Stomu Yamash’ta’s Seasons

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If you’ve ever watched The Man Who Fell to Earth then you’ve heard music by Japanese percussionist and composer Stomu Yamash’ta. The opening scene where David Bowie’s duffle-coated alien stumbles down a hillside (falling to earth for a second time) is scored with the first few minutes of Poker Dice, the opening track on Yamash’ta’s Floating Music album; more Yamash’ta pieces are heard later in the film. Floating Music has just been reissued on CD by Cherry Red in Seasons, a box set which contains all seven of the albums Yamash’ta recorded for the Island label from 1972 to 1976, with each disc housed in a facsimile card sleeve.

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Stomu Yamash’ta’s artistic profile was very high in the 1970s, high enough to make his apparent disappearance in the decade that followed an unusual thing. Unusual for me, anyway. I only started to notice his name in the early 1980s, mostly in connection with feature films, and couldn’t work out why he was no longer mentioned anywhere as an active artist. In addition to the Roeg soundtrack he plays on the soundtracks for Robert Altman’s Images (1972) and Saul Bass’s Phase IV (1974); he’s also one of the performers on the Peter Maxwell Davies score for The Devils (1971) although Ken Russell’s film gets to be so chaotic I’ve yet to identify his contribution. Later in the decade Yamash’ta was the only non-Western artist to appear in the final episode of Tony Palmer’s television history of pop music All You Need Is Love, in a programme that explored new musical directions. Away from films and TV there were numerous concerts; Yamash’ta’s history as a percussion prodigy in the 1960s had seen him performing compositions by Peter Maxwell Davies and Toru Takemitsu when he was still in his teens. His energetic performances gave way to a frenzied recording schedule—in 1971 alone he recorded six studio albums—which culminated in 1976 with the founding of Go, a short-lived jazz-fusion supergroup whose lineup included Steve Winwood, Al Di Meola, Michael Shrieve, and (surprisingly) Klaus Schulze.

Yamash’ta’s “disappearance” in the 1980s was really a retreat from the spotlight after a decade-and-a-half of almost continual public activity. He returned to Japan where he continued recording but gravitated away from jazz and avant-garde music towards the spiritual side of Japanese culture. Most of his albums since 1980 have only been Japan-only releases, another factor contributing to his obscurity elsewhere. More recently he’s taken to playing the Sanukitophone, a bespoke percussion instrument made from a variety of volcanic rock unique to the Japanese archipelago.

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Freedom Is Frightening (1973), one of three Yamash’ta albums with cover designs by Saul Bass.

The albums in the new box set encapsulate what might be called Yamash’ta’s “Kozmigroov” period, although Yamash’ta’s name is absent from the generally thorough and wide-ranging Kozmigroov Index. This is also his most commercial period. Prior to 1972 Yamash’ta’s recordings were soundtracks, performances with orchestras or improvised freakouts; from 1980 his music seems to be predominantly meditational (“New Age”, if you must) but I’ve not heard most of it so can’t say much about it. Kozmigroov is jazz fusion at core, usually combining a variety of disparate influences, which is what you have here: extended arrangements of jazz, funk, soul, rock, electronics, and occasional moments of traditional Japanese music. The continually changing group names testify to a restless nature: Floating Music (1972) by Stomu Yamash’ta & Come To The Edge (a British jazz group), Freedom Is Frightening (1973) by Stomu Yamash’ta’s East Wind, The Soundtrack From “The Man From The East” (1973) by Stomu Yamash’ta’s Red Buddha Theatre, One By One (1974) by Stomu Yamash’ta’s East Wind, and Raindog (1975) by Yamashta [sic]. Then there’s the self-titled Go album (with a cover design by Saul Bass) and its live counterpart, Go…Live From Paris. (A third and final album by the group, Go Too, was released on Arista so isn’t included in this set.) The sound evolves from semi-improvised instrumentals on the first few albums to songs and more rock-oriented arrangements on Raindog and the Go releases, with the Steve Winwood songs on the latter coming across as a step into more predictable territory compared to the earlier recordings. The Go live album is much better than the uneven studio set, a sustained suite of songs and instrumentals linked by Klaus Schulze’s synthesizers; Schulze gets a big cheer when the band is introduced. If you like jazz fusion there’s a lot to enjoy in this box, a third of which I hadn’t heard before. Dunes, the opening track on Raindog, unfolds over 15 minutes with an insistent groove that brings to mind the Mahavishnu Orchestra and early Santana, although Maxine Nightingale is a better singer than anyone on the Santana albums. And if you are familiar with The Man Who Fell to Earth then you get all of Yamash’ta’s music from the soundtrack scattered across these albums, most of which is only heard as extracts during the film.

