Review Summary: Experiments with then and now
For what's typically labeled an electronic album, from an electronic musician, the first thing you'll notice with Symbol
is an ambient nature. The sub-three minute opener invites you with a lot of airiness, some peculiar percussive sounds, and swooning strings. It's a nice introduction. And then you're met with Debussy's "Clair de Lune".
, Susumu Yokota spends forty-five minutes weaving classical music with his more avant-garde electronica styling. At its core, the album is exercise in repetition in the electronica and healthy doses of classical samples. "Traveler in the Wonderland" begins with a moment of a Boccherini minuet following straight into the famed oboe solo from Camille Saint-Saens' "Bacchanale". It's one of the more arresting tracks with the percussive nature of stringed instruments, reverberating chanting, and dazzling piano samples.
At its worst, some of the songs can be challenging. "Capriccio and the Innovative Composer" is a dizzying marriage of sounds, short but unrelenting. The aggressive strings from Schubert's "I. Allegro" seem to clash indecisively against the waltzing piano underneath it. With more Saint-Saens, Debussy, and Tchaikovsky on either side of the track, it's a minor sag.
Some of the album's explorations are reminiscent of works of Steve Reich, including but not limited to the sampling of the composer. "Blue Sky and Yellow Sunflower" begins with "Six Marimbas" dancing atop lush strings, preceding an orchestration of synth and delay-rich vocal and electronic sounds. Much of the album is structured in such a way, looping mallet percussion or some atypical rhythm maker holding steady while a familiar composition is woven in. The song ends suddenly, reminding the listener that the out of phase marimbas were playing the whole time.
Yokota also makes excellent use of Meredith Monk for vocal additions, notable in "Song of the Sleeping Forest" for their mellow nature, blending in instead of taking a frontwoman approach. Most of Yokota's meshing like this is done tastefully, curated into cohesiveness across its runtime.
Made in 2005, Symbol
still feels fresh. Perhaps it was a daring undertaking that was ahead of its time, like a different kind of Endtroducing, but with a Japanese electronica musician employing revered classical composers for his sampling inspiration. Susumu Yokota passed away in 2015, but he left us with a one-of-a-kind album while we had him.