Lethe / Dry Ice On Steel Tables (CD, and/oar USA 2011)

A remarkable document of a live performance recorded on September
11th, 2003 at No, 20 warehouse, Nagoya Port, Japan. The sounds heard in
this recording were created by Kiyoharu's application of dry ice to four steel
tables which were heated by candles. No electronic processing or
post-production editing of the performance was done.
Kiyoharu has had his various work published by a number of respected
recording labels such as Trente Oiseaux, Intransitive, Locust, ICR, Alluvial
Recordings, Monochrome Vision, Invisible Birds, 20City, among others.
Recorded at No 20 warehouse, , Nagoya Port September 11th, 2003


Lethe - Dry Ice on Steel Tables [either/OAR - 2011]
Kuwayama Kiyoharu, also known as Lethe, has an impressive discography of non-music dating back to the late 90's, although this new release, "Dry Ice on Steel Tables", is my first time listening to his material. The release is a single track (actually recorded in 2003), which portrays the title of the album quite directly: it's an unedited and unhurried 43 minute improvisation, in which Kiyoharu coaxes as many different contact sounds as possible from the two materials, resulting in what often sounds like a sort of metalized whalesong.
Upon pressing play, we are dropped into the dusty, tranquil openness of "no. 20 warehouse", sonically illuminated by the diffusion of the unintrusive sounds of distant ventilation systems. The sound of the room in this hushed baseline state ultimately accounts for most of this recording, as oftentimes pauses between the harmonic moans of the tables stretch on for several seconds. The space was well chosen, and it is the desire to return to it that keeps me listening to this recording.
The shrill, razor-sharp groans of protest dragged from the steel tables are embalmed in a coccoon of dream-like natural reverb, and the result is significantly more pleasant on the ear than it could've been, as well as deeply ethereal and even quasi-melodic. The shifting and twisting sounds created have occasional similarities to the squeaking of a mistreated saxophone or clarinet, or the warm tones of a conch shell, and at times the tables even resonate with a sonority nearly comparable to those instruments.
Listening to this album is peaceful, yet uneventful and lonely. The experience of meditative solitude is primarily what is expressed here, through the mournful, unfeeling voices of mass-manufactured objects. In order to enjoy this album, patience and the ability to enjoy loosely structured sound for its own sake are required. Though a consistent tone and acoustic space are present throughout the recording, no attempts at rhythmic patterns or compositional development are made.
Ultimately, "Dry Ice on Steel Tables" is quite the rewarding release, full of unique, complex sounds, thick reverbs and a sort of performative whimsicality. It's the rare album of field recordings that already feels like a complete soundspace without the addition of any editing. Those not used to intensely sparse, formless ambience will likely be confounded and bored by this recording, but fans of slow moving 'dream ambient' music like Troum or Nurse With Wound's "Soliloquy for Lilith" should eat this up.

- Musique Machine


Lethe - Dry Ice on Steel Tables [either/OAR - 2011]
Lethe is the nom de plume of Japanese sound specialist Kuwayama Kiyoharu, whose long running Catastrophe Point series and fruitful collaborative albums (alongside Kapotte Muziek and Jonathan Coleclough to name two) have piqued my interest over the last couple of years. The majority of Lethe albums | if not all of them | were recorded in emptied or abandoned architectural spaces, such as warehouses and airplane hangers, where by a variety of ephemera was usually agitated, bowed, scraped, rustled or in some way, shape or form manipulated to create a sound that resonated within the vast walls of Kiyoharu's chosen infrastructure. The results that Lethe achieves after carefully overdubbing his compositions are often a potent crossbreeding of Musique Concre`te, Acousmatic, and Impressionistic musical sensibility.
Dry Ice on Steel Tables veers from the Lethe paradigm slightly, as what we have here is a live, unaltered piece culled from a 2003 performance, as opposed to the usual post-production assemblage of kiyoharu's acoustic recordings. Remarkably, the stammering ebb and flow of buzzing metallic scrapes and bellowing drones that characterized the performance were sounds sourced entirely from three very non-musical materials: tables, dry ice, and candles. As the album cover reveals, Lethe positioned himself in the center of four small steel tables that were all being heated by candles, and maneuvered from one table to the next placing pieces of dry ice on them with a gloved hand. The sonic properties of the metal tables shrieked to life using this process and Lethe was able to manipulate all the materials in such a way as to coax interesting variations in the durations of tones and pitches in the shrieking steel, all the while leaving plenty of silent gaps to accentuate the isolated movements. Yes, quite a bold, creative and brilliant performance.

