Monday, December 22, 2008

Talking Japanese

In these last days of the year the culture continues and we begin with an unlikely collision provided for me by Amazon:

We recommend: Mamma Mia! [2008]

DVD ~ Meryl Streep

RRP: £21.99
Price: £12.98
You Save: £9.01 (41%)

Recommended because you purchased or rated:
* On the Road: The Original Scroll (Penguin Hardback Classics)

How in the world is On the Road related to Mamma Mia I cannot understand.

Far away from Mamma Mia, I have long been a fan of things Japanese. Raised in a house where my father was a student of Japanese language I read Kawabata and Mishima as a teenager. As a young adult I discovered the new sounds of Japan via friends who were seeking out the most creative sonic expressions that were being recorded in the late 1980s and early 90s. First it was the Boredoms, whose album Pop Tatari (1992) was played over and over again in many chaotic lounge rooms of my youth:

Boredoms, Telehorse Uma

I saw Boredoms in 1996 (Boredoms, Regurgitator, Phlegm, Metro Theater, Sydney 1996) and it was like a postmodern opera of noise kabuki. Over the years I have remained with the Boredoms, through many changes. This year Yamatsuka Eye and Yoshimi P-We have led 88 Boredrum:

88 drummers give an 88 minute performance at the La Brea Tar Pits at 8:08PM on 8.8.08. Hosted by Boredoms.

Following immersion in the Boredoms reality there came other bands. Ghost is perhaps my number two of the Japanese groups I am dedicated to. Their album Temple Stone (1994)is brilliant:

Ghost - Guru in the Echo

In 1984 Ghost was formed in Tokyo. In the beginning, they played only improvisation / freeform music naturally. But when they started their first recording in 1988, their music had been changing to more constructive one. Still now on their live activities we can find they play improvisation sometimes.

"Their music was based on acoustic guitar usually. A lot ethnic instruments or strange instruments are added to it freely on recording. And the place they play were so unique as examples — buddist temples, churches, ruins, metro, fields, woods, caves... Such strange methods are nothing but ones of their expressions. They are Ghost anytime."

Ghost is:
Masaki Batoh: Vocal, Acoustic Guitar, Hurdy Gurdy, Banjo, etc.
Kazuo Ogino: Piano, Oscilator, Recorder, Lute, etc.
Michio Kurihara: Electric Guitar
Junzo Tateiwa: Tabla, Percussions, Drums
Takuyuki Moriya: Elecric Bass, Contra Bass
Taishi Takizawa (aka Giant): Flute, Theremin, Saxophone

No account of contemporary Japanese experimental and improvised music could be without Keiji Heino. Keiji Haino (灰野 敬二 Haino Keiji) born 1952 in Chiba, Japan, and currently residing in Tokyo, is a Japanese musician whose work has included rock, free improvisation, noise, singer-songwriter, solo percussion, psychedelic, minimalism and drone styles. He has been active since the 1970s and continues to record regularly and in new styles.

Keiji Haino (in the middle, long hair and guitar) Yamatsuka eye John Zorn Improvisati0n

Dance and music improvisation at Judson Church, 1999. Zack Fuller has danced with Min Tanaka many times, as has Keiji Haino. This performance was a part of the Movement Research at Judson Church series. Music by Keiji Haino.

Marble Sheep

I discovered both Marble Sheep and High Rise at the same time. I could not have been happier. Heavy psychedelic guitars that took up where bands such as The Seeds and Love left off. It was the record Marble Sheep & The Run-Down Sun's Children from 1989 that was my entry into the tangerine riffs and stone age drumming of the Sheep, beautiful (check out Last Race on the Sheep's Myspace page..sonic canyons of mind melt).

