Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Myth and the Modern World

People say that what we're all seeking is a meaning for life. I don't think that's what we're really seeking. I think that what we are seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have the resonances with our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.
- Joseph Campbell

I used to really hate religion and not see a point to it; that all it did was create war and opiate the masses. I believed that would should live in a totally atheistic society that's completely modern. But such views are shallow and childish. I have been reading lots of Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung, both are very in-tune with reading symbols, archetypes, and mythology. They've opened my eyes to the fact that these myths and symbols give our experience over to the the "rapture of being alive." They are the cosmic keys to our creation and times.

With today's technology and advances, and further plunges in secularism, it is ever more important to remember these myths. The myths and stories are as part of our world as the plants, trees, and animals. They grew out of our collective experiences of birth, growing older, coming to sexual maturity, and ultimately death, the one thing we all face. These myths, like our environments, are being destroyed, and like destroying our home, we are killing ourselves by forgetting these myths. It's hard to say what the fallout of these myths will be, only time will tell, but to me, these myths connect me to the magic of the universe, you begin to see the synchronicity of time and the elements, and how "all things are Buddha things." It puts me in touch with the "creator." I am not suggesting religious conversion, nothing of the sort. But to read and appreciate these stories and to open our mind to a higher plane of thinking, as they are just apart of our existence as breathing.

Campbell mentions this story, which I think is a good myth, on the importance of myth.

Of course, we moderns are stripping the world of its natural revelations, of nature itself. I think of that pygmy legend of the little boy who finds the bird with the beautiful song in the forest and brings it home. He asks his father to bring food for the bird, and the father doesn't want to feed a mere bird, so he kills it. And the legend says the man killed the bird, and with the bird he killed the song, and with the song, himself. He dropped dead, and was dead forever.

If we forget these myths, what part of ourselves are we killing? We are no doubt killing apart of character, our humanity, our sanity.

Those interested should pick up a copy of Joseph Campbell's book "The Power of Myth," it's a very entertaining read and you might find yourself being captured by the magic of Mythology. The book is based on a T.V. series featuring him being interviewed by Bill Moyers. What amazes me is how poetic this guy talks off the cuff. It's incredible how beautiful and immaculately he speaks.


Friday, September 25, 2009

The Friendly Dimension EP on Campaign for Infinity

Last winter and spring me and my buddy Troy would get together every now and then and write and record some songs. The whole thing started when Troy mentioned to me he was writing some songs and I, anxious to record and collaborate, asked him if he would like to come to my place and record. Things went well and Troy was happy with the sound and direction, and thus the project took on the name "The Friendly Dimension." The first song we recorded was a Gun Club cover called "House on Highland Hill." The recordings really followed suit after this song, we did a darker more melancholy take on the original song and the following recordings and originals all had this vibe. The recording sessions were very stripped down, usually no more than two acoustic guitar tracks, a shaker for percussion, and usually two vocal tracks with lots of reverb, to give the recordings lots of depth.

Thankfully my friend Brett Wagg offered to release the recordings on his tape label, Campaign for Infinity. You can listen to all the tracks minus the Gun Club track at the WFMU Free Music Archive. I will hopefully have some available at the Omon Ra show for PopMontreal and at the Divorce Records Table at the record fair. I'll post details on this as it approaches, for now just take a look at the pictures and have a listen!

Sounds are found HERE

Check out the Campaign for Infinity Blog and Myspace.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Omon Ra Live at Zoobizarre June 1st, 2009

Weird krautrock-tribal-dronoise-jam in 26mins of straight sound. Daniel Miller, Chris D'eon, Devon Welsh (The Pop Winds); percussion and vox. Zachary Fairbrother fuzzwahtar and vox made up this version of Omon Ra. Be sure to check us out at PopMontreal this year for something completely different than this performance. We be playing at "Le Cagibi" on Thursday October 1st, with Play Guitar and Fall Horsie as a part of the Youth Club Records showcase, Whooo! We'll be on stage at 10pm.

Filmed by Austin Milne

The other bands that played with us were Dirty Beaches and Ultrathin


Monday, September 21, 2009

Land Otter Man - Origin is the Creator - AVL - 03

A couple years back I did a doom/metal/ambient/drone inspired project under the moniker of The Land Otter Man. I had access to the electro-acoustic studios at Dal at the time, so I got to use all sorts of really cool synths, including an ARP 2600! For those unfamiliar with that particular synthesizer, it's the one used to create the voice of Star Wars R2D2. Most of the stuff is created in the studio or at home using Ableton Live. I play guitars, percussion, synths, radios, mixers, and drum machines, to paint a pretty black picture. Drone-Aggedon is a piece recorded live in my friend Ryan's bedroom with him on French Horn and Keyboards and my other buddy Dan on percussion. Origin is the Creator uses the Arp 2600 to create some pretty tense drones. It's 5 tracks clocking at just over an hour, space and doom out!

Perhaps I was pretty depressed when I was making this music, it certainly sounds like it. There is no artwork.



Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Anthony Braxton - Creative Orchestra Music

Back in the mid 70's Anthony Braxton did a series of landmark albums for the Arista label. Most of the records saw him exploring the limits of a piano-less jazz quartet, but a couple of them saw Braxton writing for some extraordinary ensembles. These recordings have since be compiled into a box set and if I had the $200 to cover the cost, I would for sure buy it! The recording posted here features Braxton composing for big band. Braxton is not afraid to explore many musical styles; over the course of his long career he has played in many radically different situations. That being said, he never lacks focus, and nothing comes across as contrived. Braxton has the ensemble playing through blindingly fast be-bop-esq tunes, skewed marching band music, to more spacious and experimental compositions that explore complex harmonies. This record is absolutely brilliant and is a great introduction to Braxton's vast musical output. Listen to on repeat!


Grip it HERE

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Gotta' Have Faith

Watching a documentary on the September 11th bombing with my Grandmother and Uncle on a lazy Sunday evening after a nice family dinner, topped off with a fire. I was looking through an old National Geographic Magazine when I came across this photo.


Malini Rajurkar

Some amazing, heady, tripped-out, tradition trance music from Northern Indian. I came across this recording at my time in CKDU and has since became a favorite of mine. The tambura drones are thick and spin around your head. Malini Rajurkar is an amazing vocalist, she sends shivers down your spine and warms your whole body. Groovy, thick, and melodious. Rajurkar moves through the modes like rowing a boat down a stream, seamlessly and effortless. Accompanied by harmonium and tabla, these three ragas will have you seeing the light in no time!



King Crimson - Lark's Tongues Aspic

I guess I've been into prog today.


Interview with Matthew Duffy

My friend Matthew Duffy was in town the other day, so I took the opportunity to interview him. Matthew is a close friend of my mine and one of my favorite people to talk to. There is no shortage of ideas flowing from his head, he has a truly unique and beautiful mind. He is at times brutally honest and what you see is what you get with Matthew, there are now airs or pretensions about him. I hope you enjoy the interview!


Saturday, September 12, 2009

Troy Richter on Dante White

Dante vs. Zombies is the new name for Dante White’s band. Dante started the Starlite Desperation in the mid-90s in California. He has been involved with other projects such as the short-lived The Lost Kids, but everything he has been involved with seems to belong to the pedigree of psychedelic garage punk which he seems to have a fiery teenage passion for. It’s this ironic arrogance and swagger that makes his songs so great. I have also yet to discover a better rock and roll vocalist in the last couple of decades. A few years ago, Starlite Desperation had their anthemic “Born to Be Dizzy” featured in the Asa Argento movie The Heart is Deceitful above all things. This 3 minute song is a diamond with killer lyrics which dwarfs the movie it was supposed to serve as a decoration for. White’s catalogue of songs has been growing, for the most part unnoticed, for about a decade and a half, and even if the zombies who like shitty pop music never find it, those who like the good stuff won’t be disappointed.

-Troy Richter

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Just a reminder, to those in Montreal, about the show that is taking place tonight at Casa Del Popolo. Elfin Sadle (Constellation), Nick Kuepfer with Eric Craven, and my group Hassan - I - Sabbah X. It promises to be a night a of eclectic, experimental pop music.


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Symphonie Portuaire

Every winter in Montreal for the last 15 years, when the St. Lawrence freezes, the Museum of Natural History commissions a composer to write for the Symphonie Portuaire. The boats along the shore of Montreal become land locked due to the ice, and so there's not too much for them to do other than become giant horn instruments. The event is free to the public and is an enjoyable treat to help pass the long winters. Here is a video of composer and guitarist Bernard Falaise piece for the 2009 edition. The name of the piece is humorously titled, The Spicy Sounds of a Privateer's Horn. Enjoy!


Current 93 Present: Sveinbjorn Beinteinsson “Edda”

This album, presented by the English esoteric front Current 93, consists of the recitation of ancient texts from the Icelandic Edda by Sveinbjorn Beinteinsson. The Eddas are a collection of texts and poems in Old Norse that were first recorded in Iceland sometime shortly after it officially became Christian in 1000 AD. The texts deal mainly with the mythology of the gods and goddesses of the Norse pantheon as well as some heroic lays concerning legendary mortals. The texts most certainly preserve a much older oral tradition of bards and priests who would recite these legends for attentive audiences. That practice died out in the face of Christianity, but fortunately a large number of the legends and tales were written down by interested scholars and preserved for our enjoyment today.

Each recording here presents a different Eddic poem in recitation. For those of us who don’t speak Icelandic the text is indecipherable, but the rhythmic and repetitive chants are captivating and certainly conjure the stark imagery one would associate with poems once recited on long winter nights around the fire. The texts of the first two tracks are worth a specific mention though, as they are two of the most commonly presented Eddic texts. The first, the Voluspa, presents a sweeping mythological history stretching from the origins of creation to the destruction of the gods and immolation of the earth. The Voluspa is followed by the Havamal: the maxims of Odin. The poem consists of a series of formulaic stanzas that offer instruction in proper social conduct as well as advice for leading a prosperous life.

Sveinbjorn Beinteinsson was a prominent figure in the recent history of Iceland. Born in 1924 he became a sheep farmer at the age of 20 and went on to become a religious figurehead during the 1970s. He founded a group in 1972 dedicated to the practice of the old religion of Iceland which today numbers its members in the thousands. He also published several books on the verse forms of traditional Icelandic poetry as well as several volumes of his own poetic works. He passed away on December 23rd 1993.

-Ryan Kirk

Yakutia: Epics and Improvisations

Here we are presented with the traditional epics and improvisations of the Yakuts, an indigenous people of Siberia. The album includes the recitation of epic poetry and ceremonial incantations as well as instrumental improvisations on fiddle and jaw harp. The music is reminiscent in some ways of other traditionally shamanic or nomadic cultures of the north, but also very individually rich.

