Artificial Lover Not a Sham(isen)
Tokyo’s Artificial Lover, the avant garde project of Oouchi Kazunori, is an exception from the average electronica act. The performance aspect of live electronica usually consists of a DJ hunched over samplers, drum machines and various other audio curios, manipulating consoles, laptops, and more often than not, a light show to stimulate the visual senses. Artificial Lover was the headlining act in a Night of Asian Electronica at the ’Sco Saturday, May 13. The performance was what Kazunori calls “Shamisen break-core,” propulsive electronic beats punctuated by the droning sounds of the shamisen, a Japanese string instrument more apt to accompanying traditional Japanese kabuki and bunraku drama. This was the second night of his two-date American tour, which began the night before at the University of Chicago.
Two Chicago solo artists, Insect Deli and Oto, opened the show with less distinct fare. Insect Deli, equally cute and creepy, attired in what appeared to be a nurse uniform and a variety of masks, wrestled with tape machines and wires. Occasionally, she would blow into a recorder or tap on the mike with chopsticks to compliment her caustic, white noise affected beats, even telling some jokes. While it seemed non-traditional in concert, that was all there was to her performance.
Following Insect Deli, Oto, an “intelligent dance music” (IDM) artist on Belgium’s Sub Rosa record label, maneuvered through a set of more accessible electronica. In contrast to Insect Deli, Oto’s performance was a much gentler style of ambience-based electronica. Initially, the audience stood and bobbed their heads; midway through Oto’s set, numbers increased and the newly pumped-up crowd dominated the dance floor.
Artificial Lover, dressed in a robe more befitting a traditional shamisen performer, took the stage for a 45-minute set showcasing a unique style of electronic music. Although the premise of Kazunori’s music is a novelty fusion of unlikely musical styles, hearing him live dispels expectations that his is an act solely compelled by irony. Seated on stage cross-legged, he strummed chords on the shamisen, banging his head to the beats and a random collage of quirky sampled sound bits.Even while remaining perfectly seated on stage, he moved in spastic unison with the ultra quick tempi changes in his music, inciting the constantly growing enthusiastic audience to keep breaking it down.
Aside from the more gimmicky aspects of his performance, Artificial Lover was an impressive act. Although the shamisen is not an especially versatile instrument, it suited the eclectic nature of Artificial Lover’s highly technical beats and unpredictable changes in pulse.
The performance felt honest — none of it was encumbered by hip, ironic
posturing, and Kazunori would politely and sincerely thank the audience after
several songs. Artificial Lover is a unique act recognized by more than the
electronica enthusiasts — witty innovation and untried novelty were the
most immediate and interesting qualities of Artificial Lover, but if
that’s all that is necessary to appeal to potential listeners, they may be