Thursday, July 17, 2008

FEATURED: Siwa Records

Beautifully silkscreened and released in very limited editions, Alan Sherry's Siwa Label specializes in recordings of the Japanese underground, as well as like-minded American and British musicians. Sherry's silkscreen work is stunning (and he has become one of the most sought after silkscreen artists in the American music underground) but in the end it's the music that makes these releases so compelling. The Japanese underground that Siwa documents is the bastard off-spring of the 1960s Fluxus group Taj Mahal Travellers and their theatrical-improvisational group drone, and the black-clad leftist-terrorist related Les Rallizes Denudes and their dark squalling feedback-laden blues ballads. A kind of alternate universe where Lou Reed quit the Velvets after White Light/White Heat; Cale stayed; and instead of Doug Yule, they replaced him with everyone from the Theatre of Eternal Music.
Percussionist Ikuro Takahashi seems to be the keystone for the scene, playing with just about everyone: High Rise, Kousokuya, Maher Shalal Hash Baz, Fushitsusha, Ché-SHIZU, Nagisa Ni Te, LSD March, Gu-N, and Akebonoizu. His performances range from extreme electronic drones to rock-god drumming.
This stuff is amazing and it's pretty damn limited.

TORI KUDO/ LA CONSUMPTION 4: "Atlantic City" (New LP) $29.95

Archive LP of material recorded by Tori Kudo and some fellow travellers during a stay in New York in the Summer of 1981. Originally released on cassette the approach on these recordings was a long way from the creepy organ driven "Noise Tenno" LP that Tori and Reiko released a year earlier. About half of 'Atlantic City' consists of songs, teeth bared and falling apart as they come together but still in a style similar to Tori's subsequent work with Maher Shalal Hash Baz. The other half is made up mostly of extended guitar jams nodding equally to rock and blues but retaining Tori's rather unique take on the idioms. Cover and insert art on the LP is adapted from drawings drawn and photos taken in NY and Atlantic City in 1981.


Third studio LP from the Tokyo avant-garage trio Miminokoto comprised of Masami Kawaguchi (Broomdusters, LSD March, Aihiyo), Koji Shimura (White Heaven, High Rise) and Takuya Nishimura (Che-Shizu). Edition of 500.

CHIE MUKAI: "Solo" (New CD) $13.95

CD reissue of Siwa #6 in screenprinted gatefold sleeve. First released on LP in 2000 in an edition of 300 which sold out pretty much overnight. Three tracks recorded at Kid Ailack Art Hall in Tokyo in the late 90's. Just over 40 minutes of solo improvisations for er-hu, voice, kengali, rings, cymbals. The recording has been remastered for the digital format but contains the same material as the original LP.
"Chie Mukai is best known in the West, if at all, as the leader of Japan's most otherworldly dream psych-pop unit Ché-SHIZU. In that group, her gorgeous work on er-hu (a traditional two-stringed bowed Chinese instrument), sliding up and down through the cracks in conventional tonality, melds perfectly with the trembling naiveté of her vocals. It's a unique sound, immensely personal, and immediately identifiable.

However, Mukai also has a lengthy complementary, though much less well-known, career as a solo performer and improviser dating back to her time in the East Bionic Symphonia in the late 70's (trainspotters might also want to note her peripheral involvement with the LAFMS scene). On any given week in Tokyo, you're likely to find her collaborating in a basement somewhere with like-minded multimedia creators, butoh dancers, musicians, performance and visual artists, installationists... Each December she organizes Perspective Emotion, a full-on festival of multi and mixed media performance.

In recent years, Ché-SHIZU has fallen into inactivity and Mukai's adventures in the improvised mode have come to take on a far greater importance to her. These previously shadowy activities have finally attained some proper sunlit documentation - most notably, the love-hate dynamics of her showdown with Masayoshi Urabe (Dual Anarchism, on Siwa); her collaborations with Ramones Young, the obviously alcohol-inspired attempt to meld Ramones covers with a Lamonte Young methodology; and the Enkidu unit with Eric Cordier and Sei'ichi Yamamoto.

But while all of these are just fine and dandy, for the full unadulterated Mukai experience, you really have to hear her playing solo, expanding soul and sense and touch to fill space. Which is why it is such an unadulterated pleasure to have this SIWA album, her first release outside of Japan, back in print. Three longish pieces, all recorded live in the late nineties. There's a far fuller drone sound to her er-hu here, compared to that on her previous solo release (Kokyu Improvisation, on PSF), a wavering intensity that pulls your brain straight into a sensation-dulled trance. And with none of the evil wince often associated with solo violin improvs, you're free to fully appreciate the fractional control and deep humming resonance of the instrument. It's a beguiling sound, seeming to combine both earth and air in one eternal thrumming, shimmering pull of gut on steel string. Mukai augments the sound with an occasional percussion crash, and a verse or two of wordless higher-mind vocalization. What more could a human ask for? This is sumptuous late-night improv, a fine goose-feather pillow for addled minds everywhere."

NMPERIGN: "We Devote Every Effort To Offer You The Best That You Deserve To Have For Your Enjoyment" (New 2LP) $24.95

Double LP from Greg Kelley and Bhob Rainey. Two pieces, one recorded in Mhere, France and the other at Wesleyan University. Described by a gentleman close to the band as some of their most perverse and blackened work to date.