The most striking thing about these recordings is the importance of timbre and harmonics. The vocalists draw on a number of different techniques that produce guttural growls, scratchy voices, multiphonics and harmonics, and yodeling. The extended improvisations on jaw harp produce a staggering array of sounds and harmonics, more then I have heard from recordings of any other cultural group, and the fiddle playing is jagged, rough, and harmonically rich, bringing to mind the scratching sawing of Tony Conrad more so then a traditional folk musician.

The only information I could find on this record is that Henri Lecomte recorded it for Buda Records sometime between 1994 and 1999. I was unable to track down any information on possible performers.

-Ryan Kirk


Buddhist Bells, Drums, and Chants

This is a great Lyrichord recording of Zen services in the temples of Kyoto, Japan. The Japanese Zen tradition developed from the Chinese Ch’an division of Mahayana, or Great Vehicle, Buddhism in the 12th century. During their services they recite and chant important sutras from the Buddhist literature. They have also incorporated the use of traditional Japanese percussion instruments, and in some cases flutes, to begin, accompany, and end ceremonies.

This recording presents some beautifully recorded recitations of Sutras accompanied by bells. The chants themselves are relatively simple and repetitive without any understanding of the text, but the rich accompaniment of the bells renders the whole thing beautifully ethereal. The chanters don’t seem to be terribly exact in their unisons, but these melodies do hint at the aching bends and micro-tonal inflections that make Japanese court music so hauntingly beautiful.

It should be noted that these are live recordings of ceremonies and they therefore include the odd background noise such as shuffling feet or coughing. I like to think it adds to the ambiance though.

- Ryan Kirk


Anthony Braxton Videos

Anthony Braxton is a brilliant man. He is a philosopher, composer, performer, and chess master. He speaks in parables and believes that music is the direct language to the creator. He teaches at Wesleyan University and has a class on the analysis of Stockhausen and Sun Ra. He is extremely prolific and it's not surprising for him to release six albums a year. He has worked from artists as diverse as Chick Corea to Wolf Eyes. He speaks of music and the cosmos and realizes the importance of science in music and the music in science, something that is being forgotten. Here is some candid videos of Anthony Braxton.


Monday, September 7, 2009

Deer Skull - Wolves Devour the Flesh of the Untrue - AVL - 02

Deer Skull was a black metal project that took place during the winter of 2009. Me and Ryan both became obsessed with black metal and decided to form a band. It's some pretty fucked up music I must say, but I am really proud of it. We started out writing songs but gradually the music became more and more fucked up and our love for improvisation took over, so we did lengthier, weirder music. We did a couple of shows, both radically different and improvised. I hope to play again. It's a really easy band to tour. Anyways Avant-Lard is proud to release, it's second release, Deer Skull's Wolves Devour the Flesh of the Untrue. Art by Ryan Kirk.



Stockhausen on Human Evolution

Awesome Stockhausen video; keep pace or die.

Those that dug that, should check out this documentary on artificial intelligence, the idea of cyborgs is a very similar concept to what Stockhausen is getting at here.


Sunday, September 6, 2009

White Zombie - Soul-Crusher

I became intrigued by the first White Zombie album when I read that likes of Thurston Moore, and Kurt Kobain were fans of the record. And what great piece of disgusting filth this record is. I mean this is such a sloppy, grimy, noisy record. Everything is drunkenly slurred and unintelligible, the whole album is a lysergic, zombie, speed trip. Also really cool Ralph Steadman inspired art! Fans of Pussy Galore and curious ears give a listen, this isn't the White Zombie you thought you knew!



Friday, September 4, 2009

Tiny Tim

Here's some Tiny Tim videos. It gives a chance to see/hear how sometimes popular music can be some of the strangest music.


Thursday, September 3, 2009

Early Japanese Noise and Improvisation

So a couple of years back I wrote a paper exploring the early development of Japanese noise, on the artists that contributed to today's well known genre, with artists like Merzbow, Keiji Haino, and Otomo Yoshihide. I wrote this paper for a music class that I took, and am quite proud of it. I have also included a couple of recordings from the two major artists that I speak of in the paper, Masasyuki Takayanagi and Kaoru Abe. These two recordings are my favorite and are both solo records.

The Kaoru Abe record, entitled Mort á Credit, named after the Louis Celine novel, that features Abe blasting away to excerpts of the novel, is a particularly chilling and ghostly performance. The Record features six different solo saxophone improvisations, on alto and soprano saxophone. Abe alienated most other players when improvising due to his aggressive, almost anti-social take on music. But in these recordings, released after his untimely death, we see a very different, much more contemplative, version of Abe. Don't get me wrong, his sax tone can still "peel paint," but we hear a much more mature, perhaps melancholy, Abe.

The Masayuki Takayanagi recording, called Action Direct, recorded in 1985, is an extremely dark release. The opening track reminds me a lot of Xenakis's electro acoustic work, Bohor, with dark ambient, reverb-laden, treated sounds (Check out this awesome website for more information on this piece, http://www.music.columbia.edu/~liubo/bohor/present/). This stuff is awesome, it's hard to tell if he did this all in on take or not, but either way, you really get the idea of Takayanagi as the composer. Highly recommended!

