Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Oorutaichi - Drifting My Folklore

Here's an album I've been meaning to blog about for some time, Oorutaichi's Drifting My Folklore from 2007. I don't know much about Oorutaichi, other than that he's a Japanese solo artist/DJ who cooks up some seriously zany acid cartoon music. If you thought that was Cornelius's shtick, prepare to experience new levels of zany acidity - Drifting My Folklore comes bursting at the seams with mutated disco, freak funk, twisted pop hooks, synths and turntables galore, hypnotic grooves, and utterly bizarre vocal melodies that shouldn't work but somehow do. Rarely are albums simultaneously as strange and catchy as this one. Given the overwhelming number of different musical ideas that transpire throughout it, one must really admire Oorutaichi's flawless sense of craft in arranging so many instruments and studio effects into something cohesive, without a moment sounding out of place. (Then again, what could sound out of place on an album like this?) The studio tricks in particular are frequently mindbending and worthy of Nobukazu Takemura at his best. In the end there's probably no describing this album, so let's just say I can comfortably imagine alien robots doing their morning workout routine to it, and leave it at that.

Aside, Oorutaichi contributed one of the best tracks on Shugo Tokumaru's 2009 release Rum Hee, a remix of Shugo's song of the same name.


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Toru Takemitsu - Complete Takemitsu Edition 2: Instrumental and Choral Works (11 Disks)

I just found out that 5 days ago was the late Toru Takemitsu's 79th birthday, so here's a belated dedication and celebration post. I bring you quite a large collection of instrumental and choral works by the visionary man Wikipedia documents as Japan's first international composer:
In the late 1950s chance brought Takemitsu international attention: his Requiem for string orchestra (1957 Takemitsu requiem.ogg listen ) was heard by Igor Stravinsky in 1958 during his visit to Japan. (The NHK had organised opportunities for Stravinsky to listen to some of the latest Japanese music; when Takemitsu's work was put on by mistake, Stravinsky insisted on hearing it to the end.) At a press conference later, Stravinsky expressed his admiration for the work, praising its "sincerity" and "passionate" writing.[14] Stravinsky subsequently invited Takemitsu to lunch; and for Takemitsu this was an "unforgettable" experience.[15] After Stravinsky returned to the U.S., Takemitsu soon received a commission for a new work from the Koussevitsky Foundation which, he assumed, had come as a suggestion from Stravinsky to Aaron Copland.[15] For this he composed Dorian Horizon, (1966), which was premièred by the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Copland.
Takemitsu later became a close personal friend of John Cage, who encouraged him to embrace his nation's musical traditions for the first time, leading to a new stylistic period combining ancient Japanese and Western avant garde ideas. At the same time, Toru was also highly conscious of Western popular music, as evidenced by his many guitar transcriptions of Beatles and jazz songs.

This collection is actually the second installment of an even larger group of recordings of Takemitsu's music, called the Complete Takemitsu Edition. From what I can tell, Edition 1 consists of his orchestral works, Editions 3 and 4 cover his film works, and Edition 5 is made up of popular songs, tape, and theatre works. Supposedly the entire collection goes for around an absurd $1,000. Here's what we have on Edition 2, the instrumental and choral works:

Disk 1
2-3. Lento in Due Movimenti
4. Distance de Fee
5-7. Pause Ininterrompue
8-10. Le Son Calligraphie I, II, III
11. Masque
12. Landscape
13. Piano Distance

Disk 2
1. Ring for flute, terz guitar and lute
2. Corona for one or more pianists
3. Sacrifice for alto flute, lute and vibraphone with antique cymbals
4. Sonant for 2 flutes, violin, violoncello, guitar and 2 bandoneons
5. Hika for violin and piano
6. Eclipse for biwa and shakuhachi
7. Cross Talk for 2 bandoneons and tape music

Disk 3
1. Stanza I
2. Valeria
3. Seasons
4. Munari by Munari
5. Voice
6. Eucalypts II
7. Stanza II

Disk 4
1. Distance for oboe with or without sho
2. For Away for piano
3. Voyage for biwa
4. Garden Rain for brass ensemble
5-7. Folios for guitar

Disk 5
1. Bryce
2. Waves
3. Quatrain 2
4. Waterways
5. Les yeux clos
6. Les yeux clos II

Disk 6
1. A Way a Lone for string quartet
2-4. Toward the Sea for alto flute and guitar
5. Rain Tree for 3 percussion players
6. Rain Spell for flute, clarinet, harp, piano and vibraphone
7. Rain Tree Sketch I for piano
8. Rain Tree Sketch II, In Memoriam Olivier Messiaen for piano

Disk 7
1. Cross Hatch for marimba and vibraphone
2. Rocking Mirror Daybreak I, Autumn for violin duo
3. Rocking Mirror Daybreak II, Passing Bird for violin duo
4. Rocking Mirror Daybreak III, In The Shadows for violin duo
5. Rocking Mirror Daybreak IV, Rocking Mirror for violin duo
6. From far beyond the Chrysanthemums and November Fog for violin and piano
7. Orion for violoncello and piano
8. Entre-temps for oboe and string quartet
9. Rain Dreaming for cembalo

