Sunday, April 27, 2014

ソルジャーガレージ(Soldier Garage )

Who? (ソルジャーガレージ)Soldier Garage
What? Fuzzy, noisy guitar
Web: for gig info.

Soldier Garage seems like a good choice for a brief entry here in this post-PSF shop world.
The youtube link I've given is of a more traditional Tokyo Pysch guitar kind of performance, but when I saw him recently (it was the solo configuration with just Migiwa "Miggy" Shimizu (清水みぎわ) rather than the duo configuration) , he had a beautiful, crappy Teisco guitar plugges though a single big muff into a big amp. No reverb, just fuzz or clean. It's hard to make solo guitar in the naive / primitive rock style compelling, but  Shimizu manages it with ease. Like all compelling guitarists, he has a relationship with his instrument, which is somwhere between familiar ease, and throttling aggression.

 I haven't heard the PSF release, but based on the gig I saw, it'll be worth checking out.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Enban winter fest 2014: Report from day 2

What: Enban winter fest day 2
Who: A bunch of weird performers - see below

Unfortunately I couldn't make it to day 1 of the Enban winter fest and for various reasons I only managed to see the first half of the second day on Sunday the 16th.
What I did see surprised me and reminded me why the Enban run event can keep packing out the large (relative to tiny enban) O-Nest venue in Shibuya for two days at a time, twice a year. Rumour has it that this event may have been the last Enban festival to take place at O-Nest due to the takeover of the Nest venues by entertainment empire Tsutaya. If so it's a pity because the two floors of O-Nest work really well for the mix of bands and smaller, weirder acts which Enban's Taguchi-san likes to throw together for the festivals.

All of the acts I caught were great. Kami-sama (神様) kicked things off on the 5th floor with their weird power pop and agressive / conflicting stage banter. After them, I headed up to the 6th floor and caught Asuna playing with Taku Hannoda (半野田拓) - a great match up which veered between Asuna-style drones and Hannoda's mischief making guitar noise jolts, with  both members of the duo being equally involved in both styles.

Back on the 5th floor, I was surprised by an energetic and compelling performance from the new(?) duo hangaku (半額) (which means "half price"). The duo is made up of Suimingu Aoi (碧衣スイミング) (ex of kakuni (角煮 )who I only know from an old enban released 7" split they did with Oninko) and, as I was informed by an ever knowledgable friend, Tetsunori Tawaraya (俵谷哲典)  from 2UP a well liked "post punk" two piece in Tokyo. A cheap looking keyboard was slammed about by Ms. Suimingu (whose first name is, at a guess, a stage name, and a transliteration of the word "swimming") set to a patch that reminded me of the bagpipes. This nasty sound floated above the bass samples triggered by Mr Akinori in  rather thrilling fashion. Vocals were yelled over top simultaneously by both band members, and dances were performed. Although it feels somehow a little familiar, and at times a little artschool, there is no denying that this is good stuff. If these guys had been playing in a small room to a bunch of drunken salarymen, it would have been one of the best concerts ever. As it was, it was pretty great.

After those rock and roll thrills, I headed up to the 6th floor again and encountered one of the oddest performers I've seen in... a fair while. Musuki Aruvavo Lee (ムスキ・アルバボ・リー) puctuates his puny guitar songs with bizzarely stylized vocals barked out at a rude volume. I (no doubt wrongly) imagine this approach is somehow linked to the "serif" imitation interludes found in kabuki songs and the like where the singer changes their voice to bring a certain character to life. Actually, I really have no idea what this guy is doing, but with his pink hair and strategic mic placement he really killed it. A thrillingly weird performance.

The last thing I caught on the 5th floor was the super group Pegasus. The only two members I can put my finger on are Saya from Tenniscoats and Jun from Ju-sei, but I'm pretty sure others in the group are from well known Tokyo acts too. Essentially a 6 person choir with a guitar/guitar/drums backing band, these guys sounded wonderful a cappella, and really soared into the stratosphere when the band and the choir hit crescendos together. It was charming to see the members struggle to suppress the fact that they were digging the music they were creating. It was all they could do not to look at each other and yell "fuck this is cool!" when the vocals and backing hit a sweet spot.

