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Ryonkt: "Small Conversations"

img  Tobias

Ryo Nakata lives in Sapporo, a city revered for its beauty and the heavenly harmony of its parcs. His record company is called „Slow Flow“. His designs are music-made visual haikus, their imagery carefully crafted compositions of tender photography and pristine typography. His concerts come across as mass-like events erecting quietly majestic arches of serene tones and oceanic tranquility. His music suspends time in a bubble of stillness, creating moments of complete concentration and peace. When he tweets, Nakata reduces his messages to their bare essence, to short questions or precise comments, observations and quips. When he mails, he is a voice of utmost politeness, unfettered enthusiasm and sincere gratitude for showing interest in his work. Judging by his music and online-appearance, one would like to fold origami-figurines with this man, read poetry with him or take a long walk in the forrest, where red, yellow and brown leaves are shimmering in the auburn November-light. And yet, against the odds, there's a side to his personality that few would have suspected.

This driven, perfectionist, inquisitive and outright hungry side has broken through in a passionate venesection of nine releases in just two years. It has  manifested itself in an unexpected obsession for the kicks of coffee and an equally insistent, incessant and insatiable demand for „a lot of stimulation“. Within these two years, Nakata may have become known best for the simplicity of his Guitar-and-Laptop setup and the grace and elegance of his music. But he has expressed his preference for these elements with ambition as well as through a wide array of genres: Folk-oriented Electronica, minimalist Sound Art, dreamy PostRock and pure, undiluted Drones.

„Small Conversations“ now sees ryonkt returning to the latter's warm embrace. Outwardly, it seems nothing more than an unobtrusive collection of four tracks in a classic Ambient-vein. There is the usual name-dropping in the press release, but it seems fully justified on this occasion: Parallels to the aesthetics of befriended act Celer can not be ignored. Comparisons with Eno are all but inevitable. Even references to the sustained tones and emotional acousmatics of Phil Niblock don't seem out of place. These points of the stylistic compass are not strictly necessary to describe the music. But they are interesting for an entirely different reason. Just like the oeuvre of these famous kindred spirits, after all, „Small Conversations“ appears unimposing at first but grows almost imperceptibly with each listen.

Part of the allure of the record is how uniquely individual these pieces have turned out despite their astutely similar architecture: All deal with with drones and a layer of minutely placed tones. All contain nothing but a handful of elements and no more than one or two simultaneously running processes. All deal both with continuity and discreet changes. All could potentially go on forever, but are always, in fact, brought to an absolute (meaning: non-fade-out) ending. All are almost exactly nine minutes long, but work with a degree of temporal distortion, slowing time down to a slow flow in the early stages of a track and then, at the point of highest immersion, rather quickly pulling the plug, thereby creating the sensation of compact forms, personal journeys and intimate revelations. As a result, all compositions mutually rely on each other's presence and one's appetite is never fully satisfied until the very end, when the final fragile web of glistening harmonics and glockenspiel-harmonies has disappeared from sight. And only once it has died down completely can you feel the warm glow of inner silence following in the wake of an intense listening experience.

Despite its tightly woven carpet of ambiance, it is the subtle ruptures and surprising concretions on „Small Conversations“ that deepen its impact most. The descending-fourth leitmotif of „Aurora“, for example, can be understood as a sleepy pendant to the opening bars of Mahler's first symphony, as the sound of the world dozing off instead of waking up. And the entire album hinges on the one track that stands out from the fold: „Synphony“, with its sweetly swaying and swaggering groove of swelling backwards-notes. Like a drunken brass orchestra skipping in a neverending loop, the music looses sense of physicality and rhythm, turning all texture instead. Single drone-streaks glisten on top of this construct like dewdrops on an autumn leaf, changing their pitch almost imperceptibly and without force. It is only after he has set his cosmos in motion that ryonkt dives into the stillness of stasis again and the power of quietude fully reveals itself.

Even though Nakata's heart may be overflowing with passion, therefore, his techniques are those of a strict minimalist. He knows that it is not the tones one chooses to play that carve out a composer's script most clearly, but those one chooses to leave out. And it is not how much you say that decides on the value of a piece of music but how much heartblood you invest into each single sentence, word and syllable. As such, these conversations may be small. But they are the kind you have with your best friend in an otherwhise empty cafe, when everyone has left the party and all that is left are the really important issues. With his latest full-length, Ryo Nakata may not have reinvented the wheel, but he has nurtured hope that there may perhaps be no need to either. Surrounding yourself with silence, harmony and beauty does not preclude the demand for a lot of stimulation, after all.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Ryonkt
Homepage: Experimedia Records

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