Takagi Masakatsu, Akira Kosemura and the beauty

I love Takagi Masakatsu’s music. I don’t know much about him but, as far as I can tell, he travelled the world asking people to sing or play one melody, ‘The Light Song’. Hopeful piano riffs mix with childrens’ choirs, found sounds and scratchy processes. If I could sum up what I know of his music in one word, that word would be ‘playful’.

Sometimes Masakatsu’s music seems too straightforwardly happy, sentimental, simple in tone and texture. But there’s a sadness in the happiness, and vice versa. One new year’s eve I remember listening to a Dntel record in a backroom of a party. An acquantaince entered the room and said “I don’t know whether this music makes me feel happy or sad.” Wild times! A lot of the music I like has that kind of ambivalence. It’s a trait Masakatsu shares with Akira Kosemura. Their music can be uncomfortably direct in its evocation of beauty. Kosemura’s Twitter bio describes him as a “composer for capturing the beauty”. No need to say of what, I suppose. That simple ambition leaves traces of its hidden depth everywhere. Ambiguity arises. As the notes decay they leave an impenetrable silence and simplicity becomes the most unfathomable thing of all.

In any case, Takagi Masakatsu’s music isn’t always easy to listen to. It’s filled with ideas and sometimes weird cacophony, like breathing sounds or semi-musical noise. This is pretty strange, for example. Who has the right to say whether such choices are the result of a composer adding texture, trying to be ‘experimental’, or satisfying an unknowable itch of self-expression? The same is true of Kosemura’s Polaroid Piano. A sound like tree branches clawing the roof of a cabin persists throughout the entire record. It’s a unifying effect, as if you really were in that cabin while the piano played start to finish in one take.

Whether intended or not, the use of sound effects has a particular purpose and effect. It makes a recording definitive, specific, beyond the reach of notation. And when sound effects become part of the music, music itself becomes a sound effect. All that mesmeric tinkling is suddenly specific and incidental. Like everything else, it’s a ‘one off’ captured in a world which, as one of Masakatsu’s album titles tells us, is so beautiful.

Takagi Masakatsu links

Takagi Masakatsu’s Soundcloud.

Takagi Masakatsu on Spotify.

Takagi Masakatsu - Niyodo

Akira Kosemura links

Akira Kosemura’s Soundcloud.

Akira Kosemura’s Polaroid Piano on Spotify.

Akira Kosemura - Polaroid Piano

Moving house, the not-so-minimalist way

Moving house is a time for deciding what to keep and what to throw away. A chance to be minimalist, if only I had the cojones.

We’ve decamped from Cornwall and marched on Devon. Now we are faced with many Things To Do, not least of which is deciding which of my faded treasures and never-did-come-in-handy gizmos can be safely discarded, and which are still awaiting their day of glory. Having become distantly acquainted with the idea of minimalism, I feel an urge to throw things away that is every bit as compulsive as my previous urges to acquire and hoard. The only problem is, I’m not a very good minimalist. In fact, I am minimally minimalist.

Minimalism when you hoard books

I am too sentimental. About old computer games I’ll never finish. About band t-shirts bought at gigs in my rockin’ twenties. About utterly crap films I should be ashamed to admit I’ve watched, nay enjoyed, nay owned. So while I’ve lived happily for ten months from a suitcase of clothes, I couldn’t imagine what skulking horror awaited me in a storage depot in darkest Hampshire. “Just what did I put in there?” I naïvely pondered many times. Ignorant fool! You know what the removal men awoke in the darkness. Flame and shadow. And 19 boxes of books. The b*stards were breeding in there. And three more guitars in various states of bad repair to add to the caravan of damaged string instruments I already had about me. These are the things I find especially hard to part with. Argh.

There is a process of domestic archaeology I have become too familiar with. I approach the box with strong resolve, thus:

  1. Whatever’s in there, I’ll throw out.
  2. I can’t need whatever’s in there because I already have everything I need.
  3. Oh, that’s what’s in there. I haven’t seen that in ages.
  4. It’s useful, but not to me. I’ll take it to the charity shop.
  5. I’ll take a photo of it. Then get rid.
  6. I can never be parted from it again. I’ll hide it in this box.

