Lethe - Dry Ice on Steel Tables [either/OAR - 2011]
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 coccoon 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 up.Josh Landry