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Susumu Yokota - Symbol

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Artist: Susumu Yokota

Album: Symbol

Label: Lo Recordings

Review date: Sep. 7, 2005

DJ, electronic producer and visual artist Susumu Yokota is one of Japan’s musical treasures. Prolific and multi-faceted, Yokota is unique even in a field filled with iconoclastic composers. From his countless 12” dance singles to a plethora of seductive full-length recordings for the Leaf label, his broad stroke electronica is consistently engaging, not to mention impeccably crafted. I’ve never been disappointed by any of his releases, and most of them continue to reveal new aspects when revisited. While his latest disc, Symbol, bears the Lo records imprint, it boasts a similarly perpetual allure.

The new disc prominently features orchestral flourishes, in the form of flowery minuets threaded together in minimalist multiples. It’s more than just a patchwork of borrowed baroque, however: Symbol finds Yokota employing a rich palette that includes pan-Asian classical structures as well as Western chill-out. As a composer, he succeeds where most globe plundering electronic artists fail. Unlike acts such as Thievery Corporation, Yokota’s pieces rarely sound contrived. With seeming effortlessness, he captures the dreamlike hustle of Japan’s largest metropolis, all the while evoking visions of the country’s fabled seacoasts.

“Fairy Dance of Twinkle and Shadow” sounds much like the title suggests. A gentle, occasionally thunderous waltz of bells, chimes and strings, the song’s arched melodies and stacked polyrhythms sound like Steve Reich and Ryuichi Sakamoto picking mushrooms in the forest. The looping piano figures and gentle breaths that fill “Flaming Love & Destiny” create a ballet-like atmosphere that displays enough grace in motion to be commissioned by a modern dance troupe. Some tracks, such as the heavy-handed “Capriccio & the Innovative Composer,” are a little too obvious. The track’s staccato strings and chain-gang percussion make for a somewhat static listening experience, particularly when compared to the rest of the album’s subtleties.

Symbol’s elegant fusing of dance music structures with classical sounds is more than just an exercise in assemblage; it’s a highly affecting work of art. Similar experiments have been attempted before, most notably on as Mu-Ziq’s pioneering 1999 album Royal Astronomy. Yet Yokota’s latest goes far beyond the conventions of both electronic and classical disciplines. Symbol is a musical document to be studied and enjoyed by anyone with an appreciation for artistry in composition.

By Casey Rae-Hunter

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