For seventeen years between 1990 and 2007 BBC Radio 3 had a very extraordinary show called Mixing It on air that was broadcast once a week and featured the most interesting music of the time which had an experimental bent. A poppier sound or edge was never unwelcome and yet routinely there was an edge or a depth to the work, and yet the most attractive and beautiful music could as easily be placed next to something challenging but profoundly moving or utterly fascinating. Often it was simply music of a space or position that inculcated the best or most persuasive understandings and capacities in its inception or production.
My time most ardently following the show was from 97/98 until the mid 00’s, and most especially when I had just come from university and was in a band attempting to make a breakthrough. There was a sense of simplicity and purity about a few years there that was encapsulated by the unremitting joy of finding extraordinary music as a group and having sonic horizons opened up to feeling and understanding that created new perceptions and possibilities. As certainly part of the adventure was to create and be influenced by the best music possible and of finding and learning about music and appreciating things to a singular extent that showed how much more we knew and understood and were wedded to our path as musicians.
A programme like Mixing It was a discovery goldmine for like-minded or inspirational sound makers and such it was one day for myself with the discovery of Japanese ambient/electronic twosome Maju (primarily Sakana Hosomi and latterly Masaki Narita) who released five albums from 1999 to 2008 on Austrlian label Extreme run by Roger Richards. When Mixing It’s Robert Sandall and Mark Russell opened a show with the song ‘Resonance of Forms’ from Maju-3 I was transfixed by its slow burn drone and its filtered transformation to thick and lapping textures of electronic vibrance.
I had recently been introduced to the world of drone through John Cale’s role in the Velvet Underground and their use of drone, and subsequently understanding Cale’s impact on music and his study and practise under pre-eminent drone practitioner La Monte Young. In fact I had heard Venus In Furs in 1993 on a tyre advert on TV, with imagery evocative at the time – and it had struck a fierce and extraordinary waking chord with me, but without then understanding the singular nature of the drone (and from Cale’s viola) – the sense of it still recessed until paired again in my twenties and now encountered with a more fecund sense of welcome.
Drone had very much captured my imagination, the subversiveness of a single-tone, the simultaneous fallacy of the idea of a single-tone (as opposed to the world of harmonic and emergent interactions, overtones, undertones and resonant micro-tonal consonances and dissonances) – in short the revelation that even a single unchanging sound changes all the time and is never singular as much as it is also mutliplicities of harmonic intervals. Brian Eno (in a move of which Heraclitus would be proud) has put forward that ‘repetition is a form of change’.
As such and with a hunger and appreciation for the drone, here was the most perfectly placed work to fall in love with – especially as many of the song titles also strangely resonated with areas that I was focussed upon at the time with my thinking – it felt something of the uncanny. It was also simply that the music consistently around this time from them (Maju-3) is of the highest order, yet full of mystery and of emergence, beguiling and lulling, communicative but eerie, majestic but emotive and welcoming. There was even room for a melodic gem in the form of Chabashira. A song I was so enamoured of that when I was experimenting with a fairly cheap but gutsy SD video editor for the first time in the early part of the 10’s, I attempted a video for it using only treated footage from the 1960’s US TV show The Invaders.
Recently coming back into contact with this tune from Maju-2 (below), that popped up at random and which just to keep things simple when I was concentrating with a camera, I looped back around a couple of times only to be became aware of just how brilliant it is.
There is the singular quality of the main refrain, present throughout, filled with pathos and exquisitely poised across its repetition. It is the refrain that eliminates its own boundary by making us forget where it begins and where it ends. It lifts tremendously to its higher notes as the loop (nominally) repeats, its sense of having a start / finish also obscured by its delicious gaps – through which leak or reside all manner of wonders. The sense is there of a distinctly non-European approach or patience with space/sound and the appearance of sameness. This is Japan after all.
It feels like later explorations on the Maju albums took the individual sound components into a space where they were less recognisable or discernable in some way – it felt like they went further in a direction that yielded more in the sense of an anomalousness that accompanied their music. Which by the fifth and final album is absolutely doused in an eerie, beautiful sonic space of glistening cosmic resonance and power, vast and serene. As with the track FBK1 (below) a thoroughly extraordinary fusion of a drone tone that you might hear from My Bloody Valentine for example, and yet placed here in a context of a cleaner and deeper simultaneous harmonic tone and an oscillating static field of varying angles and protuberances that yield out particles of refrain like an eerily repeating electronic birdcall, recorded through a radio portal to another dimension.
Latterly in its ten minute duration, it visits places of tone and echo that absolutely and with the lightest of touches, present a space of coruscating and heartening arrival-in-sound. There were many occasions when I have gone to sleep with Maju-5 playing and its entwined quality with my dreams has been terrifically effective. In fact, the album’s final song ‘Point‘ (and Maju’s final song at least for now) is as gentle and evocative a drone track as you will find. Yet still suitably seethed out with ringings and rubbings that tug gently at or through the surface as undercurrents or as oscillating waves touching like soothing, highly energetic-yet-serene alien winds.
Yet all the albums are of a quality, even from the beginning and Maju-1 a singular kind of quality and approach was evident that differentiated the productions from so much else in a similar vein. There has been a very fine video from Richard Grant for the song ‘Blood Coloured Recollections’ on YT for some time (below). More recognisably a song and yet the ingredients are there, the fractured, hidden voices, occluded and obscured. the charmed refrains and fragments of tonal correspondence, tonal communications between different provenances of sound-worlds. Simple and yet complex, emotive and yet deeply mysterious. As if a found fragment of starlight, slowed down, decoded and extrapolated into sound.
From Extreme’s website, their bio for Hosomi includes an element of his thinking that very much continues to strike a chord. ‘…a Hokkaido native, grew up in a rustic town surrounded by virgin forests and fields, an environment he says deeply influenced his musical orientation.’
The discovery that Maju albums were on YT sparked a sense of joy that is partly attributed to my own use and dependence on the platform for a lot of my music listening and sharing. In fact it was a wake up as to how much this is the case – its valuable to be made aware sometimes of the shape something has, to momentarily get an outside perspective on something that we are – through our connection and its conscious positioning – inside.
And yet for its impact, its affect, its achievement – the great value and power in having Maju available in this way, is also precisely the power that the music has to subtly shock and transform our perception, envelope and generate worlds of contact and communication, enlivening the space of possibility in the soundwaves of reality, whilst remembering that no sound is ever alone.