Computer Soup - Urumuchistan

Liminal jazz cybernetics

by DJML
  • Label: 360º Records
  • Catalog Number: R14
  • Year: 2020

Computer Soup is a collective of improvisors from Tokyo, founded in 1993. Originally conceived as an acoustic jazz quintet, busking on the streets of Shibuya, the group quickly evolved in a decidedly more transcendent direction, incorporating extended techniques and subtle electronics towards a kind of post-jazz ambient that would become their signature. In the late '90s, the group was tightly associated with Japan's eclectic post-crash underground, appearing on compilations featuring everything from cutup boom-bap to kitchen-sink noise collage, on labels like Shi-Ra-Nui, and on the group's own Soup Disk.

Despite their adjacency to such eclectic-fetishism, Computer Soup's aesthetic is singularly defined: painterly compositions conjured from a modicum of sonic materials. Their catalog of a dozen-plus releases features fluctuations in personnel, instrumentation, and recording fidelity, but their aesthetic is admirably consistent in its hypnotizing charm.  

Urumuchistan CD

Urumuchistan is a 1999 CDr that perfectly encapsulates the group's lowercase conceptualism. Released in 1999 on Shi-Ra-Nui sublabel 360º Records, the physical album is a wonderfully inscrutable artifact. An unmarked silver CD in a green-on-clear jewel case baring minimal credits and these esoteric liner notes, via minuscule text on a translucent sticker:

COMPUTER SOUP URUMUCHISTAN

1 → 3
mb mb mb mb mb mb mb mb mb mb mb mb
mb mb mb mb mb mb mb mb mb mb mb mb

4 → 6
(抹)(抹)(抹)(抹)(抹)(抹)(抹)(抹)(抹)(抹)(抹)(抹)
(抹)(抹)(抹)(抹)(抹)(抹)(抹)(抹)(抹)(抹)(抹)(抹)

7 → 8
---~ ---~ ---~ ---~ ---~ ---~
---~ ---~ ---~ ---~ ---~ ---~

9 → 11
┫┻┣┫┻┣┫┻┣┫┻┣
┫┻┣┫┻┣┫┻┣┫┻┣

COMS


The album's 11 untitled tracks are similarly abstract, simple, and contemplative. Sparse muted trumpet, plaintive piano, and hypnotic hand percussion intertwine in patient counterpoint over beds of restrained electronics: often sparse, keening oscillations or panning rhythmic noise. Odd harmonic intervals and mutated phrasings keep the proceedings dynamic and engaging, while the relatively short track lengths give each sonic scene a mellow dreaminess that never overstays its welcome. 

As for sonic comparisons, the alien sound design and slowly unfolding arrangements evoke Miles Davis's He Loved Him Madly or Arve Henriksen's Chiaroscuro, but with a disarming lack of pretension. Miles away from ECM-lineage studio perfection, Computer Soup's takes are saturated with tape hiss and room tone, every track a self-contained miniature full of gritty detail. 

The band's genius, to me, is that they thread the needle of so many late '90s experimental niches in such a brilliant way. They do the No Neck Blues Band low-key improv thing without resorting to witchy theatrics, and embrace creative electronics while steering well clear of overwrought clicks-n-cuts pointillism or shock-and-awe DSP abuse. Computer Soup's compositions are vibes first and foremost, and Urumuchistan is a stellar, 46-minute example of their unique brand of alien mood music.

As a limited CDr, Urumuchistan is among the more rare offerings from Computer Soup's catalog, and completely lacking any kind of digital release. Until the reissue gods decide a retrospective is in order, you can grip the whole album here.


Tracklist

  1. 1. Untitled - 4:20
  2. 2. Untitled - 4:47
  3. 3. Untitled - 2:55
  4. 4. Untitled - 5:09
  5. 5. Untitled - 6:45
  6. 6. Untitled - 2:35
  7. 7. Untitled - 4:33
  8. 8. Untitled - 2:31
  9. 9. Untitled - 5:53
  10. 10. Untitled - 2:45
  11. 11. Untitled - 4:12