Music For Silent Movies, it’s all there in the title. Koji Ueno, one half of Japanese duo Guernica (the other half being Jun Togawa from Yapoos), takes their subversive take on the era of “The Greatest Generation” to its logical evolution/conclusion by creating a soundtrack to the lesser known sounds of that period. Thoughts of musique concrete, serialism, atonal and minimalism get transmogrified with a decidedly more modern experimental, Japanese take on said styles – that’s what you’ll hear in Koji Ueno’s Music For Silent Movies. Wholly unpretentious in tone, it discovers a bit of levity in all these overly-serious influences. We’ve already heard piecemeal Koji’s take on classical motifs in Yen Manifold two years earlier, here you get the complete picture.
Far from pastiche, Koji rounded up a nice little crew of musicians to scope out his vision. While he composed and arranged most of the album, he trusted others like Yasuaki Shimizu on sax and clarinet or Asuka Kaneko on violin to lend their special ideas to his own compositions. It’s an interesting mix, for sure. Koji largely sits back on piano or prepared piano, letting the others take the lead in creating a very mechanical-kind of sound. You hear faint glimmers of what sound like tape loops, but largely the music either devolves or evolves into an atmosphere that evokes the machinations of industry.
Witness Yasuaki Shimizu taking the reins by adding some serene wind meditation to the tourniquet-like mix of staccato-like string ensemble led by Asuka and Koji’s twisted, prepared piano in “Anemic Cinema”. Faint pitter-patters of footsteps only serving to add more color to its very visual, sonic modernism. “Ballet Mecanique”, Music For Silent Movies most experimental track, takes the ideas of Pierre Schaeffer and updates them with decaying sampler experimentation and what sounds like heavily treated percussion.
As with all experimental and avant garde music, your ability to enjoy it sometimes requires more leaning on the noggin’ than the trusty gut. What makes this album memorable are the tracks where Koji and Yasuaki hit upon melodies and entryways that aim more for the viscera. If you’ve stuck around to the end, a track like “Emak Bakia” rewards you with a bracing thirteen minute tract combining serialism and minimalism (switching styles when appropriate) in ways that match the sweeps of euphoria and melancholia Koji wants to leave you with. There are little traces of much of the electronic sound Japan was experimenting with on this album, at this moment in time, but the spirit of the era does manage to show its face.