With the recent reissue of Sunrise From West Sea “Live” I’m tempted to think that we might be due for a resurgence of interest in Stomu Yamash’ta’s music, but the prior availability of the Seasons albums as individual CDs doesn’t appear to have prompted a clamour for more. There’s a lot more out there, however, especially the rare Japanese releases from the early 1970s. Follow the links below for more detail.

The Infinite Horizons of Stomu Yamash’ta by Gregor Meyer.
The Strange World of…Stomu Yamash’ta by Miranda Rimington.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Devils on DVD
Directed by Saul Bass
Saul Bass album covers
Images by Robert Altman

Weekend links 510

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• Saul Bass’s cult science-fiction film, Phase IV, has received a very welcome (Region B) blu-ray release from 101 Films. Everything is a metaphor for the unavoidable just now, but a film about a group of scientists besieged by a tiny and insidious biological threat can’t help but have additional resonance. The new release includes the original (and seldom seen) cosmic ending plus another disc containing several of Bass’s short films. Previously: Directed by Saul Bass.

• Music at the Internet Archive: Live at Metro (2007) by Sora, and three rare cassette releases by French synth-rock duo Fondation: Metamorphoses (1980), Sans Etiquette (1980), and Le Vaisseau Blanc (1983).

• Mixes of the week: a Manu Dibango (RIP) mix from Aquarium Drunkard, and Industrial Synth Rave Isolation Mix by Moon Wiring Club.

We must talk about Nightwood. The novel that sits between those early and late phases of her writing life, the tale of Felix Volkbein, Robin Vote, Dr Matthew-Mighty-Grain-of-Salt-Dante-O’Connor and many others, caught between world wars and each other, in the decadent cities of Europe. The novel follows the journey of Robin Vote, who is more “earth-flesh, fungi, which smells of captured dampness” than person. Sleepwalking through life, she nonetheless wakes up her fellow characters Nora, Felix and Jenny, who each try and pin her down, to no avail. It is a novel that defies synopsis. It is unsurprising that this remarkable book has attracted a “burgeoning body of interpretations”, as Tyrus Miller here notes; yet it seems that there are still new ways to approach it. Julie Taylor offers an affective reading, for example; Joanne Winning concentrates on Nightwood’s collaborative origins, exploring the fruitful and often overlooked creative relationship between Barnes and her partner, Thelma Wood. This is not just a case of considering that relationship as source material for the novel, but unpacking what Winning describes as their “lesbian modernist grotesque”. It is particularly welcome that Winning treats Wood as a silver-point artist in her own right.

Jade French reviews Shattered Objects: Djuna Barnes’s Modernism

• Ben Beaumont-Thomas on where to start with Kraftwerk, and Jennifer Lucy Allan on where to start with Alice Coltrane.

• The BBC’s Culture page discovers Tom of Finland but can’t bring itself to show much of his artwork.

• The art of Asterix: illustrator Albert Uderzo (RIP) at work.

Clive Hicks-Jenkins on “a marvel of clockwork ingenuity”.

• The films Wes Anderson is watching during isolation.

Greydogtales on six more strange tales that linger.

Adrian Searle‘s favourite online art galleries.

• The Ghost Box label is now at Bandcamp.

Twin Flames (Edit) by Lustmord.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Flamboyant.

Phase By Phase (1976) by Peter Baumann | Phase 3: Agni Detonating Over The Thar Desert… (1995) by Earth | Phase Draft (2003) by Bill Laswell

The poster art of Raymond Gid

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Dresch (1928).

This weekend I was rewatching Henri-Georges Clouzot’s superb thriller, Les Diaboliques (1954) after which I went searching for the equally superb posters by Raymond Gid (1905–2000). I hadn’t really looked at the rest of Gid’s work before so this post remedies the situation with a selection from some of the many examples available online. Gid was something of a French equivalent to Saul Bass, working as a poster artist for feature films while also producing designs for advertising; like Bass he took charge of the typography as well as the illustration, always a useful thing for a poster artist. Typographies (1998), his book on the subject, is still in print.

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Vampyr (1932).

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Dr. NG Payot (1938).

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Quelque part en Europe (1948).

