Tone 24 – KK.NULL/Watson/z’ev “Number One”

CD – 5 tracks – 48:15

Z’EV writes: “In March of 2003 seeing my friends Stephen & Josephine in Los Angeles they suggested that i get in touch with japanese composer/performer KK.NULL. There followed a string of weird email occurrences which delayed our communicating until, as it turned out, we eventually met in Paris on 18 November.After his performance we were talking about a possible collaboration and during his set a possibility had occurred to me. I ran the idea by him and we agreed to proceed with it. The idea had 3 elements: 1 – to use the structure of the NOH THEATRE cycle as the basis for the composition. 2 – to consider the initial sound development in terms of developing ‘characters’ which would then interact with one another through the specific “scene” [which is a fairly non-traditional way to work with sound elements] and 3 – to place the ‘character interactions’ as the ‘figure’ inside of particular sound-scapes as the ‘ground’.

So in January 2004 I returned to London and began to work on my initial character developments. Coincidentally at this time I received a copy of a CD compilation i had a piece on which was released by TOUCH, which also had a piece by Chris Watson. So i got on the phone to TOUCH who put me in touch with Chris who has joined in on the project.

Sometime after I had completed mixing the 5 pieces, I sent a copy to my friend Boyd Rice. He emailed me back: “This is the first avant-garde piece I have heard in years that is truly avant-garde.”

In the production process, Z’EV framed his and KK.NULL’s electro-acoustic musics inside Chris Watson’s field recordings from East Africa. A dynamic dialogue and inside-outside mirroring of natural and synthetic sound is the result: where the click and rhythm of an insect merges with KK.NULL’s drumming; where the calls of the elephants combine with the electronic bass frequencies; where bird and frog song and Z’EV’s harmonic structures produces surprising counterpoints.

Track list:

1. Invocation
2. Introduction
3. Development
4. Climax
5. Conclusion


The Sound Projector (UK):

Boomkat (UK):

KK.Null, friend of Merzbow, collaborator with Jim O’Rourke (among many others) and notable recently for a split LP with doom supergroup Earth now teams up with Touch stalwarts Chris Watson and Z’ev for an avant garde onslaught. Supposedly this album is based around themes of traditional Japanese Noh theatre, with each track representing a movement in the play. I can’t say I can really hear this in the tracks themselves but the concept is interesting, and Chris Watson’s Eastern African field recordings certainly add an amount of narrative to the pieces. Those of you who are familiar with Watson’s recordings will already know how essential his work is; incredibly detailed and captivating field recordings, taken from the most unusual sources (inside a bird carcass, the coming of a storm etc). The field recordings seem to be the basis of each track here, giving a solid backbone for whatever occurs elsewhere, and the events recorded are thoughtfully listed in the cd liner notes. KK.Null adds intense digital percussion and heavy noise into the mix, sometimes obscuring all else in his way, with Z’ev piecing together the results and distilling them into listenable and intricate mixes of styles. This is a captivating and intruiging project from Touch, and although it is not instantly listenable per se, when heard in its entirety is moving and atmospheric. Recommended.

The Wire (UK):

Conceived, edited and assembled by z’ev, Number One gives cogent articulation to the percussionist’s thinking on the innate close relationship between music and many traditional theatrical forms. Starting with the five part structure inherent in Japanese Noh drama, he has joined with Kazuyuki Kishino and Chris Watson in creating theatre from an intense series of superimpositions. In response to z’ev’s invitation, Chris watson supplied a set of field recordings he made in East Africa. According to the listing supplied by Watson and reproduced on the disc’s inner sleeve, the subjects captured on his microphones include vultures feeding off an animal carcass at noon, an oncoming thunderstorm and a herd of grazing elephants. Located on the far right and left channels in the stereo mix, they form stark backdrops from which the electronic and acoustic sound files independently created by Kishino and z’ev derive their resonance. In order to heighten the project’s ritual aspect still further, z’ev has also compiled a list of mythic adjuncts for each composition, creating a behavioural table of elements through which the piece can be interpreted. This subtle layering of effects helps deepen the rich interplay of sounds, producing a complex dramatic work from a strict economy of means. [Ken Hollings]

Allmusic (USA):

