BY STEPHANIE ESLAKE
‘Go Seigen vs. Fujisawa Kuranosuke’
Original work by Nonsemble
Released through Bigo & Twigetti
When I learnt this work was inspired by a championship game of Go, I hadn’t the wildest clue what to expect. How can a musical work be based on a Japanese board game? According to Brisbane composer and guitarist Chris Perren, who lived in Tokyo for half a year, he would “take the position numbers from a sequence of [Go] moves and translate that to pitches or rhythmic durations, and other times…turn the shapes of stones on the board into melodies”. Well, whatever he did, it rocked – quite literally. Nonsemble’s latest release for chamber septet fuses post-rock and minimalism to craft a monumental contemporary classic.
‘Prelude’ opens the album cinematically, with rich strings and gentle piano. It’s dark, and it’s serious. There’s the occasional ill-fitting note, but the resulting crunch is all part of the auditory satisfaction. The start of ‘Movement I’ combines percussive strumming with open tuning, and quickening interjections by the piano. Repetitive rhythms give a strong post-rock drive as drums support jolts from the strings. Despite the inspiration for the album, it doesn’t really sound all that Japanese – and would no doubt be highly disruptive during a game of Go. It appears to reflect the tension one would encounter in a mind game as opposed to a board game. As the movement reaches its middle, the piano pounds disturbingly on every beat before returning to the fullness of the previous movement. It all comes together toward the end, crazed as the Dresden Dolls and powerful as Godspeed You! Black Emperor.
‘Movement II’ is perhaps the most Eastern sounding, and haunting strings begin with upward pitch bends. Though each movement is close to 10 minutes, it’s the sort of music that would work well in a longer form – if all the tracks were joined together, it’d be just as effective. Having said this, I feel exhausted and emotionally drained after every movement. By the time ‘Movement III’ comes about – gentle as droplets of liquid (or the clinking of little Go pieces) – I welcome the momentary change of pace. A stunningly played cello solo with minimal vibrato is a standout in this track, which reaches its climax with a series of thumping, metronomic, percussive pulses.
‘Postlude’ is a much needed meditation on every sound my mind was forced to soak up in the past half hour. I start to feel anxious that there will be no closure – but the work acknowledges the energy it steals from the listener and finally rewards with a few major chords. They don’t linger too long – but thank goodness the album ends on one.
Having listened to the entire album, do I now understand how the work sounds like Go? Not really. But I sure as hell will return for repeated listenings to continue to figure it out.
For more info on the album and ensemble go to nonsemble.wordpress.com.