Gap, the trio of Masami Tada, Kiyohiko Sano and Takashi Soga is often associated with the dominant school of Japanese improvisation. Erroneously, pundits usually line up Gap in a single sentence with the likes of Taj Mahal Travellers and East Bionic Symphonia. Even though Masami Tada participated in the sessions that resulted in East Bionic’s LP, there is little that connects it, musically, with Gap. East Bionic inherited from Taj Mahal Travellers the predilection for pelagic timelessness and spaceleness of resonant loops, propelled by phase lags and sprinkled with capricious tunings. To this day, those legendary recordings inundate the listener with a sense of mystical experience.
Gap, active between 1974 and 1979, could not be more dissimilar. The trio programmatically avoided any trace of interactionism or self-organization which dominated group improvisation in non-aleatoric formats. Tada & Co steered towards emotionless essentialism, which was not only abstract and nonmetric, but entirely stripped down to absolute basics. There is no velocity, no continuity, no patterning. Articulation seems suppressed even throughout considerable dynamic changes. It is a disorienting experience and no pathways are provided for our perceptual map.
Their only record appeared on Yukio Kojima’s Alm Records and comprises two live documents, different enough to fend off any accusation of homomorphism. Halfway through this period, Masami Tada participated in Takehisa Kosugi’s workshops at ART school. He was also involved in the establishment of a music school for children and later ensconced himself on the gallery circuit.
He returned 20 years later as member of Kazuo Imai’s Marginal Consort – a sublime improvisational collective that successfully resumed the lessons of the 1970s, incorporating both the mystical and anti-formalist traditions of Japanese free form playing.
Jabs of sharp electric organ clusters squeeze a wedge between a squeaking trumpet and a fibrous electronic drone. The trumpet is muted down to hoarseness, protesting with self-styled kisses. Imperceptibly, the drone is leaching into lower regions, oblivious to the trumpet’s muffled advances. The brass instrument wheezes, as if dragged on a rough surface. A Sun Ra-style ‘rocksichord’ drone becomes more organic and intensional. A percussive element appears, initially in a non-ascriptive role. Then it suddenly begins to apportion discrete packets of sketchy, wooden clutter. In a backfill effect, some metal sheets are disturbed with microtonal scratches. A pre-conceptual contrast is building up between tiny woodblock skitter up front and deep installation noise in the background. Soon after that a real drum catalyzes the party, although bird-like whistles will temper the reign of low register. Gap is now a trio of metal boxes, a large drum and whistles – sonic aspects that remain elusive, almost noetic in their distaste for organization. The shadowy acceleration of these elements progresses in a most non-parametric manner. The effect is almost sequential – central percussive factors gain prominence, while the whistles languish. Later, the scampering whistles usurp the terrain with minor vibrato and a large, loose membrane reverberates somewhere with a restraint of a retired shaman. Unannounced, summertime insect buzz ionizes an environmentally friendly toy xylophone. In the most mechanistic passage yet, xylophone and metal percussion absolutize total stasis. Ceramic guitar glissandos – soon to be popularized by Chas Smith – are a distant, foreign guest, lost among triangles, Japanese percussion and undulating electronics. More personalized guitar clangs are blotted out by melodica’s sustained notes and a chanchiki drum. This fragment is semi-stationary, speckled with non-referential, percussive parariddles. Circular grinding noise stumbles against coincidental guitar twangs and paralytic shakuhachi moods. The mortar churn advances apace until an apparent dispute opens between the sound objects. Their plastic, leather, wood and stone forms speak at various intervals. If extended, this fragment could compete with Fred Frith’s soundtrack to a documentary on Andy Goldsworthy.
1976.12.3. Ars Nova Studio
From a slow fade-in, a short-breathed melodica maneuvers in a longitudinal fashion against a determined, dry percussion clank. Heavy gongs and electronic feedback provide a more comforting background than the deafening silence of the previous track. The texture is rounder and more exoteric, even though the sound quality is rather muffled. An isostatic harmonica (?) competes with the melodica, while context-independent dull clang of invariant resonance hides behind a corner. Unexpectedly, pathogenic piano chords peer into the fray, cut off repeatedly by an ungainly caesura, smudged with some brown noise. Not surprisingly, the player must have listened to Yuji Takahashi’s recordings, and delineates his originality through unlikely, almost atmospheric de-biasing. Electro-milling is sintered by nervous piano arpeggios and – admittedly jarring – sawtooth repetitions on infantile melodica. Slowly, the strikingly divergent piano populates the space. It is anti-melodic but served without Cecil Taylor’s frantic physicalism. Sustained organ chords of ‘rocksichord-type’ and the mortar burr make their return, making the overall performance a notch denser. Piano clusters and strewing notes proliferate, almost sidetracking us into believing that this build-up would eventually lead to a climax. Muri desu yo. Instead, amplified bass stutters like a schizophrenic, tying together bridge trestles for the next section of scrape, whistle and feedback. No sooner do we overhear a distant conversation than the level of dynamics falls to stethoscopic levels. A curiously suppressed recorder pilots clumsily amidst the clutter. Although the live microphones capture clacking at various distances, the output does not induce dichotic listening. The vocabulary is abstruse, scattered, non-objective and if the message was textual, we could not decipher its semantic content due to print losses. The closing fragment is dominated by shifting tempos of rattling spokes, operated with a mechanistic imprecision of Jean Tinguely’s sculptures. Eventually, the tempo rises, enhanced by humanly powered percussion and impotent flutes. The clutter of spokes reverses and pauses. The performance tails off.
EAST BIONIC SYMPHONIA: “East Bionic Symphonia” (1976)
GAP: “Gap” (1976-77)
MARGINAL CONSORT: “Collective Improvisation” (1997)
MARGINAL CONSORT: “Marginal Consort” 4CD (2003-04)
Masami Tada has issued many CDs from various gallery performances. My knowledge of these recordings is poor.