In discussion with djrum about “Grinning Cat” by Susumu Yokota (2001)
What was your first encounter with „Grinning Cat“?
I just saw the CD in a shop when it first came out. I hadn’t heard of Susumu Yokota at all, but I knew the Leaf label. I was just attracted by the exquisite cover design, and it had a sticker with some rave reviews. I took it to the counter to have a listen and was instantly captivated.
Although Susuma Yokota was a very productive artist, „Grinning Cat“ is acknowledged to be one of the best of his career. What makes it so special to you personally?
I haven’t even listened to all of Susumu Yokota’s releases. There are quite a few. To be honest I find his output to be quite hit and miss. There are a few of his albums that I only like one or two tracks from, and some that I just can’t get into at all. “Grinning Cat” is the only one that has no tracks I want to skip.
Is this best listened to as a whole, or are there highlights?
I tend to listen to it as a whole. Like I said, there’s nothing worth skipping. Everything flows really nicely from track to track. There are definitely highlights. For me one of them is the beginning of the first track so I often go to listen to that and end up listening to the whole thing.
It is interesting how many different musical directions Yokota achieves on one single album. Every single tracks seem to move in different directions as they proceed. How does he manage to make this still sound so coherent?
Yes, this is one the things I find most inspiring about this album. I think the coherence comes from the specific sound palette he works from. Most tracks centre around piano samples from French Romantic composers. Then there are a few from American Minimalist composers, and a few other sources such as jazz. But it’s a really narrow pool actually. I think this consistency allows him to structure his compositions in really exciting and surprising ways without sounding all over the place. The structures make the music very dream-like. Listening to “Fearful Dream” or “So Red” is like being led from scene to scene in a dream. There’s an over arching narrative, but it’s told through different scenes each with a distinct sound. Sometimes when you change scene in a dream it’s almost imperceivable: you can flow from one location to the next without even really noticing the change. Different locations and characters can overlap and merge. Other times the change can be quite abrupt. I’ve never heard anyone capture this as well as Yokota on “Grinning Cat”. You can hear something like it in film music sometimes, but it’s never so psychedelic. I think that the fluidity between different sections is helped by ensuring that the individual elements don’t blend too well. He separates sounds with a very unique use of stereo, and he is very loose with pulse, with different elements often going out of phase with each other. Read the rest of this entry »