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 instruments.

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
(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)