Cakewalk: Ishihara


International release April 21st
CD and LP Available in Norway from February 24th
The final sentence of Andre Breton’s novel of 1928, ‘Nadja’, famously reads (in the English translation by Richard Howard): “Beauty will be CONVULSIVE or will not be at all”. This could be the credo, if one were needed, for the Norwegian trio Cakewalk’s third album, ‘Ishihara’, which follows the highly acclaimed ‘Wired’ (2012) and ’Transfixed’ (2014).
The music seems to exist in a state of continual convulsion, repeatedly contracting and relaxing as if responding to electrical stimulus or some deep biological need.
It also sounds like the past, present and future, all at the same time. Recognisable instruments – thundering drums, seismic bass, spacey synth – as played by a hard-riffing proggish post-jazz improv trio, are mashed up with the everyday noise of random urban chatter: hip-hop scratches and half-heard snatches of game-console SFX; sirens, car alarms, nameless electronic bleeps and blurps; what could be the dystopian drip-drip-drip of an underground car park. And that’s only the opening track, ‘Monkeys’. The next one, ‘Shrooms’, begins totally differently, like the sample of a brain scan. ’Apostrophe’, the penultimate piece, is delicious avant-garde ear-candy that could accompany a film or an unusually tasteful TV ad.
The sound just keeps on coming, wave after wave after wave. It’s exhausting as well as exhilarating, yet dizzyingly fresh and new. There’s also something monumental about its sheer hulking massiveness; the way inchoate blocks of solid noise are carved into shape through a kind of audio-sculpture.
Typically, the music functions in different time cycles simultaneously, like classical Indian ragas or the John Coltrane quartet, so that listeners can choose to focus on whatever level they wish: the skittering rhythms of the outside rim’s maximum’s BPMs, or the slower, deeper pulses that lie closer to the centre. It’s a mark of the group’s sensitivity that they give the listener sufficient freedom to select their own entry-point rather than enforcing one correct ‘reading’ through, for example, a clear demarcation between figure and ground, or back, front and middle. If the music is ‘about’ anything, it’s probably this process of how we perceive it. If you’re looking for clues, the album’s title references a famous colour perception test for red-green colour deficiencies, named after its creator, Dr Shinobu Ishihara, and first published in 1917.
‘Ishihara’ is also characterised by the variety of its contents. None of the six tracks sounds like any other, yet they sit together quite happily to form a satisfying listening whole. Similarly, the three members of Cakewalk come from relatively disparate musical backgrounds, with roots in rock, pop and classical music as well as leftfield jazz and improvisation. Øystein Skar (synths/keyboards), who has an academic background in classical composition, also plays in the pop group Highasakite and the duo Glow; drummer Ivar Loe Bjørnstad, part of the Oslo rock scene since 2000, performs with the great, and almost equally convulsive, Hedvig Mollestad Trio; Stephan Meidell (guitar/bass/synth), a composer who will release his own solo album on Hubro in parallel with ‘Ishihara’, plays in the duo Strings and Timpani, Erlend Apneseth Trio, Krachmacher, and previously with The Sweetest Thrill and Vanilla Riot.
Perhaps it’s this broad range of backgrounds and interests that makes the three players coalesce into such an impressive unit, individual difference helping to enforce a strong and sustaining collective identity. Whatever the reason, ‘Ishihara’ presents the work of a band who, true to the spirit of improvisation, might not know where they are going, but are absolutely sure of the methods they will use to get there.
23.02 Folken, Stavanger
24.02 Landmark, Bergen
02.03 Blå/by:Larm, Oslo
04.03 Victoria/by:Larm, Oslo