Review – Tomoko Sauvage – Musique Hydromantique

Everything is water. Not only is opening track “Clepsydra” created from the resonances of “waterbowls” – Tomoko Sauvage’s porcelain bowls filled with water, which are then amplified by hydrophones – but the very movement of her music feels inspired by water in various states. This piece is like rain dripping through an leaking roof; intermittent in rhythm, with droplets chasing eachother as they fall, resonating within the stillness of both acoustic and climatic shelter. Yet instead of hearing that wet slap of raindrops hitting a horizontal surface, I’m presented with these rich, sonorous chimes: warbling slightly as water swirls within porcelain, prolonged generously as the liquid drags out the vibration, hanging in the air like rippling mirages, gleaming with all manner of vivid overtone. Water is both the compositional inspiration and the material from which the composition is built. In other words, I hear a musician immersed in their craft to the point of seeing nothing but the craft. Water drenches every thread of her work.

The 20-minute “Calligraphy” carries these aqua-porcelain resonances out into eternity. The tones never decay, and Sauvage makes them swerve and ripple by adjusting the water volume in each bowl by hand. Clearly, the track title points to a very particular analogy: lines drawn with a pen, adjusted carefully to form exquisite shapes on the page. Yet on this piece, the pen is never lifted. The ink extends forever, stretching outward until the line loses sight of its beginning, curving not in the name of generating a shape, but for the love of curvature itself. And thus, we return to another water analogy: the infinite forward-flow of the river, bedecked with sway and chicane while staying adherent to one ultimate direction, finally relieved into silence with the same grace that a river is released to the sea.

There is one track that sits apart from these more overt allusions to water. “Fortune Biscuit” is so named after biscuit-like pieces of porous terracotta, the sounds of which can differ drastically depending on the texture of the surface. Unlike those smooth, somewhat irrefutable hums of the other tracks, the sounds here are speckled with ambiguous detail. Each listen brings different images to mind: the crackle of old film, the squeal of strange tropical birds, the purr of a dying car engine, loops of obscure incantatory song, fireworks exploding…my mind flickers between reference points, each inadequately encapsulating the array of hisses and screes I perceive at any given moment. Given that this composition sits between the more fluid-centric pieces, I hear “Fortune Biscuit” as the solid object to which water is introduced – the slab of material that awakens the sonorous potential of the water, just as water enhances the sonorous potential of the object. Once again, I must step back to fully appreciate how Sauvage pays tribute to the materials of her craft.