Nobukazu Takemura and the Child's View Band

By David Gunn

There are no two ways about this – this was a very disappointing night. It sounded like one of the best evenings you could hope for. Nobukazu Takemura, unpredictable and diverse musical master, the beautiful Union Chapel, specially designed visual software, and a two set programme – beginning with an improvisation laptop set and finishing with a full band performance. Behind all of this, and perhaps most importantly, it offered the prospect of seeing Takemura attempting to resolve that most problematic challenge for electronic music – the creation of an engaging live spectacle. But it just wasn't much good.

Why? Well, to begin with, the much touted claymation visuals transpired to be about five seconds worth of footage with a little kid trundling between trees. Cute, but insubstantial. More troublingly, the musicians themselves seemed vastly underprepared. The improvisational set took 20 minutes to establish anything of interest, and then proceeded to finish just as it began to do so. Warming the audience up? Teasing them with frustrated expectations before letting the Child's View Band fulfill them all? Maybe. Except the Child's View set suffered from more of the same. Again, the musicians seemed to be under-prepared, under-rehearsed, and often unsure what was happening next. Maybe this wasn't so important – with musicians drawn from Wilco and Isotope 217, things were never going to collapse entirely.

But what certainly did become a significant problem was the relationship between the performance and the source material. So much of the beauty of Takemura's music derives from the subtle and intricate construction of rhythm – the way layers and layers of sound are aligned and counter-posed. When taken outside the studio, with a standard rock set-up and Takemura himself restricted to heavily delayed guitar harmonics, these delicate architectures became one dimensional and, frankly, rather boring. What sounded on his 2003 album, 10th, like sophisticated poise was translated into mediocre prog-rock. It's a terrible shame, but there really wasn't much more to it than that. Where on record, simple melodies are toyed with, recombined and played off against each other, where beats are layered and complex, the live performance translated this into nothing more than power chords and predictable four-four drumming.

To be fair, there were some strengths. Performances taken from Songbook, based simply around glockenspiels and Aki's Tsyuko voice were small islands of prettiness. The visual software provided some distraction – processing realtime footage of the band into granular flashes and fractal spins. But ultimately, this must simply be regarded as a failed experiment, and one that establishes once and for all that you can't simply convert electronic constructions into a live band setting. Of course, exploring the relationship between live performance and mediations of laptop experimentation is a fertile area, and it seems pretty safe to assume that Takemura will remain at the vanguard of this kind of work. But I'm hoping the next attempt will not be quite so far off the mark.
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