Somnambule - Writing About Music

Nobukazu Takemura ~ Sign

Nobukazu Takemura is one prolific musician/composer. Sign originally came out in 2001 and is being reissued by Thrill Jockey. In the meantime it’s been succeeded by five more cds (Animate, Water’s Suite, 10th, Assembler and Songbook). These document a wide range of styles and possibilities, for example: Water’s Suite explores the possibilities of MIDI dysfunction, Songbook addresses indie guitar pop, Assembler presents abstrast soundscapes. Multifaceted is the word and that’s without considering Sign’s predecessors...

A key element of much of Takemura’s output is its playfulness (his main pseudonymous project is even called Child’s View). That characteristic is to the fore on Sign whose cover art depicts a cartoon sci-fi scene. Look a little closer though and the spacesuited child robot stands before a river apparently discharged by a futuristic building/spaceship and under a sky clouded by the smoke from its chimneys. To either side of the river lie what appear to be a dead dog and dead birds. For such technologised music this appears to be making a contrary statement borne out by viewing the accompanying video to the title track (a fairly bizarre and highly simplistic ecological fable concerning the robot girl warring with evil old men who pollute her world).

Sign is apparently an EP and by clocking in at 64 minutes it really does live up to its category. The first two tracks, Sign and Cogwheel are busy and dense and bustle you along to such an extent that you hardly notice that almost twenty minutes have passed since they began. Their soundworlds are synthetic: squelchy and squeaky like scrunching up bubblewrap. Lean closer and much detail is revealed to the attentive ear, though the sweetly songful vocoder lyrics remain regrettably indecipherable.

Track three, Souvenir in Chicago, is just that: a musical memento of Takemura’s 1999 sojourn in that city. It initially features Tortoise figures Bundy K. Brown on guitar, John McEntire on drums and Doug McCombs on bass. Although sequenced as a single 35 minute track, it’s actually a succession of three phases which in its last part offers up what sounds like a lengthy computer manipulation of the other players. Whether they’re actually playing or not is unclear. Whatever, the piece has an engagingly meditative, enquiring quality to it. The final track, Meteor, returns to the primary colours of the first two tracks, to a realm where an anime character appears to have jumped media and stepped from the world of comic books and screens right into the circuitry of a computer, sparking up the motherboard, making the monitor nod in time and the keyboard dance with the mouse. This music may have a similar effect upon you.
Colin Buttimer
January 2004
Published by the BBC