“As materials, we take these garbagelike sounds that have hardly ever been used before, and each of us tries to make them resonate more and more. I don’t just use my voice – I also do things like scrape the floor with the mike. Since Utah Kawasaki’s sounds and actions have no connection to mine, it ends up being this sort of garbagelike ensemble with a completely non-functioning collaboration style,” quoth Ami Yoshida, the vocalist half of Astro Twin. Last year she was awarded the most prestigious art prize in electronic music, the Golden Nica at the Austrian Ars Electronica festival.
Astro Twin draws from the Onkyo aesthetic, which was introduced to Avanto audiences three years ago by Otomo Yoshihide, Sachiko M and Toshimaru Nakamura. Onkyo is based on listening and amplifying barely audible sounds, and on eliminating grand gestures, expression, and most importantly, symbolic meanings. It has been described as the negation of noise and other Japanese extreme phenomena, but it can equally be seen as their logical continuum. Onkyo musicians and their kindred music writers share the same eternal questions of silence and minimalism, as well as the zen-tinted quest for music without meaning.
It is hard to believe that Ami Yoshida and Utah Kawasaki would not listen to each other while playing, but their paradoxical statements can be partly put down to discarding such clichés of free improvisation as alternating soloing. Their telepathic connection can also be explicable by the fact that they have been making music together since 1996. Yoshida does not “sing” in any conventional sense of the word, but rather croaks and wheezes. Her microphone technique and vocal virtuosity is a constant source of amazement everywhere they perform. The most incredible aspect is that while she does not use any electronic “gadgets” to alter her voice, more often than not it does not sound human. Kawasaki, who plays analogue synthesizer and computer, uses his machinery to produce blurts, scratches and cracks that sound like digital static mixing seamlessly into Yoshida’s vocals. In an interview with the Improvised Music From Japan magazine Ami Yoshida elaborated: “An important point is whether or not there’s breathing. Sine wave doesn’t take breaths, so it’s always the same. When you take breaths, the sound changes even if you’re trying to keep it the same. In that sense, my physical being becomes apparent. I try to keep that from happening, but after all, I’m human – it’s impossible. But I think that when someone tries to attain the impossible, it’s human and beautiful. As a person, I always have the feeling, when I’m working, that I know I’m going to die, but I live anyway.”
Astro Twin at the Avanto Nightclub in UMO Jazz House on Friday, November 19th.