Kiyoharu Kuwayama: dry ice, steel tables & candles.

A remarkable document of a live performance recorded on September
11th, 2003 at No, 20 warehouse, Nagoya Port, Japan. The sounds heard in
this recording were created by Kiyoharu's application of dry ice to four steel
tables which were heated by candles. No electronic processing or
post-production editing of the performance was done.

Lethe / Kiyoharu Kuwayama is known for creating and recording work in
highly resonant spaces or charged atmospheres (abandoned warehouses,
Shinto temples, etc). Kiyoharu is also known for his involvement with the
duo Kuwayama - Kijima (Kiyoharu Kuwayama: cello, and Rina Kijima:
violin) who are formidable players, so well attuned to each other that their
improvisations cannot be distinguished from highly complex compositions.
With a particular interest in ambient sound and locations that inspire
improvisation, they take advantage of the natural reverb of each location
(under a bridge at night, an abandoned warehouse), and even change
their position while playing to create beautiful and charged performances.

Kiyoharu has had his various work published by a number of respected
recording labels such as Trente Oiseaux, Intransitive, Locust, ICR, Alluvial
Recordings, Monochrome Vision, Invisible Birds, 20City, among others.

catalog number: either/live2
artist: LETHE
title: Dry Ice On Steel Tables
format: CD
Its interesting to note that whenever some music by Lethe, nom de plume
for Japanese Kuwayama Kiyoharu, is released it is always years old, or so
it seems. I have no idea why that is, but surely its like whiskey: it gets
better when its older. This particular recording is made at the No. 20
warehouse, Nagoya Port, Japan on September 11th 2003. The cover tells
us that the sound materials are steel tables, dry ice and candles. I saw
Lethe doing this, not this concert, but at a visit at his studio, but that was
before 2003, so I am no longer able to tell you how that works,
soundwise. The backside of the cover shows us also sixteen small
photographs of the concert: a small table in the middle, surrounded by
three other small tables with the candles. It looks like a ritual being
performed. No doubt the warehouse space was empty and the large hall is
used to reverb the music. Its like scraping metal sheets, like Organum did
in his early days, but then much, much more slower, with more time
between each attack of the sheets, making the piece more 'silent',
although each scrape of metal is quite intense. Both as an attack and
intensified. Probably a DVD of the concert would have been more
appropriate, so you could see the action, and judge for yourself if this a
performed ritual, but instead, by putting it on CD, one is forced to
consider this in pure musical terms, which I guess is the whole notion of it.
It has an odd orchestral feel to it, like a Xenakis piece, scraping,
reverberating and intense. An excellent piece of music.  
(Frans de Waard)
Lethe is the nom de plume of Japanese sound specialist Kuwayama
Kiyoharu, whose long running Catastrophe Point series and fruitful
collaborative albums (alongside Kapotte Muziek and Jonathan Coleclough
to name two) have piqued my interest over the last couple of years. The
majority of Lethe albums – if not all of them – were recorded in emptied
or abandoned architectural spaces, such as warehouses and airplane
hangers, where by a variety of ephemera was usually agitated, bowed,
scraped, rustled or in some way, shape or form manipulated to create a
sound that resonated within the vast walls of Kiyoharu's chosen
infrastructure. The results that Lethe achieves after carefully overdubbing
his compositions are often a potent crossbreeding of Musique Concrète,
Acousmatic, and Impressionistic musical sensibility.

Dry Ice on Steel Tables veers from the Lethe paradigm slightly, as what
we have here is a live, unaltered piece culled from a 2003 performance,
as opposed to the usual post-production assemblage of kiyoharu's
acoustic recordings. Remarkably, the stammering ebb and flow of buzzing
metallic scrapes and bellowing drones that characterized the performance
were sounds sourced entirely from three very non-musical materials:
tables, dry ice, and candles. As the album cover reveals, Lethe positioned
himself in the center of four small steel tables that were all being heated
by candles, and maneuvered from one table to the next placing pieces of
dry ice on them with a gloved hand. The sonic properties of the metal
tables shrieked to life using this process and Lethe was able to
manipulate all the materials in such a way as to coax interesting
variations in the durations of tones and pitches in the shrieking steel, all
the while leaving plenty of silent gaps to accentuate the isolated
movements. Yes, quite a bold, creative and brilliant performance.
(Adrian Dziewanski)
Kuwayama Kiyoharu, also known as Lethe, has an impressive discography
of non-music dating back to the late 90's, although this new release, "Dry
Ice on Steel Tables", is my first time listening to his material.  The
release is a single track (actually recorded in 2003), which portrays the
title of the album quite directly: it's an unedited and unhurried 43 minute
improvisation, in which Kiyoharu coaxes as many different contact sounds
as possible from the two materials, resulting in what often sounds like a
sort of metalized whalesong.

Upon pressing play, we are dropped into the dusty, tranquil openness of
"no. 20 warehouse", sonically illuminated by the diffusion of the
unintrusive sounds of distant ventilation systems.  The sound of the room
in this hushed baseline state ultimately accounts for most of this
recording, as oftentimes pauses between the harmonic moans of the
tables stretch on for several seconds.  The space was well chosen, and it is
the desire to return to it that keeps me listening to this recording.

