Wednesday, September 4, 2013

P049: Cabeza de Vaca – Japanese ambient

A special show all about Japanese ambient music this week on Cabeza de Vaca and Scanner FM . It will be the first of a three part series, with the next two shows about Japanese IDM/techno and house respectively.

Tokyo-based Yui Onodera forms the focus of the show, but rather than repeat too much of the information here, I recommend having a read of the recent interview I did with him that has been published over at Cyclic Defrost  in Australia. There is a lot of concept and broader artistic influence behind his work which gives it a variation and a cohesiveness. Not to mention that Yui has a rich sense of sound design to complement his ideas.

One thing that does warrant more words is the compilation that Yui has just been involved in producing called Vernacular that was released on Japanese label Whereabouts .

Various Artists – Vernacular [Whereabouts, 2013]

“Vernacular” is a native language or dialect, a characteristic expression of place and something that many feel is being lost through globalisation and the widening reach of media and social networks or “universal design that transcends locality and ethnicity” as Yui calls it. His idea behind “Vernacular” is to try and recapture that feeling of locality and has been a theme in some of his earlier work too. His collaborative album “Generic City” with Celer came under the influence of Kevin Lynch's book "The Image of the City", for example.

The album combines field recordings by Yui as well some instrumentation and the drones of Celer. But rather than a collage it feels like a real mapped out urban space with the field recordings representing real locations in this imaginary place. Yui explained it in terms of Lynch’s concepts:

“I applied his description of how different elements interrelate with each other to the composition of this work. We can say that the different soundscapes on the album make for a complex entity because they depend on each other. To me, the result looks very much like a city. This work contains not one aspect, but various aspects, which have a structure that depicts the contradiction of the current city as it is. It is like a documentary, and a story without a script, too.”

This also explains the titles, amongst them “An Imaginary Tale Of Lost Vernacular” which clearly introduces the theme of the current compilation. Tellingly, the last track on “Generic City” is “A Renewed Awareness Of Home” which gives an idea as to why he thinks these ideas might be important to explore. In addition to “Generic City”, his “Suisei” album on and/OAR in 2007 was also based on field recordings made around Tokyo, a kind of walking tour through the city.

On the “Vernacular” compilation it is no surprise that he has also used field recordings for the basis of his piece “Blue Planet Sky (For 21st Century Museum Of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa)”. Here, the original recordings were made in the room in the Kanazawa Museum Of Contemporary Art which houses the piece “Blue Planet Sky” by American artist James Turrell.

These sounds were then processed and manipulated until the end result is something like Thomas Köner, a crunching, dubbed out stroll through the room.

The rest of the two disc collection is just as compelling and as would be hoped for, yields different methods and outcomes by a well-balanced roster of established and lesser known names. Without mentioning all the artists, it is worth pointing out a few of the tracks. In terms of field recordings, German artist Jos Smolders adds a barely processed recording of planes passing overhead, whereas Simon Scott and Federico Durand use field recordings integrated into more traditional ambient tracks, in the formers case blending them with chiming drones into a melancholy, pastoral landscape, whereas Durand adds guitar loops for the same effect. There is no such pastoralism with Kim Cascone who’s reverbed and echo drenched recording sounds like a Victorian train station battered by rain and enveloped by mist whereas John Grzinich’s track “Animate Structures #2 (Wires, Wind, Snow)” does what it says on the can and sounds like a rusty gate swinging in the wind. Janek Schaefer’s piece has almost a harrowing, Burial-esque feel to it, although drawn out and protracted, with Troum’s track “Welcen” also sounding pretty bleak. A highlight may be hard to pick given the different moods and levels of abstraction, but overall the compilation leaves a satisfying sense that given the same question, that different artists will produce different results meaning that there is something of a vernacular language intact. It would be interesting to approach the question from another angle and give different artists the same field recording and see what they come up with.

“One could say that cities in various countries will tend to have a similar surface structure. They are losing their identity by accumulating various differences. They look like noise.”

