Saturday, July 24, 2010

Crazy for you: Takayanagi's Mass-terpiece

Mass Hysterism: In Another Situation, a 1983 record by the late Japanese noise-guitar hellion Masayuki Takayanagi (1932–1991) is one of those albums that always going to be lurking in my attic, so to speak. I can put it away for a while, but it never goes to sleep—it's always calling me. Even if it takes a few years, I'll be back. (As an illustration of this, I obsessed over Takayanagi in a February 2007 post as well.)

It's a bashing, clanging exorcism: two electric guitars (the other played by Ikira Iijima—anyone know his other stuff?) and drum set (played by Hiroshi Yamazaki—how ’bout him?). Been checking out a lot of the earlier Takayanagi stuff from the '70s—specifically, the Archive 1 box set—and I really enjoy it, but it doesn't take me where this does. The presence of flute or sax, or Takayanagi's sparse, Derek Bailey–ish stylings, grounds the '70s music in something I already know: it's "improvised music" or it's "hyperactive free jazz." Mass Hysterism, on the other hand is an explosion. It seems almost quintessentially extreme, like the kind of thing you'd play for someone just to shock them, or to prove how masochistic your tastes really were.

But the ears adjust quickly, and you warm up to the feedback dance like a pet near the radiator. Abuse of machinery. Squalling, elevating shapes. Engines priming. Zapped technology. Screaming light. Completely undifferentiated and yet mega-eventful from moment to moment. This is a musical exercise so easily described—a FREAKOUT in the classic sense, befitting the record title—but what makes it special is the sustained nature of the performance, the diversity of the soundspace, and the frenized love the players display. Throwing themselves violently at the muse and the music, over and over and over, for something like 40 minutes. So much so that when you listen, you don't see the men, can't possibly picture them existing and deciding to do this and then, doing this. Can you imagine what it would've been like to see this live?

There's definitely a historical perspective at work, i.e., this was extreme for its time. These days, you could go to No Fun Fest, or countless similar events in basements and art spaces all over the world, and see bands like Hair Police worshipping the same ugly vibes. Also, it helps the overall mystique that info on Takayanagi is so tough to come by for the non–Japanese speaker.

What scraps of info do come through are tantalizing—see, for example, this survey of recordings by both him and sometime partner-in-crime Kaoru Abe. For one, Takayanagi seems to have been almost insufferably outspoken, intent on alienating any musician not devoted to his ultra-extreme aesthetic agenda. NPR's Lars Gotrich gives some helpful background on Mass Hysterism here, and the temporarily out-of-commission-due-to-malware-attack Destination Out has also featured compelling Takayanagi posts. I can't find any video of Takayanagi working in Mass Hysterism attack mode. There are no readily available interviews online, or step-by-step journalistic accounts of his career. (Though on the latter tip, it's important to note that as with Derek Bailey, Takayanagi did come up playing straight-ahead jazz. For whatever reason this always lends a greater gravity to free music—think of Coltrane—even if that might be dubious logic, i.e., do you really have to prove your bona fides before going off the deep end?) Just a bunch of dauntingly expensive reissues—Mimaroglu seems to have just about every one—scattershot blog posts, etc.

But for starters, all you need is Mass Hysterism: only $8 from iTunes if you're the stand-up sort, or pretty easily locatable elsewhere online if you're not picky. There are so many RIYL clichés I could—and sometimes feel compelled to—trot out when listening to this record. ("If you worship Lightning Bolt...," etc.) But does that really help anyone? Better to say: go for it.

I spun about three fourths of Mass Hysterism yesterday, and while writing this, I checked out the rest. And now I am back to the beginning. Yamazaki has unfurled his jackhammer magic carpet, and Takayanagi and Iijima are singing their apocalypse hymn. I'm not surprised at all by any of this anymore, having heard it a bunch. I'm just pleased by it. You don't have to pretend that "experimental" music is a struggle every time out, that you're some kind of freak who goes back again and again even though it hurts. Try Mass Hysterism—I think you'll like it. May it lurk in your attic for years to come.

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