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Various Artists

Japanese Traditional Music: Koto; Shamisen Kokusai Bunka Shinokai 1941

(World Arbiter; US: 24 May 2011; UK: 31 May 2011)

Tracks remastered from old records often have crackle on them, but Japanese Traditional Music is exceptional in that the whole album sounds as if it’s coming to you through tape hiss. This is bad news for koto and shamisen because each sharp punch from the instruments should have a clear area around it so that the impact can sink in—white space against black note. However,  the songs shine through the fizz, and the shift from thoughtful courtly music to the yawping dramatic style that accompanies puppet plays is an exciting moment. The singer makes a half-strangled heave and you can hear the poses and masks of the Japanese theater transferring themselves from the physical world into the world of sound.

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