A series of acousmatic/mixed pieces made with shakuhachi player Clive Bell released on the Beijing new music label Kwanyin Records with noodle-baby sleeve by Kazuko Hoki.
Every sound on this record derives from the shakuhachi.
I must confess that the sound of this simple Japanese bamboo flute has always frightened and bewildered me a little. It seems at once the most human and most inhuman of instruments. The sound can be so exquisite, so sheer and physical yet it is also extremely dark, ascetic and un-bodied: a series of departures which travel and never return. It can sound so lonely and bereft that I sometimes find it unbearable to hear it at all.
At times the pitch or melody of the instrument seems almost incidental. What strikes me more clearly is the envelope and the texture of breath: wind exciting the emptiness of wood into voice. And the voice is so evocative of the natural music of wind blowing through forests and canyons, and moreover of the human loneliness these sounds innately seem to represent, as to be quite unnerving. It’s denial of gravity can be such that I crave something to give it foreground and background, something to pull it back towards the earth.
As a solo instrumental voice it is unusually rich in timbre and dense with harmonic variation. This makes it a particularly interesting source for re-synthesising, re-shaping, re-pitching and orchestrating which is more or less what I do here. The recordings were made in stereo with Brüel & Kjaer (DPA) 3503, Neumann TLM 170 and Soundelux E47 microphones going through Amek 9098 preamplifiers. These signals were then processed using Eventide multi-fx processors and, in one or two places, a Mutronics Mutator, which is a quite special sort of analogue filter. I used a midi controller to manipulate certain parameters of the digital processors and to control signal routing, gating and sending from a digital mixer. In this way I could play back, re-organise and re-harmonise what Clive had played, creating complex layers of multichannel electro-acoustic events, also designating feedback paths between different processor channels. These manipulations were performed manually in real time, like dub versions, but on this disc the resulting layers are sometimes heard playing forwards, sometimes backwards and sometimes as palindromes, playing in both directions at the same time, at times in a variety of pitches.
With this machinery I found myself not so much adding new information as trying to reflect and amplify something inherent in the mood and atmosphere of Clive’s playing. As well as responding to the formal and rhythmic content of his improvisations, I also tried to emphasise and celebrate the ambiguity which I find in the instrument: on the one hand to make the sound even more disembodied and otherworldly and on the other to make something quite thick and orchestral: some kind of quasi-ensemble music. Even then I always seem to find places in which its sound seems to dissolve into landscapes, and into the sounds of forest and mountains and weather, into wind, and birds and sky and water.
Of course with sampling and re-synthesis these days anything can be made to sound like anything. But I hope these pieces never quite lose contact with their sonic origins in breath and wood. In this spirit the album ends with sound of Clive’s solo shakuhachi. A reminder not only of the rich simplicity of a single line, but also of the fundamental rhythm and mystery of the breath.
Review from Gaz-Eta
…The wonder of this record lies in the interaction between Clive Bell’s shakuhachi playing and the processing conducted by Richard Scott. It’s the finer details that make it all the more worthwhile. Bell’s mastery of the instrument is prevalent throughout. His controlled and subdued breaths often sound like microcosmic trickles of wind that is having difficulty passing through a cracked wall. In turn, Scott processes the sounds through a series of filters, processors, Midi controller and a mutator. Though sometimes the shakuhachi sounds like its real self, much of the time, it sounds alien – horrifyingly like a wind coming from another world. All manipulations were done in real time, allowing a true communal language to develop. Subtle, haunting and inviting at every turn, “Wood Wind Tide” is a duo record from two musicians who have a complete understanding of the complexities of creative communication. Tom Sekowski
Review from The Beijinger.com
Ampanman (Clive Bell + Richard Scott) Wood Wind Tide
Clive Bell (the flute player, not the art critic) first came to Beijing in 2005 as one of four English musicians invited to participate in the British Council’s Sound and the City project (which also included Brian Eno, who went on to work with Re-TROS). Bell’s fun remodeling idea was to record covers of Chinese pop songs taken from shops and restaurants, then returning his new versions of the music to those shops to play.
Outside of Beijing, however, Bell is better known as a famous Western performer of the shakuhachi – the bamboo flute played for enlightenment by the Komuso (monks belonging to the Fuke sect of Zen Buddhism) – and a student of the master Kohachiro Miyata. As such, this album is an unexpected surprise from Yan Jun’s Kwanyin Records; it’s easy to expect yet another 53 minutes of typical ambient laptop loops adorned with “mysterious, elusive” oriental elements. Instead, every single sound on the whole album is derived from shakuhachi. Effector musician Richard Scott picks up Bell’s bamboo flute sound fragments, using processors and mixers to overlap new sounds onto the original instrumentals. Though the shakuhachi itself can sound a bit ascetic or monotonous, Scott’s processed sound elements add texture and variety to the instrument that is said to “enlighten through one note.”
Yet for an instrument whose tradition stresses the importance of space patterns as well as sound, the digital reorganizing and re-harmonizing discomfits the elegant voids. Still, they generate possibilities for the simple-structured instrument (which styles itself on the self-completeness of karesansui, or Japanese rock gardens). People have said that experimental ambient music resembles the soundtracks of thrillers; if so, this album is one that matches the tragic ghost story of Mizoguchi’s Ugetsu Monogatari (1953). Venus Lau