Nisennenmondai Fan (美人レコード、2010)
Fan is not music. It is not the deliberate construction of an emotional narrative employing intervals of sound and silence. At thirty-five minutes and a single track, Tokyo trio Nisennenmondai’s (translated loosely as “the Y2K Bug”) 2009 recording for 美人レコード (Bijin Records) thwarts the listener at every turn.
It is played like a record, meaning you cue it up in your mp3 player or CD player or what have you, and, there in the room where you are located, your stereo’s DA converter decodes the acoustic impulses that have been converted into electrical signals in a faraway recording studio back into sound. It has a beginning and an end. But what has been recorded? After the initial sample of ambient room noise and birdsong, is the arrhythmic thrumming that begins and constitutes the core of the record actually the sound of an electric fan put through some kind of effects box? Is what you are hearing musical instruments or objects in a room that happened to have been mic’ed up?
Your attention is drawn back to the recording after some five to ten minutes. Some very slight new variations have been added and you, as listener, realize you’ve been engrossed in other thoughts. The recording has, by now, become part of room’s atmosphere, but the introduction of new rhythms has reminded you to listen. This new development bears some resemblance to musical buildup. It renews your expectation that the “song” will suddenly begin to follow the development arc you’ve come to expect from music. You expect the development of tension, its eventual resolution by way of some climactic point. But here Fan frustrates you again, because, though new repetitive elements are added to the composition, and the familiar sounds of traditional instruments such as drums or bass guitars do make their way into the mix, these developments occur over such a long period of time that the effect, in the end, when the mix is thinned back to silence, is that nothing seems to have happened at all.
How about a list? Fan is the juxtaposition of ritual and the continuous, predictability and fatelessness, tenacity and adaptation, subject and object, ambience and artifice, ambivalence and intent, participation and affectlessness, action and passivity. It is practice elevated to the extreme that it becomes something emptied of, or even impervious to, intent. Going beyond itself, the practice of musicianship on this record becomes nature. It becomes sound as such. Fan is not music, but the paradox is that it needs a listener to exist at all. Without the listener, it’s just objects going bang in a room thousands of hectares of unknown forest distant, oblivious of itself, unaware of whether it can even be heard. Without a listener it is equivalent to that minute sample of birdsong that starts the record off.
Fan is a clever virus that pushes the listener to come to grips with the idea that, in as little as thirty-five minutes, manufactured objects such as fans, cultural objects such as music, and, by association, culture and human subjectivity can easily and without argument blend back in to the everything from which they were demarcated.