Alright here is the essay in all its glory. I should also mention that Erin Allen did a small print of this for her pressing company, so there are some very nice looking, bound, and screen-printed copies kicking around!





My interest in Japanese noise comes from a concert that I saw by two of the biggest “stars” and originators of the Japanese noise scene, Merzbow and Keiji Haino. The duo performed together as Kikuri, fittingly at the very end of the 2007 FIMAV (Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville) festival. The weekend had seen performances by John Zorn, Anthony Braxton, and many others, but there was a buzz the whole weekend about the upcoming performance by Merzbow and the equally mystifying and mysterious Keiji Haino. I had heard of Merzbow before the concert, I knew his music was equal parts legend and enigma, and that it focused on harsh, deafening noise, but I was still confused as to what to expect, and I had never heard of his accomplice Haino. Before the concert a fear swept over me; I had never had such a feeling before a show, I felt that what I was about to see/hear could destroy me or change me forever, and in a way it did. I soon realized the music was not going to destroy me, but it did change a lot of how I thought of music whether I realized that at the time or not. The performance itself confused me, it seemed random, rough, jagged, sloppy, and “unprofessional.” There would be times when Keiji Haino would be doing an ecstatic assault on an acoustic east Asian folk instrument, screaming like something from a Chinese opera, while Merzbow on his laptops penetrated the rest of the frequency spectrum with his digital walls of scorching acid feedback. The two would move through the maze of instruments and electronics they brought along with them, switching up whenever they seemed to get bored, but never relinquishing their sonic blitzkrieg . This went on ad nauseam until the concert ended as abruptly as it started. I left the concert disoriented, confused, slightly disappointed, and with a Keiji Haino record.

Over the last year I have been trying to collect all things Japanese noise, perhaps in an attempt to better understand what it was I had witnessed. I started to think why is this popular when it goes against perhaps every aesthetic of music? What do I see/hear in it? I began to understand the importance of Merzbow and the Japanese noise scene, a scene I now feel changed music forever both critically and aesthetically. All the lines become blurred, it challenges the definition of music, the definition of the musician, it challenges performance standards, it challenges structure, it challenges formality. It challenges how we critically look at music; if for example Merzbow releases two hundred plus albums of seemingly impersonal, constantly repetitious harsh noise, then what is good and what is bad? How do you listen to 100 minutes of harsh noise? Can one redeem any value? Whether you like Merzbow or not, his innovations, or de-innovations, make him the most radical musician since John Cage (what Cage did with silence, Merzbow did with noise), and his music has had an influence on an extraordinary amount of musicians and critics from many different circles. A man who's music and personality is enigmatic and dichotic, and who's art can be viewed as both intelligent high art, or degenerate low art. In this light perhaps Merzbow can be seen as the first true modern musician, one who defies any definition or categorization.

This paper is an attempt to try and explain how such a radical music came to be. I was interested in what came before Merzbow, who were the artists that laid the ground work for the genre know as “Japanese Noise”, and perhaps try and demystify Japanese noise, what is it about Japan that created such a radical music, and what makes this noise “Japanese”?

Brief History

When discussing the evolution of noise it is important to understand at least a brief history of Japan. Throughout history the Japanese have adapted and synthesized other cultures practices to create something uniquely their own, this can be exemplified by their language and the acceptance of Buddhism, both of which borrowed largely from the Chinese. This idea of synthesis is paramount especially in post-war Japan, when Japan would have an influx of ideas and cultures from America and the west.

Modern Japanese history starts with what is known as the Meiji Period. This period lasted between the years 1868-1912 and “was a process of westernization in which traditions that had been handed down through the Edo period (1603-1868) had been systematically expelled (1). ” The Japanese government was restored to an empire, with power removed from the feudal rulers of the country to a centralized power in a large city. The young emperor Meiji took power at the age of sixteen and moved the capital of Japan from Kyoto to Tokyo, the political power was also given over to a small group of nobles and former samurai. The Meiji government wanted to close what they felt was a widening gap between them and the west. Meiji Japan began a complete overhaul of their technical, educational and cultural systems and began to encourage and enforce all things western, this included things like telecommunications, western styled postal systems, the western calendar, railroads, gas lamps on streets, a national bank, brick buildings, a university, and photography. Western ideas were also encouraged in science, religion, philosophy, literature, music, and the visual arts. Western ideas caught on very fast in Japan and became extremely popular.

This period lasted until the death of the emperor in 1912 which ushered in a new era known as the Taisho period. This period saw an increased liberalism and even greater impact of westernization, which lead to the appreciation of Jazz music and the development of a counter culture. The counter culture was known as moga (modern girl) and mobo (modern boy) and they took a particular liking to Jazz and all things American. Jazz in 1920's Japan and elsewhere in the world represented the crux of modernity; America was considered the most modern country and Jazz was its sound. The moga and mobo borrowed largely from the characters they saw in American cinema, wearing American clothes and haircuts, taking up smoking and drinking, and dancing to jazz. The moga and mobo were often criticized for the decadent and careless behaviour and feared for their challenge to traditional gender roles;

As early as 1917 the writer Inage Sofu had worried that the Taisho era would witness the ”feminization of masculine beauty” and the “masculinization of feminine beauty.” The moga's “masculine” assertiveness and the mobo's affected “dandiness” seemed only to confirm such fears...The media stereotypes of the moga- “Japanese version” of the American flapper, eroticized cafe waitress or “taxi dancer,” or shameless flirt toying with men's libidinal urges- are well documented (2).

