Michael Pisaro & Taku Sugimoto: 2 seconds/b minor/wave (Erstwhile 061)
This recent addition to Erstwhile Records’ fine catalogue consists of three duets between guitarist/composers Michael Pisaro and Taku Sugimoto. Each duet is based on a compositional concept reflected in the title: 2 seconds is built around a unit of pulse; b minor is in the key for which it is named; and wave calls for the musicians to interpret the notion of a wave in any way they see fit. The collaboration took place virtually, with the two participants agreeing on each piece’s underlying concept, and then independently composing and recording their specific interpretations. Each finished track brings together both musicians’ contributions.
With each track measuring 20 minutes, the CD has a symmetry that seems consistent with the conceptualism on which the music is founded. Whether or not this symmetry was deliberate, it does allow each piece to feel as if it had been composed as a long-period durational frame. And there are frames within the frames: the music here is very sparse, each sound seemingly set off within parentheses of silences.
The first track, 2 seconds, is structured around a unit of pulse. The predominant sounds are electronic tones of various pitches and lengths, pulsing at one beat every two seconds. These tones are joined sporadically by sounds that resemble metronomic fragments, also with a two second pulse. The contiguous and overlapping pulses give the track a strongly rhythmic feel. B minor has Sugimoto playing slow chord sequences in the key of B minor, while Pisaro supplies melodies of slow, well-spaced notes. This harmonically consonant piece unfolds at a time scale that allows the two to reimagine the relationship between rhythm and lead guitar; rather than having the latter function as a contrasting figure to the former’s field, each serves instead as an equal voice in an ongoing modal counterpoint. The title of the final track—wave–serves as a kind of ur-score preceding and in a sense producing the compositions Pisaro and Sugimoto perform in response. Here a drone meets the sound of what seems to be a field recording of waves at the seashore.
As with Minimalist sculpture and painting, this music has a tendency to move the focus of reception from one exclusively concerned with relationships within the work itself (of, for example, tones to rhythms, tones to timbres, tones to themselves) to one now including the relationship of the work to its context—in this case, to duration as it is experienced by the listener. Though this relationship is external to the composition and playing of the work, paradoxically through the act of listening it becomes internal to the work as it is heard in real time.