Daisuke Tanabe

Music is its own special world where innovative thinking and creative breakthrough is celebrated. The Red Bull Music Academy graduate Daisuke Tanabe exhibits a unique sound world that intertwines between the infectious beats of hip-hop and techno, the seductive melodies of jazz and the innovative and abusing sonic textures that is indebted to electronica and IDM.

The intricate details Tanabe feeds into his creative output in tracks like ‘Paper Planes‘ is enough to engross the audience in an exclusive, otherworldly realm. This particular track from his latest album Floating Underwater glorifies in glittering bell samples, a stumbling and stuttering beat line that somehow manages to keep a consistent momentum, and ripples of woozy, alien-like synths fluctuating through the stereo field at the end, giving an inconclusive effect to the tune.

While he is creatively engaged in the same periphery of the musical universe as similar artists like Lapalux, Shigeto or Shlohmo, Tanabe retains a keen eye for groovy energy in his tunes. ‘Night Fishing’ opens with an unwinding audio sample that rustles through the first minute, with the one-off interruption from a chirpy flute motif and interjecting distortion samples. The groove of the track kicks off suddenly with an array of enchanting synths, multi-layered samples with a subtle metallic quality, short, ethereal vocal utterances and a foot-tapping trip-hop drum beat.

His long-term relationship with the UK music scene (fostered by his time spent in London and at the RBMA) has made him a well-known figure in the UK electronic music environment, leading to collaborations with British producer Kidkanevil (Gerard Roberts). Kidsuke, the name of the project they created takes the listener through a journey where childhood recollections and a distorted ‘film noir’-esque setting run in parallel. There is the apparent use of a music box sample in ‘Frogs in a Well’ that meanders through the track, and is continuously disturbed with sonic reprimands (in the form of sporadic vocal breath and pixelated glitch samples and riffs). It’s trailblazing music that paints a childlike reflection voyaging across a mythical sound world with malformed sonic creatures.

The name Daisuke Tanabe is surely part of the modern-day canon of radical and challenging popular music in Japan. His highly individual sonic inventions embrace a variety of stylistic branches from hip-hop to electronica to avant-garde to create a unique blend of relentless, sedative and teasing music.

Other Listening:

  • Artificial Sweetener
  • Alice
  • Singing Grass
  • Vestige

© Isaku Takahashi

Hisato Higuchi

It is often said that music is a universal language – an audible vehicle that allows people to express themselves, be provoked by it, and capture the emotions and experiences of people in a non-verbal manner. It is the music of Hisato Higuchi that embraces such a complex, theoretical idea to great capacity.

The Tokyo-based guitarist crafts his music from bare minimum resources: his guitar, amp and that haunting, fragile voice that carefully bores through the sonic environment. On the front cover, one gets the impression that Higuchi’s music is just simply improvised guitar material laced with eerie vocal utterances. While this may be true to an extent, one should not judge ‘a book by its cover’, and must appreciate the intricate designs that he has produced to create effects of beauty, and melancholy at times.

The role of ‘silence’ plays a thought-provoking role in Higuchi’s musical drawings. His 2010 album Henzai is a journey into a reticent, lo-fi terrain, where blues-y melodic and harmonic phrases from the gleaming guitar permeates the scene. The most effective thing that comes out of songs like ‘Atatakai Tsuchi’ (‘warm dirt’) is that because of the discreet nature of each song, the smallest change in the sonic palette (like a sudden amplification or a slight pitch bend) makes a greater impact in rousing turbulence to the whole soundscape.

To add to this, the ironic thing about his music is that there is no single moment that is absolutely ‘silent’. Perhaps this could be a subtle message from Higuchi, that there is no such thing as ‘silence’ in the world.

