Shokyo Ontei Series
Utech Records has at last arrived at a point to disclose information regarding the third, and likely last, entry in the label’s fine art series. A number of radical musicians from East Asia, primarily from China and Japan, have been invited to reconsider the multiplicity of possible connections between text and music. The title of the series Shokyo Ontei a neologism that means literally word echoes/sound writing, emphasizes this overlap between the process of creation of meaning through sound and through the written language.
As means to understand, order and engage with the world, text and music have much in common. Most importantly, both allow for the creation and projection of personal, complex, emotionally and intellectually affective structures of meaning. East Asian texts and orthographic practices present a particularly rich topos for the investigation of musical possibilities. Chinese characters (which were used historically throughout East Asia and provided a shared means of communications between the region’s disparate cultures), in particular, provide a hugely flexible conjunction of sound, meaning and visuality. Ancient literary, religious and scientific texts provide numerous challenges to our ideas of narrative logic and the proper relationship between reality and its modes of representation. The employment of written and spoken texts in magical practices, from the oracle bones of second millennium BCE China to the kotodama word magic of early Japan, presents another fascinating area of investigation.
In the form of calligraphy, East Asian orthography has as more in common with art or ascetic practice than it does with simple notation of meaning. Calligraphy can easily be read as performance - a real-time improvisation between ink, paper and the creative freedom and expressive energy of the brush wielder. Examples are legion: the 2nd century Chinese calligrapher Ts-ai Yung, for example, talks of writing almost as a spiritual discipline, “at first sit in silent thought, then seize the moment as inspiration arises. The mouth should be stilled and the mind free of thought. Deep and mysterious, spiritual and beautiful, nothing could be more perfect”. Calligraphy was used in Zen monasteries as a tool to attain a deeper, intuitive awareness of reality. The hero of the 11th century Japanese novel, The Tale of Genji, writes in a hand so beautiful that women fall in love with him, sight unseen.
Art and hand-rendered text will be provided from each of the artists with essays from Alan Cummings. The first release from VagusNerve (Li Jianhong and VAVABOND) will be followed by contributions from Sachiko, Hasegawa-Shizuo, Aural Fit and Masayoshi Urabe among others.
VagusNerve Lo Pan
The lo pan is an ancient, intricate compass used in the practice of traditional Chinese feng shui and is sometimes referred to as “the universe on a plate.” A lo pan consists of two parts a square wooden base into which is fitted a freely rotating saucer-shaped disk. In the centre of the disk is a small depression containing a magnetized needle. Between the needle and the edge of the disk are engraved several concentric rings, each divided into sectors containing different sets of Chinese characters.
The relationship between this physical object and the music you hear on this album was inspired by a dream that Li Jianhong (guitar) had in June 2006. In his dream he came to a clearing in a dark forest which contained a huge lo pan, as big as a table. Convinced that the device could provide a way to summon UFOs, he lay down on the lo pan and began to rotate around the various symbols on the concentric rings. As he did so, a vast array of UFOs appeared above the forest. For Li Jianhong then, the lo pan represents a form of ancient knowledge that can be used to unlock the secrets of the universe. His collaborator in VagusNerve, VAVABOND (laptop), reads the lo pan in a slightly different way. For her, it is a device which can be used to discover a balance between the individual and the cosmos, by aligning personal energy with the cosmic. This idea of balance runs through the music as it pulses, shifts and resonates freely, seeking to create and then destroy structures of equilibrium.
It was on a night when sleep simply would not come, not matter how long
I sprawled on the grass or how many pages of my book I leafed through.
The black shaggy 'thing' expelled all the breath in its body.
Phu phu phuu.
And as it did so, something glowed softly at the crown of its head.
"Ahh, what a beautiful light! I should put a hat over it to stop it flying away."
The black shaggy thing took his favourite hat, the one he had hung from
a tree branch, and popped it onto his head.
Hirotomo Hasegawa and Shizuo Uchida. Hasegawa was the lead singer of seminal early eighties Japanese punk/hardcore group Aburadako (Greasy Octopus), while Uchida was a long-term member of Haino's Nijiumu medieval dream-drone unit. The recording is the result of unedited improvisation. A beatific recording filled with light and avidity.
