Improvised Music from Japan / Aki Onda / Articles & Reviews

Ancient & Modern (Cassette Memories Vol. 1)

by Dan Warburton

A few years ago, Aki Onda bought a portable cassette recorder at a street market in Brixton, and started - innocently enough at first, obsessively after a while - recording the sounds around him that caught his attention, until the day came when he noticed his collection of cassettes was beginning to take up too much shelf space (I know the feeling). "I then took these tapes and randomly began layering new sounds onto them," the composer writes in his liners, eventually ending up with "incredible sonic collages that just invented themselves." Citing - astutely - Jonas Mekas, Peter Beard, Robert Frank, Phill Niblock and Luc Ferrari as influences ("people who have obsessed over the mechanism of the human capacity for memory"), Onda crafted the six tracks on Ancient & Modern between 2000 and 2001, during which time he also began using the trusty cassette recorder more often in live performance (there's an awesome example of him in action on the second volume of Meeting at Off Site, on the Improvised Music in Japan imprint). Though the genesis of the music may lie in chance, there's a strong sense of structure to each of these pieces, from the churning polyrhythms of "One Day" via the delicate chiaroscuro of "Flickering Lights" to the obsessive and peculiar loop of "Voice". Like the miscellaneous bric-a-brac collected by the enigmatic (and probably half mad) Stillman in Auster's City of Glass, the sonic fragments Onda has amassed are indeed curious: music boxes, snatches of street markets and smoky night club crooning, tiny fragments of percussion, organ and vibraphone looped into drones, but, imbued with that particular warmth and hiss that connoisseurs of the cassette medium recall with affectionate nostalgia, when mixed together they create their own haunting poetic logic. Any idiot with a mixing desk can stick any old tape on top of any other, but it takes considerable knowledge and a healthy dose of musicianship to come up with something as impressive as this. On the evidence of Ancient & Modern, Aki Onda has both to spare.

Paris Transatlantic Magazine, November 2003

Last updated: May 1, 2004