Robert Wyatt’s voice scurries between worlds

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I have not previously heard any music by Japanese producer The Future Eve before, neither under this name or under the Tomo Akikawabaya moniker that he previously used. And, in all honesty, the only reason I am listening now is that his new album KiTsuNe / Brian The Fox is made together with Robert Wyatt.

The backstory to this release is that The Future Eve contacted Wyatt as far back as 1998 and asked if he had something they could collaborate on. On the Bandcamp page, Robert Wyatt  is quoted to have said: “I did have. Brian the Fox was an un-placed un-worked basic idea I had.” 

He had recorded vocals and some keyboards directly onto tape at home in altogether four takes that he sent to The Future Eve, who then built an electronic sound world around that.

The results are fascinating, and play out like an extremely drawn out and heavily modulated version of the ‘Brian the Fox’ track that eventually ended up on Wyatt’s 2003 album Cuckooland. 

Unfortunately, Wyatt’s vocal contributions also appear stretched out here. Over the course of a full album’s worth of music, we only get to hear his voice a handful of times. Over the rest, we wander through an alien landscape of electronic sound that while feeling surprisingly organic definitely sounds completely otherworldly. And when Wyatt is singing I can’t help but feel that the sounds are too alien for his voice; they seem to play from another dimension rather than with him.

But now I believe that is quite intentional. And, Wyatt’s parts are magical indeed.

Robert first appears about halfway into the eight minute long opening track, appropriately titled 01.01, and already here we are faced with this conundrum of the out there (as in space, or maybe mental space) soundscapes that make you think about flying steel dragons or something. But interestingly, Robert’s appearances become all the more welcome due to their brevity. On this first track, there are just a few lines and then it is gone. No overstaying of welcomes here.

On 02.01, the steel dragons come to the fore; there a this tunnelling, whining sound that is quite interesting and I can for the life of me not get rid of this image of gravity defying dragons in the air above me. The promotional material refers to the music as “Laboratory calculations crossed with temple reflections” and that seems like a fair description to me.

Unfortunately, 02.02 is only available on the vinyl issue of the album. I am seriously tempted to buy the vinyl issue just to find out if Robert is singing on this track; and I was in fact looking for it when I recently was in Japan. But I couldn’t find a copy.

On 02.03, there seems to be a woman wordlessly singing, but since there is no mention of this in the liners, I could be wrong. But that just goes to show how organic and indeed mentally charged some of the electronics on this album really are. This track is allegedly a prototype of ‘Tom Hay’s Fox’ on Robert Wyatt’s 2003 album Cuckooland – and that makes a lot of sense, since that track really is full of the bendy, otherworldly notes that also appear on that Cuckooland’s take on ‘Brian the Fox’. In fact, those two tracks are very much a Rosetta stone for this album, both when it comes to foxes and to the bendy, synthesised sounds.

In any case, we are redeemed on 03.01 which opens with Wyatt wordlessly singing, accompanied by some plucked string instruments. Unfortunately, it closes just as quickly, after less than a minute.

Wyatt is then back on 04.02. This time we get his voice alone, and again that is of course great. However, 39 seconds only lasts for so long. 

On 04.04 he is back again, now duetting with himself on top of subdued yet plaintive synthesiser sounds. I feel like I am lost in the woods somewhere, and can make out words like “upstream” and “downwind”. Maybe there is a real fox story in this after all… But after just over a minute, the track ends and we are back in monolithic extra-dimensional synth territory on 04.05.

04.06 and Robert’s wordless voice is taking on a hymnal quality. His voices are overdubbed and full of echo. I can imagine walking in the shadows of tall trees in a very old and forbidding part of a forest. At 3 minutes and 35 seconds, it is the longest sustained performance we get of Robert, but there isn’t really any musical development to the piece. 

On final track 04.08, Robert starts off with singing on top of his own backing vocals. I can again make out a few words, such as “upstream”. Unfortunately, his performance fades out already after 40 seconds and the remainder of the track is more of a sustained outro wall of sound, again with little musical development. 

Given that Wyatt’s performances here date back to the previous century and even his commentary seems to be from 2013, one can wonder what has taken so long for this to be released.

It seems that first The Future Eve dubbed sounds over the initial four takes sent by Robert, and then those results were handed on to fellow musician Takaaki Han-ya. That process took two years, and was supposed to be the end point. If I understand correctly, those tapes are presented as tracks 01.01 – 03.01.

However, at that point in time The Future Eve’s mother died and that changed his perspective towards a more Buddhist reincarnation approach, which after a very long period of work resulted in the “Ring” version presented on tracks 04.01 – 04.08. According to The Future Eve: “For this work I wanted to try to capture the mind behind the tape more than the music itself.” And it is not impossible to imagine that such an undertaking could take some time.

But despite the incredibly long gestation period, at the end of the day what we get here is, all in all, only maybe seven minutes of Wyatt singing. Although one might initially think that is a bit on the short side and feel that The Future Eve is promoting the association to Robert Wyatt somewhat too strongly here, the idea of trying to give Wyatt’s mind a musical representation is rather intriguing.

Is the inside of a mind really as otherworldly as it is framed here? At least if you factor in reincarnation, it certainly would be; it would be the mind and not the body that travels (upstream as it were) between worlds – from one life to another, and on again. Come to think of it, dragons were used on medieval maps to demarcate the edges of the world, so maybe the deep, wailing, tunnels of sound here really could be thought of as dragons – and the fox as the mind that scurries between those worlds. That would be brain the fox then, I suppose, rather than Brian. (And fox is kitsune in Japanese by the way.)

So, despite the brevity of Wyatt’s performances here, would I say the album is worth the effort? Undoubtedly, yes!

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