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Suszynski: Break the geometry

In April, a band called Kikagaku Moyo performed a 50-minute concert taped by KEXP. My brothers and I hooked a laptop to some speakers and laid down on the floor to listen to it.

I saw the band late last year at the Gothic theater in Denver. As I listened to their psych rock bass lines paired with an electric sitar, their long hair obscuring everything but their noses, I felt as if I had left the planet.

Kikagaku Moyo means “geometric patterns” in Japanese. With every pick of string, they seem to draw well-formed shapes in the air. Just when I was getting the hang of their rhythms, they shattered those patterns, only to pick the pieces up again after a few songs.

Kikagaku Moyo’s teeming and mysterious musicscapes remind me of an author that I have read extensively, also Japanese: Haruki Murakami. And Murakami has really mastered using classical music atmospherically in his novels.

My favorite piece of music he discusses is in the book “Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki.” The song is called “Le mal du pays” by Franz Liszt.

In the book, Tsukuru, the main character, is in his apartment with his friend Haida. Haida listens exclusively to instrumental and chamber music and since he lives in a cramped dorm, he likes bringing his CDs to Tsukuru’s apartment.

Haida says of the song: “’It’s French. Usually it’s translated as ‘homesickness,’ or ‘melancholy.’ If you put a finer point on it, it’s more like ‘a groundless sadness called forth in a person’s heart by a pastoral landscape.’”

The song describes Tsukuru’s inner world. He’s been experiencing a sort of melancholy that he can’t shake. The song also reminds him of an old friend with whom he has lost contact. When his old friend played the song, “It had a calm sadness, but wasn’t sentimental.”

Murakami analyzes the mode of the music, how it can be fitted. Although the music exists in scores and notes on the page, its harmony, or lack thereof, is shaped by the fingers on the keys.

“The piece seems simple technically, but it’s hard to get the expression right. Play it just as it’s written on the score, and it winds up pretty boring,” Haida says.

Kikagaku Moyo opens their 50-minute session with a song called “Old Snow, White Sun” followed by another one of my favorites, “Cardigan Song.” These two pieces are relatively calm. Since the lead sings in soothing, ethereal Japanese, his voice becomes almost like an instrument and in this way, I enjoy their music as I do classical music.

There is something to be said about having an object in your hands, a sheet of music for example, and it being seemingly simple. Or holding it without realizing its potential. Food works very much in the same way.

Two weeks ago, I wanted to master a very simple recipe. Panna cotta. First, I attempted a cardamom and saffron panna cotta with a rose water whipped cream and roasted pistachio on the top. It turns out that panna cotta is not difficult to make.

Last week, I tried a different variation. Vanilla with a raspberry and mint coulis.

I discovered that if I added too much gelatin to the heavy cream, even if it’s a ¼ packet too much, the texture becomes too gummy.

“But go the opposite route and interpret it too intensely, and it sounds cheap. Just the way you use the pedal makes all the difference, and can change the entire character of the piece,” Haida says of the song.

In the mornings, when I have the day in my hands — I am trying to approach my hours, my minutes, like Haida approaches classical music or how Tsukuru’s friend plays “Le mal du pays” on the piano. Once I am given a seemingly simple task, a sheet of things to do, maybe a very simple vanilla panna cotta, I want to get the expression right.

There are days when I feel a calm sadness without the sentimentality. There are other days when the mint growing in patches in the backyard near the aspen trees are whispering to me. An ambrosial potential. When the raspberries are on sale in City Market and they look like furry thimbles asking to be eaten. And what is that expression? Maybe a beguiling hunger, a revitalized longing for contrasting colors: the “old snow” of the panna cotta, the garnet red of the raspberry.

Tsukuru admits that he doesn’t listen to classical music without Haida. I admit that I don’t listen to it without Murakami (or the “Fantasia” movies) but I do bake a lot. I do try to hold the day in my hands and decide how to see it. How to play it, how to listen to it, what spices to infuse it with.

On the ground with my brothers listening to the third song of Kikagaku’s set, I am reminded of Tsukuru and Haida. It has become one of my favorite activities, to lay on the ground and turn my speakers up until the sounds pattern the floor. After the third song, Kikagaku Moyo starts their measured deconstruction. They are breaking apart the simple shape of the square, the circle; but how they arrange the pieces afterward is the expression.


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