and one-half minutes.

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This review was originally published as: Nico Schüler: "Susumu Yokota: Image 1983-1998," Computer Music Journal 25/3 (Fall 2001): 103.

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last revised: 3-20-2003