You know that feeling when you slide into a hot pool or walk into a sauna? "Boy this is hot; I don't know if I can take it." Your first instinct is to reflexively jump out, but instead your muscles and mind relax and soon you find the experience soothing and rejuvenating. Next To Nothing by Ryoko Akama, Bruno Duplant, and Dominic Lash has a similar effect. The album (aptly titled) challenges the listener with hyper minimalism; you can either discard it as too sparse or relax into near-nothingness.
The album, particularly on the first two tracks, explores the edge of minimalism. How close to complete silence can a composition get before breaking down as a coherent piece of music? The ensemble inches as close to that cliff as possible and playfully sticks their feet out beyond the edge while pulling their audience in too.
The instrumentation lends an other-worldly quality. By utilizing a unique mix of traditional instruments such as the upright bass, colorful percussion, classic analog synthesizers, and laptops, the ensemble avoids simple classification. Instead they demand that their audience take the sounds as they are, rather than slipping them nicely into an obvious box.
The first piece, "A Field, Next To Nothing," quickly establishes the mood of the album. It features simple chords, played gently and separated by several seconds of decay and silence. All of the tones are rich and inviting, and the chords, while not strictly speaking tonal, are pleasant.
The next piece continues the play between harmony and silence but this time we are given the familiar presence of a plucked bass, which adds a subtle jazz quality to the music. The track also explores morphing electronic bell sounds, which seem like acoustic bells when first struck, but then slowly change and reveal their electronic quality.
The final two pieces ramp up the intensity slightly and feature a light dose of the harsher tones possible with electronic instruments. Particularly clever is the synthesizer tone on the final piece which slowly swings between white noise and a soft rain-like percussive tone.
Next To Nothing is both soothing and challenging. It invites the listener to slow down, relax, and patiently accept subtle, simple, musical ideas, which for most of us are in dramatic contrast to our usual fast-paced lives.
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