What does “free” mean? Freedom in the New Direction Unit on #neuguitars #blog
What is free?
Masayuky Takayanagi: Shit, man, what a question! East or West, out of all the concepts you could put a name to, “free”, is the most utterly dangerous.”
Takayanagi was right. “Free” is a dangerous and easily deformable concept under all cultural and linguistic latitudes. To enclose his music under this adjective means running a clear risk of loss of meaning and content. What does “free” mean? Does “Free” mean to play what I want, when I want? Does “Free” mean to listen to what I want? “Free” means that since that guy said that playing like this is okay, then it has to be okay? These three expressions, so direct and almost honest, actually express very well the cultural horizons of a world in which the idea of ”free”, of freedom is easily impoverished in content, making further study impossible.
In 1975 the New Direction Unit changes its formation again. On March 14, 1975 “Eclipse” was released for Iskra Records, with Masayuki Takayanagi on electric guitar, Kenji Mori on reeds, Nobuyoshi Ino on electric bass and Hiroshi Yamazaki on drums. An album that reaffirms the concepts of “gradually projection” and “mass projection” that will see a more elaborate form in the following “April is the cruelest month” and “Axis Another Revolable Thing Vol 1-2” released in the same year, respectively the first recorded on 30th / 04/1975 and 11/05/1975, the second on 05/09/1975, always with the same formation. “Gradually Projection” is a decidedly fragmented improvisation in many small gestures calculated to the millimeter, instead the “Mass Projection” are real sound tornadoes in which the electric guitar, drums, cello and sax are transformed into real and own lethal weapons. This album also entered the ranking among the most sought after in the Japanese discography. Legendary free jazz label ESP Disk was due to release “April is a cruel month”. So, expecting strong demand for the overseas album, Iskra reduced the print volumes for Eclipse from 300 to just 100 copies. In the end, the deal with ESP did not go through, and “April is the Cruellest Month” had to wait until the 90s for the release of the CD. Eclipse became a holy grail for Japanese collectors with copies changing hands of up to $ 3000, and since the master-tapes had mysteriously vanished it seemed extremely unlikely that it would ever be reissued. However, by some sort of miracle, the original masters emerged from the mists of time in 2005, so we, mere mortals, can finally enjoy the tense and explosive dynamics of its original recording. I bought the 2006 CD reissue, (PSF Records – PSFD-8025), and I guarantee you that the Japanese experts have done a really good job.
These are the editions available:
Eclipse = 侵蝕 (LP) Iskra Records (2) ISKRA-001 Japan 1975
Eclipse = 侵蝕 (CD, Album, RE) P.S.F. Records PSFD-8025 Japan 2006
Eclipse = 侵蝕 (LP, RE) Craftman Records, Iskra Records (2) CMRS-0075 Japan 2019
Eclipse sees Takayanagi’s New Direction group present two sessions (originally sides A and B of the LP), taking two different approaches. The first session is subtitled as “Gradually Projection”, the second “Mass Projection “, and in both cases the musicians push their instruments in unexpected directions, doing justice to the group’s nickname. Takayanagi contributes with the explosions of his electric guitar, while Kenji Mori plays alto sax, flute and recorder, filling in the blanks. The rhythm section of Nobuyoshi Ino on bass and Hiroshi Yamazaki on drums is fierce and wild. The first two tracks, “Gradually Projection”, on side A progressively unfold through a process that guarantees a respectably dense and powerful assemblage of sounds, where rattling percussion, saxophone and shrill guitar, progressively emerge and disappear within a sonic magma in constant evolution. The second session, subtitled “Mass Projection”, is wild from the start, 25 minutes of dense whirlwind, filled with emissions of sharp guitars, sax blasts and rhythms in constant motion. Can we define “Eclipse” as free jazz? Some might consider this noise, and in 1975, together with two other albums like “April is the cruelest month” and “Axis Another Revolable Thing Vol 1-2”, would have quietly placed the New Direction Unit outside of most existing sonic geographies. Oddly moving ..