The three-way collaboration between K.K. Null, Chris Watson, and Z’ev was, rather unsurprisingly, not an improvised piece, though it would be fascinating to hear the trio working together in that fashion. Instead, Z’ev was the overall coordinator, taking various recordings in the wild from Watson to mix with Null’s electronic creations, including various drumming and rhythms, as well as his own work. Neither ambient in a classic sense nor noisy chaos at the other extreme, Number One finds a balance between hyperactivity and serenity that fits the sources — almost as if a pristine landscape were drawn over in power lines and the hums of alien visitors. It’s all the more interesting given that the thematics of the album revolve around interpretations of Japanese noh drama, and while there’s a sense of how the album functions as a potential soundtrack, with dramatic builds to explosive climaxes, it need not be foremost in the listener’s mind. The greatest source of the tension comes from hearing the many natural sounds from Watson’s tapes — there are numerous animal chirps, cries, and calls, which according to his notes come from everything from feasting vultures to massed frogs and toads — which set against stark, echoed electronic machine gun beats and shimmering sheets of trebly sound, not to mention sometimes howling drones, makes for a kaleidoscopic listen. “Development — Woman,” the third of the five pieces, makes for an appropriate centerpiece, growing out of the first two selections to serve as a less frenetic collage, but “Climax — Madness,” with its almost tactile combination of storm sounds and rhythm collages that crackle with electronic interruptions, trumps even that. [Ned Raggett]

Dusted (USA):

Aficionados of Japan’s traditional Noh theater might be hard pressed at first to find even a scant few hallmarks of the centuries-old artform in Number One. But, as Z’ev details on the Touch website, Noh served as the inspiration and the formal guidelines for the creation of the album, with the trio engaging the idea of musical theater from a novel perspective; as the disc progresses, the “characters” defined in its opening scene are recontextualized within the traditional Noh cycle, assuming new roles to match the theme or atmosphere usually assigned to each segment. Z’ev served as the play’s director, the final arranger and editor of the sounds, but (as can be seen on a project log on his website) the creation of Number One was a highly collaborative process. Though Noh was the definitive guide in the creation and placement of sound, it’s quite easy to listen to the disc in its entirety without a thought of the Japanese art form. Luckily, Number One isn’t purely a conceptual project, and regardless of how interesting or different the artists’ approach, the album’s music is strong enough to stand on its own without any detailed explanations needed.
Number One began as a vehicle for collaboration between Z’ev and KK. Null, but Chris Watson, a later addition to the plans, is the album’s most important contributor. Watson’s African field recordings, included on each track, serve as the most concrete link between Number One and its Noh-inspired trajectory, with each selection corresponding to the traditional theme of each part of the Noh cycle. The recordings are panned hard right and left, and serve as a boundary within which the electro-acoustic sounds of Null and Z’ev interact. More than a third actor, Watson’s selections are each act’s stage and scenery, more an omnipresent reminder of the atmosphere than another active voice in the music.
Were Watson absent, the tones and undulations of Null and Z’ev wouldn’t carom uncontrollably away from the inspirations of Noh, but what the field recordings have to offer, both musically and conceptually, cannot be ignored. Z’ev makes reference to his attempts to match similarities in sound, aiming for output that would fit within and mesh well with the details of Watson’s offerings. The dissonance between the organic and artificial is jarring at times, but, throughout the majority of the disc, Z’ev expertly weds the sound sources; even if there are no striking similarities in their actual sounds, the thematic parallels are exploited quite well. Watson’s recording of an upcoming storm and its noisy arrival is complemented by a cloud of static that, while likely made without wind and rain in mind, fit comfortably within Watson’s panorama. There are times, notably in the disc’s first two tracks, that the field recordings are obscured, or, momentarily, completely buried by the electronics. It’s these moments that feel the most obtrusive in Number One’s five-part cycle, the most detached from the original goal of the piece.

Noh traditionally makes use of minimalist scenery and props, forcing the utilization of imagination to fully realize the action taking place onstage. Number One takes a similar approach, not presenting the musical manifestation of Noh in such a blatant way as to interfere with the quality of the music; rather the performance takes precedence over more concrete and formal concerns. And while the disc’s “story” may not be so defined as that of its Japanese inspiration, Z’ev, Null and Watson, much like the actors in a Noh performance, make the telling of a story more of an event than the tale contained therein.
[Adam Strohm] [USA]:

Number One presents five collaborative pieces from Japanese composer/performer K.K. (Kazuyuki Kishino) Null, field-recording artist Chris Watson (one-time Cabaret Voltaire and The Hafler Trio member), and project instigator (as well as ultimate arranger and editor) American percussionist Z’ev. In developing the material, the artists adhered to certain guidelines: using the structure of the Noh Theatre cycle as a basis for compositional development, and treating sound elements as (‘figure’) ‘characters’ interacting with others in a given ‘scene’ (soundscape ‘ground’); more precisely, Z’ev’s ’25 binary-acoustic files’ and Null’s electronics and ‘electro-percussions’ were folded within Watson’s East Africa field recordings.

