Signal to Noise

Guitarist Tetuzi Akiyama is an anomaly on the onkyo scene: he doesn’t treat extreme minimalism as if it were sacrosanct. This central figure to the genre-setting Off-Site concerts is just as beholden to ’70s rock and folk-styled finger-picking, making every one of his outings unpredictable. Even so, Varianter av døde trær, his record with a trio of Norwegian horn players, is almost confounding in it’s structural simplicity. It’s an ordered work for four improvisers (Akiyama on guitar, Mertin Taxt on tuba, Eivind Lønning on trumpet and Espen Reinersten on saxophone and flute) without composer credits but proceeding according to an agreed-upon modus operandi. The group plays a seven-part, 25-minute suite, sometimes holding a single note in unison, other times playing sparse, quiet sounds, occasionally making obvious references to acoustic blues and New Orleans brass bands. Then, they do it again, working through alternate versions of the same movements, excising a couple and dropping in a new electric guitar piece with slow, distant horns, then they wrap it up with yet another repetition of the opening single-note piece. As a whole, it manages to be both familiar and perplexing, and staggeringly beautiful.