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Seijiro Murayama and Michael Northam - Moriendo Renascor

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Artist: Seijiro Murayama and Michael Northam

Album: Moriendo Renascor

Label: Xing Wu

Review date: Aug. 7, 2009

Our brains gather and process more information than we could ever actively contemplate, but that information is often there when we need it, helping keep us out of danger or sharpening out instincts. We have peripheral vision, so why not peripheral hearing? Sound artist Michael Northam seems to wonder much the same thing, and much of his career has been consumed with accumulating and ‘composting’ (his term, essentially meaning the continual layering of sound sources, both on his self-built instruments and environmental captures, over an extended period) such subliminal audio experiences. He wants to do more than merely peek inside the anthill; he wants to magnify and multiply its teeming activity into an immersive environment which lives its own life.

So this four-track full-length, an expansion of a 2004 meeting between Northam and improvising percussionist Seijiro Murayama, makes much of what we might otherwise consider incidental. Northam provided the source material, most of it heavily layered field recordings, to Murayama, who then improvised around these loose structures. Nothing immediately recognizable, instrumentally or environmentally, emerges. Instead there’s the gurgling flow of “I,” the enveloping swirl of spectral winds of “IV” or the pulsing square wave drone that gradually decays over the course of “III.” There’s a palpable sense of place, of movement through vast interior spaces, but not of location.

It’s Murayama’s contribution that is the key to understanding these pieces, as he finds a way to improvise not with but within Northam’s dense constructs – without sounding at all like an instrumentalist. He has, in a sense, tapped into that stream of peripheral, subconscious sonic information so often hidden from us. Rustling, metallic clanking, the woody shuffling of something being disturbed, low-volume friction, barely audible rumbles: these – not rhythms – are his language here. It’s his astute, detailed textures (or Northam’s arrangement of them – it’s impossible to say) that elevate Moriendo Renascor above the mere field recording collage into a rarefied space where two voices merge and create an entirely new, previously hidden enivronment.

By Matthew Wuethrich

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