Amorfon Yoshio Machida : Infinite Flowers (JAP,2003)***°
It is important before reviewing this music to introduce Yoshio's basic instrumentation. With a starting point of a (normal) 12-tone steelpan for basic playing, its sounds are also often processed, many times, while attached to a multi-sampling engine which was programmed using Max/MSP (software) on a laptop computer with some, extra live electronics like some analogue sequencers. This combination of equipment, if I understand it well, he called his "amorphone".
In combination with some steelguitar, and help from Tetsuro Yasunaga on electronics (3, 5, 6) and Keiichi Sugimoto on guitar (1, 3, 6) this is very improvised music, partly as coming from a conceptual and visual artist, (being part of the Tokyo art scene), creating a world of sounds with some random bloodpressure changes in the moment's tension with equally a random like-wind-coming and disappearing structures, here and there with some bleeps and blips programming, or some reverted programmed soundcarpets for insects sounds to live upon, or more like watery ambient electronica, or just occasionally with some rhythms.
Just a few times it is just fundamentally playing and improvising with the steelpan.
Yoshio started his own label in 2004 and this was the label's second release.
Amorfon Yoshio Machida : Naada (JAP,2006)****
This is a CD entirely based upon improvisation on the steelpan without the addition of anything else.
The steelpan has a beautiful sound, which shows immediately the first track, “Lotus, part 1”, where the harmonious overtones of the instrument combine so well, the improvised music coming forth from it here sound almost like sound bubbles combinations of harmonies. It is as if the bubbles at the moment they “explode” make their sounds.
Thoroughly more harmonies are added to the composition like leafs are added to the lotus. In the third part the melodies are spinning around a bit like a dancing figure, within the same space, first with full body movement, then more bowing down to rest more often, expressed like a musical box with a dancer, not with mechanical, but with very human movements.
“Texas Vino” is inspired by “Vexations” by Erik Satie. Satie was known to have created for the first time spatial silences into his music, to play part of the compositions, which I think is done here too. While some of it could have been a written down composition, the improvisation can be felt here for the first time as well, still keeping within reach a certain meditative control over it.
“Bloom” is based upon vibrating oscillations creating a tension on its own.
“Dew” sounds again like raindrops of sounds, presented as lying in the grass, which throughout the improvisation are forming a melody after some random clustering, then conclude again in a free dance.
Last track, going back to the lotus, is a last meditative movement : calm, and developing with harmonic pulses, with some repetition (tradition), freedom (exploration), and development (evolution) well in harmony. A very nice CD.
Used instruments are tenor steel pan, double tenor steel pan, mid pan.
Amorfon Yoshio Machida : Steelpan Improvisations 2001-2008 (JAP,pub.2009)****
Yoshio Machida compiled here a whole diversity of live improvisations on steelpan, with or without live electronics (in fact he also plays an electronic steelpan, called PanKAT), fitting with one another highlights for each year compiled from performances from the last seven years.
The earliest recording sounds a bit sharper and with noisy people attending, giving it a surreal atmosphere. This improvisation has a slight gamelan/gong like effect, with a mechanical rhythm, like a more colourful clicking clock in the background.
On the second track the sounds become deformed as if filtered through a sound machine getting with it an extra diversity ranging from bass undertones to wa-wa bell like sounds with a few extra high pitches. The effect however does not make this more mechanical-rhythmic, but give, thanks to this, more attention to the individually created sounds.
The next track brings us back to the natural resonances of sounds in a more calmly played track, where subtle reverb pitches of live electronics immerge from this starting point, forming interesting pulses of their own.
The fourth track makes an independently working rhythmical loop from such a recording, with a rather steady bass, reverb sound effects and a calm middle section of coming through acoustic steelpan improvisation. Thoroughly it seems that a simple drum box rhythm with bass accompanies some reverb effects and a real time live steelpan improvisation.
The fifth track shows the resonanced sounds at full range, turning the sonic qualities into loops that melt into one another (this one is called “loop-line”). Also the sixth track is a beautiful laptop loop evolution, with an almost electronic keyboard-alike sound, for a calm steelpan improvisation on top.
The 7th track finally shows a steelpan improvisation in full range of resonances in sounds, natural and very well recorded. This sounds very meditative showing a beautiful range of overtones. Also the track hereafter shows this beautiful range of colourful pitches in a well recorded and well concentrated way, showing the master position of the instrument. We hear beautiful waves of improvisation with an eternal now feeling, with some occasional traffic in background integrated in the moment and the improvised piece. This gives a sort of highlighting occasional moment. Also the last track is such an improvisation, but here the pitches and colours are a bit different, perhaps due to the conditions of the recording. It still is with the fully acoustic parts that I understand the significance why the instrument was picked out by Yoshio Machida and being described as being a symbol of light, like the Asian Gong.
A diverse and well compiled resume of steelpan recordings.
