It's a sound that seems so familiar to me as I walk through Alphabet City:discarded Duane Reade bags and fountain drink caps with straws still jabbed in them all rattling together in New York's rancid winds, fragments of trash and continuous street din, all mashed together as odors and noises both noxious and intoxicating. It's the sound of years' worth of journal-like tapes made by Japanese improviser and current New York denizen Aki Onda.
Although his long history involves working with Boredoms' Yamatsuka Eye, Nick Cave collaborator Blixa Bargeld, Mego Records' pop deconstructionist Tujiko Noriko, and glitch pioneer Nobukazu Takemura, as well as releasing music under the name of Audio Sports, this is a highly personal work dealing with Onda's own memories, or rather, a trace of memories captured by a handheld tape recorder. Through re-examining these lost moments of time spent wandering the labyrinthine cityscape, Onda has processed and tweaked aspects of the captured fragments and played them back in real time. Certain sounds rise out of the consomme but they all get fed back into the mix, conjuring landscapes lost yet re-contextualized in the swirl of noise and wind.
For the uninitiated, I'd compare a piece like the opening "One Day" to the sort of psychedelia practiced by Austrian guitarist Christian Fennesz (circa Instrument), in that he takes the mundane sounds of a guitar and crafts something far greater as it loops and extends itself beyond its original shape. Onda spins a similar vortex from a forgotten lobe in the tapehead, taking in mechanistic clicks and sax honks from the street, along with an undertow of playground chatter, and twisting it together with a warped clatter of tinny percussion. "Eclipse" jumps around a bit more-- all ice cream trucks, cafe orders, and noisy jams cutting in and out-- before settling into a drony, indeterminate haze of sounds that flicker past like subway car windows under the street. The visual quality of French composer Luc Ferrari is a touchstone for these sounds, too. The opening burst of Tompkins Square Park percussion and bum hollers on "Dream" echoes the bongo fury that opens his Danses Organiques.
Cinema plays a great role in organizing the clamor. Onda openly acknowledges his debt to visionaries of the medium such as Stan Brakhage and Jonas Mekas. To that list I would add Chris Marker (an influence on Fennesz as well), as throughout this disc of "cassette memories," he blends and blurs the audio fact with the subtle manipulations of the fictional and fanciful until it's impossible to separate the two extremes. "Last" has all the buzzy breath of prime Dead C stench, with tapes chirping backwards and gas pipes pinging about. The racket pushes and pulls with delirious speed, frames held for a second before blurring again. Even built from such cast-off garbage sounds, grimy and lo-fi, the residue of these hand-held tapes has a hypnotic and fascinating effect. It's bits of fiery loft-jazz breath, yellow taxi traffic, rat death, Puerto Rican children in the streets, drunks yelling, pigeon shit, and the subway scrapes of raw brakes screaming in unified chorus. Welcome to New York.
Pitchfork, October 2003