Cherry Blossoms Fall – The Cicada’s Song

‘universal and timeless themes’

Upon This Fleeting Dream featuring David Sylvian and Kazuko Hohki is the fourth album from Twinkle³, the trio of Clive Bell, David Ross and Richard Scott. Their debut, Let’s Make a Solar System, was released back in 2009. ‘Twinkle³ started as a studio-based project for Richard and myself,’ David Ross told me. ‘At that time Richard was already immersed in electronic music and had a recording studio, while I was just finding ways in.

‘I had a “hang” – a tuned percussion instrument that looks a bit like two cooking woks stuck together! We had the idea to transpose the scale/tuning of that instrument onto a synthesiser so that Richard could make a bunch of sequences for me to improvise over with it. Encouraged by the results, we started to develop the recordings into an album. It seemed natural and obvious to involve Clive and so Twinkle³ began from there. The three of us had been involved in ensemble improvisation with each other in various settings, but this was an opportunity to try and combine that sensibility with studio electronics and recording/editing techniques.’

The Wire magazine hailed the ‘silvery weave of ancient and modern’ within their inaugural offering ‘on which craftmanship and a dazzling, celestial futurism are gently and devastatingly melded.’

‘Our material is all generated by improvising it, whether playing as a trio, duo or solo,’ says Ross. ‘We record and archive everything we can. Even the studio side of things, mixing, etc., is approached in an improvisatory way. We like to explore the potential of what we generate, hoping it will take us into new territory rather than try and craft something premeditated.’

Whereas Let’s Make a Solar System was mainly developed through a collage method, bringing together sounds that each musician had generated and recorded, the follow-up was the result of the three playing together in a single session.

Debris in Lower Earth Orbit (2015) was made in a small bedroom in the tiny house in Forest Gate in London where I used to live. We didn’t really have a way to make a proper multi-track recording. I remember Richard and I going to Maplins to try and find leads to use the digital in/out of a CD recorder, to try and create channels. You could barely move in the room once we were set up, it was a cats-cradle of cable!

‘All the music for the album was recorded in a couple of hours. Richard sent me a mix a while later which I subjected to a new process I had been trying out of using the amplitude of audio signals to generate control voltages. In this way I managed to trigger sounds from an old Ukrainian drum synthesiser, causing it to react/respond to volume changes in the music.’

Twinkle³ performing live at The Vortex in London. Left to right: Clive Bell, Richard Scott and David Ross. Photograph by Judith Goodman.

It was in fact for this release that the group had first envisaged the involvement of David Sylvian. ‘We had the idea of asking David to contribute vocally to our second album, Debris in Lower Earth Orbit. We were aware that he was interested in free improvisation and its possible relationship to songwriting and also for creating and sustaining mood and atmosphere. We felt Debris… might present an interesting challenge and wondered what direction he might take it in.’

Having seen Japan perform live as a teenager, Ross had dipped in and out of Sylvian’s solo catalogue. ‘I also went to what may have been David’s first ever solo gig some years later with trumpeter Mark Isham. That also made an impression. I continued to follow David’s work after Japan, particularly the first three solo records, perhaps losing touch between Secrets of the Beehive and Dead Bees…, but with Blemish, Nine Horses, Uncommon Deities, When Loud Weather Buffeted Naoshima and Manafon, I found my way back to his work and filled in the gaps in my listening.

‘We sent David the music we had and invited him to make a contribution. He declined the offer but suggested that Sidsel Endresen, whom he had worked with recently, might be a good match and he very kindly made the introduction. It was an inspired idea that turned out beautifully well in my opinion. David instead wrote a wonderful essay describing his experience of listening to the record whilst driving long distances across the US which became the album liner notes.

‘Sidsel created her parts by improvising along to our recording. She sent us three versions of her singing through the entre album. Her parts on the record are edited and arranged from those three performances. David’s instincts about involving Sidsel were insightful – I absolutely love her contribution to the record.’

David Sylvian’s sleeve-notes for Twinkle³’s album Debris in Lower Earth Orbit

Debris in Lower Earth Orbit was released in November 2015 and earlier the same year some of the protagonists met up in London, an event that would plant the seed of an idea that would eventually lead to Twinkle³ and Sylvian working together on a project. ‘Clive Bell and I met Jan Bang and Sidsel when they performed together at Kings Place, a fantastic and memorable gig. Their album Uncommon Deities is scored around David’s wonderful narration. My personal feeling from hearing that record for the first time was that David’s speaking/reading voice had as much presence and expressivity as his singing voice.

