Koji Asano is a young Japanese composer and performer with a prolific manner; his discography runs to fifteen full-length releases in the past five years. Preparing for April is the fourth of these to feature solo piano, but the first to be recorded wholly on microcassette tape. It’s heartening to see this serviceable little medium, previously thought to be the sole domain of tired senior managers and their overworked secretaries, being put to such creative good use as it is here by Asano.
The album consists of six untitled tracks varying in length from three to 27 minutes. Asano’s style is edgy and unnerving: dense, cramped pianistics that tumble gracelessly through the ether. It’s music that definitely rewards repeated listenings – the first impression is one of clunkiness, even ineptitude, but eventually this is replaced by a strange kind of intensity. There is a quiet but insistent sense of refusal here: notions of fluidity and virtuosity which are usually associated with solo piano performance are rejected. Patterns fail to resolve, melodies are no sooner embarked upon than discarded, silence makes its presence felt.
The intensity of the music stems in large part from the soundworld in which it exists. The use of microcassette tape means that the recording is constantly indistinct, with heavy amounts of tape hiss. At quiet moments I’m sure you can hear the mechanism of the tape recorder itself in action. As a consequence the music has an ineffable, ghostly quality, as though it’s being heard from down a distant hallway or picked up by a faint radio signal. This striking effect, paradoxically, makes the album far more listenable than it might otherwise have been.
Over the course of the album, the mood shifts from stridency in the first three pieces to something more like gentleness in the fourth and sixth, with the fifth providing an almost jaunty interlude. The pieces are linked, however, by the rumbles and interference of the recording, as the medium reclaims through its own deficiencies the space between performer and listener.
(Originally published in The Sound Projector 8, 2000)