Unfortunately, I ended up leaving at this point and not returning for the second half of the show as I'd planned. But the afternoon line up was so good, I hardly mind the fact that I didn't catch the evening acts. If this is indeed the last Enban event at O-nest, it was a great way to go out.  

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

大城 誠 (Makoto Oshiro)

Who: Makoto Oshiro
What: Homemade instruments, automatic sound, assorted awesomeness
Where: What follows below is partially a review of a specific concert at fttari

I suspect the reason that I haven't covered Makoto's stuff here so far is that he's doing a lot of the things I'm interested in and doing them so well that it almost hurts to think about it too much. Last night (2013/01/20) he played an absolute treasure of a set at fttari that confirmed my feelings, and also confirmed the fact that when he's on form, he's one of the best experimental music artists working in Tokyo right now. Indeed, I really felt that the live recording session (for a release on the fttari label), which was attended by just three audience members, was among the top experimental music concerts I've seen. It was certainly more compelling than all but the very best concerts I've seen by the senior statesmen of the field, of any nationality.

Because this is going to be (or is already) quite a gushy review, I'll start with some qualifiers: it's arguable that most of what Makoto is doing is based conceptually on things others have done before. Dephasing tickers, circulating feedback, bass speakers throwing pieces of metal around: I've seen and heard all of these before. (However, I'm not sure if there's a precedent for his amazing "fan in a jar" instrument -- see the description below. If not, I suggest we name it the Oshiro fan organ, or something). The point is really that Makoto's realization (with almost 100% homemade gear) and exectution of these concepts is excellent and totally compelling.

He started his set off with a number of clicking devices. I think they're made from  relays and some kind of timer chip. The result is a compact device whose frequency can be tuned and the fairly large motion of the relay arm means that the sound couples well to whatever its placed on, something you wouldn't expect of a kitchen timer or some of the other devices people use to make dephased oscillator soundscapes. The clickers were placed on,  various objects (including plastic tuppaware containers) adding an extra acoustic richness to the simple clicks. This is the kind of music that's certainly best enjoyed in a small room with a small audience. It was easy to enjoy the gradually shifting rhythms set up by the clickers in the dimly lit quiet of fttari.

Another standout moment was when he turned up the frequency so that the clicks became buzzing tones. The clickers were loaded into a container where they generated beat frequencies and other spectral phenomena on top of their simple tones. Makoto modulated the sonic miasma by lifting and closing a lid on the container. Simple in principle, but rich in practice. As with all good experimental music, it also forced the listener to contemplate the natures of sound and music themselves. The dichotomy of rhythm and tone in particular was beautifully demonstrated.

The second set involved the above-mentioned fan-in-a-jar instrument. Small cooling fans had been mounted into variously shaped glass jars. Above each jar, suspended on a string, was an asymmetrically shaped shell or other hard object.
Makoto had made each fan operable by a push button switch, and the switches were arranged in a pannel before him. When he pressed a switch, a fan somewhere in one of the 7 jars would gently spin into action. Gradually, the resultant air current would stir the shell pendulum into motion, its oscillations graually increasing inside until it hit the side of the glass jar. Due to the irregular shape of the shell, hitting the side of the jar would cause it to rotate resulting in a complicated (chaotic?) motion and thus a complicated rhythm on top of the natural rhythmic frequency caused by the pendulum itself. It was a beautiful combination of natural motion and caused motion, with the will of the operator being imposed from a distance and with minimal ability to actually control the resultant sound.