SEISHOKKI:Asahikawa 1975-1977 (New LP) $34.95 SOLD!

Archive recordings from almost 30 years ago by Seishokki (roughly translates as"Organs Of Blue Eclipse") a band formed in Asahikawa in northern Japan while it's members were still in high school. The story goes that the band's musical influences were as likely to be only heard of as actually heard but original member Ikuro Takahashi (who has since gone on to perform with a veritable who's who list of outfits that includes Fushitsusha, High Rise, Che-Shizu and Maher Shalal Hash Baz) recalls that along the way various members of the band had been moved by the extended thump and drone of Faust with Tony Conrad, the deep synthesizer explorations of Klaus Schulze and the passionate avant-folk of Kazuki Tomokawa. Some members of the band had also been drawn to the writings of critic/promoter Aquirax Aida who was responsible for the introduction of a lot of western free music to Japan. The onset of punk may have contributed a little to the freedom a bunch of non-musicians felt to start a band but Takahashi has suggested that a lot of their inspiration came from what was probably a misunderstanding of minimalism. What comes out in these recordings is a wonderfully primitive approach to the repetition of minimalism with exuberant forays into wild synth/percussion driven noise. The result falls somewhere between the original Amon Duul LPs and "Outside the Dream Syndicate" with a nod to the soon to come explosion of NOISE in the Japanese underground. These are believed to be the only surviving recordings of this band with the exception of a vocal track with lyrics concerning an eternal teenage concern deemed too mortifying for release. If you know any different, get in touch.

IKURO TAKAHASHI:"Domori to Sanshu" (New CD) $59.95 SOLD!
Ikuro Takahashi might be a familiar name to some for his role as drummer/percussionist with many of the most notable Japanese underground acts of the past 25 years (High Rise, Kosokuya, Fushitsusha, Maher Shalal Hash Baz, LSD March to name but a few). On Domori to Sanshu he presents another look into his long running work with electronics. The two tracks on the CD consist of a live performance for oscillators and percussion followed by a computer composition in which Takahashi uses techniques of layering, looping and stretching sources to create immersive fields of sound. The live piece adds some space defining percussion for a brief temporal anchor before enveloping you once again in the high end chatter of up to 100 tiny oscillators. The computer piece by contrast offers no such reference points, instead leaving the listener submerged in a low end organic rumble that manages by turns to be both soothing and disorienting. The first edition of this CD is limited to 300 copies and comes in a painted and screenprinted wooden slipcase with screenprinted inner sleeve.

IST: "Anagrams To Avoid" (New LP) $25.00

Extremely right second release from this label. The tonal agility on display is at once highly agile and responsive and carefully considered, all three participants adopting an eagerly intelligent but refreshingly unassuming approach to their chosen strand of improvisational sound. Fell & co rework established conventions, revealing unsuspected elasticities, twisting and contorting them into new shapes. Comes in a rather gorgeous silkscreened cover to boot." Nick Cain OPPROBRIUM

"Each string player finds an infinite variety of sounding techniques on their chosen acoustic device - plucking, resonating, sawing, scraping, bowing, that a simple trio can produce a range of droning and percussion effects comparable with an entire orchestra." Ed Pinsent THE SOUND PROJECTOR

JUTOK KANEKO / TAKAHISA KIKUKAWA: "Wedged Night" (New LP) $39.95

Jutok Kaneko should be familiar to some as the man behind the long running deep psychedelic 'rock' outfit Kousokuya. Takahisa Kikukawa spent some time with Che-Shizu and plays percussion and piano in UZU. Both in Kousokuya and in Kaneko's solo work the line between composition and improvisation is a very blurry one so it's only in the loosest of terms that we say side one of this album is an "improvisation" and side two consists of a couple of "songs". The LP is issued in a one off limited run and comes in an appropriately black and black on black silkscreened cover with two screened insets.

BROOMDUSTERS: "Sound From The Bottom Of The Tokyo Underground" (New LP) $39.95

Archive in-the-red live recordings by the Broom Dusters, a Tokyo outfit led by Masami Kawaguchi in the late 1990's. The trio's sound was a jagged, lurching hybrid of amped up psych and garage blues topped off with Kawaguchi's distinctive vocals. Kawaguchi was at the time a member of Keiji Haino's Aihiyo trio and has since gone on to found Miminokoto and New Rock Syndicate. He also currently does duties as second guitarist in LSD March. The collection of live material on this LP was recorded in 1998 and mastered by Soichiro Nakamura at Peace music studio in 2005.

This LP only release comes in a handsome gold/black screenprinted jacket with screenprinted labels. It's a numbered limited edition of 315

LSD MARCH: "Shindara Jigoku" Second "Black" Edition of 200 (New LP) $19.95 SOLD!

LSD MARCH: "Shindara Jigoku" First "White" Edition of 500 (New LP) $59.95

Released in late 2004 Shindara Jigoku was technically the fourth LP from Shinsuke Michishita's LSD-March. The line-up on this was once again Michishita (guitar, vocals) with Masami Kawaguchi (guitar) and Ikuro Takahashi (drums). Initial white jacket edition of 550 is out of print. The final black jacket edition of 200 is in print.

(All images and album descriptions provided by Siwa Records unless otherwise noted.)

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