Naturally, the marriage of natural and electronic sounds is arresting—how could it be otherwise?—but, even better, each contributor’s style is enhanced by the others’ (even if some may prefer the purity of Watson’s ‘natural’ settings). At times the trio’s collective contributions uproot the material, adding to its disorientating character (the electronic machinery in “Invocation” could be lumbering through any number of locales), while at other moments, sounds invite associative meanings (the overlapping of electronic ammo fire with vulture caws suggests violent slaughter or frenzied attack). With the mood at times threatening, even apocalyptic, the results are never less than compelling and, in their own idiosyncratic manner, musical—if that doesn’t seem too absurd a word for such uncompromising soundsculpting. Regardless, settings like “Development” are remarkable. Its rather placid ambiance belies the multi-tiered sound that unfurls restlessly throughout, with slow-motion ripples, swishing, and bell rattles accumulating into an hallucinatory mélange of swarming insects swarm and elephantine croaks. Despite its ‘manufactured’ dimension, Number One feels wholly natural, as if someone had placed a tape device at the remote center of a jungle—home to both the churning noises of a factory outpost and the cries and howls of African wildlife—and pressed ‘record.

Coda (FRance):

Pour être réceptif à cet album, il faut aimer les compostions qui privilégient les textures, l’environnement, les atmosphères et les procédures musicales extrêmes. Et autant dire qu’avec ces trois personnages, nous sommes au coeur de la machine… Le fruit de cette rencontre a commencé à germer à Paris, après que Z’ev aborde KK Null en marge un concert. Ces deux vétérans oeuvrent chacun à leur manière dans une direction électro-acoustique très expérimentale, voire improvisée. Rituelle et souvent “percussive” ou bruitiste… Le son en tant que tel bénéficiant de toute leur attention et pouvant être retouché par des processus électroniques ou analogiques (c’est selon). Rythmiques caverneuses, grondements et souffle, cliquetis mélodiques, silence inquiétant, boursouflures synthétiques, basses fréquences, etc. : tous ces éléments bruts prennent forme et font sens en dépit de leur aspect chaotique; un peu comme les traits de couleur en apparence désordonnés d’une peinture moderne… À cela se superpose Weather Report : les enregistrements du naturaliste sonore Chris Watson précédemment édités par Touch. En l’occurrence des “field recordings” d’une absolue netteté — bruissements de la savane et de la faune africaine — et qui se combinent bien avec la densité de la matière sonore élaborée par Z’ev et KK Null. [Laurent Diouf] (France):

Si c’est généralement l’habitude de Touch de produire une électronica (d’obédience ambient) de très grande classe, Number One risque tout de même de surprendre, tant par sa rigueur conceptuelle que sa conception inhabituelle de l’ambient.

Collaboration entamée entre le batteur et percussionniste japonais KK.NULL, Chris Watson (field recordings et traitement du son) et Z’EV (machines et fichiers sonores), elle démarre par un échange de mails entre KK.NULL et Z’EV. L’idée est de reprendre au théâtre No ses structures et de les appliquer à la composition. Les premiers sons considérés comme des personnages en évolution, il fallait ensuite les faire interagir entre eux à travers des scènes spécifiques, qu sont autant de paysages sonores différents : ici le mot scène vaut pour paysage. Ces personnages se détachent ainsi d’un sol sonore primordial constitué de field recordings. Trois étapes et trois collaborateurs : le compte y est.

Le plus étonnant dans Number One reste que, au contraire de toute la production actuelle de field recordings ou presque, cet album est extrêmement lyrique, dans son projet comme dans son résultat. Utiliser le théâtre No à des fins musicales, c’est faire surgir à l’intérieur de la musique une action, une dramaturgie qui, en évoluant selon des schémas dramatiques et humains supposés connus et partagés par le lecteur, doit lui garantir un surcroît d’investissement émotionnel. Autrement, la grande rigueur et le hiératisme de la musique constituent ce fond lyrique sur lequel viennent prendre place des fragments d’histoires traditionnelles.

