December 25, 2010

December 24, 2010

2010 - Year In Music

I hope, in the year since my last list of annual favorites, my lack of interest in criticism has been duly indicated. And I don't profess to have heard enough new music to know what my favorite albums of 2010 will be in 2011. At any given time, there are people in far-off places doing amazing things. If ever you feel cynical about the current state of artistic achievement, you should question first your quantum approach, not the liveliness of humankind, which clutters every corner of the world with wonders, just like its human streams of shit. So, fully acknowledging a lack of interest at the moment for listing things, here are musics released commerically this year that I most enjoyed concurrent to this year, 2010:

+current outfits+
 •MI AMI • Steal Yr Face
 •NAKED ON THE VAGUE • Heaps of Nothing
 •NOTHING PEOPLE  • Soft Crash
 •BALACLAVAS • Roman Holiday
 •SOFT MOON • Soft Moon
 •D-W/L-SS / JBe • Split 7"
 •GROUP DOUEH • Beatte Harab
 •BLANK DOGS • Land and Fixed + Phrases 12"
 •WHITE RING • Black Earth That Made Me
 •HAYVANLAR ALEMI • Guarana Superpower
 •LA VAMPIRES MEETS ZOLA JESUS• LA Vampires Meets Zola Jesus
 •BLACK ORPHAN •Metal Leg 7"
 •A F C G T • A F C G T
 •SILVESTER ANFANG II • Communen Cassetten
Ummm... Did I happen to say?
 •OLSON TWINS & CO.• Gimme Pizza (Chopped & Screwed)

+once old now new again+
 •EMAK • A Synthetic History of EMAK (1982-1988)
 •SAM SPENCE • Sam Spence Sounds
 •OMAR KHORSHID • Guitar El Chark
 •MARIKA PAPAGIKA • The Further the Flame, the Worse It Burns Me
 •NEON JUDGMENT • Early Tapes
 •ABNER JAY • The Original Folk Song Style of Abner Jay
 •ROB JO STAR BAND • Rob Jo Star Band
 •VA//Brazilian Guitar Fuzz Bananas: Tropicalia Psychedelic Masterpieces 1967-1976
 •VA//The World Ends: Afro Rock & Psychedelia In 1970s Nigeria
 •VA//Afro-Beat Airways: West African Shock Waves--Ghana & Togo 1972-1979
 •VA//The Sound Of Siam: Leftfield Luk Thung, Jazz & Molam from Thailand 1964 -75
 •VA//Luk Thung! (The Roots Of Thai Funk)
 •VA//Music from Saharan Cellphones  Vol.1 + Vol. 2
 •VA//Excavated Shellac: Strings--Guitar, Oud, Tar, Violin and More from the 78rpm era
 •VA//The World Is A Monster: Columbia Hillbilly 1948-58
 •VA//Field Recordings From Alan Lomax's Southern Journey 1959-60 , Vols. 1-5
 •VA//Been Here All My Days: Selections From The George Mitchell Archive
 •VA//Written In Blood, Vols. 1-5
 •VA//Turkish Freakout (Psych-Folk Singles 1969-80)
 •VA//Dengue Fever presents: Electric Cambodia
 •VA//Vanity Records: Finest Selection 1978 to 1981
 •VA//Roots of Chicha 2: Psychedelic Cumbias From Peru
 •VA//Cumbia Beat, Vol. 1: Experimental Guitar-Driven Tropical Sounds From Peru 1966-1978
 •VA//Peoples' Potential Unlimited Family Album
  •VA//Saigon Rock & Soul: Vietnamese Classic Tracks 1968-1974

December 18, 2010

Reflect Yourself

White Elephant Escaped From the Zoo With Love (Captain Beefheart Died)

                                    LETTERMAN: Can you tell us a little of the origin of Captain Beefheart?
                                    VAN VLIET: Captain Beefheart-- a beef in my heart against this society.

Corn Thief
Zebra Bees
Gray Twist
Golden Birdies
Feather x a Feather
Dragon Gown
Dylisheus III

 • Paintings of Don van Vliet
The Lives and Times of Captain Beefheart (Babylon Books 1971, 2nd Edition)

December 12, 2010

EDUARDO MATEO - Mateo Solo Bien Se Lame (1972)

Eduardo Mateo came to prominence in Montevideo's rock scene in the late sixties. As a boy, he would skip school to play candombe drums in the street with his brother and father. He eventually dropped out altogether and became a beekeeper. His mother gave him a guitar when he was 14; he learned quickly and shortly went on to tour throughout southern Latin America in a variety of samba, bossa nova, and tropicalia outfits. In the mid-60s, he played in a variety of so-called protesta beat bandsbasically anglo pop cover bandsas Uruguay's government began to unravel.  Beat bands were disparaged in the press for coopting imperial culture, but many of the Montevideo beat bands were more or less progressive in thinking and strove for higher artistic aims. Employing threatrics and a particular drollness, groups in Montevideo might be dragged on stage in coffins or seen simulating a cello giving birth to a violin. 