These fears and resentment would ultimately come to a head in the 1930's with the rise of extreme right wing nationalism, which sought to destroy all things western because of its fear of corruption. The jazz and dance community became easy game for the nationalist, fascist, and nativist movements of Japan and this saw the shutting down of many jazz and dance clubs. The extreme nationalism of Japan would eventually meet its demise when after their attack on America's Pearl Harbour, the United States retaliated by dropping the atom bomb on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The United States conquered Japan and this led to an era of American occupation where all things western were encouraged, particularly jazz because of its innovation and individuality.

Jazz and Modern Art in Japan

As mentioned above the history and admiration of jazz in Japan dates back to the 1920s. This knowledge and appreciation of jazz would result in the creation of what could have been something distinctly Japanese, the “jazu kissa,” or jazz cafe. Otomo Yoshihide an important Japanese noise musician who plays guitar and turntables reflects on the importance of the jazu kissa.

2.5 by 6 metres space. That and a pair of huge JBL or Altec speakers, a couple hundred jazz records and a bar counter were all that was necessary to open your basic jazz kissa. This was also a place rich with the youth subculture of the day.Avant-garde jazz, manga, music and culture magazines, notebooks filled with the opinions of young leftists, concerts every one or two months, and 8 millimetre film shows. Younger frequenters like myself were after the manga books... Youth subculture revolved around manga (3).

Yoshihide goes on to talk about how coming from a small town the cafe gave him a glimpse of the cultural scene in Tokyo, and how through this he became interested and exposed to artists like Charles Mingus, Ornette Coleman, Eric Dolphy, Derek Bailey, Evan Parker, and two very important Japanese musicians responsible for the development of noise, Kaoru Abe and Masayuki Takayanagi.

The Japanese have readily taken to and supported jazz with a few interruptions (World War II) since the 1920s. Many artists including Miles Davis (4) and Cannonball Adderly have complimented the Japanese support and appreciation of jazz. But despite Japan's initial and continued support the general jazz conscience has criticized Japanese jazz fans and in-particular jazz musicians as incapable of performing or “getting” jazz. During a tour of Japan in 1977 a few members of the Art Ensemble of Chicago made a few derogatory comments towards the Japanese.

"We have listened to performances by Japanese groups, but they are making music that stands atop Afro-American traditions. So it is not original...Only black peoples music as progressed with the times...In the past we (black people) made music in Africa. We were making music in times of slavery. With the times it has progressed in different forms. Our (black) music moved with the world. If you (Japanese) don't start from this, you'll never create original work. It takes
five hundred years(5)."

Similar statements are echoed by other artists and critics. Many blame Japanese musicians, despite playing with great technique, that they are unable to swing and the music comes across cold, frigid, uninspired, and unoriginal. Unfortunately these feelings of inauthenticity are not only commonly held by the jazz establishment, the Japanese quite often feel the same about themselves. E. Taylor Atkins (the writer of Blue Nippon, a book on the history of jazz in) recalls that he was laughed at many times by his friendliest of informants at the idea of coming to Japan to study jazz; they could not understand why he would leave the jazz homeland (America) to study. Others feel that the Japanese are just a nation of imitators or that they are just simply incapable of playing jazz. This idea of inauthenticity is also paralleled in Japanese art as well, Alexandra Monroe explains the Japanese misfortune.

The notion that Japanese history is divided at the Meiji is most definitive in the field of art history. For the most part, Japanese specialists abroad have neglected late-nineteenth- and twentieth-century art, as if modern Japan, corrupted by westernization and industrialization, were incapable of creating a significant culture of visual arts that could equal the achievements of the classical past...Like wise scholars and curators of modern Euro-American art have often regarded contemporary Japanese art as derivative of and altogether outside modern art history. Either the work appeared too western and hence lack originality- a basic tenet of modernism- or it appeared too traditional- a quality that is antithetical to modern art's internationalists vision(6).

It is a shame that both jazz, regarded highly for its universality, and modernism, a movement based on forward thinking, would turn their backs and react in a near bigoted fashion toward the Japanese. As E. Taylor Atkins points out these criticisms of the Japanese would cause them to reflect and wonder if jazz had any real meaning for themselves.

The implications that jazz, a music that touched them deeply, was not really theirs but someone else's was understandably frustrating. For not only were the remarks made in the wearisome context of "Japan bashing," but they also forced many Japanese to rethink the various attempts they had made to "authenticate" or legitimate the meanings jazz held for them and the music they produced themselves... they were being told they missed something, that the meanings they found in jazz were not real, and that their efforts to study, collect, and support the music had amounted to no more than a superficial comprehension(7).

From this Japanese perspective its easy to see how they would have become frustrated, and we will see how this frustration would manifest itself in very strange, but inspired and unique ways.

I believe it is important to mention two other post-war trends in Japan that speak volumes about the feelings of the youth generations in the years after the war, they are manga and pinball. Manga are essentially Japanese comic books and their rise in popularity came in the years after the war, today manga is extremely popular in Japan with all generations. Quite often manga are just comedies but they can also be dramas that span many issues. One such type of drama in the 1960's was the genre known as gekiga. Gekiga comics often featured dark subject matter and were popular amongst the young poor, blue-collar, rural workers of Japan.

