The act of escaping that which is predestined. / A hustle.
From the 1971 Spanish translation of a popular Japanese film and TV character comes the inspiration for a strange and haunting series of sonic vignettes. Like the character from which it takes its name — Zatōichi, a blind masseur and gambler who is also a skilled swordsman — the music coalesced outside the familiar contexts of rhythms, genres and tropes. Written over a period of two years in the heart of New York City and the nearby countryside, the two albums that form the Reto A Ichi debut represent a return of sorts for their creator, Guillermo Scott Herren. Known for challenging norms and forging new paths as Prefuse 73, with this new project Herren hews closer to the light touches and compositional aspirations of early aliases like Delarosa & Asora and Savath & Savalas. But even those references only explain so much. Reto A Ichi is a project that aims far beyond the easy expectations of genre, instead seeking to draw listeners into the unexpected, blind but never without guidance.
The first album, The Lapse of Exchange, is the sound of life as heard from a small Chinatown window in downtown Manhattan, the thunder of populism on the horizon. The album opens with music that reflects the inherent tension between the life of the artist — the self-doubt, the late nights, the aspirations — and the world outside — the hustle and bustle of a city that never sleeps, the wars abroad, the politicians at home. It's a tension felt in the repeating, circling keys of "Let The Pianos Freeze", the pulsating rhythms of "No Juntos", or the call and response of pitched vocal samples in "A Sword In The Rain". Ultimately it all becomes too much for our unwitting hero: the car horns outside the window, the 24 hour news cycle, the early stages of an election that tears down any remaining semblance of normality. Reto can no longer grasp his humanity or connect to that of people around him. With the walls closing in, he packs his small life and escapes. This change in situation is reflected in the second half of the album, with tension giving way to a rush of emotions: modulated elation on "All Regrets", sweeping melancholy on "Tuesdays Always Awful", and soaring hope on "Broad Plant Pt.2".
On Alone Moving Often, the second album, we find Reto away from the city, lost in the vastness of empty summer houses and the complications that solitude brings. Sitting in the prison of his own quiet, Reto seeks to capture the essence of silence: the compositions are stripped back further ("Pforever Reto"), the instruments given prominence ("So Contra"), and the chaos of the city replaced by the cacophony of nature ("Criminality"). To be alone, one must learn to constantly move in both work and purpose. As the rest of the record unfolds, Reto comes to realize that nothing is ever truly quiet and that to run from the world is to simply find yourself in another part of it. A sense of acceptance for these unsettling realities is reflected in the music, from the harsher tones and frequencies that resonate throughout "Noise Counter Melody" and "Ghost Arpeggio" to the heavy stroke of the keys on "Alone Moving Often" and the haunting drone of "Mountainside Hillside".
Reto A Ichi is a sonic tabula rasa for Guillermo Herren. There are identifiable elements of the artist you already know — an uncanny sense for rhythm, an ability to shape samples and frequencies like clay, an affinity for the subtle changes of repetition — yet this is first and foremost music born from the need for silence. There is no easy entrance point or index for the listener. Like a blind swordsman, swinging at the air, you must simply feel your way in and let the music envelope you whole.