Osaka-born Tatsuya Nakatani began his US career in the mid '90s as a drummer for improvising troupes such as Nmperign, New York Underground Orchestra, in duo and trio with Nate Wooley, and Mary Halvorson as part of MAP; but it wasn't until he took his van full of gongs across North America that his niche broke out of locals-only status. These shows could be him alone, could involve some locals met via Instagram the night before, or could be the full Nakatani Gong Orchestra — an agile musical pop-up involving one or many additional warm bodies (some professionals, some much less so) to contribute to the riptide produced when numerous huge pieces of metal vibrate simultaneously.
Although accomplished in the free jazz idiom on a kit + percussion accoutrement, Nakatani's thing is the wind gong. Whether in the corner of a living room, at the front of a record shop or spread out in a concert hall (or in a tea shop with me in an eye-opening, humbling duet), he book-ends his sets, bow in hand, by filling the space with a shimmering, reverent dedication that he will eventually disperse at a pace akin to thawing ice.
Monochrome is a multi-tracked affair that condenses nearly a year's worth of Nakatani's recordings into a focused examination. What can one conjure with a bow and a concert bass drum beater? Absent of any trace of wood blocks and prayer bowls slamming together under the force of juggernaut drum rolls, the album eschews a percussionist's duty of stringing together staccato, otherwise non-resonant notes into a pattern that demonstrates "music". Instead, Nakatani prefers to give the listener an eidetic experience of watching clouds roll around. These merge and stretch, often pausing completely, appearing static until a deeper listening reveals pulses that pull in different directions. "Experiment(ing) and improvising are different," writes Nakatani. Using the former to inform, gain confidence and forge an identity throughout his artistic enterprise is what makes his "collage" here effortless and convincing. That is, his loyalty to the languages of bronze and brass establishes a precedent of transforming an object generally reserved for big punctuation into a viable, self-contained music-making tool.
To harp on this some more, the reputation of Nakatani live is justified and cannot be understated. As mentioned, the sound is psychologically gripping, mood-altering and almost overwhelming, all something that one should expect out of, you know, live music. To capture a clean, vibrant, accurate representation of even the least of the seventeen gongs is an art, and getting them all sounding so nice and organically related is another daunting chore (the disc was mastered by James Plotkin who works with Scorn, Earth and former Khanate bandmate, Stephen Sunn O))) O'Malley). Fortunately, the payoff of turning up the subs and asking your family to leave for an hour is that loud is going to give you your money's worth. To sum up: this is an awesome production job, if you care about those things.
However, regardless of how cool this all is, the mention of "edited" and "computer" in the press sheet gave this author the impression of an inevitable Nakatani Electroacoustic Experience or possibly something mangled, gutted and reworked in the style of Evan Parker and John Wiese's C-Section. Instead, the intentional-or-not "manipulation" comes from a clean recordings (chosen from hundreds) and an arrangement that tweaks physics to render a subtly unnatural spatialization. And judging by what we're listening to, Nakatani still has plenty of interesting things to say before even thinking about switching up his routine.
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