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Empty Editions is pleased to present Failed Celestial Creatures, the unanticipated debut collaboration between composer and writer David Grubbs and musician and sound engineer Taku Unami. Recorded at the Kyoto underground performance space Soto, the album takes inspiration from a reading list which Grubbs refers to as something like an “assignment” exchanged in emails between the two artists before the recording sessions.
Primarily recorded in Kyoto, the album takes inspiration from the duo’s shared musical and literary influences, emerging just as much from their improvisatory explorations as from an eclectic reading list exchanged prior to the recording sessions. The album’s narrative inclinations are rooted in both artists’ previous experiments with the complex reciprocity between sound and text, including Grubbs' work with the poet Susan Howe and Unami’s collaborations with writers such as Eugene Thacker and Evan Calder Williams. Failed Celestial Creatures draws in particular upon a group of short stories by the short-lived Japanese author Atsushi Nakajima (1909-42) - perhaps best known for inflecting Classical Chinese folktales with a modernist vein of absurdist and existential foreboding - as the imaginary backdrop for its set of guitar-based instrumental explorations.
In Nakajima’s “The Moon Over The Mountain,” a mad-poet metamorphosed into a hybrid-tiger recites poetry with an obscure defect, while “The Rebirth of Wujing” sees the titular river monster self-identifying as a “failed celestial being” [堕天使]. The cryptic collapse read in both of these episodes resonates with Unami’s research into the etymology of the chinese character “堕,” meaning “to fail” in modern usage, but historically understood as referencing “sacred meat from the altar fallen on the ground.” Such a primordial scene evokes the violation of the sacred as a tacit aspect of ritual.. This failure of ritual, always a condition (and perhaps even a technique) for musicians of Grubbs’ and Unami’s ilk, can be broadly understood as the primary point of departure for Failed Celestial Creatures. Situated within this affective terrain, the album’s title-track consists of a side-long progression of dirge-like riffs enveloped by clouds of vaporous electronics - eventually erupting into unruly squalls of feedback as Unami joins Grubbs on electric guitar. The B-side features a cluster of luminous guitar duets which are beguiling in their seeming effortlessness and simplicity. Threadbare and fallen, Grubbs and Unami invoke the failed ritual, the spilling at the altar, always suggested at the precipice of sonic emergence.
The release was recorded by Taku Unami at Soto, Kyoto, August 7th and 9th, 2017 and mastered by Rashad Becker at D&M. All music by David Grubbs and Taku Unami, published by Gastr Virgo Music (BMI). The LP is produced in an edition of 500 on 180 gram vinyl.