David Grubbs & Taku Unami - Failed Celestial Creatures LP
Label: Empty Editions
Empty Editions present Failed Celestial Creatures, an unexpected collaboration between composer-guitarist David Grubbs (Gastr Del Sol, The Red Krayola) and Tokyo-based musician Taku Unami. Primarily recorded in Kyoto, the album takes inspiration from the duo's shared musical and literary influences, emerging just as much from their improvisatory explorations as from an eclectic reading list exchanged prior to the recording sessions. The album's narrative inclinations are rooted in both artists' previous experiments with the complex reciprocity between sound and text, including Grubbs' work with the poet Susan Howe and Unami's collaborations with writers such as Eugene Thacker and Evan Calder Williams. Failed Celestial Creatures draws in particular upon a group of short stories by the short-lived Japanese author Atsushi Nakajima (1909-42) -- perhaps best known for inflecting Classical Chinese folktales with a modernist vein of absurdist and existential foreboding -- as the imaginary backdrop for its set of guitar-based instrumental explorations. In Nakajima's The Moon Over The Mountain, a mad-poet metamorphosed into a hybrid-tiger recites poetry with an obscure defect, while The Rebirth of Wujing sees the titular river monster self-identifying as a "failed celestial being" [堕天使]. The cryptic collapse read in both of these episodes resonates with Unami's research into the etymology of the Chinese character "堕," meaning "to fail" in modern usage, but historically understood as referencing "sacred meat from the altar fallen on the ground." Such a primordial scene evokes the violation of the sacred as a tacit aspect of ritual. This failure of ritual, always a condition (and perhaps even a technique) for musicians of Grubbs and Unami's ilk, can be broadly understood as the primary point of departure for Failed Celestial Creatures. Situated within this affective terrain, the album's title-track consists of a side-long progression of dirge-like riffs enveloped by clouds of vaporous electronics -- eventually erupting into unruly squalls of feedback as Unami joins Grubbs on electric guitar. The B-side features a cluster of luminous guitar duets which are beguiling in their seeming effortlessness and simplicity. Threadbare and fallen, Grubbs and Unami invoke the failed ritual, the spilling at the altar, always suggested at the precipice of sonic emergence.