Review – Jon Porras – Tokonoma (Geographic North)

As one half of the remarkable Barn Owl as well as accumulating a sizeable body of work under the banners of Elm, Vallens, and – most recently – his own name, Jon Porras’ last decade was as diverse as it was expansive, exploring drone, psychedelia, post-rock, free-folk, doom metal, and various strains of electronica; Tokonoma finds him furthering his experiments with the last of these, albeit with a firmer commitment to representational art and compact accessibility than heard from him prior.

The superficial splendour of its snowy timbres and minimalistic rhythms aside, Tokonoma’s greatest contribution to Porras’ discography is how it spotlights his focus; being computer music by an artist whose output often relies on using physical instruments in improvisatory settings, it’s both refreshing and unsurprising how these pieces trade in his habitural sprawl for more pronounced emphases on cogency and destination. This resultant straightforwardness seems indebted as much to process as it does a wilfulness toward refinement – the j-card copy boasts the employment of indeterminacy and algorithm on the composition of this material, but it truly feels as if a learned and patient hand deliberately chiselled these outcomes from whatever aleatory geneses gifted that share of the clay.

The tokonoma occupies a curious function in Japanese culture – simultaneously an alcove and a mantle, it’s a recessed display which exists solely to add untouched beauty to one’s domicile; that is to say, breaching its limits is taboo save for the homeowner to modify or rearrange its contents. This notion of radiance finding consort with detached compartment is an apt one to be channelled here: were Jon Porras’ catalogue to manifest as one contiguous physical space, Tokonoma would be its unapologetic exhibition of elegance, a diorama of seasonal complement that one’d dare not tread upon, but treasure from afar.

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