Of all of Otomo Yoshihide's many projects, the Cathode and Anode recordings have been the most fascinating. Both appeared around the turn of the century on Tzadik. Cathode was a beautiful set for Japanese and western acoustic instruments alongside sparse electronics, and Anode a brutal, electrified assault which gave the players such instructions as "do not respond to the sound of others" and "play loudly and create new sounds before the previous sounds disappear." The names of the two projects are illustrative, referencing the positively and negatively charged electrodes of electrons leaving an electrical device, such as the two terminals of a battery. Anode is the intense positive, Cathode the passive negative.
Cathode returned in 2002 with Ensemble Cathode on Improvised Music from Japan, one of the best of Yoshihide's many releases. And now comes the second installment of Anode, which ups the intensity charge considerably. The three pieces were recorded between 2002 and 2006, with bands ranging from 4 to 14 pieces. There's a remarkable amount of talent involved - including Uemura Masahiro, Andrea Neumann, Sachiko M., Rhodri Davies, Mark Sanders, and Tim Barnes - but none of them can be discerned in the aural onslaught. The recordings were made live, with the groups surrounding the audience, and were no doubt explosive shows. But listening to a recording is another matter, and pretty purely the subject of individual taste. After about a half hour, and given sufficient volume, the disc is no longer experienced as sound but as waves. The sheer amount of information, the limitations of audio recording and the velocity of the players' intentions and actions combine to make something that cannot be comprehended. It can be understood, given the instrument listings and maps of their layouts, but the conflict is jarring and potentially unsettling. It's music for a world where Coltrane's Ascension has grown routine, and that's a world where only some people care to live.
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