For more than a decade, Jon Porras has carved out a sprawling, emotionally evocative niche of sound using a variety of sonic elements and associations in his solo work on such seminal imprints as Root Strata, Important, and Thrill Jockey. But Porras has also been associated with a number of celebrated collaborations, with musicians Evan Caminiti (as Barn Owl), Jefre Cantu-Ledesma, Ellen Fullman, Stephen O’Malley, Jacob Felix Heule, and visual artists Paul Clipson and Wilhelm Sasnal.
Tokonoma is Porras’ fifth solo work, ending the almost four-year silence since his last release. More than a comeback though, the album serves as one of Porras’ most enlightened works to date, touching on the dark, expansive tones explored on past releases and shedding light on Porras’ bright future.
Assembled gradually from layers of Yamaha DX7, physical modeling instruments, synthetic voices and analog tapes, processed with complex programming and outboard patching, the six pieces explore the musical possibilities of improvising against mathematically generated patterns. Through these chance operations, MIDI programming and other generative principles, Tokonoma uses algorithmic tools to reexamine composition in the age of information overload.
“Generative Counterpoint” opens the set with a run of effervescent synth tones that beam up into the sky with unending hope and optimism. Deep throbs of rhythm pulse into the space as waves of color wash across the frame. “Stochastic Return” turns the narrative into more modern classical territory, performed by an entire virtual symphony of synthetic sound but conducted with entirely human sensibilities and emotions. “Still Life” continues the vibrant minimalism with a heaving hum of shimmering tones and meditative repetition.
On “Dissolving Boundaries,” Porras examines an ever-evolving pattern of piano miniatures that shift and modulate into the infinite. “22/7” is perhaps the most pointillistic piece of the set, perfectly balancing moments of total sound and near-silence in a forceful blitz that’s both highly complex and genuinely natural. “Ultraviolet Interval” closes the tape with a blur of phased color and chopped beauty that eventually dissolves into a cloud of static white noise.