I was able to catch Rie Nakajima live in concert last year thanks to Oxford-based festival Audiograft, giving me a little bit of insight into how the four short tracks on her debut solo album “Four Forms” were probably made. The Japanese-born, UK-based artist uses eclectic assortments of found domestic objects (cups and saucers, biscuit tins, cheap children’s toys, ball bearings, etc.) to make sound, animating them with batteries, motors, fans, or her own hands. Interestingly, she describes herself as a sculptor, a self-designation that didn’t prevent her from winning the 2014 Arts Foundation Award in the category of Experimental Music.
Listening to the new album, it’s quite easy to imagine Nakajima working away with her little kineacoustic sculptures, stopping and starting them, adjusting their position, building irregular patterns, adding and taking away timbres. In the first track a sound circles the entire stereo field before coming to settle, connecting the recorded work with the artist’s keen awareness of architectural space when performing live (at the Royal Festival Hall she sent objects tumbling down the auditorium stairs). Despite the leaning-towards-rhythm heard in the scuttlings, scrapings, and rattlings of the objects’ activities, this musicality can seem almost incidental rather than necessary — a fluke of human perception rather than something essential to the sounding. Or, at least, being of no more importance than the objects’ movements, their weights and densities, or their scattering. Compare this to the usual musical situation, in which the movements of objects are merely means to sonic ends, and one can see why the title ‘sculptor’ is entirely appropriate.
So what would it be like to put all this to one side, to forget about how the sounds are made and just listen to them as sounds? This works too (perhaps because sounds are also objects?). There are enough appealing timbres, enticingly rough-edged juxtapositions, and contingently complex polyrhythms here to satisfy even the most asynaesthetic of listeners, perhaps bearing some similarity to recent works by Luciano Maggiore and Enrico Malatesta or Cyril Bondi and Toma Gouband, but different again in its valence, being more energetic and propulsive than either of these duos. Having been lucky enough to see Nakajima perform live, I can hear a strong connection between “Four Forms”, her approach to performance, and her sculptural intentions; yet even without this prior knowledge (which many online videos can partially provide), the album remains a thoroughly engaging and compelling listen. Recommended.