Disk 8
1. Signals from Heaven I, Day Signal
2. Signals from Heaven II, Night Signal
3. All in Twilight I for guitar
4. All in Twilight II for guitar
5. All in Twilight III for guitar
6. All in Twilight IV for guitar
7. Toward the Sea III Part I for alto flute and harp
8. Toward the Sea III Part II for alto flute and harp
9. Toward the Sea III Part III for alto flute and harp
10 Itinerant, In Memory Of Isamu Nogutchi for flute
11. Litany I, In Memory Of Michael Vyner for piano
12. Litany II, In Memory Of Michael Vyner for piano
13. A piece for guitar For The 60th Birthday of Sylvano Bussotti
14. And then I knew 'twas the Wind for flute, viola and harp

Disk 9
1. Equinox
2. Between Tides
3. Paths
4. A Bird came down the Walk
5. In the Woods I
6. In the Woods II
7. In the Woods III
8. Air

Disk 10
1. Bad Boy for 2 or 3 guitars
2-3. Piano Pieces for Children
4. A Boy Name Hiroshima for 2 guitars
5. Le Fils des Etoiles for flute and harp
6-17. 12 songs for guitar
18. The Last Waltz for guitar
19. Golden Slumbers for piano
20. Herbstlied for clarinet and string quartet

Disk 11
1. Wind Horse I
2. Wind Horse II
3. Wind Horse III
4. Wind Horse IV
5. Wind Horse V
6. Grass
7. Handmade Proverbs I
8. Handmade Proverbs II
9. Handmade Proverbs III
10. Handmade Proverbs IV
11-22. Songs for mixed chorus

There are too many excellent pieces here to really name highlights, but I'm particularly fond of the Piano Pieces for Children, Toward the Sea for alto flute and harp, the guitar songs, and the astoundingly gorgeous songs for mixed chorus, which to me almost sound like otherworldly slave spirituals.

Complete Takemitsu Edition website (Japanese)

Monday, October 12, 2009

Satoko Fujii & Tatsuya Yoshida - Erans

Uploaded by request, this challenging Tzadik album is a little difficult to categorize. Some of the labels I was tempted to give it included free jazz, modern jazz, improvisation, and noise, but none of these are quite right. What we really have here is a set of ultra-complex etudes for piano and drums, which often sound improvisational or "jazzy" but were really composed with extreme care and attention to detail. Performing these are two of the most adventurous and capable musicians to rise out of Japan's avant garde scene, pianist/composer Satoko Fujii and drummer Tatsuya Yoshida of Ruins fame. After one listen to Erans, one thing is clear: Fujii and Yoshida did a lot of rehearsing for this album. Their stop-on-a-dime changes in tempo, meter, and dynamics are timed with perfection, and they don't falter once in playing through the songs' baffling structures.

This album is not for the faint hearted. The songs are fiery, menacing, relentlessly energetic, generally atonal, and nearly impossible to swallow all at once. Multiple listens reveal many subtle intricacies in their form, harmony, emotional content, and so forth, but they never lose their visceral nature, or their ability to quickly exhaust the listener. Even if you never listen to it from start to finish, this is a must hear.


Sunday, October 4, 2009

Orbital - Orbital II (The Brown Album)

"There is the theory of the Moebius . . . a twist in the fabric of space where time becomes a loop. Where time becomes a loop. Where time becomes a loop. Wh-Where t-time b-becomes a l-loop. Where-eretimetibecomecomalooaloop. Where . . ."

...so begins the UK-based Orbital's second album, a classic of early 90s experimental ambient techno. The first track, "Time Becomes", consists of the above Star Trek sample looping over and over against itself in a tempo-phasing experiment that borrows directly from Steve Reich. Though this kicks the album off with a fairly lofty and intellectual feel, the song is actually a joke - Orbital's debut, the Green Album, opens with the very same sample, the reappearance of which at the beginning of the Brown Album was meant to momentarily fool listeners into thinking they bought a bad pressing.

The hour of music that follows "Time Becomes" is one of the most consistently well reviewed in all of 90s electronica, or indeed any electronica. It's hypnotic, trippy, joyous, haunting, and deeply groovy. All of the tracks are lengthy and insistently rhythmic, making them fine for dancing or zoning out to, but they are also all dynamic enough to reward close attention. Two of them, "Lush" (please play this one loud and with as much bass as possible - the layers, the layers!) and "Halcyon + on + on", were big singles, and are probably a couple of the best tunes of their genre/decade. "Planet of the Shapes" is another quality head-bumper, with effective use of the sample "Even a stopped clocked gives the right time twice a day", taken from the film Withnail & I.

A second phasing experiment closes the album; this time the phrases "Input translation" and "Output rotation" loop against each other. Like "Time Becomes", this is the type of track that one either instantly hates, or grows to love for the delicate, ephemeral melodies and rhythms that can be discerned emerging from the chaos. (Guess which one it is in my case).

This album appears on a lot of Best 100 lists and for good reason. I slept on it for a long time, and would caution any fan of electronic music not to make the same mistake.