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Symbol

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Album Review

Possibly the most unique item within Susumu Yokota's highly idiosyncratic oeuvre, Symbol finds the multifaceted Japanese electronica master defying and muddying genre distinctions to create sui generis compositions of considerable beauty and strangeness. That's not exactly new territory for Yokota, but this time there's a gimmick: the album is consists primarily of fragments taken from classical pieces, many of them highly familiar, if not always readily identifiable, by the likes of Debussy, Rachmaninov, and Beethoven — with a particular reliance on Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker" and Saint-Saëns' "Carnival of the Animals" — as well as bits of more recent works by John Cage and Meredith Monk, whose unearthly voice becomes a focal point for several of these tracks. But while Yokota cuts, pastes, and plunders the world of art music with a palpable exuberance akin to the mash-up artists, his contemporaries, who were doing similar things with pop, the results are more nuanced than merely novel. Nor is it entirely out of step with his previous work — it's not as serenely ambient as the beloved Sakura (though it is generally quite soothing), and it certainly has little to do with his various dance-oriented releases, but it retains the meticulous, multilayered compositional approach of albums like Grinning Cat and The Boy & the Tree. And although the presence of electronics is kept relatively understated, the elements with which Yokota weaves together his mad grab-bag of orchestral motifs, frolicsome fragments of flute and piano, and stately string passages (there are sometimes as many as seven classical samples in a single four-minute piece) will be immediately familiar to his listeners: subtly burbling beats, wordless ethereal vocals, vaguely Asian-sounding percussion loops (as well as a marimba ostinato that could pass for a Steve Reich sample). Indeed, without the obviously recognizable nature of his sample sources (which, depending on your perspective, could be a source of distraction or a point of engagement), it would be difficult to distinguish many of these pieces from "standard" Yokota compositions — a feat which is in itself quite an accomplishment. That it's also a fascinating and rewarding listen, and an undeniably gorgeous bit of craftsmanship, arguably elevates Symbol to near the level of its inspirations, or at least positions it as a curious bridge between too-often estranged musical worlds. ~ K. Ross Hoffman, Rovi

Biography

Born: Japan

Genre: Electronic

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Susumu Yokota emerged in the early '90s as one of the most versatile and prolific electronic producers going. In his native Japan, he was known for many years as a top-tier dance music talent, specializing in all varieties of house while dabbling in techno, electro, and trance for the Sublime, Harthouse, and Planet Earth labels. Alternate aliases for his dance releases included Ringo, Prism, and Sonicstuff. While his dancefloor tracks were funky and playful with a heavy debt to epic disco —...
Full bio
Symbol, Susumu Yokota
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