I grinned throughout all thirty minutes of Rie Nakajima’s Four Forms. And this wasn’t just on the first or second listen; with each subsequent revisit, it’s become clear to me that Four Forms is imbued with the sort of life-affirming pleasantness that’s rarely seen in music. In fact, the most immediate comparison that came to mind was Ramon Zürcher’s The Strange Little Cat. Like that film, Four Forms is very much an album whose appeal comes largely from sound design; each minute detail is magnified and feels precisely placed such that every tick and vibration can be appreciated. And its humble premise and presentation—four relatively straightforward recordings of Nakajima’s various automatons—only make the timbral qualities of her sculptures more delightful.
What’s really astounding though about Four Forms is the quality of these compositions. What could easily become tedious in its repetition instead transforms into something hypnotic and soothing. The swirling of a ball opens the first track but never feels oppressive or tiring during the four minutes it’s heard. One could easily accredit that to the inherent lightness of the sound but a lot is certainly owed to the mixing and how well Nakajima pairs her contraptions. The most amusing of these comes in the form of intermittent clanging on track four. The track’s scraping and rattling is generally tranquil but these loud and metallic interjections are frankly amusing, even comical.
The wonderful thing about art is that while an artist may have a say in how it can be interpreted or engaged with, it still has a certain life of its own. With Four Forms, that notion is almost literally presented. While Nakajima was the one who constructed these eighteen machines, these recordings don’t necessarily point towards her involvement. Instead, we’re forced to recognize the sounds as is and relish in the compositions that they seemingly made themselves. On the back of the LP, there’s a blurb from David Toop that mentions how the way we perceive music is a result of where and how we listen to it. Four Forms directly addresses that to us as listeners. While we’re not directly in the room witnessing these automatons function in real time, we’re able “to be closer still, almost inside but seeing nothing, hearing the microaudial detail”, as Toop puts it. Consumer Waste’s previous releases were all published as CDs but Nakajima wanted to have Four Forms pressed on vinyl. It’s an appropriate wish; the process of getting ready to engage with a record only takes us one step closer to engaging with the hyperspecificity of the sounds that are present herein.
Four Forms is a lot of things. With the way the album presents its numerous sounds, it’s effectively an ASMR lover’s dream. It also happens to be an interesting intersection between experimental sound design and twee. And unlike any other piece of music I’ve heard, it distinctly reminds me of the understated domestic humor that characterizes Yasujirō Ozu’s films. But what’s more important is seeing why all these things seem relevant: across its thirty minutes, Four Forms invites us to see how art is living and active, and how it’s possible to experience the same excitement in even the most simple of things we come across in life.