After hearing tracks like ‘Sister. Girl’ (from the 2003 album She), it is possible to draw similarities to the ambient music pioneer Brian Eno or the musical aesthetics of French composer Erik Satie. It ebbs and flows with gentle, cradle-rocking guitar chords (just like Satie’s Gymnopedies) and breathy vocal swells that impose a sense of arctic solitude, only to surprise the listener with sudden piercing noise and glitch outbursts and overtones.

The relationship between music and semiotics is a complicated matter that Higuchi unpicks in songs like ‘A Hundred Signs of Light’, the opening number to his album Butterfly Horse Street from 2007. The lethargic but bittersweet vocal ripples and groans, the rattling guitar melodies and the overriding murky, unforeseeable path that the song is destined to reach gives a sonic and tactile effect of being in a narcotised state of trance.

Higuchi manages to create introspective, but lucid musical descriptions of his private, intimate experiences. Letting your soul meander through the deep, nocturnal, yet powerful atmospheres of his music will be an illuminating experience.

Other Listening:

  • Manazashi No Saki E
  • Hikari
  • Guitar #3
  • Watashi Wa Asa O Matteita

© Isaku Takahashi

大友義秀 – Otomo Yoshihide

Taking a slightly acute musical angle for this next post.

Otomo Yoshihide cropped up while cleaning up and organising the vast CD collection in my house, and I remember picking up one of his albums from my uncle’s office in Japan (he works for a local classical music record company and invited me to his office to take as many CDs from their ‘unwanted’ collection of records). Oblivious to what Otomo had in stall, I noticed it contained the word ‘jazz’, so thought it would be interesting to hear a Japanese perspective on the classic American genre.

I realise that this artist would perhaps not be generalised as ‘J-Pop’, but it would be worthwhile to talk about Otomo’s creative response in the Japanese music scene, as he is a true reflection of avant-garde practice and the idea of challenging the sonic boundaries of popular music in Japan.

Otomo, a multi-instrumentalist, has worked in an array of musical contexts, composing in jazz and electronic mediums to improvisation and contemporary classical aesthetics to form a vast bricolage of creative works and albums. I aim to examine just a small branch of his sonic expeditions.

The first Otomo record I stumbled upon was his album Tails Out by his group New Jazz Quintet. Not only does it assert the relevance and importance of jazz in the late 20th/21st century, but also this unique body of music throws a musical curveball, breaking the confines of what people associate as jazz music. The headline track of this album is arguably the fiery concluding number ‘Tails Out’. The meticulous balance between noise  and improvisatory explorations and jazzy melodic inflections, particularly from the trumpet and various saxophones makes this 13-minute musical labyrinth a compelling act to conclude the album.

To continue my venture into the weird and wonderful sound world of Otomo, I went back a year to listen to his 2002 album Dreams by his band New Jazz Ensemble. The tracks that stood out for me were ‘Years’ and ‘Good Morning’. The sonic language of both tracks was reminiscent of the free-flowing, minimalist nature of Sigur Ros (e.g. the perpetual electric guitar strumming and the slow gradual build-up in instrumental colour and texture). To counter the gentle harmonic waves and indolent nature of Phew’s vocals, the schizophrenic quality of the trumpet and sax surprises the listener with some riotous, discordant solo patterns. It’s breezy ballad accompaniment braided with distorted, atonal experimentation.

Otomo has also been heavily involved in composing music for films. The soundtrack to Blue is an example of his masterful handling of various stylistic traits and compositional tools to paint a musical scenery to the film. Predominantly based around the idyllic sweet melody from the recorder-like flute, Otomo expands the sonic palette to create a set of variations on the theme. The actual film contains very little of the soundtrack, so while this album can not only stand as a musical portrait of the film, but it can also act as an independent body of art that can stir emotion without the aid of a filmic narrative.

These are just a couple of musical directions Otomo has taken in his career. It is worth exploring this innovative artist in more detail if you want to be immersed in Otomo’s creative actions to full capacity.

Other Listening:

  • Cathode
  • Episome
  • New Jazz Orchestra – Out to Lunch

© Isaku Takahashi