Monty Adkins | four shibusa
Time: April 2012
Media: CD & Digital Download
Info: Monty Adkins is a composer and performer
whose music is characterised by slow shifting organic
instrumental soundscapes. His last album fragile.flicker.
fragment was nominated in the 'album of the year'
category at the 2012 Qwartz Awards, Paris.
Four Shibusa is a haunting and moving album that moves
seamlessly between the clarinets of Jonathan Sage and
Heather Roche and exquisitely crafted soundworlds.
This studio album is the result of a year-long collaboration
with the visual artist Pip Dickens and takes as its starting
-point the Japanese concept of shibusa’ – a term that
describes the inherent beauty in everyday objects. The
surface simplicity of the music belies a real
sophistication in sound design and meticulous balance
between delicate evolving textures and melodic writing.
Artist site: http://www.montyadkins.com/
PDF Press Release: Download
PAINTINGS | Pip Dickens
|REVIEWS | four shibusa
When I first read the title of Monty Adkins' latest album, "Four Shibusa" , I imagined a Shibusa would probably
be some kind of exotic Japanese wind instrument. I was wrong: it turns out 'Shibusa' is a japanese concept
'describing the inherent simplicity and beauty in everyday objects'.
(Shibusa) "refers to a particular aesthetic of simple, subtle, and unobtrusive beauty, and can apply to a wide
variety of subjects, not just art or fashion".
Shibui objects appear to be simple overall but they include subtle details, such as textures, that balance simplicity
with complexity. This balance of simplicity and complexity ensures that one does not tire of a shibui object but
constantly finds new meanings and enriched beauty that cause its aesthetic value to grow over the years.
Shibui objects are not necessarily imperfect or asymmetrical, though they can include these qualities. Shibusa
walks a fine line between contrasting aesthetic concepts such as elegant and rough or spontaneous and
restrained. (Wikipedia - Shibui)
This description strikingly seems to apply to what most 'ambient' music tries to achieve...so there's a good start
for further investigation!
My 'wind instrument' guess wasn't very far beyond the truth: the album opens with a strikingly beautiful clarinet
duet, performed by Jonathan Sage and Heather Roche. The moment they start playing, it feels as if the surrounding
world fades to the background, creating the right environment for the listener to focus on 'the beauty of everyday
It takes a while before Adkin's electronic details subtly start to shadow the clarinet parts. But his electronic
details never seem to take over centre stage: they seem to be just there to support the haunting clarinet parts.
And the Shibusa concept.
"More recently Monty Adkins' work has become increasingly minimal and introspective. this work focuses on
encouraging a deeper immersive listening experience. working with a reduced sonic palette the new works draw
together elements from ambient, minimal electronica, acousmatic (sound one hears without seeing an originating
cause) and experimental electronic music."
The description of Shibusa perfectly matches the four tracks on this album, remaining true to this concept from
the first to the very last note. Subtle details, balancing simplicity with complexity, sounds you never tire of listening
to...."Four Shibusa " presents a perfect match of form and content. I hate to use this reviewer's cliché, but this is
definitely one of the most beautiful albums I've have heard in a long time!
Four Shibusa is Monty Adkins’ latest release for the Sheffield-based Audiobulb label, and it may well be his
finest yet. The artist has been working in the electroacoustic music field for some time now, and is in fact a
professor at England’s University of Huddersfield. His previous album, Fragile.Flicker.Fragment (2011) was
pretty incredible. In fact, it has been nominated in the ‘album of the year’ category at the 2012 Qwartz Awards,
Paris. As good as that recording was however, Four Shibusa is even more impressive.
As the title indicates, the disc contains four tracks, or Shibusa. The word “shibusa” is Japanese in origin, and
describes the inherent simplicity and beauty in everyday objects. It is the perfect conceptual starting point for
these pieces, which are the result of a year-long collaboration with the visual artist Pop Dickens that Monty
Adkins has been involved in.
For those who may be unfamiliar with the term “electroacoustic music,” it is somewhat broad, and covers a
wide range of sound experimentation. Some of the forms include musique concrete, computer music, tape
music, basically electronic music of all sorts. Unlike last year’s Fragile.Flicker.Fragment however, Professor
Adkins has included a great deal of traditional instrumentation in the music of Four Shibusa. The results are
The most notable addition to Monty’s musical palette are the clarinets of Jonathan Sage and Heather Roche.
