One of those seemingly innocent remarks that sends me climbing the walls is “Oh, I could have done that,” when looking at a piece of modern art. Inevitably, when some dolt looks glancingly at a painting by Jackson Pollock, they immediately open mouth and insert foot. My answer to this remark is always the same, a retort in two parts. Part one consists of the terse, “But you didn’t, did you?” This part usually ends up in some discussion of innovation and how the lyrics “She loves you, yeah yeah yeah” is not exactly poet laureate material, causing some to make the same remark above, but more often than not, others consider all of the other aspects of the phenomenon known as the Beatles. Part two is lengthier, going into how they are probably underestimating not only the technical merit, but also the artistic integrity and the intent within the work. Because painting is a visual medium with generally two (or if you’re Van Gogh, three) dimensions, people tend to think of it in overly simplistic terms. Paintings are either too simplistic, too childlike, or on the other hand, complicated and realistic enough to be awarded merit. All this made way for what Robert Hughes called The Shock of the New, the vastly different interpretations of art in our modern world.
I’m sure that guitarist Tetuzi Akiyama could tell you similar stories about his art of music. Akiyama is an avant-garde minimalist multi-instrumentalist who, on his new album, Pre-Existence focuses solely on acoustic guitar. Akiyama’s music is somewhere between blues, folk, classical and performance art as he plucks strings, bends notes, and leaves vastness of space between sounds. At times, Akiyama plays the guitar as if it were a percussive instrument, slapping strings hard and holding them down to create a sharp stop to the music, and other times can make the guitar sound like a sitar with picked notes arcing in pitch. Although the amount of silence might outlast the actual sound emitted from the guitar, every note is perfectly placed among the void, creating plaintive bluesy cries amongst an empty canvas.
Most who aren’t used to delving beyond commercial music will find this one hard to grasp. There aren’t any singles or radio play for Akiyama. In fact, one would be hard pressed to even call the tracks on Pre-Existence `songs.’ Each piece is a quiet meditation interrupted by bits of precisely timed blues / folk strains. The seeming simplicity of the music is what would cause some to mistake this work for less than it actually is, much like the `dolt’ looking at the Pollock painting. This is not just slapdash, but instead painstaking art. Albums like this are the perfect example of why Treble doesn’t believe in number ratings. Besides being completely arbitrary, assigning a number rating becomes a source of comparison from one piece of music to the next. For instance, how can one say that this piece of minimalist avant-garde acoustic guitar is better or worse than say, Kanye West? They’re completely different, but yet that number rating automatically acts as a comparison barometer. Not only that, but how can one person possibly speak for everyone as to the merits of one particular album? Not even the small amount of Treble writers agrees on everything! In short, Tetuzi Akiyama proves that art is there not just to be appreciated, merely to exist, to prove our place in the vastness of nothingness, symbolic of the music he makes.
John Fahey- Blind Joe Death
Taku Sugimoto- Live in Australia
John Cage- 4’33”