Independent Music & Equipment Reviews, Forthcoming Music Label & Sounds

Monty Adkins – Four Shibusa

CD #AB040: Total Time: 43:13

Artist’s Website:

Record Label Website:

Sound samples:

Tracks: 1) Sendai Threnody 9:00; 2) Entangled Symmetries 11:04; 3) Kyoto Roughcut 14:38; 4) Permutations 8:31

I am likely less-than-qualified to discuss this work since it is steeped in layers of academia and has densely studied connections with artistic subjects.  Yet, with all that Four Shibusa is a beautiful and very accessible collection of music on its own.  It has a stark clarity that I am coming to understand and appreciate more in the recent works of Monty Adkins.  I am most familiar with two of Adkins’s prior works, Five Panels from 2009 and Fragile.Flicker.Fragment from 2011.

This is an example of Monty Adkins’s work from Fragile.Flicker.Fragment



There is a companion video to “Remnant” here and I think it’s gorgeous:


Monty Adkins studied music at Pembroke College in Cambridge, UK where he specialized in French Medieval and Italian Renaissance music.  After an introduction to electronic music by ECM artist Ambrose Field, Adkins formally studied acousmatic music (a form of electroacoustic music).  More information on his studies and background can be found at his website noted above.  In addition to his own solo works, Adkins has been commissioned to create musical works for art installations, dance and other performances as well as curate collections with other composers of electronic, ambient and musique concrète (influenced by the pioneering work of Pierre Schaeffer).  He is on the faculty at the University of Huddersfield Music Department in the UK.

Shibusa is the concept of seeing the inherent simplicity and beauty in everyday objects.  This has been the basis for an artistic collaboration between visual artist Pip Dickens and Monty Adkins (both having an interest in Japanese culture and thought) that recently culminated with the release of this album along with a book and exhibition entitled Shibusa – Extracting Beauty, edited by both artists.  I have not yet had a chance to see the visual works (though some illustrate the CD cover) or book, in person.  I have read that the visual work is an exploration of color, pattern, rhythm and vibration in Japanese Katagami stencils and fabrics and the interplay of light, shadow and color—relationships which can range from spirited to introspective and reflective.  The CD, Four Shibusa is a collection of thoughtful and precise music compositions.  At times, their simplicity belies their great depth.

More information on the artistic collaboration is at this link:

Sendai Threnody, I posit, is a lament resulting from the massive and tragic 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan.  This piece is brilliantly played by clarinettists Heather Roche and Jonathan Sage.  The subtlety of the blending of consonant to dissonant tones adds to the power and serenity of this tribute.  Minimal electronics supplement this track.

Entangled Symmetries returns to sound explorations similar to Fragile.Flicker.Fragment, yet with a greater sense of restraint.  There is a deep inner reflection in this piece.  The more complex portions seem to be taking cues from the visual works of collaborator Pip Dickens where sonic patterns combine and vibrate.

Kyoto Roughcut has a distinctly mysterious quality.  It opens with very subtle and not readily discernable combinations of electronics and clarinets.  There is a building tension and the sounds expand with chattering and visceral undercurrents.  As the piece progresses, the clarinets are revealed with shrill edges, full tones and liquid electronics are woven and pulsed into the fabric of sound until it overtakes and floods the entire soundstage and gently wanes.  The clarinets return briefly and then all gradually fades.

Permutations opens with solo clarinet and a growing misty undertow of electronics with sounds reminiscent of meshed tonal percussion, strings and choral voices.  It is a somber theme similar to Sendai Threnody—almost like a beacon calling out in a steady rain.  Eventually, the clarinet melody shifts and the electronics gradually transform to purer tones like the clarinets and then the combined atmosphere of sound subsides, leaving a lone clarinet.

There is a meditative purity throughout Four Shibusa, but it is in no way a sterile.  The timbre of the clarinets adds a warmth to the overall work.  In each piece, there is a masterful sophistication and balance, and despite the use of electronics, the sound is never synthetic.  Sometimes the power is in the silence and the spaces, not always in the sound.  This I am coming to understand more with each new work by Monty Adkins.  As a record label, Audiobulb has again held fast to their tenet of being “…an exploratory music label designed to support the work of innovative artists.”

More information about clarinettists Heather Roche and Jonathan Sage: and

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