‘Clive was reading Yoel Hoffmann’s translations of “jisei” – death poetry from Japan – during lockdown and shared some of its contents with me and Richard. It immediately suggested some kind of musical response. The idea of weaving a piece around these texts read by David came very quickly to us. In Debris… we had presented David with almost finished music. In this instance we would instead propose working with recordings initiated by him.

‘It also seemed natural to want to hear the verses in their original Japanese. Kazuko Hohki is an accomplished performing artist, singer, TV presenter and award-winning theatre director. Her reading of the poems is highly dramatic and sonically rich and in my opinion make a wonderful contrast to David’s more introverted take on the material.’

The idea resonated with Sylvian who has confirmed that he had no ‘audio/visual context’ either for this project or for Dumb Type’s ‘2022’, declaring himself ‘completely (enjoyably) in the dark in that respect.’

‘I think it was me who made the selections from the Hoffman book,’ says David Ross. ‘I just picked the things that had the most universal and timeless themes and resonated with me the most. The subject of death has unfortunately been to the fore in my personal life in recent years having lost a number of close friends and family.

‘I find the texts to be uplifting rather than morbid. I straight away had the feeling they are intended to help, i.e. to have a practical use for people and would therefore be suitable material to feature as part of an audio presentation, giving them a new life off of the page.’

‘Cherry Blossoms Fall’ contains one of the most beguiling verses read by Sylvian. The words are from a haiku poet named Saruo, and, typically of this wonderfully pithy genre, the few words that are written suggest so much more…

‘Cherry blossoms fall
on a half-eaten

Our minds are filled with the vibrant spring colour of the cherry blossom, but those blooms are falling and the unfinished morsel suggests a significant absence – most probably an unexpected one. There is a mysterious untold back-story and Hoffman suggests that the verse is best considered as capturing a moment at the end of a theatrical scene.

For an earlier article (see ‘If I Leave No Trace – Empty Handed’), David Ross explained his process of taking a performance on a single instrument and incorporating it in its pure form on a track whilst also using the audio to generate responses from his modular synth set-up. This piece is another example of that approach and based on one of his own performances. ‘‘Cherry Blossom Falls’ was made in a similar way using a gopichand or ektara, a single-stringed instrument from India where the string passes through a drum-head.’

The twang of the gopichand is soon joined by the sound of Clive Bell’s shakuhachi, the dry timbre of the wooden instrument enlivened by the vitality of its player’s breath. Set in an electronic landscape, it’s another example of the ancient meeting the modern. What might seem to us an incompatible musical pairing is in fact regarded as entirely congruent by David Ross. ‘The shakuhachi is able to move through a whole spectrum of detailed and textured tonal/pitched sounds, from sinusoidal purity all the way into pure “noise”, it’s a highly complex oscillator. Clive draws on all of these expressive qualities in his seamless improvising. I’ve been listening to him making these sounds for thirty years.

‘When building/playing a sound in an analogue synthesiser you have to deal with the same basic sound-making concerns as the shakuhachi player – the envelope of the sound, its attack/duration, its timbre, amplitude, pitch and the harmonics you wish to emphasise/attenuate, etc. – all these apply. There is plenty of common ground to be found and it’s always a challenge and a pleasure to try and discover new combinations.

‘Clive has an ability to reinforce/enrich sounds that are happening by finding his own blend inside a sound. He is not always playing a solo line over things, which allows and encourages the music to follow any direction the overall sound is going in. When things are sonically cohesive, any element can emerge as the lead voice or alternatively find a place within the fabric. When things are really working well, it can be hard to tell who or what is making what sound at times.’

Clive Bell plays shakuhachi and David Ross electronics, John Rylands Library, Manchester. Photograph by Judith Goodman.

The track ‘The Cicada’s Song’ brings to the fore the electronics of Richard Scott which are distinct in both sound and execution to David Ross’s own work. ‘Richard has his own synthesis techniques which are constantly evolving,’ explains Ross. ‘He does a lot of gigs with other improvisers so has a keen sense of making a playable “instrument” for this context, but he also works in a different way in his studio where it is more conducive to experiment with certain aspects that would be impractical in a live performance. He has been living in Berlin for over ten years where he teaches a Master’s degree in creative production.

‘Richard’s contributions are largely centred around his work with a unique instrument designed by legendary synth designer Rob Hordijk, a close friend of Richard who very sadly passed recently. Rob donated some equipment to me that enabled me to get started in the world of modular for which I am eternally grateful. His designs and concepts are legendary. ‘I Borrow Moonlight’, ‘Throughout the Frosty Night’ and ‘The Cicada’s Song’ are mainly centred around this very special instrument.’

