Aki Onda is known for his work on memory and the musical implications of technologies that help us remember how to hear, and in Lost City, created in collaboration with veteran experimentalists Loren Connors and Alan Licht, the composer and his colleagues weave the aural image of a 9/11 New York in the painful process of re-cognition, of re-presenting itself after a terrible trauma. By turning photographs into a visual score upon which the instrumentalists improvise, Onda approaches the music in a way that seems counter-intuitive, if only because it is an archival movement, something static set in motion, ethereal memory turned into sound matter. There is a long, chaotic quality to the players’ improv, seemingly aching to remain in place while shuffling reticently on to the next sounds, like a historical document that will forever remain attached to a certain time and space but that nevertheless wants to be in the here and now, to be reopened like a wound that bleeds years, its words pouring over life and burning it like sunrays.
Recorded in 2007, the album already belongs to another context, operating at a double-remove that locates the wandering guitar-picked sounds and the metallic creaks of architecture in violent movement within a very fluid frame, one that is constantly leaking matter into the realm of forgetfulness. In a way, it represents, like some of the images of the immediacy of the terrorist attack, the city in negative, the unfolding of its identity as sheer loss, every note and every resonance indicating not its presence but its imminent escape. To capture this moment via improv is to conceptualize it (along with the recording technology with which its fleetingness is petrified) as an act that sheds the association between creativity and the new in favor of one in which creativity is re-creation, a re-articulation of whatever appears positive (the fact that there is a city, its urban configuration as its own particular truth) by ghostly means, by haunting. Through these eerie absences, these reminders of something that will never come back – that perhaps wasn’t even there in the first place – the music breaks down what is, what can be seen, and reveals the beauty of its own elsewhere; the city becomes lost in a manner comparable to that in which the improviser frees him or herself from the attachments of musical identity, exercising the fullness and the fulfilment born of vacating the self that binds all memories together. Lost City provides a crack through which to glimpse the light beneath the scarred streets, an attempt not to recover and rebuild but to bring forth the possibility of knowing this place anew, as it (never) was, as it left its grid-like imprints on the minds and bodies of its people… of knowing it through the ghosts it tried to do away with in the powerful drive of restoration.
Lost City is, in this sense, a darkness that works as lens to see and feel, very deeply, the brightness at the heart of remembrance, the contradictory flow of life and death as they merge into each other to become something impossible, the movement of the immovable, the immutability of change, the presence of something absent and the absence of what one thought was always there. The free improvisation that Onda, Connors, and Licht practice here is not one of ultimate creation, it is not a freedom from all convention but a freedom that has come to include convention as part of a totality of expression that has gone beyond the modernist struggle, its relationship to the past being no longer one of opposition but one of unravelling, of attempting to understand its particular forms of haunting. As such, these pieces hurt as much as they allow certain rationalizations, they shine with originality as much as they evade it to focus on recalling, they feel at peace as much as they mobilize the city’s despair into forms of contemplation…
All in all, if you enjoy any of the aforementioned artists’ work, then you will surely find this interesting, along with one of the videos that Onda has produced for these particular pieces, which you will find below. (David Murrieta)