Art Department

Back to Contents of Issue: April 2000

Music Is The Food of...

by Andrew Pothecary

For many, Bit Valley brings to mind techno music, young Japanese, Shibuya noise overload, and manga and videogame hyperactivity. But try imagining instead late afternoon winter sun on the enclosed deck of a rooftop cafe, blankets, portable heaters, ambient music, minimalist trumpet, mellow yellow. That's Computer Soup live.

An egalitarian grouping of five musicians, the band's recent CD Urumuchi in the Sky (the third in a variation on a theme) is a quiet but convincing, unforced but gripping concoction from the sampling and Sound Edit software on their computers.

The CD is minimalist in both sound and packaging: blue plastic case, single clear inlay bearing title, band name, email address -- -- and a symbol that I thought was a UFO, but which turns out to be o-mochi (rice cake, pictured).

Live, the group unpretentiously assemble behind laptops and associated boxes, switches, wiring -- and plastic manga figures. (Avoid imagining a Tokyo where these two images described are exclusive.) From there they run their music, contributing live added adaptations, effects, samples, and distortions. As on the CD, the trumpet player adds singular and often single-note improvisation (mimicking, almost, the electronic simplicity of the computer-generated music).

But neither the songs' quietness nor the members' lack of ego mean the band disappears into easy listening, new-age ambience, or a lack of focus. Their most recently released track, on a Far Eastern Experimental Sounds compilation, is dramatically filmic in an almost Ruichi Sakamoto-esque fashion, and stands out in the collection partly by its cohesiveness and purpose. They aren't just sitting back and letting things happen.

One member, Shusaku Hariya, also edits the new, alternative "cross media" magazine Salon (because there was no magazine out there that covered what he wanted). The second issue -- maybe with advertising -- is due out around April, this time with either DVD or video.

The next Computer Soup CD is due out April 20. Other future plans are flexible and relaxed, but include ideas for a website with MP3 and even game music. Watch this ... well, not this space, maybe, but just sit back and watch space.

Computer Soup will be at Star Pine Cafe (0422-23-2251) in Tokyo, on April 14, from 9 p.m.

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