Continue reading “The poster art of Raymond Gid”

Weekend links 253

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A painting by Stephen Mackey.

• “Creativity is visual, not informed thought. Creativity is not polite. It barges in uninvited, unannounced—confusing, chaotic, demanding, deaf to reason or to common sense—and leaves the intellect to clear up the mess. Above all else, creativity is risk; heedful risk, but risk entire. Without risk we have the ability only to keep things ticking over the way they are.” Revelations from a life of storytelling by Alan Garner. Related: Tygertale on Garner’s Elidor (1965), “the anti-Tolkien”. The BBC’s 1995 adaptation of Elidor remains unavailable on DVD but may be watched on YouTube.

• “One of my revelations was to reverse everything I’d been taught. Making lettering as illegible as possible falls into that way of thinking.” Psychedelic artist and underground cartoonist Victor Moscoso talks to Nicole Rudick about a life in art and design. Related: “I’ve gotten a lot of bad write-ups in newspapers over the years and they like to refer to my stuff as ‘kitsch’…Well, my stuff is way fuckin’ kitsch. It’s kitsch to an abstract level, you understand. It’s fuckin’ meretricious.” I love it when Robert Williams kicks the art world.

• “…a cerebral, challenging, visually stunning piece of 1970s American science fiction that enweirds the human perspective by challenging it with a nonhuman one.” Adam Mills on the inhuman geometries of Saul Bass’s Phase IV.

• “[Delia Derbyshire] taught me everything I knew about electronic music.” David Vorhaus talks to David Stubbs about White Noise and why he prefers the latest technology to old synthesizers.

• Costumes from Alla Nazimova’s film of Salomé (1923) have been discovered in a trunk in Columbus, Georgia.

• Mix of the week: The Ivy-Strangled Path Vol. I, “music for a residual haunting” by David Colohan.

• At Dangerous Minds: Queer, boho or just plain gorgeous: photographs by Poem Baker.

Grimm City, a speculative architectural project by Flea Folly Architects.

Mad Max: “Punk’s Sistine Chapel” – A Ballardian Primer.

In Search of Sleep: photographs by Emma Powell.

Drains of Manchester

Road Warrior (1985) by The Dave Howard Singers | Warriors Of The Wasteland (Original 12″ mix, 1986) by Frankie Goes To Hollywood | Drive It Mad Max (Super Flu Remix, 2009) by Marcus Meinhardt

The poster art of Akiko Stehrenberger

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W.E. (2011).

Being someone who enjoys adopting and pastiching different art and design styles for different projects I naturally like to see other people doing the same. American illustrator and designer Akiko Stehrenberger is very adept at using this approach for her film posters. Without knowing the identity of the person responsible you wouldn’t guess that they were all the work of the same person.

The Madonna and Polanski posters are the two most overt pastiches, being based respectively on the paintings of Tamara de Lempicka, and the posters by Jan Lenica for Polanski’s Repulsion and Cul-de-Sac. Good as the poster for W.E. is, it seems the studio preferred a more cliched “romantic” treatment for their international sales. Stehrenberger’s Mac desktop design for Burn After Reading was dropped in favour of yet another Saul Bass pastiche. (As a sidenote I’d suggest a moratorium on imitating Saul Bass for the time being; it’s getting boring.) The Lost Highway design isn’t a poster but I added it here since it’s a surprising take on David Lynch’s noir piece. I like the way the dotted line can be taken either as road markings or a line signifying the division in the film between the separate storylines and the separated characters.

Akiko Stehrenberger talked to Adrian Curry earlier this year about her favourite film posters.

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Burn After Reading (2008).

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Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired (2008).

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Lost Highway (Spanish Blu-ray cover).

Previously on { feuilleton }
La Belle et la Bête posters
Dr Mabuse posters
The poster art of Frank McCarthy
Repulsion posters
The poster art of Vic Fair
Petulia film posters
Lucifer Rising posters
Wild Salomés
Druillet’s vampires
Bob Peak revisited
Alice in Acidland
Salomé posters
Polish posters: Freedom on the Fence
Kaleidoscope: the switched-on thriller
The Robing of The Birds
Franciszek Starowieyski, 1930–2009
Dallamano’s Dorian Gray
Czech film posters
The poster art of Richard Amsel
Bollywood posters
Lussuria, Invidia, Superbia
The poster art of Bob Peak
A premonition of Premonition
Metropolis posters
Film noir posters