After “April is the cruelest month” and “Axis Another Revolable Thing Vol 1-2”, which I have already talked about in the blog and of which I invite you to retrieve the articles:
On May 26, 1980 the quartet that had recorded “Eclipse” presented itself at the Moers Festival, enriched by the presence of Akira Iijima on electric guitar. The Moers Festival is an annual international music festival held in Moers, Germany. Over the course of its fifty years of activity, the festival has gone from focusing solely on free jazz to expanding its audience. The festival was founded in 1971 by Burkhard Hennen. In the early years, the festival took place in the paved courtyard of Moerser Schloss castle. In 1975, due to the increase in participants, it was moved to the nearby park. In 2005, after 34 years as art director, Hennen handed over the job to Reiner Michalke. After Michalke, the position went to Tim Isfort, a musician who grew up in Moers. Moers has played artists such as Lester Bowie, Fred Frith, Jan Garbarek, Herbie Hancock, Abdullah Ibrahim, David Murray, Sun Ra, Archie Shepp and Cecil Taylor.
Takayanagi was invited to play with his group New Direction Unit at the 9th Moers New Jazz Festival in Germany in 1980. In front of over 3000 spectators, Takayanagi and his companions showed their skills with a radical, fiery and pure avant-garde performance.
Their music, so experimental, was not an end in itself, but was also the result of the radical anti-establishment movements and the political events of the time. The first passage “Bohimei” (epitaph) refers to Aikichi Kuboyama, a crew member of the Daigo Fukuryu Maru, a Japanese tuna trawler, who died after being exposed to nuclear fallout from the Bikini Atoll test in 1954. ” Resistance 1 “is inspired by Kim Chi-Ha, a Korean poet who was jailed for supporting democracy. In 1980 no one was playing a music so devoted to extremes: on the one hand sound nuclei, on the other improvisation that subliminally welcomes any type of intuition of the musicians to reformulate them through dynamics integrated in the concept of “Gradually Projection”.
Soejima Teruto, who witnessed the event, talks about it in his book “Free Jazz in Japan”: “In 1980, New Direction, with Takayanagi and Iijima Akira’s twin guitars, Mori Kenji (ts), Ino Nobuyoshi (b), and Yamazaki Hiroshi (ds), made their appearance. It was the first and only foreign appearance for Takayanagi Masayuki. As you’d expect, they played with tremendous aggression at great volume, Iijima’s broken string flailing around in the air. Takayanagi had introduced, as part of the performance, commentary on German on the Dai-5 Fukuryu-maru incident (ed.: a Japanese -caught in the fallout from US nuclear testing in the Pacific) and as soon as the performance ended , Joachim-Ernst Berendt bound up on stage to question Takayanagi about it. A true, world-renowned critic. Most of the European journalists who had witnessed New Direction’s powerful show were less kind, one completely missing the point, asking, “Is he trying to kill us with that volume?” I suppose that for ears raised on the delicacy of European string quartets it might have been hard to understand. I personally thought it was a great success! Takayanagi had stood boldly and challenced the hearing of all specialists who had come to this avant-garde jazz festival. I think it was maybe the time that New Direction first realized how far they come.A few years later, when the words “noise music” had become commonplace in the world of avant-garde sounds, a journalist I had met at Moers asked me, “What is Jojo Takayanagi doing these days?” No, that couldn’t have been many years later, since at the end of the 1990s a British cutting edge music magazine had run a feature with a full-page photo of Takayanagi, praising his music highly. By that time, Takayanagi had been running ahead of the avant-garde for twenty years already. The performance in the photo was from the Three Blind Mice realease Live at Moers Jazz Festival. But Takayanagi had already given up not just overseas travel, except for shows he hardly left his hotel room. He was being slowly consumed by hepatitis.” Two guitars, cello, percussion and reeds. International critics wanted to see in this new role of New Direction Unit a hypothetical approach to the double LP Iskra 1903, by trombonist Paul Rutherford, guitarist Derek Bailey and bassist Barry Guy, recorded at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in 1970 and in the studio. in 1972 and first released as a double album on the Incus label. In my opinion, the spectrum of influences is wider: references can be found in the free jazz ensemble New Phonic Art and in the lesson of the new complexity of contemporary music of the time (Lachenmann, Ferneyhough). The second part of the cd no longer includes Mass Projection but a “Mass Hysterism” which highlights the paroxysm of Mori’s clarinet and the polyphonic techniques of the cellist: on the right of the acoustic spectrum one of the last possible transfigurations of the six strings through a clear electro-acoustic drift (a hypothetical sound translation of MEV’s “Friday”): an indistinct (complex) sound spectrum which, as Alan Licht has well defined, represents Takayanagi’s first step towards the landing on the table top guitar: also the sound of the great percussionist Yamazaki has become more rational; the Japanese professor of guitar was revolutionizing the New Direction Units to bring them to their terminal sound, not devoid of intellectualism. The final tribute to Konitz, with Takayanagi alone, is simply immense.