... gekiga is a manga form that depicts the dark side of human existence... mostly an undertone of malice, hostility, and bitter sarcasm to the established order. Gekiga initially won popularity in the 1960s among youngsters uprooted from rural areas to become blue-collar workers in factories in large cities. Uneducated and exploited, at the bottom of Japan's high growth economy, these young workers empathized with the gekiga figures who resisted and challenged their powerful rulers and moral authorities...(8)

These ideas of subversion are important in understanding the animosity many had toward the government of Japan and the United States occupation. These themes found in the manga go hand in hand with the Vietnam protests of the 1960s and the development of Japanese "free jazz" or what I feel is a more appropriate term "proto-noise."

Pinball is another post-war trend worth of some consideration, Yoshio Sugimoto puts an interesting theory forward about the reasons for its popularity as being a subconscious reaction to the social and community pressures of Japan(9). The reason I mention this is because I feel one could argue the same thing about noise music, and particularly the noise made by Kaoru Abe and Masayuki Takayanagi, which is based largely on anti-social themes and confrontation.

Frustration, Jazz, and the Shinjuku District

The frustrations for the Japanese and their acceptance into the world of modern art and jazz would be equally matched by their political frustrations. 1960s Japan was a turbulent time with many student uprisings, protests, and political unrest. The United States had just gone to war with Vietnam and had renewed their security treaty with Japan, both of which were highly controversial. The Shinjuku district of Tokyo was the ground zero for anti-government and leftist thought, it was what Alexandra Monroe describes as "the most creative outburst of anarchistic, subversive and riotous tendencies in the history of modern Japan(10)." Shinjuku was the scene of many anti-war concerts and and speeches, it was the centre of the folk and rock music scenes, as well as jazz, it would also see the birth of noise music.

Japanese noise grows out of the tradition of Jazz, and from this collage above we can see as early as 1927 Japan has had an association with Jazz as noise. The conductor from the painting is conducting the sounds or "noise" from the streets, quite often the two terms jazz and noise would be used interchangeably. "The word jazz comes to represent not only dance music but also the constant, indecipherable noise generated by machinery, phonographs, and radios(11)." In the way that language often shapes our perceptions perhaps then it makes perfect sense that a "noise" music could evolve out of jazz. Japanese noise developed with a DIY (Do it yourself) aesthetic, this meant that they had to piece together performance spaces to produce concerts of original work, these concerts would often include audience participation and would regularly be played for free. This movement came as a reaction to the Japanese jazz establishment and its older, established players, who would often monopolize the few jobs that were available. Also native jazz was often unfairly criticized and unpopular when compared to the droves of American jazz pouring into the country.

The two major innovators of Japanese free jazz, aka free improvisation, or what I like to call "proto-noise(12)" , are Masayuki Takayanagi and Kaoru Abe. Takayanagi, a guitarist, was known as a working musician with great technique and the ability to "sight read anything put in front of him(13)." He began experimenting with alternative directions in jazz in the early 1950s, forming a piano-less quartet(14). In 1961 Takayanagi along with bassist Kanai Hideto, drummer Togashi Masahiko, and pianist Kikuchi Masabumi formed the Jazz Academy. The Jazz academy began as a quartet playing in many different coffee-houses before landing a regular gig the Ginparis in the Ginza district of Tokyo. The quartet however gradually developed into a workshop and by 1962 it had changed its name to the New Century Music Workshop. The workshops encouraged the creation of original art, and for musicians to realize their role in society; they should be good people and their music should influence society in a positive matter. The workshop also encouraged the participation of non-musicians. This is a critical distinction of Japanese free Jazz when compared to the European and American forms of improvisation; whereas those forms are often based on learned musicians whether its from a classical background or jazz background, the Japanese do not view the idea of technique as critical or a necessity, and later noise musicians would take this idea even further and challenge the meaning of "musician." The workshop lasted until they were finally kicked out of the Gin-Paris due to audience participation when one female fan, at the egging of her boyfriend, began to strip. The scene gradually left the Ginza district for the more open minded clubs of the Shinjuku district, and in the late 60s this is where we see Takayanagi's radical ideas on improvisation mature. In the summer of 1969 Takayanagi formed the New Directions trio along with bassist Motoharu Yoshizawa and drummer Yoshisaburo 'Sabu' Toyozumi, and in the dark windowless room where they rehearsed, Takayanagi laid down what would be the apple of knowledge for Japanese noise, "Play fortissimo, never repeat the same thing twice and don't listen to what anybody else is doing(15)." These ideas for improvisation both anti-social and confrontational differ radically than the ideas on improvisation by the contemporaries in the west. The European model of improvisation is often based on the idea of listening intently to the others playing around you and try forge "one" sound. The American model is the idea of group improvisation being a positive community, not confrontational. Also with the American model there is a strong sense of history, as with groups like the Art Ensemble of Chicago. The Japanese model however wanted to break with tradition altogether and have the music and attitudes do this in a very confrontational way, this is perhaps best exemplified by the concert organized by both Abe and Takayakagi called "Projection for the Annihilation of Jazz(16)." Perhaps the greatest contribution other than the commandments for Japanese improvisation was the use of harsh feedback and extremely loud volume, and doing both for an extremely long time. Takayanagi could have conceivably borrowed the idea of feedback from rock music at the time, creating a music that was equal parts Cage, Bailey, Coltrane, and Hendrix, a truly modern music. Its interesting to see this fusion with rock, and perhaps explains why later Japanese musicians such as Merzbow and Otomo Yoshide, who were both interested in rock at the time related to this music so well. It could be viewed in this light that Japanese free jazz carries on the torch of rock as much as it does free improvisation.

