unique gleaming surface: fumio kosakai and spoils & relics on vinylFebruary 19, 2014 at 8:49 am | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
Tags: crater lake sound, drone, electronica, fumio kosakai, harbinger sound, hijokaidan, improv, incapacitants, japanese noise, memoirs of an aesthete, new music, no audience underground, noise, pete cann, phil todd, spoils & relics, spoils and relics
Fumio Kosakai – Earth Calling (vinyl LP, Memoirs of a Crater Lake, MCL LP 1, edition of 250)
Spoils & Relics – Sins of Omission (vinyl LP, Harbinger Sound, HARBINGER113)
I have moved house too many times to be sentimental about vinyl. Anyone who has lugged boxes of records (inevitably labelled ‘HEAVY!!’ in jaunty marker pen) on and off a van will see the appeal of download culture. That said, it is hard not to appreciate the mystique of the format when presented with releases like the two above. One has white on black packaging with extensive annotations regarding its provenance, one has black on white packaging providing us with the bare minimum. Intriguing. Time to make an appointment with my sorely neglected turntable, slip the discs out, admire the unique gleam that grooved vinyl produces when held at an angle to the light, blow the miniature grey sheep from the needle, then let it drop…
Firstly, we have Earth Calling by Fumio Kosakai. I know it’s lazy of me to quote blurb but, for the sake of efficiency, I hope you’ll forgive me doing so in this instance. From the album’s Bandcamp page:
Fumio Kosakai is best known as one half of Japanese Noise legends INCAPACITANTS and latterly HIJOKAIDAN. However, he has a long history in the Japanese psychedelic/electronic underground and we must also evoke lesser known projects such as TANGERINE DREAM SYNDICATE, GU-N, C.C.C.C., CLUB SKULL, BUSTMONSTERS etc etc.
And then there’s his elusive solo work. In 1987 and 1993, he self-released two very limited cassettes of sublime solo electronic minimalism, inspired by Terry Riley, Hawkwind and Taj Mahal Travellers. There were no more than 30 copies of each cassette sent out into the world.
MEMOIRS OF AN AESTHETE have teamed up with CRATER LAKE RECORDS to reissue these cassettes as limited edition LPs. Here’s the first one, from 1987, entitled “Earth Calling”, straight from Mr. Kosakai’s original masters and sounding far better than the mp3 version which was doing the rounds a few years ago. A limited edition of 250 copies in a beautiful screenprint approximation of the original cover art expertly printed by Sir Michael Flower.
And theres an official digital download version available for the turntaburly-deprived.
Very helpful. On the same page you will also find some enlightening notes in which Fumio Kosakai explains the context of the recordings himself.
I’m happy to say that the three tracks presented fully justify this lavish reissue treatment. ‘Absent Water’ and ‘Drive To Universe’ (side one) are beautiful, melancholy, airy constructions made from strung-out electronics, held together lightly by a web of echo. Imagine a pod of immense Zeppelin-shaped creatures swimming/flying through the soupy mid-level atmosphere of a gas giant planet. Even the papery youngsters are skyscraper sized leviathans, the leathery elders are life on an unimaginable scale. As they travel they sing a lament, passing the calls and responses amongst them. This song is picked up and relayed to us by satellite, compressed and distorted by the electro-magnetic field of the world below.
‘Look To The Light’ (side two) is a minimal synth pulse allowed, with great patience and discipline, to figure itself out over the course of a whole side of the record. It sounds like a room full of audio-seismographs documenting the vibrations caused by an enormous tunnel drilling machine operating far beneath the surface of the Earth. The pulse eases briefly half way through to reveal that the sound of the machine idling is surprisingly melodic then, as it revs up again, we are caught once more in an unlikely lullaby that could, in my humble, opinion be twice as long and just as good. A wonderful record.
Next we have Sins of Omission (great title) by Spoils & Relics released by Steve Underwood’s borderline uncontactable Harbinger Sound label. Steve’s disinterest in promoting his releases is admirably, hilariously perverse (‘be resourceful’ was the advice given to hopefuls wishing to buy the last Spoils & Relics 7″ single) and, of course, by holding the prize just out of reach he only makes it more desirable. Thus, and with the greatest respect to the other labels carrying their work, I consider Harbinger Sound to be the perfect home for this band.
The album comprises two untitled side long tracks of semi-improvised sound collage. Which is A and which is B can be determined by examining the scratchings in the run out grooves of the vinyl but it doesn’t really matter. Their music denies narrative. Allow me a slightly academic moment to explain what I mean. This is not post-modern pop art – there is nothing glib or kitsch about it, nor does it ‘refer out’ for easy laffs or nods of recognition. The palette used is a largely abstract selection of found, domestic and field recordings as well as sound produced by the various electronic implements that make up their ‘kit’. The source of any given element is usually (and presumably deliberately) unclear. They are examining the innards of everything, poking around where noise happens and taking notes. It is more akin to the meta-musical experiments of AMM and their progeny.
Don’t be scared off by this – you may by now be imagining the sort of woeful, earnest, Arts Council funded, improv key-rattlers we used to see at Termite Club but not a bit of it. This music is not dry and scratchy, it is layered with humour (ranging from the wry raised eyebrow to banana skin slapstick), tension and a whip-smart self-awareness that speaks of the telepathic relationship between the band members when performing. A piece by Spoils & Relics is about sound in the same way a piece by Jackson Pollock is about paint. In summary: mightily impressive.