I’ll never get tired from advocating comparative listening sessions (speakers and headphones, with preference to the latter) when releases such as Contact are tackled. A pair of discs comprising performances from two different Japanese sets in 2008, this is not what you’d call an immediate darling. By approaching it nonchalantly, perhaps just leaving the scent of Sachiko M’s sine waves hover in your own environment, the risk is that of leaving a good number of Rowe’s under-the-radar infinitesimal movements go unnoticed. Instead they add a definite weight to the music, shards of almost complete stillness separating relatively quiet bursts of tabletop activity.
The first twenty minutes of the opening “Square” are based exactly on that sort of principle: extensive membrane-biting bleeps generate an unalterable milieu in which abrasive remnants and mechanical accruals succeed, symbols of a rational choice of events to be rendered manifest. As the time elapses the two-way action becomes clearer, small noises and synthesis fused in an extirpation of inane smoothness. That said, it’s still tough extracting genuine aural pleasure from the following “Oval”, perceived as a juxtaposition of introversions occasionally bordering on sheer acoustical dice-throwing, not a real trade. Nonetheless, the piece also features several demonstrations of how to flutter over the quagmires of futile hush through a few sweep ‘n’ scrape scorpion stings. Experience counts for something.
The second CD begins with “Rectangle”. Subliminal frequencies lie beneath constant hissing, ephemeral guitar reminiscences captured in transitory bounces and prudently rubbed components, strings included. Here the collaboration harvests its best fruits, giving the idea of Rowe and Sachiko’s reciprocal communication better than anywhere else. At one point the recurring increase/decrease of the underlying ground loop’s level functions as a backdrop for an eloquent handling of the most tangible aspects of instrumental metaphysics. Clean shrilling emissions are sporadically back at work amidst fickle sputters and helicopter-like impulses, lucidity prevailing throughout. “Circle” starts with a mixture of rusty crackle and semi-liquidness, a very concrete expression that lets us picture the artists’ fingers moving nimbly among knobs and objects. It’s the lone track in which Sachiko uses a contact microphone, and it shows. The piece’s overall appearance is indeed grimier, except when diminutive resonant spirits appear from Rowe’s Steinberger, lasting fractions of seconds. Far from the will of connecting with a broad-spectrum audience, the dialogue involves only when proper attention is given – and exudes intelligence.
All things considered, this writer may have remained slightly unmoved by a mere quarter of this substantial album. But the outstanding majority is what’s important, well beyond the typical visuals of artistic lenience. If there’s a correct method of traversing silence in music, this is it. Blemished contemplation, disfigured bareness.