High Rise is an explosive power trio comprising the core of Asahito Nanjo on bass and vocals and Munehiro Narita on guitar, joined by a succession of drummers (including Yuro Ujiie, Pill and free-jazz veteran Shoji Hano in the past, and Koji Shimura currently). High Rise mix the jazz-influenced improvising of live Cream with the often brutal amphetamine-inspired rock of Blue Cheer. Narita is one of rock's unsung guitar players, and his dexterous fingering causes eruptions of pure electric joy. The other players are equally stunning in their total commitment to this high energy music that features the freedom of jazz and the power of rock.

High Rise - Psychedelic Speed Freaks (Live, Tokyo, Dec. 15 2006)

I could go on forever about Japanese music. But I would like to end with one artist who is so exquisite that I almost become emotional talking about him. Magical Power Mako is a legend in Japanese psychedelic circles:

This self-styled visionary and musical hermit has been releasing albums since the mid-70s. But the variety and here-there-and-everywhere approach of his attitude to record releases makes it difficult to grasp just who Magical Power Mako is, and what he does best. Mako’s career began auspiciously enough with thunderous applause for his first three LPs, but the slow nature of his recording techniques soon contributed to record company impatience with this often brilliant artist. Viewed by many as a legend and by others as a chancer, there’s no doubt that the extraordinarily varied quality of Magical Power Mako’s during the ‘90s contributed dramatically to compromising the public’s long-term perception of this charming artist.
Born Makoto Kurita around 1955, Mako grew up in the seaside resort of Izu Shuzenji, a sea coastal town similar to Brighton or Torquay. Throughout his childhood, he was an outsider who wrote much music and played piano and guitar while still in primary school. At junior high school, he decided to make a more concerted effort to realise his musical vision, and would return home after school to write songs every day. His house was situated in the mountains and looked down at the town’s hot springs. Mako became fascinated then obsessed by an octagonal hotel built near the hot springs. Visible from his bedroom, Mako believed that someone was observing him from the hotel’s 3rd floor. This sense of being observed spurred him further into musical activities and, at age fourteen, he began to record with a reel-to-reel, ping ponging the tracks back and forth in order to build up sound. The summer holidays of 1970 were spent in long recording sessions making his own LP. When it was finished, Mako wrote on the reel-to-reel tape box: ‘Summer 1970, things a 14-year-old boy thinks about’. The tape commenced with a song (‘I Bought An Extraordinarily Big Eye In The Town One Day For A Good Bargain Price’).

“One day, I bought an extremely big eye in the town, very cheaply,
When I saw the world through the eye,
Extremely small people were making noise,
Making a fuss about winning or losing,
What pathetic people who only have small eyes,
And they think the universe is the end of this world,
Not knowing that there is another world,
One Day I bought an extraordinarily big eye for a cheap bargain price.”

From the summer of 1973, he took up residence in a house belonging to the US Army, located in Fussa, Greater Tokyo. Mako began to record in this house, multi-tracking instrumental tracks endlessly. So many tapes were recorded that would not see the light of day for over twenty years, allowing new listeners to discover his old music. Even before the first LP, Mako recorded with Keiji Haino at the Fussa house.
From Julian Cope

Magical Power Mako / Open the morning window

Magical Power Mako + Pollypraha at Aoiheya May 11, 2007
Mako's albums are not easy to find, even in file sharing networks. I recommend the first self titled album from 1973 which is decades ahead of its time. The song 'Open the Morning Window' is from this album.

Finally something I discovered just today:
Very beautiful Japanese music can be freely downloaded from the somewhat cryptic ShSkh web site. Etsuko Chiba plays koto and sings with a delicate voice that makes this traditional music quite pleasing and relaxing. There are three tracks at approximately 12 minutes each. This is both a good introduction the koto and Japanese music in general.

Japanese music is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Japanese contemporary culture. I hope to visit Japan one day, until then the music, manga, anime, novels, and so much more will just have to do.


alex said...


thank you james for all of these great bands you have highlighted here....merry christmas

((((((((ö)))))))) said...

And Merry Christmas to you too Alex.