Imagining the sound of an acoustic guitar, with melodic folk emanating from its strings, alongside the scratchy, abstracted noise made by a variety of percussive instruments, is an unusual task. But guitarist Shane Parish and percussionist Tatsuya Nakatani do more than imagine this possibility: they unite these disparate musical styles into virtuosic improvisations. In doing so, they highlight vast differences in sound, and illuminate unpredictable similarities. The duo’s most recent album, Interactivity, released in April 2020 on Cuneiform Records, dives into this world of contrasts, leaning into stark differences to find sonic reconciliation.
Both Parish and Nakatani work across genres and styles in their solo musical practices: for Parish, music-making ranges from the invigorating rock of Ahleuchatistas to the delicate intricacies of finger-picked guitar, while Nakatani’s sonic experiments stem from elements of traditional Japanese music, particularly focusing on the myriad possibilities of the bowed gong. They’re both highly explorative artists, which is enhanced by their penchant for the fluid process of improvisation.
Interactivity follows the duo’s 2013 album, Anatomy of a Moment, another record that meditates on incongruity. Anatomy of a Moment relied on Parish’s melodic guitar to tie the instruments together; with Interactivity, they eschew that philosophy to create an album that’s much more esoteric. The spontaneity — and inherent dissimilarity — of the duo’s music comes to a head on Interactivity’s final track, “Embarkation.” The song’s combination of powerful strums and anxious crunches finds cohesion in Parish and Nakatani’s parallel motion, where each instrument’s pitches, rhythms, and dynamics reflect each other. But each musician exists in his own bubble — the guitar’s polyphonic melodies stand in stark contrast with the scratches of the bowed gong and pummeling drums. It’s the mimicked motions that bring the two together, fusing two distinct musical practices into one piece.
The duo’s penchant for mashing styles together is exemplified on “Sight Lines,” which moves from sparse dissonances to ethereal harmony in just ten minutes. It begins with Nakatani’s offbeat rumbling, scraping, and bowing, layered between Parish’s staccato plucks and fast-paced riffs; the two players seem to exist on opposite ends of a spectrum, but mirror each other’s styles. Both players eventually come together in sublime repetition to form a dreamy, ambient atmosphere. They make the sudden shift from explosive chaos to droning harmony with ease, showcasing just how in tune they are, even as they function in opposite musical worlds.
While the range between folk guitar and conceptual noise is large, Parish and Nakatani reveal the ways in which these two genres make sense together. Through their meandering improvisations, they illustrate the endless possibility of sonic pairing, proving that chamber music is about interactivity more so than harmony between the instruments being played. Perhaps the question isn’t how to close the gap between disparate genres, but to find the ways in which the two can coexist to create something even more enticing.
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