Generative Not Generic | Tokonoma by Jon Porras

The last time I checked in on Jon Porras was back in 2012 with his dust-laden, acoustic drone opus, Black Mesa. He released the album Light Divide in 2014 and has been in relative hibernation since. Porras now returns with his first (surprisingly) release for the cassette format. Tokonoma is a significant re-evaluation of the guitar-driven experimentalism of not just his solo work, but that of his long running project with Evan Caminiti, Barn Owl. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that Porras has been spending his recent days discovering (or maybe rediscovering) pioneering minimalist pieces from the likes of Eno, Riley and Reich. Unlike the bulk of minimalist-leaning experimental music these days—whose creators tend to shroud their influences in a cloak of mystery—Tokonoma sounds like Porras paying his respects to these early American trailblazers.


Tokonoma is made up of six pieces, and although these are brimming with idiosyncratic touches, Porras more or less takes the approach of improvising over generative systems. In the old days, generative music was realized via analog systems, such as a reel-to-reel rig playing out tape loops, or it was written into scores to actualize ideas like phasing. Self-perpetuating sound installations can also do an amazing job at showcasing generative music. But Porras’s music is not fully self-perpetuating, as he adds his own deliberate touches to the album’s stochastic makeup, using a range of musical tools that include synthesizers, physical modeling instruments, and analog tapes. For all its mathematical sound design, Tokonoma remains airy. Any harsh edges have been gracefully smoothed out by the artist, formulating a music that is a glaring reminder of how so much in existence is at the mercy of a delicate balance of opposing forces.

Each track begins with its own persistent rhythmic pattern, playing out like glossy versions of Reich’s Piano Phase before Porras layers in additional sounds, like the glistening synths that wash over the opener, “Generative Counterpoint,” or the fizzling static pops and clinical ambience of “Dissolving Boundaries.” There is much to love here, but in all the album’s restraint holds this music back. Considering Porras’s maximalist’s approach to minimalism here, a little more variation could have gone a long way, especially in those underlying tracks that after a while all kind of sound like deh, deh, deh, deh, deh, deh, deh. However, Porras’s pursuits on Tokonoma are noble, as he has very consciously shifted his sound into new and exciting areas, braving new techniques and showing great promise for future releases, should he continue to venture down this path.

Buy Tokonoma now from Geographic North.

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