Yui Onodera

Not much is known about Buddhastick Transparent, even though they hold the prize for perhaps the most mysterious and the most enigmatic album in my collection.

Sometime around 2000 a friend of mine sent me a pirate copy of “S”. I have no idea where he got it from or how he heard about it. In the pre-Discogs days it was very difficult to find any information about it and certainly the cover doesn’t help. The artist appears clearly as Buddhastick Transparent. Underneath it is written “featuring Something in the Air” and the letter “S” that wasn't immediately clear in the old days that it was the album title. The accompanying text repeats this with the curious track titles, but adds “Selected and remixed by DJ Fruit of the Original Sin”. Next to that is “Room 999, 1995, 11, 1” presumably meaning the first of November 1995 which was the time of release. The real artists names are Motoyoshi Ueki and Syuji Takahashi. Discogs, which is about the only source of information on the duo says that Fruit of the Original Sin is “An alias for more experimental vibes by the duo famous for the Buddhastick Transparent project” who only released two tracks on compilations under this name. Buddhastick Transparent have three albums and one that is called a mini-mix, all released between 1995-1997 and then that’s it, apparently.

The original “S” album came packaged in a standard jewel case with a three-panel folding booklet, and a business card advertising DJ Fruit of the Original Sin, Ambient Garden Cafe 999, and a full moon beach party from which this footage presumably originates:

The music itself, once past the mystique of who, why, when and where is extraordinary. It has been one of the most constantly played albums in my collection since hearing it, never becoming tired or old and always bringing with it a sense of calm, peace and a sense of inner depth. It is a particularly extraordinary album to play when coming home from the club, seeming to become more with the dawn light and a sleepless night. The music ripples and flows like almost no other, seeming to pass outside time, but also as a metaphore for it: it thrusts and pulls, it drifts and runs, it changes constantly, it reflects, it hide, it carries and it drowns. It is extremely psychedelic as well, playing continuous tricks and illusions, adding and rebalancing sounds at the edge of perception, so that everything is suddenly different without you realising. The last 40+ minute track is probably the best example of this. Highly repetitive, with a very unusual beat, but yet it never seems to dull or bore. Something is always happening mysteriously below the surface.

The other album material released after “S” appears just as good, though the price has prohibited me from ordering them from Japan. Please somebody re-release this material!!!! Out of print for 15 years, interesting, enigmatic and essential.

Other tracks from Buddhastick Transparent:

But there may be even more twists and turns to the story. Over at Otoneon the main Japanese website link for the group it says “Kabach 1983-1991, Buddhastick Transparent  1993, Fruit of the Original Sin 1997, Otoneon 2005”

It turns out that Kabach is pretty impressive sounding post-punk shoegaze psychedelic band from Japan in the late 80s somewhere between The Cult’s “She sells sanctuary”, jangle pop and The Cure. Without having too much more information, you would have to bet that the guys from Kabach went on to form Buddhastick Transparent.

Otoneon have one album out called “(.)dot” from 2009 which is available on iTunes and appears to be a collection of short experimental pieces. With reference to microdots it continues the drug references throughout the group’s trajectory, with a buddhastick being old slang for a Thai stick or a specially wrapped quantity of marijuana, with a microdot (name of a track on the above album and perhaps referenced in the title too) being a particular type of acid that was around in the 80s and 90s, but is probably unheard of today.

And finally some other Japanese artists and collaborations who couldn’t fit on today’s show:

Tetsu Inoue
Karmic light
Fax +49-69/450464
Buddhastick Transparent Feat. Something In The Air
Red incence on golden
Yui Onodera and Celer
A Renewed Awareness of Home
Two Acorns
Yui Onodera
Rhizome 2
Gears of Sand
Yui Onodera
Blue Planet Sky (For 21st Century Museum Of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa)
Whereabouts Records
Air Texture
Yuya Ota
Glacial Movements
Interstices 1 (Seiya)

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