Somei Satoh “Emerald Tablet/Echoes”

I am admittedly late to the table on Somei Satoh’s work. For years, I’ve had an awareness and have listened to some pieces here and there, but it wasn’t until late last year and through a serendipitous picture Greg Davis posted that I finally fixed that (there’s something so stunning and enticing about the cover of this edition). Upon first listen, Emerald Tablet and Echoes left me transfixed, lost inside Satoh’s rich, sprawling works. Satoh is a master of subtle textures and tonal manipulation to the point that you end up lost in the subtleties and shocked back to reality with jarring crescendos.

Inside each of these pieces is a winding path. Long passages of quiet feel overbearing at times, so intense in their paucity that the strength it takes to focus in on each section isn’t necessarily worth it. What I mean is that these deliberate, contemplative segments are ripe for letting your mind wander. “Emerald Tablet” worms into your psyche, finding the nightmare zone and dragging you inside. Sharp sounds culled from tubular bells, cymbals, and other percussive elements manipulated and reconstructed overwhelm your senses before quieting back to near silence and then doing it all over again. It’s dizzying and wonderful.

Ancient rituals emerge from “Echoes,” dust-laden trances that are pulled directly from the Earth. Voices stretch chants to their breaking point, repeating slow patterns into an odd, caustic reverie. Endless layers add ample potency until a distorting, howling sonic windstorm pummels the end into the ground. When the previous 28 minutes have been so methodic and measured, the sudden jolt is cathartic in the extreme. Satoh unleashes 90 seconds of shredded hell before fading into a grating whimper. I need a couple minutes to process what just happened, but “Echoes” is unreal.

It’s unfortunate these two pieces have eluded me until recently, but Emerald Tablet/Echoes is an essential document of groundbreaking work. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve listened to this album and each go around is a new adventure with something else uncovered. Incredible and monumental.