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The Violin is Dead .. Long Live the Violin
~ Hideaki Shimada ~
Agencement in French language is a noun meaning the way things are put together. It has no meaning as an English word. If it were in the common English dictionary it would fall between the words ageless and agencies.
Hideaki Shimada is a Japanese violinist born in 1962, living on the West coast of Japan, in Kanazawa. He received violin tuition from infancy through to his mid-teenage years, when, in the late 1970s he became interested in the improvised music scene in Europe (Evan Parker, late Derek Bailey and others). In or around 1982 Shimada met Masami Akita (Merzbow), associating Shimada with arguably some of the most challenging art and artists active in Japan at this time. How all this shaped and has affected Shimada may well be very interesting but, for being a violinist using electronics exclusively for at least two decades and with recordings, even more so. As if any point be proved, this Electric Violinist started out as a Violinist. Technically, whether Shimada is an Electric Violinist depends entirely on your perception of the Violin.
Shimada uses acoustic violin with either Korg contact microphone or Fishman pick up mic because he has not yet found an electric violin that has satisfactory overtones. He plays a digitalised violin. He also now makes extensive use of electronic processing and uses recording and playback devices specifically to create works. What Shimada gives us intellectually is quality in limited quantity; a maximum result from minimum effort. His solo work since 1986 has been described as both Noise and Music; Avant-Garde and Minimalist; nervous and mellow; frantic and still; hectic and calm. Seemingly, the only outlet for Shimada's work has been through connecting with Experimental and very small Independent Labels, mostly from Japan; and through reviews and listings in low-budget Alternative publications. As a Player, Shimada is unique and, at the same time one of many.
This work is as difficult listening as it is pure ambience. Composer and performer, Shimada gives no description of his music beyond that the tunes of his Agencement project are studio montage works.
Shimada's work is uncompromising and refreshingly so. His work involves mostly violin, magnetic tape and electronics. He produces his work by using both analogue multi-track and hard disk recorders in the studio. Agencement is represented by four self published albums, released on the Pico label. Shimada only acknowledges these and a few instances of pieces included on compilations listed at the end of this article. Considering the evidence there is of popularity and seriousness connected with Mail Art of the early 1980s and that there is the connection with Merzbow, more Shimada recordings probably will emerge. In 2010, over 25 years after his first recordings, (some of?) Shimada's Early Works were re-released via Edition Omega Point (OPX-004).However, Agencement is not overly easy to find in any form.
Shimada's first two Agencement albums are vinyl LPs and now very rare finds in second-hand shops or auctions; only 300 copies were pressed of each. The third album called "Viosphere" is on Cd and is also highly collectable; only 500 copies were made. Shimada's fourth album, similarly on Cd is called "Boxe Consonantique" (Fr. 'fighting sounds') and there are 700 of these. This is still available but now only from a dwindling number of sources. The most recent release on Omega Point is in an edition of 500 cds. Since writing evidence has emerged of an earlier cassette release, listed on a signed edition of the Early Works Cd as being from a private cassette release in 1984, reissued in 1987 and again in 1990. The main body of Shimada's work today is at best known from the LP and Cds existing of his work.
Each of the four albums feature two works totaling about 3 hours of material. Only one of these eight pieces is shorter than twenty minutes; the longest a shade more than twenty five. That may appear very little material to go on for over two decades presence but these are extra-ordinary compositions. Shimada's attention to and control of detail, at once in harmony with Japanese works of art and craft, also opposing them. Somewhat as Punk is to Disco done in an exquisitely beautiful way.
The artwork on the covers is by Shimada and considering the lengths that must have been gone to in reissuing a collection of Early Works on Cd, an aspect of these releases worth studying. For the first album, a small red and black picture appears centrally and directly on the almost smooth, light brown card sleeve. The second album's front cover has no artwork; it is a plain, rougher textured and lighter almost cream brown colour card sleeve. On the back of both album covers are large visual prints, often mistakenly inversed as the front covers. Both are reminiscent of the highly intricate work found decorating intricate enamels but at the same time it is pure Psychedelic-Punk. The images being explosions of tiny etched lines; swathes of dense patches, ink clouds, steam belching from craggy fissures on a exotic landscape somewhere in a phantasitcal past. Copies of this album are few and far between. Internet searches bring up the odd auction or sale listing, contemporary prices ranging from $50-$100. The Art work alone, in their limited publication is worth the price. Pristine copies can be found and their audio freshness enjoyed now decades on. The latest reissued release through Edition Omega Point is exquisitely and delicately packaged in a wrap around lazer-cut black card folder with silver print, housing colour photo printed sleeve notes insert; all bound within a wrap of colour printed paper and sealed in a film envelope also containing a rectangular catalogue information strip.
Certainly these albums are highly sought after by those interested in the fringes of 'experimental' and 'improvised' music from Japan, but should they be of any interest to the serious Violinist? Two audio mp3 samples, each 30 seconds in length are published here with Shimada's permission and can be downloaded by clicking on the two following text links.
