CAUGHT ON TAPE: Toneshift is spinning both volumes of Kuniyuki Takahashi‘s Early Tape Works 1986-1993 (LP/DL). These fourteen tracks in all come from the Japanese DJ/Producer as reinvigorated by Dutch imprint Music From Memory. Starting with Volume 1 and the track Night At The Sea Side there is a layered, lush ambient set of textures fueled by the immediacy of new age vs space age drama. But what makes this stand out is that the arrangement ventures off screen just enough, avoiding sounding too thin, retaining the listener’s attention. Much of the lighter instrumental music of the time were post-ECM knock-offs often overly “transcendental” riffs that went into the ether. This is one of those rare lost gems we should be thankful for its unearthing. Day Dreams has a traditional Japanese bowing technique layered with a synth drone harmony that fills with highs and drops down fairly low into the mix. Takahashi adds a patterned screetch not unlike a subway train. The pace is slow, steady, like a classical Geisha dance.
On Drawing Seeds the pace picks up with Asian organ trills and game-like percussion cordoned to the background. The motion is upbeat with bright electronic effects that refine the sound instead of aging it. It’s an archetypal pastiche on his musical heritage. You Should Believe comes in sounding like something reminiscent of Vangelis or Jean-Michel Jarre, but remember at the time we also had Swiss act Yello who had already been on the scene for a half decade, and I can see the influence clearly. It’s a classic take on early pop electronica with a fem-bot voice reminding “we’re the same just like you, we have bodies just like yours, we have brains just like yours“….it’s a hint of Blade Runner, and quite relevant to the forthcoming, full-fledged days of ‘Sophia’ AI. The vocal is somewhat similar to latter day Shirley Bassey, without going over-the-top. But then things get even more electro-pop charged.
Signifie takes from hip-hop culture before it was dubbed as such, or right around its inception. The percussion is slightly in the world of beatbox but wait there’s more – he adds a top layer of (acknowledged) cheapie, drunken Liquid Sky-style synths. Oh, kids, that’s a real good thing. While others were fumbling through the best on offer in technology (Pet Shop Boys, Yazoo, etc.) this guy was developing textures that could easily be dropped into any modern dance work or off-beat cinema. It’s sub-pop before the label was on the map. So, yes, this gent was slightly ahead of his time, even post his elders in Yellow Magic Orchestra and even Ryuichi Sakamoto gone rogue. He derives a whole lot from the scene of the time, infusing it into this passion play of his own making, ending up with a conceptual work better explored this many decades on. Zero To One sounds similar to early 80’s electronic trios, say, Talk Talk and Alphaville (with a hint of Blancmange for good measure) – though remains two steps less in terms of packaged pop, and tip-toeing through a field that understood the crossover complexity outside the usual trappings.
On Volume 2 (sold separately) there’s a slight different attitude from the top of Island, set in a magical jungle. With it’s monkey calls, waves and repetitive swirling electronics it’s interesting but doesn’t really venture off enough, an element of mystery is missing. That shifts quickly on Your Home which is a bit of an instrumental love song that drifts with what sounds like a Synclavier to the continuous simple broad beats.
Then on Asia we get to appreciate a much more innovative appropriation of traditional and futuristic themes combined. The cork-popping percussion is unique, the string effects are exquisitely distributed in what may have made Depeche Mode blush back in the day. Unfortunately this striking gold ran dry on Echoes Of The Past which is kin to the shallows of smooth jazz – I have not much else to say about this thin work of pretense. Ai Iro is more space music than elsewhere on the album, and it is the firestarter to other works that begin to take flight, but this one only drifts like air, not too light, not too dark – just right. It’s an overture and as such works well placed as the first track on the final b-side here. The harp-like strings of Sakura No Mizu dangle, tangle, and course through what sound like muddy footsteps walking in light rain. It’s moody and noir-themed without bringing forth the full story, it’s a slice of a conversation recited through memory, without spoken words. An operetta.
REFRESHING REWIND: Lastly Takahashi lets out his Imagination. It’s the grayer side in texture and atmosphere, with appropriate lulls and drum beats in space and timing. The moody synths help develop the early DJ works for live presentation, to light a room with rhythm and romance, aura and illusion. His work (and audience) has changed drastically over the many years, but he’s still at it. Throughout these two volumes you get to know the Sapporo master better, some might say an otherwise footnoted artist, but through perseverance and great regard for vintage material here you experience his early forward-thinking creativity becoming a floating point now, and forever.