‘No sign
in the cicada’s song
that it will soon be gone’

Scott’s opening for ‘The Cicada Song’ is uncannily descriptive of the clicking chorus so familiar at dusk in cicada territory, the spiralling rise and fall then transmuting into ominous deep tones and momentarily into a rhythm reminiscent of the raised beat of a human heart. A keening siren brings resolution at the close.

The author here is one of the most celebrated haiku poets, Matsuo Basho (1644-94). This verse was written in 1690 at a meeting with another poet, Aki-no-Bo, and is dedicated to him. It’s a simple observation from nature but between the lines it captures something profound about the value of life and not allowing the shadow of death to daunt our existence.

‘My father passed away very suddenly in a car full of other passengers on Boxing Day 2022,’ David Ross confides. ‘He had been happily chatting to family just minutes before it was discovered he had silently passed away. When I received the bad news, the words ‘No sign in the cicada’s song, that it will soon be gone’, came immediately to my mind and I felt comforted by them.’

Not every track on Upon This Fleeting Dream has a narration. The title of ‘A Poppy Blooms’ refers to another poem from Joel Hoffman’s compilation. Written by a student of Basho, the work acknowledges that ultimately nature transcends the creativity of humankind:

‘I write, erase, rewrite,
erase again, and then
a poppy blooms’

‘Kaite Mitari’ contains the recitation of the same words in Japanese by Kazuko Hohki:

‘Kaite mitari
keshitari hate wa
keshi no hana’

David Ross: ‘‘Kaite Mitari’ is made from a solo I made on a one-string slide guitar called a diddley bow with an EBow string sustaining device, as used famously and extensively by Rob Dean on Quiet Life, sampled and manipulated.’

Listening to these tracks having heard the insights of Clive Bell (see ‘Throughout the Frosty Night’) and David Ross it is all the more enjoyable to trace the entwining of the acoustic wind and string instruments with the electronics.

‘My reflections on the album are that it seemed to almost make itself,’ concludes Ross. ‘A clear and uncluttered style soon emerged and guided us through the compositional process. It took just three or four days to arrive at a first draft of the album, which apart from a little re-mixing and minor editing is very similar to the finished pieces you hear on the record.

‘There was no other choice than David for reading the verses on Upon This Fleeting Dream. It was conceived with his voice in mind and was fundamental to the whole project. I’m not sure we would have started making the record without his contribution.’

‘The Cicada’s Song’ – ‘Cherry Blossoms Fall’

Clive Bell – shakuhachi flute, pi saw and khene mouth organ; David Ross – droscillator, modular synths, various wind and string instruments; Richard Scott – sampler, modular synths and analogue electronics; Kazuko Hohki – readings (in Japanese); David Sylvian – readings (in English), field recordings.

Produced by David Ross and Richard Scott. From Upon This Fleeting Dream by Twinkle³ featuring David Sylvian & Kazuko Hohki, Cortizona, 2022.

Verses from Japanese Death Poems: compiled by Yoel Hoffman, published by Tuttle Publishing, © copyright Charles E. Tuttle Publishing Co., Inc., 1986

The featured image from the album artwork features photography by David Sylvian

All artist quotes in this article are from 2023, in particular from the author’s conversation with David Ross. Full sources and acknowledgements can be found here.

Download links: ‘The Cicada’s Song’ (bandcamp); ‘Kaite Mitari’ (bandcamp); ‘Cherry Blossoms Fall’ (bandcamp); ‘A Poppy Blooms’ (bandcamp)

Physical media: Upon This Fleeting Dream (bandcamp) (UK stockists – junoresident)

Debris in Lower Earth Orbit by Twinkle³ featuring Sidsel Endresen and with sleeve-notes by David Sylvian is available here (bandcamp)

The book Japanese Death Poems can be purchased here (Amazon)

‘Upon this Fleeting Dream is again made from improvised materials made collectively either together or reflecting on the material in our own recording environments.’ David Ross, 2023

5 thoughts on “Cherry Blossoms Fall – The Cicada’s Song”

    1. Thanks for this comment. Talking to Clive Bell and David Ross about this album has really deepened my enjoyment of the music and other releases by Twinkle3 – I’m really glad that has transmitted through the “page”!


  1. Thank you for another insightful interview, love all these albums mentioned, ‘ Upon this Fleeting Dream ‘ is particularly dear to me at this moment having recently lost a good friend of over 40yrs.

    Liked by 1 person

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