Using the Guitar (MP3)

Yasuo Akai makes much of a familiar six-string device

Yasuo Akai‘s “Short Piece for Guitar” is not particularly short, at nearly five minutes, but the “for guitar” part is worth meditating on. The piece is, in fact, for guitar, which is a clarification necessary for those familiar with Akai’s often technologically enabled work. “Short Piece for Guitar” is also, truly, a “piece”: It’s less a song than it is a piece of musical narrative, working through varied sequences, the momentum always pushing ahead: there’s an opening that pits the slow development of a melody against a rhythmic thrumming, there’s the later emergence of a finger-plucked theme resounding amid attenuated hums, and there’s an extended coda of now familiar material that seems brighter than it had been the first time around. We can hear this as a composition, as a carefully navigated solo exploration halfway between sketch and song, or we can ponder its status as structure-informed improvisation, as something that might have been played on the fly and been lent form only by the fact of its recording and whatever mental processes Akai brought to it during its performance. (Side note: I’d be surprised, and even more impressed, if this did turn out to have been wholly improvised.) But it’s better yet still to hear the guitar piece amid Akai’s other work, like his clockwork explorations of tone and rudimentary drum machine, or his transformations of field recordings, or his “wobbly” sampling of Bach. It’s best to listen to this with the guitar considered as a piece of technology itself, pushed in subtle manners: the resonating strings resembling industrial hums, the layered note patterns bringing to mind multitrack recording. The instrument may be in service of delivering the music to the listener’s ear, but the music is in service of exploring the inherent potential of the device on which it is played. “Short Piece for Guitar”is music expressly for, certifiably from, the guitar. And what could be more technological than that?

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