For this release on Canadian label caduc, Ryoko Akama, Cristián Alvear, Cyril Bondi, and d’incise perform Taku Sugimoto’s “mada”. The first section features pin-pricks of guitar punctuating controlled feedback, harmonium, and bowed metals, each instrument following its own line of single tones, but each modifying perceptions of the pitch, speed, and duration of all the others. Everything moves slowly, quietly. You have to slow down to catch these perceptions — slow down your thoughts, your heart rate, your expectations. Sometimes the tones may disappear completely, due to their own low volume, the masking of other noises in the environs, or your own mind racing ahead and losing the thread. You get the impression that’s ok though.
The second section is five minutes of silence, while the third and final one picks up where the first left off, introducing piano and percussion in the place of harmonium and bowed metals. The slowly changing combinations of tones and timbres could be compared to a kind of topology: contours rising and falling in pitch and volume, creating undulating slopes, sharp peaks, and flat valleys of silence. To say that the sounds occur at random is like saying a landscape rises and falls at random. It may well appear that way to you given that you didn’t see the millennia of water and wind erosion that gave rise to the topology now before you; yet some sense of logic is still dimly intuitable, a logic that any geologist would be able to explain.
‘Mada’ means ‘still’ in Sugimoto’s native Japanese, and the stillness of the piece contributes to the landscape-like nature of each section. The performance recorded by Akama, Alvear, Bondi, and d’incise is entrancing, with well-chosen sounds combined with precise control and subtlety. Their deep understanding of the music and of each other’s playing makes what could have been a dull, shapeless exercise into an absorbing panorama of sound. In today’s compulsively frenetic and cacophonous world, stillness is as rebellious and counter-cultural as it is rare; the still contours of music such as “mada” reveal the flatness of everything else.