The final treat of the night involved Makoto's well known "teppan" or sheet metal instrument, a beautiful looking and ingeniously constructed self driving oscillator, which was one of the first things he became known for in Tokyo aside from his previous video/sound work. The instrument consists of a sheel of metal fastened by four bolts to a wooden resonator. The resonator can be driven by a speaker capable of generating power even at low frequencies (a kind of actuator I suppose). By selectively channeling vibrations on the surface of the sheet through a pickup mic, through an amp and finally to the speaker/resonator, Makoto can set up a self driving, shifting feedback pattern. Tonight, he had this whole system coupled to another large speaker by a spring. The feedback signal could also be fed to this speaker which had a fabulous low frequency response, causing it to crawl along the floor as it vibrated (I believe this is a trick used by Tokyoites Motallica as well) and thow up large washers which had been placed in its cone. The washers hit the spring randomly, resulting in further complexifying of the audio signal. It can be a challenge to produce interesting sounds from combined acoustic/electronic feedback loops, as you have to make sure one frequency of feedback doesn't run away an dominate everything, and you also need the feedback to be working on a number of different frequency scales including shifts over many tens of seconds if you want to create a truly interesting, self-generating sound pattern. Makoto's performance was a real master-class in this kind of feedback loop based sound generation, better than anything else I can remember hearing in the genre.

It was one of those experimental music concerts where everything works naturally and delightfully and you remember why it was that you started listening to this kind of music in the first place. Alongside Madoka Kono's forthcoming CD, Makoto's release is definitely long overdue and worth picking up when it comes out. It's great to see the inventive new blood in the improvised music from Japan scene finally having their recordings released.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Venue: fttari, Suidobashi

Improvised music from japan has long had a cd shop associated with it but not much of a physical presence. That has changed with the establishment of a cd store and venue at Suidobashi near the heart of the heartless city of Tokyo. It's been open for a few months now but I hadn't found time to go until last night. Hearing that audio cable geek supreme Toshimaru Nakamura had designed the sound system and Tetuzi Akiyama had done the decorations intrigued me, and the lineup of Madoka Kono, Jusei and Yosuke Morone (諸根陽介) last night promised a classic Japan Improv. Experience.

The new store/venue at Suidobashi is called fttari, the same name as the label run by IMFJ head honcho Yoshiyuki Suzuki. The shop is a mere 5 minutes from Suidobashi station in the basement of a nondescript building down a sidestreet, all details which could describe any number of small Tokyo venues. Fttari does have a warmth to it that many small spaces lack, though, created by the clear segregation between a bright CD store space and a clean, black performance space.
Tall, skinny, expensive looking Bose speakers project the mid and high frequencies into the audience while the bass is handled by some freaky looking woofers at the base of the speaker columns. I know nothing about mid to high end audio, but it looked promising. It's certainly the first time I've seen a speaker system which could be snapped in two during a good bar fight. Evidence of Akiyama-san's "decorations" was thin, but if he's behind the solid paint work on the walls, I commend him.

When listening to intermittent sine waves, sitting on a hard, low stool is part of the authentic Japan Improv experience. So when I sat down, I was surprised to find that my chair was relatively comfortable. That was the first clue that tonight would offer a counter example to the usual IMFJ theme of art as suffering. The second clue was Madoka and Sei singing a duet in the first movement of the night - I'm guessing it was an 80's J-pop cover but don't quote me on that. If the tape players ever break down, or the feedback loses its squeal, Madoka might have another avenue open to her. She could at least lay down some pretty nice B.V.s. The rest of the night continued in this eclectic vein. Ju sei's Jun alone veered between J. Pop, thrash metal and extended guitar sounds and also delivered one of his rare rap performances over the top of some west coast hip hop playing tinnily from his i-phone.

Yup, it was a kitchen-sinker, but the periods of unadulterated "serious" improv were among the best I've heard from these guys.
The times when things collapsed down to a Madoka/Yosuke duo were particularly good in terms of density of sound and clarity of concept. Madoka abandoned her usual tasteful restraint and pushed some mean air around. At one stage Yosuke had an ostensible joke solo in the middle of one of the pop songs (Sei (taking a break from waving her arms around): "Morone-san solo!") where he generated some of the creamy-smoothest white noise I've ever heard.