The shrill, razor-sharp groans of protest dragged from the steel tables are
embalmed in a cocoon of dream-like natural reverb, and the result is
significantly more pleasant on the ear than it could've been, as well as
deeply ethereal and even quasi-melodic.  The shifting and twisting sounds
created have occasional similarities to the squeaking of a mistreated
saxophone or clarinet, or the warm tones of a conch shell, and at times
the tables even resonate with a sonority nearly comparable to those

Listening to this album is peaceful, yet uneventful and lonely.  The
experience of meditative solitude is primarily what is expressed here,
through the mournful, unfeeling voices of mass-manufactured objects.  In
order to enjoy this album, patience and the ability to enjoy loosely
structured sound for its own sake are required.  Though a consistent tone
and acoustic space are present throughout the recording, no attempts at
rhythmic patterns or compositional development are made.

Ultimately, "Dry Ice on Steel Tables" is quite the rewarding release, full of
unique, complex sounds, thick reverbs and a sort of performative
whimsicality.  It's the rare album of field recordings that already feels like
a complete soundspace without the addition of any editing.  Those not
used to intensely sparse, formless ambience will likely be confounded and
bored by this recording, but fans of slow moving 'dream ambient' music
like Troum or Nurse With Wound's "Soliloquy for Lilith" should eat this up.
(Josh Landry)

J'ai déjà chroniqué Lethe, Kuwayama Kiyoharu de son vrai nom, pour ses
deux incroyables duos en compagnie du saxophoniste Masayoshi Urabe.
Dry ice on steel tables a également été enregistré en 2003 dans le même
hangar abandonné sur le port de Nagoya. Pour qui a écouté les deux
duos Kuwayama/Urabe parus chez Intransitive, difficile d'oublier ce vaste
espace hautement résonnant. Ici, Lethe est seul, seul au milieu de quatre
tables métalliques chauffées par une petite bougie, quatre surfaces sur
lesquelles il frotte des pains de glace séchée. Comme d'habitude, tout est
entièrement acoustique, il n'y a pas d'effets électroniques, et
l'enregistrement n'est pas retravaillé au mastering ou au mixage.

Les performances de Lethe ne passent pas inaperçues, l'espace choisi
pour ses qualités acoustiques possède toujours une sorte d'aura mystique
ou magique propre à littéralement envouter les spectateurs/auditeurs.
C'est peut-être pourquoi Frans de Waard se demande si cette
performance ne peut pas être qualifiée ou apparentée à un rite.
Personnellement, je n'y crois pas, d'une parce qu'un rite est
essentiellement collectif et communautaire, et demande la participation
de plusieurs personnes, mais surtout parce qu'il me semble que Lethe fait
avant tout de la musique, qu'on peut certes qualifier de non-musique
pour faciliter le catalogage, mais qui n'en reste pas moins une
organisation sonore du temps, une mise en forme acoustique de la durée.

Pour cette performance, Lethe frotte un à un ses blocs de glace, un
grincement surgit et vole et se répercute contre les parois gigantesques
du bâtiment portuaire. Lethe possède ce talent qui consiste à créer un son
et à donner l'impression que le son vit par lui-même immédiatement
après sa production, chaque bruit est produit puis il est comme laissé à
son sort déterminé par les propriétés physiques et acoustiques de
l'espace résonnant. Mais le son ne vit pas vraiment par lui-même, car
c'est toujours Lethe qui choisit bel et bien de le laisser résonner seul et de
contempler son évolution à travers l'espace, ou bien de produire plusieurs
sons simultanément qui se mélangent et en forment de nouveaux, de
produire ces mélanges faits de grincements et de frottements, de
résonances qui s'entremêlent, s'entrechoquent et s'évitent selon l'instant.  

En tout cas, cette manière de travailler la résonance est parfaitement
adéquate à une mise en forme singulière de la durée, le mélange de
nappes sonores et la succession de cris espacés par un silence qui n'en
est pas un, un silence rempli de résonances fantomatiques et spectrales,
cette structure propose une perception de la durée neuve et singulière,
une perception déterminée autant par les caractéristiques spatiales du
lieu d'enregistrement que par les caractéristiques acoustiques des sons
produits et de l'espace de la performance. Une mise en forme du temps
étrange et un timbre unique, puissant, épais et éthéré en même temps,
oppressant et évanescent. Car oui, les sons produits par Lethe ne
ressemblent évidemment à rien de connu, et même si on pouvait les
reconnaitre, cette reconnaissance serait faussée par l'espace au sein
duquel ils sont produits. Une performance toujours aussi spectaculaire et
originale, où l'extrême sensibilité acoustique permet l'émergence d'une
musique extrême et radicale, radicale dans sa forme et extrême dans sa
délicatesse. Dry ice on steel tables forme ainsi un long poème acoustique
et spatial, une poésie qui résulte encore une fois de l'interdépendance
entre l'espace et l'acoustique, car Lethe nous dit encore une fois que si
l'espace met en forme le son, l'acoustique peut également rendre présent
l'espace, ainsi que la durée.  
(Julien Heraud)