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Thomas Brinkmann - Tokyo + 1

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Artist: Thomas Brinkmann

Album: Tokyo + 1

Label: max.Ernst

Review date: Jul. 8, 2004


Tokyo + 1, then. The + 1 is, I think, Ikaria – the Greek island which provides part of Brinkmann's palette – or perhaps the + 1 is Brinkmann himself, sculpting these fractured nonmusical foundations into sound structures that continually frustrate, that obscure the pleasure-drives. In his notes for this release, Brinkmann ponders the way sound violates the corporeal and the emotional, setting up a competition between what we perceive as music and tones which “our ears are not able to perceive as specialties that are worth capturing and analyzing. Analyzing, because those sounds are the very basics of our brain mechanisms. Without ever knowing, just like millions of unnoticeable smells, the most ordinary sounds control our unconscious much more than any other music on tape or perfume in a bottle.”

Tokyo + 1 is Brinkmann’s attempt to analyze and structure those ordinary sounds, to "make extraordinary" their presence, or to simply shackle them to pre-existing structures and make sense of their interruptive qualities. Everyday city life is the subject; Tokyo is one of the more archetypal of these ‘tonal cities’.

Thus Tokyo + 1 becomes a map, of sorts. A lot of Brinkmann’s work is a map or a tour of terrain: the obsessive micromanagement of the vinyl-tone arm-turntable relationship on the Klick album; the Soul Center series of R&B and funk tropes; the topology of phantom voices in tracks like “N.M.Q.P.”. It was only a matter of time before Brinkmann turned to the modern city’s sonic cartography.

Tokyo’s status as one of the most densely populated and voluminous (in every sense of the word) cities of the world is often echoed in the noisy conversation and traffic-blur sound bites that Brinkmann inserts into the tracks. Each sound bite captures or carries a moment and a place, and when Brinkmann loops fragments of sentences or vocal hiccups to provide wayward, splattered rhythms, he dislocates context. There’s something obvious about drawing conclusions about a direct relationship between Brinkmann’s process and the city’s character, but listening without the context of Brinkmann’s commentary (which would have worked nicely as liner notes), Brinkmann’s intent comes across more slippery, a tougher beast to capture. Why subject the "evidence of the city" to such obvious edits, cuts and loops? Why does Brinkmann pan between strict, reduced and grainy 4/4 thud, and blurred, disintegrating, hyperactive folds of field recordings?

The answer lies in Brinkmann’s theoretical concerns, the dislocations wrought by the everyday barrage of noise, the way life is sculpted partly by how our ears negotiate the audio landscape. The ordinary sounds that "control our unconscious much more than any other music" are caught, multiplied, and repeatedly underlined by these compositions.

Tokyo + 1 also displays Brinkmann’s harder edges. By the time we reach “Mamas,” he’s subjecting his sound sources to such rigorous, violent processing that the resulting clamor wouldn't be out of place on one of Mego’s harsher releases. He may resolve the piece by hinging the noise to a soot-black four-to-the-floor pulse, but the violence of the piece is totally explicit. If Tokyo + 1 is, at least in part, an audio psychogeography of Tokyo, Brinkmann is adept at mapping out the city’s bleak and stentorian side.

As a concrete tour of Tokyo and Ikaria, then, Tokyo + 1 is fascinating. It resists the desire to ‘tour’ a city through a romantic, Other-ing lens. Most artists would have left things in Tokyo – the exotic East – made a cheap document of cute accents and Oriental wind instruments, combined with tart snippets of the larger-than-life experience. A kind of Lost in Translation for the ears, if you will. But Brinkmann is much sharper than that, using Tokyo as an abstract starting point and commenting on the way sound dictates your relationship with the city.

By Jon Dale

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