MSCTY_Studio x Carl Stone’s Tokyo

Performing live with Nick Luscombe and James Greer

This is a review I wrote that was published in issue 460 of The Wire (June 2022). Watched the archived concert on YouTube.

MSCTY_Studio x Carl Stone’s Tokyo (

You are in Tokyo. The sounds are pure Tokyo: the sweet beeping of public transportation, the routinised cheer of shop keepers’ eager welcomes, the whirring of speedy passing trains, the teeming human chatter, the sheer rush of activity – organic and machine alike.

At some point, however, the quotidian audio takes on a more sinister collective cast. Tokyo is no longer pure. A buzzing vexation rises like radiation fog, up from the sonic floor. What could have been mistaken for a mundane commute slowly morphs into something akin to a psychological thriller. And as with solid thrillers, you might not even recognise the threat until it’s upon you.

What you are hearing is not simply Tokyo. This is, far more specifically, Carl Stone’s Tokyo – the city filtered not only through the machines of an experimental electronic musician, but through the aesthetic perspective of a Los Angeles native who has lived in Japan for two decades.

The occasion is a live stream of that title – “Carl Stone’s Tokyo” – done in collaboration with MSCTY, a “global agency for music + architecture,” per its website, that has worked with everything from Japanese department store Isetan, to the Tallinn Architecture Biennale, to the music industry training nonprofit Saffron. Stone is the prime motivator in this livestream, processing audio that he and MSCTY’s Nick Luscombe and James Greer recorded largely around Nakano, the Tokyo neighbourhood Stone calls home. They join in during the concert.

On the screen, Luscombe and Greer flank Stone, each of the trio with his own laptop, and after a brief chat about sound, place and the changing textures of Tokyo, they dive in. The performance is the first time Stone has worked with either man. The newness lends improvisatory energy. Live streams can be emotionally remote affairs. When the performers take a chance, it can be transformative and elevating.

What begins as a study of human environments worthy of a David Attenborough documentary eventually takes a turn toward John Carpenter territory. That occurs around 20 minutes or so into the performance, when the accumulated density and sheer franticness of the modified recordings reaches a peak. The sounds at that point are layered and filtered beyond mutual distinction, and any semblance of human scale has been pushed well past. It no longer resembles daily life. The sound has become not merely collage but a collage of collages, a forceful amalgam of experiences. Elements that were familiar individually become alien: a Ballardian look below the surface of cultural decorum. The narrative gets a little debatable only at the end, when it neither returns to perceived reality nor reinforces recent auditory challenges.

This is, as Stone states, headphone listening. In the post-performance chat, he likens it to a “22nd century Tokyo” (Luscombe: “hyperreal”). Stone is renowned for his sampling skills, his ability to rework everyday sound and music alike into personal works that are very much his own. (Full disclosure: I’ve shared meals with him in several cities, including Tokyo, and I wrote sleevenotes for one of his Unseen Worlds releases.) Here he is taking environmental sound and warping it into something out of the ordinary. To listen on speakers is to have the environment fill your room, to superimpose two environments. To listen through headphones is to enter Stone’s Tokyo.

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