Wednesday, January 24, 2007

A Well-known Address on Broadway

Something like 15 years after he entered my listening life, the work of Tetsu Inoue continues to be something I personally seek out and continue to enjoy. I confess to a certain general interest in how artists grow and mature over time (even in those situations in which only a slice of their collected work is of interest to me. The later "tonal" work of Arvo Pärt and Talk Talk's last two recordings Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock come immediately to mind here as examples], and -- in particular -- the work of artists who are apparently willing to venture as creators outside of the zone of comfort provided by decent sales or critical acceptance or the inertia of a "fan base."

Like a lot of his fans, I was unprepared for the arrival in 1998 of the Tzadik release Psycho-Acoustic; there'd been some general discussion that Tetsu might have decided that he'd gone as far as he could or wanted to within the zero-BPM ambient genre that he'd pursued with such success. But the release was a bolt out of the blue, jettisoning nearly every outward and visible sign of the work that preceded it [timbre, form, time scales] in favor of a completely different universe. It wasn't the case for everyone, I found the release [and the release of Fragment of Dots on Tzadik the next year] to be a real revelation -- a chance to hear someone you thought you knew reinvent himself right before your very ears. So I've never been among that group of people who wanted Tetsu to go back to conjuring giant fogbanks [If you're the sort of completist who is always in the mood for impoverishment, there's a complete listing of his ambient-era Fax releases (along with mention of which ones have been reissued on the Fax Ambient label) here.].

So it was a real surprise to have a new "oldskool" Tetsu Inoue disc cross the transom -- one which in both form and title hearkens back to his ambient days on the Fax label. While I am not likely to stop encouraging you to hunt up a copy of his wonderful 2006 release Yolo anytime soon, this is a lovely piece of work.

2350 Broadway 4 is the fourth of a series of ambient collaborations with Fax label owner and canonical ambientalist Pete Namlook, and picks up there the earlier discs in the series [from 1993, 1994, and 1996, respectively] left off. Suffice it to say that it continues the work of its predecessors -- expansive and evocative single-take soundscapes of great grace and elegance.

The new release is a 2 CD set, but not in the traditional sense: it's a single stereo audio disc and a companion DTS 5.1 surround version of the same material. While both are nice, it's very interesting to hear the way that Namlook and Inoue imagine spatializing the piece. I'm considerably more accustomed to hearing multichannel works of the electroacoustic variety, where the grammar of space and placement has more to do with trajectory and velocity than it would with, say, diagrams of plantings in a large and formal English garden. If you're familiar with the earlier 2350 Broadway releases, you'll no doubt recall that careful placement and languid movement within the stereo sound field was a large part of the sound and feel of these recordings. Re-imagining them as 5.1 surround is not that hard to imagine. It's often the case that the differences between a surround recording and a 2-channel folddown are pretty radical; 2350 Broadway 4 does a considerably better job of making the transition down (or up). It's a fine addition to the series, it'll probably make people who found Tetsu's more recent recordings from the late 90s on to be problematic [i.e. people who are not me], and it's great to have the surround mix.

Since I really enjoy and value Tetsu's work over the course of the last decade, I think of 2350 Broadway 4 as more a note from a friend that reminds you of your shared past with them.

On a related ranty note, I continue to be amazed just how lousy surround stuff can sound on people's "Home Theatre" systems. I shouldn't be surprised to realize that lots of those things are judged by their owners to be great based on their ability to deliver butt-rattling low-end for big-budget pyrotechnics and shizzy high-frequency crap whizzing around intended to make the experience of seeing movies about beehives "more authentic," should I? But man oh man, some of that stuff in the middle range [where lots of interesting things like music take place] sounds just dismal.