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11 April 2016

Group Ongaku ‎– 'Music Of Group Ongaku' (Seer Sound Archive)

1960 was a long time ago, even in the accelerated and compressed culture-span that has informed so much of my own accumulation here. And the first side of this record is a long 33 minutes recorded these 56 years ago, where all sorts of crazy echo-laden sounds are performed by the Japanese avant-garde of the time, in this case a six-person ensemble led by Takehisa Kosugi, later of the Taj Mahal Travellers. No instruments are credited on 'Automatism' or 'Object' but we can hear all sorts of things, and the historical liner notes (on this less-than-legitimate reissue) tell us some of what is used. It's not recorded so well, at Shukou Mizuno's house, so it feels like a strange distant radio broadcast. I'm reminded a bit of Cage's Variations IV, perhaps in the static-laden, wooly quality of the sound as well as the wonder as to what produces the sounds. There's a lot of voice as well, hollering and grunting, and it feels serious and playful at the same time; one would guess that tapes and other recordings make up about half of the sound, thus being a live electro-acoustic improvisation and a quite early one as well. You could even imagine it being scary, audio terror from a past era, if you tend towards fear in your curiosity. The b-side is the two-part 'Metaplasm', recorded a year later with a slightly different lineup and with instrumentation credited. And a good thing, these notes, as it's a significantly more 'instrument'-based approach, with clear saxophone solos (by Kosugi and Yasunao Tone), plucking about on guitars and cellos, and a piano. This has a unsurprisingly 'open' feel, with the musicians taking their time to feel out space and interact without stepping on each other's toes. It's shocking how much this sounds like today's "non-idiomatic improvisation", as absurd as that term may be; could this just be a human-nature blueprint for how to approach open sound? The second part of 'Metaplasm' is where the tapes come in, and it continues the exploratory vibe, this time through machinery. Remember, this was recorded before the Beatles hit and when rock music was not much (if any) of an influence on these artists; it's an avant-garde that feels pure and untouched by commercialism or marketing. 'Ongaku' means 'music' in Japanese, so the name of the group is even a bit ironic, or a bit generic; I'm not quite sure which.

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