There can be something especially lonely about the sound of the clarinet, and this quality is utilized to great
effect in throughout. “Sendai Threnody” (9:00) opens Four Shibusa on a soothing and somewhat contemplative
note. The clarinet tones provide a perfect compliment to Monty’s atmospheric bed of sound here. It is a
“Entangled Symmetries” (11:01) is next, and here the clarinets take something of a backseat to the electronic
ambience Monty creates. I first happened upon the Audiobulb label in a quest to find new sources for
electronic, and in particular, ambient music. Fragile, Flicker, Fragment was an exceptionally brilliant
discovery. With “Entangled Symmetries,” Monty again pursues this avenue, but his work is never predictable.
While the piece is for the most part quite soothing, he adds a few left-of-center moments (which almost sound
like static), just to keep us on our toes.
If I were forced to choose a favorite track of the Four Shibusa, it would be the third, “Kyoto Roughcut”
(14:35). While the ambient electroacoustic mood is continued, the blend achieved by Monty Adkins, Heather
Roche, and Jonathan Sage on this composition is otherworldly. Monty’s electronics are front and center, but
the quiet, soothing mood of “Entangled Symmetries” has been upended this time around. There is much more
of a “tale” being told here, with a very definite beginning, middle, and end.
The most prominent use of the clarinets are as bookends during this piece. The “middle” (if you will) is where
Professor Adkins’ machines are most prominent, taking the listener on an adventure that is at once dark, and
exhilarating. One of the recurring motifs (to these ears at least) is of water. The gentle give and take,
especially towards the end, are very effective, almost like the waves of the ocean. This is a most illuminating
piece of music in every way.
I mentioned the use of clarinets as bookends during “Kyoto Roughcut,” and that characterization applies to the
programming of Four Shibusa as a whole as well. During the final “Permutations” (8:30), much like the opening
“Sendai Threnody,” they are utilized much more significantly than on “Entangled Symmetries,” and “Kyoto
Roughcut.” Monty’s more ambient use of electronics to provide the most advantageous atmosphere for the
woodwinds here strikes the perfect balance.
The Audiobulb label is dedicated to “exploratory electronic music,” and Monty Adkins is a master of the form.
Adding clarinets to his music certainly takes things in new directions, although it is still quite recognizable.
Many elements come into play besides what one might consider the “soothing” ambient tones as well. Monty
Adkins has developed one of the most unique and compelling albums I have heard this year. For more
information, check out the Audiobulb site.
What's one way to immediately catch your listener's attention and distinguish your work from that of other
composers? An arresting choice of instrumentation is certainly one way of going about it, and it's something
Monty Adkins knows all too well, based on the evidence of his latest full-length collection Four Shibusa. The
clarinet playing of Jonathan Sage and Heather Roche is, in fact, the first sound one hears, and consequently the
listener's attention is engaged from the album's outset. And though the Japanese term ‘shibusa' refers to the
fundamental simplicity and beauty in everyday objects, the music on the forty-four-minute recording isn't so
minimal that it features clarinet playing only, no matter how prominently Sage and Roche are featured. That's
because Adkins embeds their playing within four settings whose arrangements constitute fully formed electronic
soundworlds of generally restrained character yet nevertheless sophisticated design.
In keeping with its title, “Sendai Threnody” is mournful in tone, with the clarinets weaving in and around one
another, sometimes separately and at other times in unison as they make their way slowly through terrain that's
so understated it at times seems to vanish altogether. Meditative, too, is “Entangled Symmetries,” which shifts the
focus entirely to electronic sounds while still generating an atmosphere of melancholy, even supplication, during
its eleven-minute running time. The third setting, “Kyoto Roughcut,” establishes a balance between woodwinds
and electronics, with both sounds equally integral to the gradual expansion of sound as the material undertakes
measured steps towards a climax. The closing piece, “Permutations,” again positions the clarinet at the forefront,
this time with shimmering and ethereal electronics as a backdrop, while staying true to the overall meditative
character of the album as a whole. Here and elsewhere, the clarinetists don't solo in any free-flowing,
improvisatory sense but instead produce long tones that blend naturally with the backgrounds.
Adkins, who was educated at Pembroke College, Cambridge, smartly modulates the balance between sounds
from one setting to the next, thereby generating contrast and keeping the listener involved. Four Shibusa
continues on in the direction he has pursued in recent years and that was recently captured on his 2011
Audiobulb release fragile.flicker.fragment, specifically one focusing on minimalism and immersive listening and
drawing upon ambient, electro-acoustic, and experimental electronic music As a result, one could just as easily
imagine seeing Adkins material issued on Hypnos and Palace of Lights as much as Audiobulb.
THE MILK FACTORY
Over the course of his career, which spans over nigh on twenty years, British composer and sound artist Monty
Adkins has progressively stripped down his sonic spaces to now work with an extremely restricted palette
from which he draws deeply atmospheric minimal compositions. His work has led him to create music for art
installations and answer commissions from choreographer Wayne McGregor, the Huddersfield Contemporary
Music Festival or the prestigious INA-GRM in Paris. He has also collaborated with a vast number of artists,
including AGF, Mira Calix, Vladislav Delay, Tim Hecker, Robin Rimbaud or Christian Fennesz, and has released
five solo albums.
