On Less Is More: El Fog’s Rebuilding Vibes

by Thomas Brett

I don’t quickly absorb music that’s new to me. As a listener I’m inherently suspicious of what I’ve not yet come to know (and this includes my own works in progress!) It takes me a while to get–let alone trust–a music. Because of my tendencies, there’s not a ton of sound on my iPhone. In fact, hardly any: usually just a recent release or two and few older ones that have made it to the inner circle. I keep meaning to load up the phone’s hard drive with songs, but it never happens. Anyhow, how would I ever have enough time to listen to all those gigabytes of sound? And I’m not a particularly patient listener either. An initial listen will be a final listen if the music isn’t compelling. After that, I’ll return to particular bits here and there, but only to re-confirm (and try to figure out) my initial intuition that there was something enchanting there.

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One quietly enchanting recording that I’ve had with me for a while is Rebuilding Vibes (2009) by el fog. el fog is the electronic music alias of Masayoshi Fujita, a Japanese vibraphonist and composer based in Berlin. On his website (http://masayoshifujita.com), Fujita writes that the el fog project “combines the vibraphone and analogue/digital electronic sound and textured noises using diverse experimental methods”, drawing influence from “the silence and deepness of the fog and the mountains and the gravity within.” Dig around a little at the artist’s website and you’ll also learn that he makes one-off wood prints too. Very cool.

Rebuilding Vibes sounds like it’s built around a series of vibraphone improvisations. The vibes (with motor on) are front and center, sounding out unresolved chords that resonate and float, occasionally enhanced by touches of effects processing (delay and reverb). Supporting the vibes is a small collection of other sounds: there’s a sine tone bass, and some minimal digital percussion consisting mostly of muted bits of electronic static and hiss. To my ear, it sounds like Fujita recorded his vibes improvisations and then went about “rebuilding” them on the computer. The result is an understated and subtle collection of music that sounds both acoustic and electronic. Stylistically, the pieces are a brand of hushed electronica. They sound static in that they’re in no hurry to go anywhere. The chords repeat with tiny fluttering variations, and overall not much happens. But the lack of stuff happening means there’s space for silence here too. In the spaces between the decaying vibes chords and the delicate electronic textures you have the sense of hearing and feeling the texture of silence and emptiness.

I’m reminded here of the Japanese concept of ma. Ma (間) means space or the gaps between things. The Japanese Zen rock garden (like this one in Kyoto) illustrates ma,

so do Japanese flower arrangements (Ikebana),

and shakuhachi flute performances.

In its own way, Fujita’s Rebuilding Vibes seems to draw energy from ma aesthetics as well. Here is a piece called “März”:

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