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Geoff Leigh and Makoto Kawabata + Kamura Obscura

Iklectik, London, UK

Atsuko Kamura aka Kamura Obscura opens her solo set with pizzicato vocalisations and wind-like sighing. These sounds are quickly looped and layered, becoming rhythmic tracks that guide her compositions. Kamura’s various voices combine to create an indeterminate libretto in which bird song, ocean waves and white noise stand tall. 

The music is structured, though it may appear improvised at first. Stealing a look at Kamura’s score reveals a list of phrases such as “Frog Beat” and “Space Head”. This list refers to samples, presets and moods that she wishes to trigger or evoke in a certain order. 

Synthesised melodies shift the atmosphere from B movie horror, past New Age ambient, and onto playful children’s song. Her second to last composition is a Macedonian lullaby, the melody of which was fused with lyrics from a Japanese cradle song. As if to emphasise the playful music, Toni, the Iklectik house cat, wanders into the venue and walks around the stage as Kamura performs. 

Kamura’s previous work includes the Japanese punk band Mizutama Shobodan, Frank Chickens and a stint co-presenting Kazuko’s Karaoke Klub on British television in the late 1980s. Geoff Leigh and Makoto Kawabata, too, have colourful backgrounds and vast discographies behind them. Leigh has played with Henry Cow, Faust and The Artaud Beats, whilst Kawabata is the founding member of the Japanese psychedelic rock band Acid Mothers Temple. 

The first time that Leigh and Kawabata played together was in 2014 at the Urbanguild in Kyoto, Japan. The recording of that performance was released by the Acid Mothers Temple label two years later as ‘Spatial Roots’. This document of their first encounter as an improvising duo is markedly different from tonight’s performance. ‘Spatial Roots’ develops slowly and the players sounded much more uncertain of each other, with the guitar often fading in the mix. Having worked together on many occasions since then, tonight’s performance sees Leigh and Kawabata both confident and loud. 

The players start without hesitation. Leigh samples his flute, processing the arabesque notes through a laptop. Kawabata mirrors Leigh‘s fluttering notes with nimble dashes across the fretboard of his black headless guitar, approaching the instrument like a sculptor might approach clay. An experienced sarangi player, Kawabata then draws his curved bow across the strings to produce textures that are malleable and forever shifting. He tells me later that the size and shape of the sarangi bow allows him to easily alternate the tension of the bow hairs, which provides more control over the sound.

There is virtually no low end, but both players work hard to fill up empty spaces. Leigh’s close miked flute puts an accent on each suck of air, giving the impression that a vacuum is forming inside the venue. Because his set up is coming through the PA, but Kawabata’s guitar is not, an interesting spatialism occurs. The flutes bounce around the venue in stereo, while Kawabata’s controlled use of overdrive force the sound waves into different corners of the room, meaning that the reflections arrive with a slight delay into each ear. 

In the second half of the composition Leigh and Kawabata move onto soprano saxophone and electronics respectively. Kawabata’s Pocket Piano and effects chain bring additional nuance, whilst Leigh’s looped microphone taps and mouth clicks impart a syncopated rhythm track. The sound remains at a constant intensity throughout the concert. It would have been preferable to experience a greater dynamic shift between the two players – Leigh’s singing bowls and cowbells could barely be heard – but being hit by a wall of sound can be just as satisfying.

Ilia Rogatchevski
Originally published by Wire, May 2018

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