ARCN TEMPL Emanations of a New World
Vivian Wang and Leslie Low, both of The Observatory, recount childhood memories of mythological fantasy theme park called Haw Par Villa. First called Tiger Balm Garden, the odd but colorful attraction contained a strange mix of characters and familiar tales from Chinese mythology and folklore, mixed in with earthy depictions of modern life and the Chinese concept of hell. The mutual love and dread of the park is told over eight recordings. Voice, guitar, percussion and other traditional instrumentation weave a cloth of surreal bliss, eeriness and horror.
Aural Fit Mubomuso
Mubomuso is a neologism, made up from two extant words. Mubo suggests the unadorned and unaffected, while muso means to be in a state without thought or preplanning. All parts of the release lead the listener towards the consideration of a very specific topic war and violence, and the deeper connections to human nature. Stripped of the clothing of civilization, etiquette and socialization, we slowly become aware of reactions and purposes that exist deep within us embedded commands codes. Is violent conflict then engraved on our DNA? What purpose does humanity serve on this planet?
Aural Fit are the biggest underground psych/noise rock band to rise from the in-the-red psych aesthetics of early High Rise. Bohachi Mondo, Tanabe Endo Kenichi and Nanbu Teruhisa breathe fire. Unyielding, the band devastate on their third full length. Volume at white noise levels, pained vocals, overdriven guitar and unsettled bass and drums are telling of Aural Fit's perception of the world.
Tetragrammaton Point of Convergence
Trapped on an ocean of disparate languages, sound gravitates towards meaning, escaping the obsolescence of mother tongues by denying the slow decay of time. In the biblical tale of the Tower of Babel, God punishes the tower builders by scattering them across the earth, unintelligible to each other. As they departed their blissful prison of same-think, they became drunk with new songs, washing down their newfound 'auditory cheesecake' with sectarian babble. In as much as their speech had been confounded, they were offered a musical re-enchantment through floating words, alveolar clicks and talking drums. By refusing the past, their music ceased to exist in time, choosing instead to create it.
Employing hurdy-gurdy, crystal bowls, bells, voice, drums and waterphones, Tetragrammaton revisits the bedraggled unlanguage of the castoff nomad builders with quantum force. Climbing into gilded time capsules, the three members soon reappear uttering unknown tongues and blowing ancient horns, drenched in the embryonic saliva of Thoth, that Egyptian God of knowing-it-all. Point of Convergence is arguably the group's finest outing yet, capturing stripped-down harmonic explorations, overdriven dronescapes, meditative underwater recordings and a judicious dose of blown-out psychedelia.
Anro dark path. A narrow path of safety extending through the gloom, its edges bleeding into the fearful zones of disorder and formlessness that enclose it. Paths create borders, they limn the known from the unknown, the clean from the unclean, the citizen from the exile, the present from the past. But while paths create boundaries, they themselves are ambivalent, neither here nor there, neither now nor then. The act of making a path where none existed always involves the subjugation of the unknown and formless, the demonstration of human will. In ancient age, when the people take a trip to the land of unknown clan they walked with the enemy‘s head as amulet. Sachiko invokes ritual from voice, instrument and magic, expressing the entity of the next world at the boundary.
Masayoshi Urabe Kampanerura
Kampanerura is the name of a boy appearing in the children's story Night on the Galactic Railroad by Kenji Miyazawa (1896-1933), Japanese poet and author of children's literature. A boy with pure soul transmigrates and becomes a dissipated man around a trip to the bottom in Asia.
From accompanying text by Masayoshi Urabe-
"What are my legs on? What are my feet standing on? Sand? I feel something sharp and pointed! And a gentle breeze… where am I? The sea? I feel it flowing! I’ve crossed over, over the river. My feet were once nailed to a board warped by the sun. I feel something sticky. What asshole dropped his gum here? Now it burns, burns. I’m not standing on dry ice, am I? They say that a cold burn and a heat burn feel the same."
Masayoshi Urabe on electric guitar, alto sax, harmonica and other instruments.
Special guest Teruhisa Nanbu of Aural Fit on drums and percussion.
Keiko Higuchi Ephemeral as Petals
Reaching out for the impossible while love is running underneath,
under our skin, running all over, like a rhizome.
Those two may stand as a phenomenon.
I want you to feel them.
They are already there.
That's why they can easily be forgotten.
Ephemeral as Petals conjures a nuanced, emotion drenched world from a minimalist core of voice and piano. Higuchi’s voice slides from bombast to mournful chant effortlessly, channeling Diamanda Galas as much as Freddie Mercury, with the instrumental space between vocal passages serving to amplify its affecting resonance. From interpretations of jazz standards to her own compositions, this is album makes for a difficult but captivating new direction in sound.