Le tout sur une conscience musicale nettement marquée de l’univers et de l’espace, la construction cyclique des field recordings favorisant une perception mystique de la nature où les sons ont été enregistré (l’Afrique de l’Est, paraît-il berceau de l’humanité). Number One est donc un travail attachant et original, assez surprenant, parfois déroutant mais certainement recommandable. [Johnny One Shot]

Sound of Music (Sweden):

Låt mig först säga att ”Number One” givit mig en av de starkaste ljudliga upplevelserna jag haft på länge. Samspelet mellan Chris Watsons ljudupptagningar i östra Afrika och KK Nulls och Z’evs elektroniskt och elektro-akustiskt skapade ljudfiler är fullkomligt magnifikt. Att skivan dessutom ställer de musikaliska begreppen på sin spets gör inte saken sämre. Är detta musik eller är det ljudkonst? Teater? Hörspel? Och inte minst, spelar det egentligen någon roll? På detta har jag ännu inget svar, även om jag lutar mot det senare.
Tanken med Number One är att det strukturellt ska vara ett stycke japansk noh-teater där KK Nulls och Z’evs ljudfiler ska bilda olika karaktärer som interagerar över Chris Watson grundläggande ljudlandskap. Fem sviter delar dramaturgiskt upp stycket och leder in ljuden i olika akter: ”Invocation” – Kami (the celestial), ”Introduction” – man (the warrior), ”Development” – woman (the balance), ”Climax” – madness (the trickster/fool) och ”Conclusion” – demon (the super-natural).

I inledande ”Invocation” (åkallan på svenska) förnimms den gudomliga Kami endast i tanke och språk. Chris Watsons oklippta, men något komprimerade inspelning av gryning i en acacia-skog bildar fond för elektroniska ljud som sakta och försiktigt träder fram. Fåglar sjunger i samspel med odefinierade ljud som bubblar och breder ut sig i stillhet.
Stämningen förändras radikalt i ”Introduction”. Gamar kalasas på ett kadaver. Industriellt färgade rytmiska figurer studsar fram. Rörelse och aktivitet. Susande elektroniska ljud byggs upp och tar över mer och mer av ljudbilden. Det artificiella och det naturliga i ett långsamt gemensamt skapande. Interagerandet når så långt att det till slut är omöjligt att hålla reda på ljudens rätta källor.

Efter tiden med grupperna Cabaret Voltaire och The Hafler Trio har Chris Watson ägnat många år åt fältinspelningar runt om i världen. Inspelningar som resulterat i skivor på Touch och tv- och radioprogram för brittiska BBC. Hans förmåga hörs inte minst på ”Development” där man tydligt hör hur grässtråna rycks av när elefanterna ledda av en bastant matriark sakta betar inför en marsch. Nulls och Z’evs balanserar försiktigt upp med lågmälda ljud som inte bryter den pågående stillheten.

En av storheterna med ”Number One” är just balansen i ljudbilden. Elektronikens volym och kraft kan med lätthet stjäla uppmärksamheten. Men förutom vid ett fåtal tillfällen – och då med desto större effekt – tillåts den inte göra det. Watsons naturliga ljudlandskap blir just den scen de är tänkta som. Ska man någonstans kritisera den ursprungliga idén är det i så fall KK Nulls och Z’evs karaktärer. Efter otaliga lyssningar lyckas jag inte snappa upp dem. Förutom att ljuden ibland kan härledas till slagverk – och då är skapade av KK Null – kan jag inte särskilja dem. Men det påverkar på intet sätt mitt helhetsintryck.

Ett sakta muller till en statiskt färgad drone bygger upp en stämning av oro och förvirring inför det annalkande ovädret i ”Climax”. Åskan tar tag i KK Nulls slagverk och bildar små rytmiska figurer medan regnet strilar ned från skyn. Droppar når marken eller är det elektroniskt skapat knaster? I avslutande ”Conclusion” förflyttas vi till den amfibiska världen. Grodor kväker till sakta slagverksspel av KK Null och elektroniskt gurgel och för en gångs skull verkliga (!?) syrsor och inte elektroniska sådana.

Jag kan inte annat än att verkligen rekommendera ett inträde till denna teater, detta hörspel, denna ljudkonst eller denna musik. Den/det är värd/värt att uppleva. [Magnus Olsson]