The other artist I mentioned was alto-saxophonist Kaoru Abe. Kaoru Abe could be seen as a young first generation noiser, or the very first of the second generation(17). The reason I say this is because Kaoru is completely self taught and has no regard for traditional technique, this is an important and almost essential trait for later noise musicians. Some consider him to have the most abrasive sound on the saxophone that ever existed(18). Abe was said to have practiced on the shoulder of a Tokyo express way in the face of traffic. Abe's music was extremely violent, loud, and unapologetic-ally confrontational. Perhaps this is best documented when jazz drummer Milford Graves toured Japan.

One drummer with whom Abe refused to gel... was the great American free jazz musician Milford Graves... A group of Japanese free jazz luminaries was put together to tour with Graves... Abe apparently took an immediate dislike to Grave's huge self-belief and flashy playing. At one concert, he positioned himself in front of Grave's kit and bounced up and down directing a stream of alto invective straight at him. Graves stopped playing and demanded that Abe be dropped from the tour(19).

Many other musicians found it frustrating to play alongside Abe, so he would often play solo. One musician who was up to the task however was Takayanagi. They played only one show together (the show mentioned earlier) and that show turned out to be an ear bleeding four and half hour noise marathon. Kaoru Abe lived his life as extreme as his music, he had an appetite for booze and pills and died in 1978 at the age of 29.

The early innovations by Abe and Takayanagi such as the use of extreme feedback, volume, and the sustained use of both, would be developed much further by artists such as Keiji Haino and Merzbow, and they would go on to change the face of music forever. For all the animosity that Japanese culture faced in the middle of the twentieth century it now seems to have all been forgotten, for the west seems to crave all things Japanese. There are many successful Japanese artists able to make careers for themselves in the west, artists like Merzbow and Keiji Haino are able to tour Europe and North America and bring large numbers(20). Also with the success of things like anime and even cars it appears that the west is now crazy for all things Japanese (not the other way around). In the last 20 years it is great to see the emergence and popularity of the Japanese avant-garde, and the popularity of artists like Merzbow and Keiji Haino will now shine some light on the lesser known but vitally important early improvisers. Yes, it seems the Japanese have the last laugh. No longer does the term "Japanese" bring about ideas of a nation of imitators or a producer of cheap goods. No it instead brings about ideas of quality and originality.

-Zachary Devereux Fairbrother

End notes

1. Karatani Kojin, Scream Against the Sky, 33.
2. E. Taylor Atkins, Blue Nippon, 102-110
3. Yoshihide, "Leaving the Jazz Cafe."
4. Miles Davis employed the Japanese keyboardist Kei Akagi during the end of his life.
5. E. Taylor Atkins, Blue Nippon, 19.
6. Alexandra Munroe, Scream Against The Sky, 20.
7. E. Taylor Atkins, Blue Nippon, 22
8. Yoshio Sugimoto, An introduction to Japanese Society, 225.
9. Yoshio Sugimoto, An introduction to Japanese Society, 226.
10. Alan Cummings, Once Upon A Time In Shinjuku, 32
11. E. Taylor Atkins, Blue Nippon, 108-109.
12. I feel the proto-noise is a more accurate term for the music that was made. Many of the participants did not come from a jazz background, and it is not based on any of the traditions of jazz, it outright tries to break away from them. Also many of its performers avoided technique and skill like the plague; jazz is often based on dexterity, with noise this is not the case at all. The music that was being made was much more of a focus on texture and experimentation.
13. Alan Cummings, Once Upon A Time In Shinjuku, 32.
14. This quartet was known as the New Direction Quartet. This echoed similar innovations by Gerry Mulligan at the same time. Later Ornette Coleman would take these ideas even further when he made the album "The Shape of Jazz To Come." It is quite likely though he was unaware of Takayanagi contributions.
15. Alan Cummings, Once Upon A Time In Shinjuku, 34.
16. Ben Watson, Derek Bailey and the Story of Improvisation, 312.
17. The first generation would be artists like Takayanagi, the second would be artists like Merzbow, Keiji Haino, and Yoshihide.
18. E. Chadbourne, "Kaoru Abe."
19. Alan Cummings, "Once Upon A Time In Shinjuku," 36.
20. When I saw them perform there were perhaps 500+ people there.


1. Atkins, E. Taylor. Blue Nippon: Authenticating Jazz in Japan. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2001.
2. Chadbourne, Eugene, "Kaoru Abe Biography," http://www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&sql=11:anfyxqejld0e~T1
3. Cummings, Alan, "Once Upon A Time in Shinjuku," The Wire, Issue #261 November 2005.
4. Hegarty, Paul. Noise/Music A History. New York, NY: Continuum International Publishing Group.
5. Hideo Ikeezumi, "PSF Records," Interview by Jimmy Dee April 1, 2001. http://www.ongakuweb.com/psf.html.
5. Jackson, Jeffrey H, Making Jazz French: Music and Modern Life in Interwar Paris. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2003.
6. Japanese History: Meiji Period. Japan-Guide.http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2130.html (accessed April 11, 2008).
7. Japanese: Language Information and Resources. ALS International. http://www.alsintl.com/languages/Japanese.shtml (accessed April 11, 2008).
8. Masayuki Takayanagi: Discography. http://www.diana.dti.ne.jp/~katta/discography_e.html (accessed April 2, 2008).
9. Monroe, Alexandra, Japanese Art After 1945:Scream Against The Sky. Japan: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. 1994.
10. Munsterberg, Hugo, The Art of Modern Japan: From the Meiji Restoration to the Meiji Centennial 1868-1968. New York, NY: Hacker Art Books 1978.
11. Sugimoto, Yoshio, An Introduction to Japanese Society. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press 1997.
12. Watson, Ben. Derek Bailey and The Story of Free Improvisation. London: Verso Books 2004.
13. Yoshihide, Otomo. "Leaving the Jazz Cafe: A Personal View of Japanese Improvised Music in The 1970s." http://japanimprov.com/yotomo/jazzcafe.html.



