'July Mountain' in Tokyo

During my 2-week stay in Tokyo this May, I visited the Sound Cafe Dzumi in Kichijoji to see the owner and some of my music writer friends. The owner of the cafe was a former recording engineer and art film producer, and he has installed a great audio/speaker system there. This cafe is a nice gathering place for the Tokyo music community, where front-line music critics/writers and hard-core fans of experimental music (and also jazz fans) can get together. Occasionally, musicians like Otomo Yoshihide, Toshimaru Nakamura, Tetuzi Akiyama and Ami Yoshida present some small concerts here, too. Since the cafe owner and my writer friends were curious about Michael Pisaro's music after reading my writings online, I brought some of the Pisaro CDs and played 'July Mountain', 'A wave and waves' and 'voyelles' (from the side B of the cassette tape) on this incredible stereo.

Everyone in the audience at the cafe - including some regular customers who happened to be there - loved Pisaro's music that I played, even though they were not normally contemporary classical music fans. We also listened to some other LP/CDs like some recent jazz, improvisation, old ECM stuff on customers' requests, but in the end before the cafe was closed, every one of them asked the owner to play 'July Mountain' again, since the music had captured their minds so deeply.

A few days later, one of the music writers who was there wrote a review of 'July Mountain' for a Japanese music website (Jazz Tokyo), so I translated it to English to put here with his permission.

I have the impression that there is something in Michael Pisaro's music that seems to be naturally received among Japanese listeners, who are living 'in' the experiences of various textures of silences and the sounds of nature in their daily lives.

'July Mountain' for field recording & percussion / Michael Pisaro, Greg Stuart (engraved glass p05) 2010

  • Review by Masanori Tada

A limited release of 50 copies from a British contemporary classical music label. With a beautiful cover, I was told that this is a composition of percussion sounds and 20 field recordings, but the actual listening experience is something beyond the description.

I love to listen to the murmurs of the wind in the trees, the sound of rain, various sounds that occur when I ride a bicycle with my kids, while paying attentions to the perspective and the movement of each sound. This might be something similar to field recordings, but the difference between those sounds I hear and that music must lie in the composer's presence as an intermediary - who incorporates his clear aesthetics, thoughts and ideas into the materials of the recordings - prayerfully.

I saw Yuko Zama of the Erstwhile label again after ten years. When I heard her voice, I felt like I was time-tripped to ten years ago when I had a music talk with her for Out There magazine. I explained to her that my taste for music has changed after hearing Michel Doneda playing outdoor - towards the music that evokes in me environmental sounds like temple bells or the sounds of nature like murmurs of the wind in the trees - which are not really the sounds of nature but contain the similar feels and waves. I seldom listen to current improvised music these days. When I told her so, she said that a similar mindset can be found in some of composer Michael Pisaro's work. Then she played some music of Michael Pisaro at the Sound Cafe Dzumi in Kichijoji, so I had a chance to listen to his music for the first time.

This was like a sound drug - the customers who were there at the cafe including a young lady who loves noise music, a contemporary jazz fan, an artist, a recording engineer - all of them looked like they were straying away from their normal listening path to enter a new world. The cafe owner was so excited that he brought a LP of the Italian ambient music by Giancarlo Toniutti and said that he had a similar experience of discovering something completely new to him when he encountered this LP.

I cannot tell the exact differences of field recordings, noise music and ambient music in general, but I can tell that this "July Mountain" is definitely the most powerful music you can experience. You can read the more detailed story about Michael Pisaro in Yuko Zama's blog. It just feels great to listen to this CD. With the music, I can also hear the sounds of Cessna planes flying over the panoramic view of this residential neighborhood in the suburbs of Tokyo, the chirps of birds, and even the sound of the sun. If Michael Pisaro ever has a chance to visit Kyoto, I can imagine that he would make fantastic recordings of everything there - from the calm chatter of the Kamo River while sitting on the embankment, the sounds of the temple bells, the sounds of Gozan-no-Okuribi, to the sounds of a small restaurant in Kyoto.

Listening to this music carefully with my headphones is also a great experience. Don't take this the wrong way, but it sounds really musical. The inserted piano sounds have even a little feeling of pop music. There are many works of ambient music in the world - that might be freer from the intermediary of musicians. But this incredible sense of exaltation in the music of 'July Mountain' - that is almost enchanting - must derive from the unmatched artistic creativity of the composer Michael Pisaro, who has a splendid awareness in seeing the beauty of the world.

  • Review from Radio Tagara on Jazz Tokyo by Masanori Tada (born in 1961: music writer/co-organizer of Japanese music website "musicircus")

Japanese page of the review is here.