Four Shibusa is the result of a year-long collaboration with long-term friend and visual artist Pip Dickens, based
on the Japanese principles of ‘shibusa’, which focuses on simple, beautiful aesthetic in everyday objects. This
clean approach however often hides a high level of sophistication, a description which suits Adkins’s work
rather well. Both Adkins and Dickens have been partly influenced by elements of Japanese culture, so this
project, which also encompassed an exhibitions of Dickens’s paintings inspired by the time she spent doing
some research in Kyoto last year, and a book, Shibusa – Extracting Beauty, published by The University Of
Huddersfield Press, appears as a natural evolution in both their careers.
Musically, Four Shibusa is extremely stripped down and minimal. Adkins’s slow progressive soundscapes
remain for the most part simple textural backdrops over which clarinetists Heather Roche and Jonathan Sage
build a series of refined motifs, at times taking it in turn to lead, at others harmonising or circling around each
other as if they were observing each other’s movements. On occasions, Adkins appears to withdraw almost
entirely to let them take control of a piece for at least part of it. Yet, even in those moment, his presence remains
There is a strong sonic continuity through the whole record as Adkins keeps the focus on his deeply
atmospheric soundscapes, at times crossed by tiny bursts of bubbling statics, ghostly found sounds or
occasional richer tones. All four tracks, while existing individually from each other, are intricately linked and
stem from the same sound pool as Adkins carries most of his rarefied components from Sendai Threnody to
the dying moments of Permutations. Equally, Heather Roche and Jonathan Sage appear on all four tracks, but
like Adkins’s, their presence ebbs and flows as to provide greater depth and fluidity. It is their two clarinet
which opens proceedings here, and for a while, they continue to echo each other as Adkins remains extremely
discreet for almost half of the piece. Their contributions, like that of Adkins, remains sonically pretty consistent
through the entire record, the only clear alteration being regular shifts of register. More than a great variety of
sounds, this album relies of the multitude of combinations between Adkins’s electronic textures and the two
clarinets to create a vibrant space.
Monty Adkins’s second offering for Audiobulb is a somewhat sparse yet haunting and dense soundtrack
which, like shibusa itself, aims at simple, beautiful sonic structures. Repeat listens however reveal fascinating
details – found sounds, particular interaction between instruments – which give this record its inherent depth.
Following 'Fragile.Flicker.Fragment' (see Vital Weekly 768) this is the second album of Monty Adkins on Audiobulb.
Its quite a break from that album, not how things work out, but more in terms of approach. Whereas 'Fragile.Flicker.
Fragment' was made with a variety of sound sources (music box, guitar, violin), here its just two clarinets, played
by Jonathan Sage and Heather Roche, and Adkins doing his thing on the computer - me thinks.
It also involves the work of visual artist Pip Dickens, who created the images on the cover. Sibusa refers to a
Japanese concept, 'a term that describes the inherent simplicity and beauty of everyday objects'. The music, four
parts, obviously I'd say, are of a great simplicity too. Gliding scales of processed and unprocessed clarinet sounds
of highly delicate music. It bridges the modern classical music of Phill Niblock and the computer warmth of Stephan
Mathieu, and moves away from the more microsounding music of the previous album. If that one was 12K-like, then
this new one is more Line-like, if you get my drift. From the two I think 'Four Sibusa' is the more accomplished one,
following a concept, exploring that and cutting away anything he seems unnecessary. Quite a refined record, a
major leap forward. (FdW)
The four long, calm, flying pieces change so slickly between the two Medias (clarinet and electronics) that rarely
one hears a transition. An almost oppressive painfulness lies over this suite, within which the elegant melodic and
harmonic material achieves a unity that never sounds sentimental: an apparent simplicity that really impressed.
Sur Audiobulb Records, un autre micro label, je vous recommande chaudement le nouveau disque de Monty Adkins,
un nom qui peut vous évoquer quelque chose puisque ce musicien à entre autres travaillé sur d'importants projets
notamment au GRM en 2008 autour de l'héritage de Pierre Schaeffer. Depuis quelques années son travail de
création sonore devient de plus en plus ambiant et minimal, de plus en plus immersif et introspectif. A l'écoute de
son nouvel album on a vraiment l'impression de plonger profondément dans une musique instrumentale qui joue
avec quelques enregistrements réalisés en extérieur, l'album s'intitule Four Shibusa, il sera disponible à partir du
23 avril." (Eric Serva pour France Musique / Avril 2012).
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