Kyoto artist and musician Takagi Masakatsu has been making art from fragments of music and film. In one medium, weaving piano or guitar lines together, feeding them into a computer, and editing them almost beyond recognition into attractive, looped electronica; in the other, giving fragments of documentary film from around the world much the same treatment. Though the former provides a perfect soundtrack to the latter’s stark and beautiful images, taken alone, the music can pass you by without leaving much of an impression.
Journal for People is the third music album and second DVD Masakatsu has released on Carpark, but he’s been releasing music and films overseas, exhibiting continually, and has amassed a body of work that has established its own language and imagery. In fact, Journal for People was originally released in 2002; since then, he has released five CDs, four DVDs, and an art book worth of material.
Though it was originally released in 2002, neither the music nor the images on Journal for People seem dated in any way. It’s not that these quiet, layered ambient electronics are cutting edge, more that they exist in their own soft universe.
Still, the images on the DVD in this CD/DVD set leave the strongest impression. Five of the video pieces also appear on the CD; one is expanded into a trilogy (“Ketle 1”, “Ketle 2”, and “Ketle 3”). There is no way that, after seeing the images associated with “Birdland” (black and white, reeled-out digital manipulations of birds sitting on a wire) or “Ketle” (children playing in an outdoor swimming pool, overlaid with stop-motion images of water falling), you can listen to the music on its own without thinking of them. The most eerily beautiful image of all, a negative image of one of those amusement park rides where people sitting on chairs are whirled around a circle on long chains, is for a track (“Light Park #2”) that doesn’t even appear on the CD.
Takagi Masakatsu - Aqua
Taking the CD as it stands, the music does convey a certain serene beauty, though it’s often overlaid with stuttering electronic or ambient effects that somewhat detract from the meandering piano lines. “J.F.P” exemplifies this with staccato, pulsing beats overwhelming the steady beauty of a piano line that patters in the background. “Uter 1” starts off with a hesitating electronic loop, building up on itself in stuttering steps before tinkling off into silence. Still, there are moments of stunning beauty and real craft: “Ketle 2” runs on an aquatic beat, with the crescendo-decrescendo off each note as it’s hit by an echoing sonic. The piece swells and fills out to a glorious conclusion—the most fully realized song on the album.
Occasionally during the process of listening to the album, you feel like you’re playing one of those radio quizzes where you have to guess the mystery sound. “Uter 2” uses something that sounds like birds chirruping, though it’s obviously synthetically created. “Ketle 1” uses the sound of an electrical connection being made, like when you plug in the speaker to your computer with the power turned on, as a rhythm, accompanied by unidentifiable circles of electronic sound.
Other times, the music just washes past without much to grab the listener’s attention. Impressionistic without the power of Debussy, the pretty “Piano”, for example, is a quiet piece with no melody. “Aqua”, too, doesn’t go anywhere on its own; just a tumbling piano line with water-logged sounds in the background.
Journal for People offers a final surprise, though. The closing track, “Light Song”, centers around a child singing a simple melody over and over, “La, la la la-la-la.” As it goes on, she forgets the melody, strains to reach some high notes, and eventually returns to the theme. The song fades out in the middle of a phrase, as if to point to life’s renewal. And finally, in the very end of this hour-long musical/visual journey, we get a glimpse of Masakatsu’s potential: the creation of quietly stated, large-hitting sentiment.
Takagi Masakatsu - Birdland