-The Scrapyard Forecast

Lethe - Dry Ice on Steel Tables [either/OAR - 2011]
Its interesting to note that whenever some music by Lethe, nom de plume for Japanese Kuwayama Kiyoharu, is released it is always years old, or so it seems. I have no idea why that is, but surely its like whiskey: it gets better when its older. This particular recording is made at the No. 20 warehouse, Nagoya Port, Japan on September 11th 2003. The cover tells us that the sound materials are steel tables, dry ice and candles. I saw Lethe doing this, not this concert, but at a visit at his studio, but that was before 2003, so I am no longer able to tell you how that works, soundwise. The backside of the cover shows us also sixteen small photographs of the concert: a small table in the middle, surrounded by three other small tables with the candles. It looks like a ritual being performed. No doubt the warehouse space was empty and the large hall is used to reverb the music. Its like scraping metal sheets, like Organum did in his early days, but then much, much more slower, with
more time between each attack of the sheets, making the piece more 'silent', although each scrape of metal is quite intense. Both as an attack and intensified. Probably a DVD of the concert would have been more appropriate, so you could see the action, and judge for yourself if this a performed ritual, but instead, by putting it on CD, one is forced to consider this in pure musical terms, which I guess is the whole notion of it. It has an odd orchestral feel to it, like a Xenakis piece, scraping, reverberating and intense. An excellent piece of music.

- Vital Weekly 781(FdW)

Lethe - Dry ice on steel tables (either/OAR, 2011)
J'ai deLja` chroniqueL Lethe, Kuwayama Kiyoharu de son vrai nom, pour ses deux incroyables duos en compagnie du saxophoniste Masayoshi Urabe. Dry ice on steel tables a eLgalement eLteL enregistreL en 2003 dans le me^me hangar abandonneL sur le port de Nagoya. Pour qui a eLcouteL les deux duos Kuwayama/Urabe parus chez Intransitive, difficile d'oublier ce vaste espace hautement reLsonnant. Ici, Lethe est seul, seul au milieu de quatre tables meLtalliques chauffeLes par une petite bougie, quatre surfaces sur lesquelles il frotte des pains de glace seLcheLe. Comme d'habitude, tout est entie`rement acoustique, il n'y a pas d'effets eLlectroniques, et l'enregistrement n'est pas retravailleL au mastering ou au mixage.
Les performances de Lethe ne passent pas inapercues, l'espace choisi pour ses qualiteLs acoustiques posse`de toujours une sorte d'aura mystique ou magique propre a` litteLralement envouter les spectateurs/auditeurs. C'est peut-e^tre pourquoi Frans de Waard se demande si cette performance ne peut pas e^tre qualifieLe ou apparenteLe a` un rite. Personnellement, je n'y crois pas, d'une parce qu'un rite est essentiellement collectif et communautaire, et demande la participation de plusieurs personnes, mais surtout parce qu'il me semble que Lethe fait avant tout de la musique, qu'on peut certes qualifier de non-musique pour faciliter le catalogage, mais qui n'en reste pas moins une organisation sonore du temps, une mise en forme acoustique de la dureLe.
Pour cette performance, Lethe frotte un a` un ses blocs de glace, un grincement surgit et vole et se reLpercute contre les parois gigantesques du ba^timent portuaire. Lethe posse`de ce talent qui consiste a` creLer un son et a` donner l'impression que le son vit par lui-me^me immeLdiatement apre`s sa production, chaque bruit est produit puis il est comme laisseL a` son sort deLtermineL par les proprieLteLs physiques et acoustiques de l'espace reLsonnant. Mais le son ne vit pas vraiment par lui-me^me, car c'est toujours Lethe qui choisit bel et bien de le laisser reLsonner seul et de contempler son eLvolution a` travers l'espace, ou bien de produire plusieurs sons simultaneLment qui se meLlangent et en forment de nouveaux, de produire ces meLlanges faits de grincements et de frottements, de reLsonances qui s'entreme^lent, s'entrechoquent et s'eLvitent selon l'instant. 
En tout cas, cette manie`re de travailler la reLsonance est parfaitement adeLquate a` une mise en forme singulie`re de la dureLe, le meLlange de nappes sonores et la succession de cris espaceLs par un silence qui n'en est pas un, un silence rempli de reLsonances fantomatiques et spectrales, cette structure propose une perception de la dureLe neuve et singulie`re, une perception deLtermineLe autant par les caracteLristiques spatiales du lieu d'enregistrement que par les caracteLristiques acoustiques des sons produits et de l'espace de la performance. Une mise en forme du temps eLtrange et un timbre unique, puissant, eLpais et eLtheLreL en me^me temps, oppressant et eLvanescent. Car oui, les sons produits par Lethe ne ressemblent eLvidemment a` rien de connu, et me^me si on pouvait les reconnaitre, cette reconnaissance serait fausseLe par l'espace au sein duquel ils sont produits. Une performance toujours aussi spectaculaire et originale, ou` l'extre^me sensibiliteL acoustique permet l'eLmergence d'une musique extre^me et radicale, radicale dans sa forme et extre^me dans sa deLlicatesse. Dry ice on steel tables forme ainsi un long poe`me acoustique et spatial, une poeLsie qui reLsulte encore une fois de l'interdeLpendance entre l'espace et l'acoustique, car Lethe nous dit encore une fois que si l'espace met en forme le son, l'acoustique peut eLgalement rendre preLsent l'espace, ainsi que la dureLe.

DIMANCHE 9 OCTOBRE 2011 Improv Sphere