The first Agencement album was released in 1986 (Pico-01) and seemingly, very quickly disappeared into obscurity. Did it receive reviews anywhere? The plight of many creative musicians is finding their audience. Much of the time, spreading word beyond even a town or city can prove impossible. Who bought these first records, how were they received and where are they now?
The first side is a record of solo, acoustic violin. It was recorded with a low-grade cassette tape recorder in a home garage. The performance reflects the performances Shimada was giving at this time. It sets out Shimada's style and ideas. This is the only full-length released work of Shimada playing purely acoustic violin, already not performing anything like anything else generally known; it is a record of innovation and simplicity. The microphone is not being used for anything beyond the caprice being performed. In this respect it is totally different to all his other album cuts but clearly related. Shimada's work can only be compared directly with a very small number of Players. Shimada alludes to very few.
The improvised music starts as a constant flow of stuttering and spluttering violin sounds and continues without variation. The effect is at once remarkable as it is marvelous. On the one hand, nothing ever happens. But there are thousands of notes in this piece. There is no movement in terms of harmonic progression or any beatable pulse, yet the music flows effortlessly from one sound to the next with continuous drive. It is not, strictly speaking total randomness, but there is something completely random about the entirety. Never a sustained tone or cadence to speak of, no melody or repetition of rhythm.
There are however many notes and tiny pauses, articulated by rapid moving and stopping of bow and finger position; a flurry of ricochet slides, sounds that sparkle and shimmer, cascade and tumble. After a few minutes of listening it can be forgotten that this is all that is happening. It is an awesome feat revealing only as much as the listener focuses on. For some this is too weird a music to be considered enjoyable but for others this is essential listening material.
The second side, contains electrically altered violin, introducing the listener to Shimada playing violin in combination with magnetic tape and electronics. The potential sonic field using violin as a primary sound source and standard recording techniques to process it is huge, as it is with any sound source; this work was created in a way similar to exponents of Music Concrete in the 1950s. The music here is the result of much editing. Not hiding or removing mistakes but done to realise the sound world only possible through the techniques of tape and electronic manipulation. As with the A side, Shimada creates a fairly gentle onslaught of pattering and scattered sounds. This time, the tones of the violin intermingle with skewed, dream-like and warped sounds. In amongst the familiar, alien squeaks, pops and beeps; reverberating echoes, morphing into a bubbling multi-layered soundscape. Again, after a few minutes the continued constant random nature of the sound becomes quite numbing - it is impossible to register all the notes passing. There is no direction, no landmarks, so boring but equally fascinating and wondrous too.
The other three albums clearly continue in the same vein from the B side of Pico-01. There is nothing new to say here about them, each album is different and the same. A harsh summation of the fantastic material of Agencement in total? Each album since Pico-01 has improved in terms of audio quality. The Cds are very clean recordings. Shimada has clearly followed his ideas through the albums. It might be argued that the fact there is such a clear similarity between them works against his favour. There are artists today applauded for their ability to work in very different genre. The Pico albums are akin to the concept behind an artist wanting to paint the same landscape or scene over and over, to see it again and again in the infinite variety of light that naturally occur with each moment passing. Agencement is obviously Shimada's vision and quite peculiar to himself. There are more than enough Players who play in a way that is obviously and unchallengingly of the violin. Listen to a little of Agencement here but be sure you jump at opportunity to own a complete collection, if and when it ever comes. Very few other Players sound like Shimada and that has to be a good thing. Too many violin sounds are ignored, electrical amplification has revealed them all.
Shimada's live performance is necessarily different to the majority of his published output. He has created an impossible music to be performed live. Usually Shimada plays live amplified violin with effects; the electronic signals processed and passed to the PA via two homemade Moogerfooger ring modulators and a 1970s Korg analogue voltage controlled envelope follower. Shimada has used these effects since the 1980s. To date he has not used the computer for tone analysis or signal processing. Apart from the first side of Pico-01, the only other live performance Shimada has published is of electro acoustic violin, released in the USA on the independent label, Intransitive Recordings, now out of print.
To date, Shimada has not performed outside of Japan.
. Agencement, Pico-01 (1986) LP
. Agencement, Pico-02 (1989) LP
. Viosphere / Agencement, Pico-03 (1991)
. Boxe Consonantique / Agencement, Pico 04 (2001) CD
. Early Works 1983-1986 / Agencement , Edition OMEGA POINT OPX-004 (2010) CD
. Maceration / Junk Omnibus, RRReport (1992) V/A CD
. Tegmen / Land of the Rising Noise, Charnel Music CHCD-9 (1993) V/A CD
. Cosmoraine / Come Again II, Silent Records (1995) V/A CD
. Etcetera vol.3 part.1 (1998) VHS (also featuring Keiji Haino, Tamio Shiraishi, Masami Tada, White Heaven and Go Hirano)
. Snares / "Verder", Kapotte Muziek, Harsh Dept. Productions ABYSS002 (1994) CD
. Gambetta / w.Kiyoshi Mizutaniand Kiyoharu Kuwayama, Monochrome Vision mv/27 (2008)
As Hideaki Shimada:
. Phos / "Intransitive 23", Intransitive Records (2004) CD
verified data, compiled by BAH