Careful with That Cornemuse, Eugene
Kawabata Makoto of the Acid Mothers Temple Soul Collective once said, “Since I was a small child I have been prone to hearing ringing sounds in my ears and other sound phantasms. At the time, I believed that these were messages aimed directly at me from a U.F.O., and so I would gaze up at the sky. But once I started playing music myself, I came to feel that these noises were a kind of pure sound. And I promised myself that one day I would be able to play those sounds myself”.
This latest release from Acid Mothers Temple & the Melting Paraiso U.F.O. is another expression of frontman Makoto’s primal encounter with sonic otherness, and it certainly leaves listeners with “ringing sounds” in their ears. Said sounds range from the subtly atmospheric and mystical—perhaps the kind that first inspired Makoto—to the sort of ringing that results from an overexposure to extreme volume. Combining moments of ethereal melody with absurdly over-the-top noise-mongering, this album is par for the course for the Japanese band that—in the late 20th century—called itself “a freak-out group for the 21st century”.
Elvis Costello once said that “writing about music is like dancing about architecture” (a concept that doesn’t really seem that implausible now). That statement may be open to multiple interpretations, but taken as a simple expression of the difficulties posed by representing music’s affect in linguistic terms, it seems entirely appropriate when trying to characterize the sound of Acid Mothers Temple.
To use a historically pertinent idiom, Acid Mothers Temple & the Melting Paraiso U.F.O. are “out there”—“far out”, to extend the metaphor—treading a fine line between absolute folly and sheer genius. At the same time as their sound suggests a contemporary Japanese translation of ‘60s big-guitar acid rock and psychedelia (Cream, Blue Cheer, and Hendrix), it also incorporates early ‘70s Germanic experimentalism of the Faust variety, all manner of noise—from spacey, sci-fi synths to searing feedback and distortion—and elements of traditional Occitan and Japanese folk music, performed with acoustic instruments.
For the uninitiated, Acid Mothers Temple & the Melting Paraiso U.F.O. are but one manifestation of a greater phenomenon, the Acid Mothers Temple Soul Collective, which comprises 30 or so musicians, dancers, artists, and, according to their Web site, “farmers, etc”. Based principally in Nagoya, the collective centers around guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Makoto, who, since the late ‘70s, has been a prolific presence in the Japanese psychedelic and experimental scenes, working simultaneously on numerous projects. In addition to forming Baroque Bordello in 1978, between 1984 and 1992 he performed with Erochika and, in the late ‘80s, worked with the avant-garde psych group Hedik (other members of which would reappear in the Boredoms). 1995 saw the formation of Toho Sara (with Asahito Nanjo of High Rise) as well as the self-described “improvisational power trio” Musica Transonic, which included Nanjo and Ruins drummer Yoshida Tatsuya. And as if that weren’t enough, Makoto also joined Nanjo in Mainliner, another group that was put together in 1996.
1996 was also the year that Acid Mothers Temple & the Melting Paraiso U.F.O. came into being. Since then, they’ve released a number of albums including Pataphisical Freak Out MU!!, Troubadours from Another Heavenly World, Absolutely Freak Out (Zap Your Mind!), and Wild Gals a Go-Go, the soundtrack for an as-yet unreleased—and quite possibly apocryphal—underground Russian film by Ivan Piskov.
For The New Geocentric World Of, the band consists of 12 participants. In addition to Makoto, the familiar core members are Tsuyama Atsushi (bass, or, to be precise, that would be “monster bass”), Higashi Hiroshi (synthesizer/guitar), Ichiraku Yoshimitsu (drums), and Cotton Casino (synthesizer). Alongside them, there’s a cast of lesser known characters credited with contributing or simply being—it’s not entirely clear—everything from “erotic underground” and “cheesecake” to “sleeping monk” and “kendo”. And, of course, the group even has its own guru, the mysterious Father Moo.
Such unabashed silliness is excusable, however, when you make the kind of brilliant noise that Acid Mothers Temple do.
Bearing in mind that in 1977 the English punk band Wire had reduced the rock song to 28 seconds with “Field Day for the Sundays”, the 21-minute “Psycho Buddha” might seem like a pointlessly self-indulgent and truly dinosaurian exercise. But it’s worth every second. This is a swirling vortex of textured guitar freakery, distortion, relentless pounding, Hawkwind-esque synth twittering . . . and bagpipes (cornemuse, for you specialists). This is not a wall, but a massive squall of sound.
Nevertheless, there is peace at the heart of Acid Mothers Temple’s sonic tempest. On “Universe of Romance”, for instance, synthesizers combine with medieval-sounding vocals and traditional folk instrumentation to offer listeners a sea of tranquillity.
Of course, that’s just a moment of fleeting calm before another storm. The peace is shattered and the volume cranked up as the band launches into a massively distorted guitar-fest on “Occie Lady”.
And that’s only the half of it.
The New Geocentric World of Acid Mothers Temple & Melting Paraiso U.F.O. might not be particularly original, but its juxtaposition and hybridization of recycled forms are highly addictive and mind-expanding. It has a weirdness so intense that this isn’t so much music to trip to as music to trepan to.