A lot of the most interesting albums of 2016 were ones that explored borderlands at the fringes of noise, and while purists may disagree vehemently, noise is at its most interesting when it’s not a genre in itself so much as a complicating element of something else, channeling different genres through a distorting prism even as it incorporates that change back into itself. The writer David Novak in his book Japanoise: Music on the Edge of Circulation repeatedly comes back to the theme of feedback not only as a reference to the sonic feedback that characterises noise but in the context of the feedback loops that channel influences back and forth between two poles.
In the case of Kouen Kyodai, the two poles are Masami Akita, known best as the man behind noise legend Merzbow, and Eiko Ishibashi, who is known primarily for being the stupendously talented multi-instrumentalist all-rounder and singer-songwriter Eiko Ishibashi. All of which is to say that they’re both artists who bring a certain gravitas to a project, although neither of them is apparently averse to a degree of playfulness. From its lame pun of a title (in addition to being the title of a manga, it’s also a play on the Japanese term for the Coen Brothers) to the way it themes itself around a children’s playground, they set the album up as being a space to mess around.
The most obvious factor differentiating the two tracks is the role Ishibashi takes, with the first track, Slide, seeing her skittering softly, loosely and subtly across the drums, while she takes more of a foreground position after switching to piano on the second, Junglegym. On both tracks, Akita is in relatively restrained “ambient” rather than harsh mode, although that doesn’t stop him building his layers of distorted tones into towering cathedrals of sound. Of Ishibashi’s contribution, it’s her drumming that is perhaps the most interesting. She’s a supremely talented pianist, but that’s also very much her comfort zone and one where the sounds she produces are most familiar, if no less dizzying in their interactions with Akita’s rumbling drones and arrhythmic pulses of noise. As a drummer, however, she brings a distinctly un-drummerlike musicality to her playing that throws unexpected twists and turns into Akita’s gradually building crescendo.
Both tracks fascinate and disorientate in equal measures, but it’s the feedback loop between the two musicians, playing off each other and constantly shifting roles in a harmony and discord that lies at the heart of its appeal.