Review: Gaspar Claus – Jo Ha Kyu

The first sound on Jo Ha Kyu is an assertively plucked low note from Claus’ cello, which rattles very slightly before cutting out on a warm, resonant hum. It’s like a doorway swinging open; an invitation for the album’s collaborators to enter Claus’ creative space and be heard, and to treat these commencement vibrations as the first word in a paragraph that they are required to continue. Or have I got this the wrong way round? Is that opening note a bold “hello” into a daunting space of modern Japanese culture, and a probe into how his voice may reverberate in surroundings that drastically contrast his concept of musical “home”?

Both, perhaps. Regardless, their coming together is seamlessly co-ordinated. Claus’ cello is often a central element, drifting in and out in haunted, minor-key arpeggiation and gritting into a friction that sounds like the amplified tearing of fabric. Something about his playing style – perhaps its penetrative, undiluted emotional evocation, or a culture shock that sends tremors of Claus’ Parisian heritage tremoring through Japanese tradition – coaxes a real performative fire out of his peers: choked and frenzied vocalisations in strange (perhaps imaginary) languages, dripping sine wave, tribal hand-slapped drums (rendered reverberant and aggressive by a slack skin), and orchestral extracts that fidget and convulse from skittish turntable manipulation.

The way the elements come together isn’t entirely seamless, and this is only to the release’s benefit. Brash entrances and strange juxtapositions bring a sort loose, epiphanic air to Jo Ha Kyu, as if the players were unexplainably compelled to make their sound on the basis of single – and crucial – synapse jumps. Stifled yelps explode in the quiet gaps between percussion hits, while beeping electronics hangs like a thin, vertical chandelier over tuneless, anti-gravity piano; the instrumental collisions are ungainly but always beautiful, making it difficult to tell whether Jo Ha Kyu is the result of painstaking architecture or one manic night of impulsive assembly.