June 18, 2009

Space Machine – 3 (2004, Important Records)

I first became aware of Yamazaki Maso, best known for his Masonna project, when I was active in the cassette tape trading scene online during the mid-'90s. My main focus at the time was collecting live tapes of industrial group Skinny Puppy, but I encountered many obsessed “noise music” collectors with long lists of tapes by Japanese artists such as Merzbow, Aube, Keiji Haino, and Masonna. My experience with Japanese noise music is that it is very difficult to listen to unless played at low volume, which I suspect defeats its purpose. Masonna's CDs, for example, are mastered at unbelievably loud volumes, such that one must either turn their stereo way down to minimum levels or risk exploding their windows/brains via sonic attack. Merzbow's sonic aesthetic typically revolves around a squealing cat-with-its-tail-slammed-in-a-door distortion effect. While I find the artistic merit of such “music” questionable, I admire these artists' salesmanship and ability to market their micro-limited edition, often hand-made releases to collector geeks in the US and noise otaku in Japan. In '01, during a year in Japan, I encountered Maso's debut Space Machine album “Cosmos From Diode Ladder Filter”, which caught my eye with its cover featuring a vintage EMS VCS3 synthesizer (as used on the classic Dr. Who soundtracks). Apparently, in '00 Maso had begun experiencing ill health and had to curtail his Masonna performances, which often involved intense screaming and self-abuse onstage. This break allowed Maso to mellow a bit and focus on his amazing collection of vintage modular synthesizers. The aesthetic of Space Machine is to produce vintage-styled electronic cosmic drone music, inspired by early electronic artists of the '50s and '60s. The result is, in my opinion, much more listenable than his previous Masonna material, and a fascinating tour of sounds from rare synthesizers that collectors would have to pay thousands of dollars for apiece, not to speak of getting them into working condition. In '04, Space Machine's third album “3” was released domestically by Important Records, making it the first of the series available in the US. The album consists of six untitled studio tracks and a 40 minute live performance recorded in Osaka featuring fellow Japanese experi-mentalists Kawabata Makoto and Nakaya Kouichi. The studio arsenal for this recording includes the Roland System 100M modular synthesizer, Moog Sonic Six, EMS VCS3 and others, plus '60s and '70s-era echo chambers, tape echoes and analog delays. While the sound is abrasive at times, there is a certain cosmic sensibility that seems unique to Japanese experimental music, and makes for some fascinating deep listening. Maso has also applied his vintage synthesizer techniques to retro '60s psychedelia with his Christine 23 Onna project, featuring distorted groovy beats and catchy guitar hooks. Look for '02's “Acid Eater”!