And now, on recovering my external hard drive, a similar mindset holds for my digital life. Can you be a digital minimalist? Not if you hang onto every text file snippet of poetry, every blurred photo, and hastily recorded song idea you’ve accumulated over the last ten years.

I managed to thin out the duplicate files using some handy software. Then, once the house was unboxed, my digital crusade began in earnest. I found some interesting things, such as this song I kind of improvised and recorded and then totally forgot about for nearly ten years. So, here is ‘The Blackest Ship’. You are one of the first people to hear it. I bought the violin off eBay and abused the bow with Jimmy Page-style antics at Distant Signal gigs. I haven’t used it much (at all) since those days but still cart it around with me.

For a brief time I was able to reconnect with whoever it is I used to be ten months ago, and ten years ago. Looking through a 500gb hard drive of old projects is a surefire way to witness the folly and doomed hope of man (me). Or, if you have the balls, go down to your local electronic waste recycling centre and shot-put it into a skip. But then again, maybe it’s worth keeping a few keepsakes around, so we don’t get too completely caught up in the current dramas and dreams of our lives, all of which will be archived sooner or later. Life goes on in its usual unexpected way.

Sea music: foreword to a poetry pamphlet

Sea music - foreword to a poetry pamphlet

I’m hoping to send our new poetry pamphlet to the printers this weekend. It’s the second collaboration between myself and poets Joe Franklin and Hugh Greasley. To whet your appetite, here’s a draft of the foreword:

Sea music

Ted Hughes once said that if the reason we travelled to the coast during our holidays was to relax, we’d be better off avoiding the traffic and crowded beaches to stay at home in the garden. He was hinting at another reason for our habit of staring out over an ocean, and that is to connect with a reality much larger than the habitual selves we usually are. Returning to the sea frames our lives. It presents a new surface each time we visit.

Viewing the expanse of the ocean brings the mind back to the immensity of reality, and broadens our perspective. No wonder it has been a central character in the work of poets from Homer to Walcott. And yet in nearly 3,000 years there are still new things to say about the sea. The way people relate to it and earn their livelihoods from it continues to change. Yet the sea can hold our lives because it’s both a uniform vastness and a unique weathering of the coastline. The stretch of coast between St. Ives and Zennor that Hugh and I walked last summer is famed for resembling a splayed hand grasping the edge of the water.

Many things have happened in our lives since our first shared collection, The Inner Sea: much of which can be glimpsed in these poems. It seems fitting, then, that The Tide Clock and Other Poems is centred around coastal transformations. One of the oldest truths is that everything changes but change. Nowhere is this more obvious than at the fringe between land and sea: the intertidal zone where, even when it seems the waters are calm, they ebb or flood imperceptibly under the hidden influence of the moon.

So, The Tide Clock… is an exploration of boundaries and connections. With this in mind, we collaborated on the title poem, each writing one of its three movements. The intention is that our theme will flow between the boundaries of our individual styles and perspectives to find its own expression in this particular pamphlet you now hold. We hope you enjoy it.

Mark Cooper, Cornwall, 1st March 2015.

If you’d like a copy of The Tide Clock, email me at mark@markdcooper.com. I’d welcome any reviewers, bloggers, or readers who’d like to take a look at it. In the meantime, have a read of our first poetry pamphlet, The Inner Sea.

The Black Cat, an interactive fiction

Here’s an interactive fiction from a few years ago. Can you solve the mystery and get back to sleep?

We built this using Inform7 over the course of a couple of nights. There were a couple of awkward bits but on the whole it was remarkably easy. It’s interesting to think about how interactivity can change the way we write and read. I don’t think I could write the way I’d like to using this particular software: there’s a certain syntax imposed on you. However, I’d recommend it if you have an evening or two free and find yourself harking back to a youth of groping for verbs amid dense forests of text.

Hint: if you’re still in the dark, why not turn the light on?