Written by Toshiya Tsunoda
The question of audibility aside, the quietness of quiet sound is an unmistakable characteristic in and of itself. While playing music at very low volume has the effect of concentrating listeners' attention, this is surely a matter of degree. When sound is excessively quiet, it's hard to determine what one should be listening to--and the normal human reaction is not concentration, but irritation. The basis for evaluating sound volume (as in the case of the sound level meter) is the human being's sense of hearing. At the same time, the place and conditions in which sound is produced come into play as well. The dynamic range of our sense of hearing is related not only to the energy of the sound, but also to the structure of the eardrum. When a strong vibration shakes the eardrum, which is a very thin membrane, quiet sounds occurring at the same time are masked by this large wave and rendered inaudible--just as, when a stone is thrown into a big ocean wave, the ripples instantly disappear.
This CD is a document of a studio-recorded improvisation session. All seven musicians play extremely quietly. (They would probably play this way in a live performance, too.) So quietly that almost all of the "played" sounds are softer than the sounds resulting from the physical action of playing music--the touching of instruments, the rustling of clothes, etc. So quietly that outside noises which faintly penetrate into the sealed recording studio can be heard over the music. In this music it's extremely unclear what is going on. It's as if someone had secretly recorded the sound of office work. Sounds occur, but the musicians themselves may not be completely sure whether they were produced intentionally. This really is a curious document. It isn't the kind of playing that brings out the atmosphere of the performance venue. The focus here is on the softness, or near-inaudibility, of the sound. Very soft sounds do not linger, physically or psychologically. They contain too little energy to reverberate, and leave a weak impression because they tend not to remain in the listener's memory. This is the unique quality of quiet sound. So perhaps this is an attempt to look closely at quiet sound as an element of music or performance. It is certainly not the kind of music that attempts to elicit subtle listening--if it were, the background noises would not be offhandedly left in. Interestingly, though, the character of the music slowly emerges as we listen. And gradually we find that we are focusing on a fresh, new form of improvisation. Even as we experience discomfort.
(Translation by Cathy Fishman)
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