A New Direction Unit reduced to a trio tackles the theme of “Mass Hysterism” three years later, on October 14, 1983 at Kid Ailack Art Hall, museum, gallery, performance space and café located in Meidaimae, Tokyo. The restaurant was opened in 1964 and managed by Seiichirou Kuboshima. It closed definitively on December 31, 2016. The staff always sees Takayagi Masayuki assisted by Akira Iijima’s guitar and Hiroshi Yamazaki on drums and percussion. The title of the album is “Mass Hysterism in another situation” and is a pure flow of high intensity noise sound energy. In one of the photos taken by Tatsuo Minami, the one shown on the obi, we see a guitar prepared as a table guitar, and presages an unconventional use of this instrument. “Mass Hysterism” is a blast. Something essentially extreme, the kind of thing you would play for someone just to shock them, or to show how masochistic your tastes are. Each dictionary offers different definitions for the term ‘noise’. Among these are the multiple meanings that obviously refer to common sense (a “too loud”,”unwanted”,”disharmonious”,”annoying” or “out of place” sound) as well as its more technical uses (“degradation in signal quality”, “interference in a circuit”, “unwanted part of information”). A quick semantic investigation therefore leads us to think of noise as an elusive concept, and it cannot be captured in a univocal definition. The noise must therefore be intercepted, heard, perceived, in the instant in which it resounds through the boundary that separates body and machine, nature and culture, common sense and acoustic science, daily life and artistic practice, emission and reception, rhythm and chaos. There is one aspect, however, which implicitly unites all the above definitions, and it is something that goes beyond the noise itself.
From its most intuitive to the most technical variant, the concept of noise remains inscribed within a system of asymmetrical relations of power: the question that probably allows us to better frame the question and that I feel emerging as powerful from this, so experimental, album is not “what is it noise”, but rather: who decides what noise is, and how? Which authority determines the pleasantness of a sound, or the desirability of an element within a system? How is the useful part of the information selected, and on the basis of which parameters is an acceptable intensity level identified?
If, in acoustics, white noise is a particular type of sound, characterized by the absence of periodicity and constant amplitude over the entire sound spectrum, the “free” noise generated by Takayanagi and his companions is a distinctive approach to the machine, a particular temperature of sound, an oblique line that joins pressure, mass and frequency in unexpected ways. If white noise is a theoretical idealization instrumental to sound check, his “free” noise is a precise and radical sound practice, whose periodicity exceeds the scope of acoustic physics to interrogate the periodization of history and the limits of its compartments. A story made of underground movements, parallel economies, bodies and technologies alike abused and reinvented. Styles and techniques, innovation and tradition, creativity and needs superimposed in a multi-layered narrative in a disturbing mix, in which it is no longer possible to separate one element from the others. It is a narrative that questions the boundaries of modernity as they are usually formulated, and requires to exceed them, modulate them, equalize them, reinvent them through new correlations capable of subverting the usual sensory and taste hierarchy. If there is always more than one map for a given territory, the path of the sounds moves parallel and underground, sometimes in delay, more often anticipating what the view will then make evident. But the path of sound is also that of noise, a narration, as in the case of Takayanagi, where the music is no longer a text and where there is very little that is legible. Sound itself becomes a territory; or an event, whose mode of being will be located in the context of the problematic, and the noise will be its darkest part, a harbinger of frightening and unexpected events. A minimal variation with unpredictable effects, a “free” noise at the rhythm of which the body does not dance and the mind sways confused. But your ears adjust quickly and you find yourself warming up with the energy of feedback like a pet next to a radiator. Abuse of machinery. Strident, elevating forms. Priming of engines. Hoeing technology. Screaming light. A completely undifferentiated and constantly moving flow. “Free” noise could easily be dismissed as a boring classic exercise, but what makes it special is the sustained nature of the performance, the diversity of the sonic space and the frantic love shown by the musicians. Throwing violently at the muse and the music, over and over and over, for something like 40 minutes. So much heavy, that when you listen to it, you don’t see any men, you can’t imagine them existing and decide to do this and then, do this. Men, musicians have become meta-machines. Can you imagine what it would have been like to see them playing live?