Amorfon Yoshio Machida : The Spirit of Beauty (JAP,rec.2009-2010,pub.2010)****
- Van Cleef & Arpels Exhebition Soundtracks-
Yoshio Machida had received a commission to take care of the music for an exhibition of French jewelry factory Van Cleef & Arpels at the Mori Arts centre in Tokyo. The jewels were themed in fitting rooms specially designed by Philippe Starck. A few other artists participated, like Yoshida Daikiti on sitar, Tatsu on bass, Kunikazu on sax, Kohei Kawamura on gamelan gongs (trompong and gender) and Seigen Tokuzawa on cello, while Yoshio Machida used his voice, played steelpan, keyboards, ukulele, gongs, water and programming. One track included bird singing recorded in Nepal in 1998. The pieces are slightly more orchestral than usual, in a jazzy ambient way, from mostly a more textured nature because a lot of space is used as responding sounds in a spatial setting. This way the music fits perfectly for its use in a larger room with deepened attention to certain focused spots which should be shining bright spots of attention hanging together within this case musical similarities. While the idea remains that of the way a steelpan or gongs that are played with its own characteristics, the colours of sounds change most of the time, with each sound-happening spot being from a different nature or instrument. Besides the mentioned instruments I also heard the use of something like Fender Rhodes, glass bowl effects of metalophones or something, toypiano, organ and in one track drums. One cello part is a bit more contemporary in nature, while keeping notes open or stretched with an emotional richness. One track, with percussion, “Alhambra” uses a warm dance rhythm and colourful arrangements. While the music is a deliberate fragmented sonic experience without disturbing the attention by too much melodic intervention with ideas, here and there with creative force a band feeling comes more forward too so that the musical aspect becomes complete and a natural creative process with restraint by keeping is too long like a sound meditation experience alone. Very nice.
Highly recommended for repeated listening.
Amorfon Jorge Queijo, Hiroki Chiba, Yoshio Machida : Luminant (PT,JAP,2015)****
It is not difficult for those people who love music to appreciate the beautiful and rich steel sounds of a steelpan or a gamelan, especially not when given a breathing with spatial qualities of a rhythm, just as Yoshio Machida plays the instrument. Of course, such improvisation could easily be adopted into a communal atmosphere in which to improvise further with it, in a group. Jorge Queijo and Hiroki Chiba provide to it some bass and percussion, a slowly jazz progression. To it we also hear some small reflections of sound, which I assume but at first I am was not so sure off that come from some sort of interactive computer processing (electronics, expressed by Hiroki Chiba this time, keeping a semi-acoustic nature of it intact in them). As good as everything is carried by these further on, not only breathing, but also the now further progressing in energy and richness underlying rhythm of the improvisation. The great thing about these improvisation sessions is that the space, in which the improvisation sessions are formed, is always respected, and returned back to, more than anything else.
On “Acne”, the bass line starts first, followed by steelpan and percussion, which shows a slightly different angle of the approach, allowing also a solo drum/percussion improvisation, before returning a last time to the rich steels sounds, bubbling its own spring of creation. This is answered by electronic feedback, and is later on enriched with acoustic bass and drums for a last jazzy fusion of a cooperation, still concluding in it with the appearance of its child of creation, in steel sounds.
PS. Queijo is not only part of the Jazz and post rock scene. He has gained experience before with the incoroprations and lead of instruments like the gamelan. He currently leads a Gamelan ensemble in Oporto (Ensemble de Gamelao). Some people might know the steelpan mostly because of its use in Carribean music. Yoshio’s approach is not at all associated with that. As I have explained before, he more let the sounds develop more from its inner range in sound balance, as if he makes from it an expression with a sound of something from being part of nature.
Amorfon Yoshio Machida: Tender Blues (JAP,2016)***
Yoshio Machida has a long time experience with al kinds of steel pans and approaches on it. On his 11th release he improvises on a new kind of metal slit drum made from a small gas tank. Like each new instrument, it has its own specific colours and overtones with which the improviser tries to deal with and incorporate it in its play. The instrument is constructed in scale C and has the range of 2 octaves. The theme is “tenderness”, so that the spatial tones get most full attention. The sound overtones are rather cowbell- than gong-like, with exceptions to certain deeper tones, where the resonance is higher, giving a special range and combination of a more limiting or more opening up resonating space of tones. The introduction itself describes the range and playing as a “slow rhythm, minimal like gamelan, sweet tones like kalimba.” The shorter-range tones are indeed at times more resonating with a picking effect-too like the thumb piano (kalimba). This effect is most noticeable on the first track. The third track contains a fixed melody, like a clock in different timbres and with changing speed, to which further on certain variations or extra notes are added. According to Yoshio Machida he was influence by kora music from Mali, valiha music from Madagaskar, shona mbira (thumb piano) music from Zimbabwe, gamelan music from Java & Bali, kulintang music from the Philippines and traditional music from Myanmar. The 5th and also the last track onwards has something more gamelan-like, performed in a meditative and moody way. With two similar tracks to end with I still would have preferred a different mood, like ragas always end in a highlighting energy outburst before conclusion. We still have the inner core of the instrument speaking out its tongues.