Ju-sei's progressive pop continues on it's journey into ever more baroque territory. Their new "Kome-tsubu" song (米粒 - a grain of rice) starts out as what seems like an improv game where Jun roams the fretboard until Sei pounces on him with a chant of "kome-tsubu" which he backs up with a repeated refrain on his guitar. (Having seen it twice, I'm pretty sure it's not a game, but a set in stone composition, which kind of makes my head hurt). The "song" then diverges into about four sub songs, all of them with their own charms and hooks before eventually coming back to grains of rice... Paul McCartney and Wings eat your heart out.

I have to imagine that this is the liveliest night that fttari has seen. The elder statesmen of Tokyo improv. aren't shy of cracking the odd musical joke, but they'll often form an entirely separate project in order to show that side of themselves (see Taku Unami (宇波拓)and Hose). Indeed, fttari as a label is for me tied to the meditative, hard edged style of playing, and I'm a little wary when the youngsters mix it up; am I just listening to a big in-joke? Then again, depending on who you ask this whole scene is an in-joke. Whatever the intellectual implications, in terms of pure enjoyment, this concert was a winner for sure.

Returning to fttari as a space, the sound and the sound placement are definitely well above average. Ftarri is probably the best place in Tokyo to listen to slightly detuned sine waves ( Yosoke uses scientific grade generators to make his, so he has a special place in my heart). The sheer density of different modes of sound as I moved my head around was impressive. The bass is also clear and heavy, without being overwhelming. Nice job Mr Nakamura! I'm definitely looking forward to hearing a whole lot more music there.


Friday, September 9, 2011

Final comment on Enban Summer Festival

I'll skip the customary header, as this is well overdue. Unfortunately, I couldn't commit my thoughts on the 2nd day of the Enban summer festival to blog due to an embarassing lack of knowledge about the performers I wanted to write about. I haven't been able to get in touch with Taguchi-san to ask him about the artists in question (partially due to circumstances explained below) so I'll simply frame the review of the second day as a series of questions about the performers.

1. What is the name of the woman who writes the grotesque/erotic visual stories which feature at Enban events every year? Did they have to rehearse much to get an entire band to play along with her this time? What traditional Japanese story-telling form is her performance based on? Did this year's performance feature her most shocking image so far? There was an audible gasp from the audience as she turned the page to show a lovingly rendered drawing of pre-coital female nether-regions.

2. What was the name of the guy who I thought was merely the token crazy old guy of the festival, but who turned out to be the most unhinged performer of the day? Is Debu-debu the name of his band? Was the bored looking guitar player in the band his daughter? Why does "Debu-debu love nothing" as he chanted for several minutes in what was presumably the band theme song? Has anyone else done the chilly bin as a kick drum thing before? If not, it was a pretty awesome invention, albeit a short lived one...

3. What is the name of the guy who does insane rants with wild gesticulations over a background of odd electronica? Did he rehearse his violent duo with Enban-owner Taguchi-san, where he pullse Taguchi's hair while forcing him to make rapid fire sketches on various themes? When exactly in that performance was Taguchi-san's right arm broken? Is Taguchi-san right handed? Because that would explain why he's not replying to my emails at the moment...

If I find the answers to any of the above questions, I'll fill them in later.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Special #2: Reports from the Enban Summer Festival. Day 1, #2: Takahiro Hirama (平間貴大)

Who: 平間貴大 (Takahiro Hirama)

Ever since I moved to Tokyo, I've seen Hirama-kun making trouble wherever he goes. Frying the transistors of the Fender amp at Enban,  injecting drum machine presets into delicate improvised textures at Grid 605 (that was during his drum machine phase), throwing stones at a pile of tapes as Madoka Kono made sophisticated casette player drones, somehow failing to play his own CD from a CD player at the release party for said CD, frustrating the audience with misdirection in a prepared guitar performance where he merely turned the amp of an on. I could go on.

