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Wednesday, July 10, 2002

HIGH NOTES

Skist: 'Ellipsis'


If the purpose of abstraction is to get as far away from representative forms as possible, then the ultimate abstraction is something that's totally unrecognizable as anything. In the 1950s, Abstract Impressionists went to such lengths to avoid even suggesting the use of paint that judgment of their work was based on how many millimeters the dried pigment rose above the canvas.

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Such a radical interpretation implies the existence of a "norm," which, in the case of music, takes in everything from scales to instruments themselves. If so-called electronica has done anything other than allow dance music artists to tour out of their Powerbooks, it is that it has pushed abstraction to its limits.

Beyond a certain point, however, can you still call it music? Some schools of digital thought in Europe -- the Sonig crew in Germany and a few artists signed to England's Warp label -- seem to exist for the purpose of challenging people's ideas of where music ends and noise begins. Skist sort of subscribes to the same idea, but with one difference: vocals. Even when it avoids conventional melodies, the human voice is itself recognized, at least subliminally, as the source of all music.

Devoid of found-sound samples and utilizing live percussion, Skist's music is more literal than what the Sonig and Warp folks put out. And since the vocals actually use words, the "songs" (for want of a better term) convey objective meaning. Nevertheless, calling Skist's music accessible is like saying William S. Burroughs' novels are funny: It's true, but a lot of people will be misled.

What mainly distinguishes Skist's music is its sense of action. The titles of five of the nine cuts on their first full-length album, "Ellipsis," contain verbs, and there's as much syncopation as there is stasis. The duo -- Haruna Ito on samples and vocals, Samm Bennett on programming and percussion -- say they prefer listeners to derive their own meanings, and I bet most people will say their song "Prediction" contains South Asian elements and that many of the noises they artificially produce sound like things you hear around the house. Abstraction will do that to you.

Skist will hold a CD release party for "Ellipsis" on July 21, 3-8 p.m., at Deluxe in Azabu Juban. Admission is free. For more information, call (03) 3891-8980 or check www.japanimprov.com/skist/


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