Wednesday, September 2, 2009


The Ra-Dawn Sun Cult was a project that lasted between Fall 2007 and Winter 2008. The project was basically headed by myself, Ryan Kirk, and Daniel Miller. Occasionally we would get together chant and drone out. This project reached its climax when we got to open for Nadja, and the Shearing Pinx at the Obey Convention II. The Cult had 9 members strong at the time, we all donned robes and face paint, and covered "Sunshine Girl" by Faust and "We Will Fall" by the Stooges, interspersed with freely improvised vocal chants, oh ya, we also had a pigs head with insense burning from it's nose, it was pretty bad ass. Anyways, we made a CD-R, did some artwork, and tried to sell some of them, I don't think we had much luck, so I am releasing it as Avant-Lard's first digital download release. I hope you enjoy it! Artwork is below! Download here...



Photos by Tobias Rochman

Photos by Elana Mayers

Couple of Shows in the Next Couple of Weeks.

I'll be playing some shows with my new band, Hassan - I -Sabbah X, in the coming weeks. The new band is with Chris D'eon, and Nick Kuepfer and we will be making our debut this Friday at Lab Synthese.
The show on Friday is an EP release show for our friends, The Pop Winds. The Pop Winds write incredibly catchy tunes, using samplers, guitars, saxphones, and vocal harmonies. They seem to be doing well for themselves, so I am happy they have finally committed to tape. The following week we are playing at Casa del Popolo with Elfin Saddle and Nick Kuepfer. I am pretty excited to be apart of this show, so make sure if you are able, check it out!

Here's the details

Start Time:
Friday, September 4, 2009 at 9:00pm
End Time:
Saturday, September 5, 2009 at 1:00am
lab synthèse - 435 Beaubien Ouest
Montreal, QC
Price: $5


Thursday, 10 September 2009
Time: 9:00pm EDT
Venue: Casa del Popolo, 4873 boul St-Laurent
Price : $5


Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Gamelan + Claude Vivier + Gerard Grisey + 23 Skidoo

This is a cool Gamelan video I found. Very groovy, not as angular as other Gamelan I have heard. Gamelan is the indigenous music of the Bali and Java islands. It is very idiosyncratic percussion music, using many gongs and cymbals, as well as the use of some flute. It has had quite the influence on western classical music dating back to Debussy, whom first heard it back in 1889 at the World's Fair in Paris. In Canada as well, many of the french Canadian Composers became obsessed with the genre, including one great composer, Claude Vivier.

Claude Vivier is regarded as spectralist composer. Spectral music, in a nutshell, is the study and use very remote harmonics in writing music. The chords and sounds used are typically very glistening and bright, one might imagine a prism, and the light being refracted from it. You could use this analogy, basic notes, and the many strands of sound that they omit. Many composers study harmonics and use them in very different ways. La Monte Young for instance uses the study of remote harmonics and pure tones, in his tunings for the Well Tuned Piano. Kyle Gann has an excellent analysis of this work for those who are curious. Also artists like Glenn Branca, Rhys Chatham, and Sunn O))), approach the study of harmonics through volume and resonate frequencies. The louder the music the more the harmonics are massaged out and the walls begin to shake. Gamelan as well, has a signature sound due to the tones produced by the gongs. They are very strange and harmonically very rich.

Anyways, back to Claude Vivier, I have decided to upload a few of my favorite compositions by him. Just by listening you can hear the influence of the Gamelan. One particular piece, Pulau Dewata, written for any combination of instruments, is Vivier's take on Gamelan music. When played by a percussion ensemble, the reference is very obvious, but it also works miraculously well with a string quartet given the very idiosyncratic stop-start rhythms and dynamics of Gamelan music. The other pieces I have included by Vivier is Zipangu (the name given to Japan by Marco Polo), a piece for string orchestra, and Lonely Child. Lonely Child, a piece for orchestra, can be seen as a very autobiographical work, sung in Vivier's own invented language. In 1983 Vivier was murdered in Paris under bizarre circumstances, he was a homosexual and killed by a prostitute.


Also another amazing gamelan influenced work, by industrial post-punk group 23 Skidoo, is Urban Gamelan, recorded in 1984. The rhythms and sounds are very respectful to the gamelan tradition but through the gaze of punk, a very good record indeed!


I've have also included for a download Gerard Grisey's magnus opus, Espaces Acoustiques. Grisey is spectralisms most well known composer, and fans of Sunn O))) (particularly fans of Monoliths and Dimensions) will love this record. The drones and tones heard are thick and BAD as hell! Do listen!