And yet his constant inventiveness means that occasionally, he turns out an absolute gem of a performance which a less frustrating artist could probably never realize. His standout show to my mind was when he brought a sheet of glass, a wedge, a handheld plastic fan and a pack of cotton buds to Enban. He proceeded to balance the glass sheet on the wedge, taped the fan beneath the glass and then threw the cotton buds one by one on to the glass. At first nothing happened, but the laws of probability dictated that one side of the glass would eventually accumulate more cotton buds than the other. When this tipping point was reached, the glass started to rock on the wedge until it hit the fan producing a sharp buzzing noise once each oscillation. In my opinion, the performance  was really a master class in minimal music. The concept was clear, the materials limited, the time was set by the finite number of cotton buds in the pack. And yet the sound produced was complex.

Lately, Hirama has been turning more to computerised sound sources. His performance at the Enban summer festival on Saturday consisted of running the word "no" through the Google translate speech generator for a number of different languages. The 6th floor lounge of O-nest was filled with layers of synthesized voices, coming in and out of phase as the successive "no"s, "non"s, "nein"s, etc, were translated. It was definitely one of his more musical performances.

This youtube link from a recording of a performance at the now defunct loopline is  fairly representative of his style, but there are a number of clips of Hirama on line, some of them dealing with his involvement in the New Methodist Art Group (no relation to the Christian denomination).

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Special #2: Reports from the Enban Summer Festival. Day 1, #1: MARK

What: Harrowing songs from Tokyo's most horrible vocal cords

Let's get the sexist bullshit out of the way. There's nothing "cute" about MARK. She's a relatively unfetching Tokyo gal, singing horribly and at length about life and love. Also, despite my limited Japanese ability, I get the feeling that her lyrics are sometimes incoherent. There's no possibility of attaching some "cute Japanese girl doing noise" fetish to her.

(Honestly, I feel shitty even bringing up issues of gender and attractiveness when writing about music, but it's *a thing*, especially when so many of the fans of weird Japanese music are white men, so I can't help but feel it's worth noting that MARK exists outside that world.)

I distinctly remember the first time I heard MARK's voice, in a music store/venue in Ochanomizu. I didn't realize that the shows on the second floor were piped through to the first floor music store P.A. I'm ashamed to admit my superficial reaction now, but as I heard the decidedly non-dulcet tones of her voice come on after a series of unremarkable J-indies tracks, I felt like I'd discovered some unknown  "outsider" music from Japan's past, and I went to ask the staff what CD they were playing. As it turned out, there was no CD and the music was very much in the present being performed on the second floor by a 20-something girl with the stage name MARK. At that performance, she had a backing duo on keyboard and bass, who seemed to be snickering at her as she hacked her way through lengthy original ballads.

MARK's performance in the 6th floor lounge for the Enban summer festival was a solo one, but the sense that people were snickering remained, with some incredulous audience members clearly catching MARK for the first time, and unsure of how to react.

MARK's music faces the same objections that all "outsider" music (Taguchi-san chose to use the word "cult" to describe her in the Festival notes) faces - the charge that she is in some sense "putting it on", that she's singing terribly on purpose to attract attention. Personally, I don't think it matters one way or another. To me Mark's ear-hurting vocals and generally unseductive music suggest the human fear of being unlovable and not entirely blameless for being unlovable.

I should point out that this is just my spin on MARK. She clearly had admirers and friends among the audience at the summer festival (heck, I'm one of the former) and I wouldn't want to leave the reader with the impression that she's some abused joke of the Tokyo scene. Given the fact that she's a competent guitarist and pianist as well, it's clear that she knows what she's doing to the music when she throws her vocals into the mix. However calculated it may be, I still find something brave about her willingness to present such an ugly sound to an audience which largely had no idea what to expect.