Mateo joined the group El Kinto in 1968. By this time, he was devoted entirely to music and a pretty sharp dresser. He served as the band's taskmaster, expecting total commitment to the group. He urged his bandmates toward greater experimentation and imposed his candombe background on the others. When his bandmates' creative output disappointed him, he would scream or storm out. El Kinto led the pack in forging the candombe-beat sound, which exploded in popularity throughout Uruguay and Argentina at the time. By the early 70s, Mateo's long-term drug abuse started to take a toll on him. He began taking amphetamines as early as '64 and was high almost constantly by the time he joined El Kinto. He was indiscriminate, taking anything he could get his hands on, even cough syrup. His appearance deteriorated, and his behavior grew more sporadic. He believed his music benefited from exploring psychoactive states; he urged El Kinto to rehearse on LSD, but they refused, compromising by getting drunk instead. He became increasingly paranoid and difficult to talk to. His voice would trail off on nonsensical divergences  Then, he started hearing voices. 

In 1971, Mateo was asked down to Buenos Aires to record a solo album. What originally was supposed to be a week-long stay turned into two months of sporadic recording. Each morning, the studio would send someone down to Mateo's hotel to try and catch him before he slipped away; but Mateo no longer played music unless he absolutely wanted to. He sought authenticity in each performance, assiduously studied other musical forms (like Arabic, Indian, and Haitian) and was never satisfied with recordings. After months of cat-and-mouse sessions at the studio, Mateo returned to Montevideo one day without saying a word.  Mateo's only solo album is a collection of these recorded tracks in Buenos Aires, hashed together by the De La Planta record label. His collaboration with Brazilian percussionist Jorge Trasante, Mateo y Trasante (1976) has since gained a cult status. He continued to record into the late 80s. Influential, but never again successful, Mateo would drift further into poverty, eventually homeless and pan-handling. Hiding illness from everyone, Mateo was suddenly rushed to the hospital in 1989, diagnosed with an advanced case of abdominal cancer. He died two weeks later at age 49.


December 5, 2010


November 26, 2010

LOS DESTELLOS - Los Destellos (1967) + Constelación (1971)

Enrique Delgado began learning guitar from his mother at age 5 in the slums outside Lima.  By 13, he joined his first touring group.  Growing tired of his son's continual absence and questionable lifestyle,  Delgado's father eventually kicked him out.  For his remaining teen years, he stayed with friends when he wasn't cutting his teeth on the road in mariachi backing bands.  In 1955, Delgado struck out on his own with his folk group, Los Palomillas, but he didn't break new ground until he switched to the electric guitar with Orquestra Fantasia in 1962.  Delgado found himself at the forefront of Lima's Nueva Ola (New Wave).  Beat bands inspired by Anglo pop were a phenomenon the world over, and Peru was no exception, producing a rich variety of garage, pop, and rock records in the 60s and 70s.  In 1966, Enrique Delgado started a new group, Los Destellos, imposing South American folk stylings on his Beat bandmates.

Los Destellos incorporated lilting Andean slum melodies into rock 'n' roll music for their self-titled debut, but the addition of a timbalero is what made them a true innovation.  Timbales were used to keep time in many South American musical styles, but Enrique Delgado used them to incorporate cumbia into the standard Beat ensemble, making him the fathering pioneer of cumbia Peruana.  He would expound on this idea in the years that followed by taking an ever larger ensemble of folk players in a more psychedelic direction.  In this way, Los Destellos also anticipated Chicha, their seventh LP Constelación being a proto-standard of the genre.  In 1975, Delgado's sister, Edith, also joined the band, which by that point had grown to include a sprawling number of musicians and a sizable hype crew.  Enrique continued leading the group until his untimely death in 1996 from medical malpractice.  Edith continues touring today with the current incarnation of Los Destellos.


• Might I also suggest Purple Chicha: Peruvian Cumbias Rebajadas (A Murky Recess Mix)?
• DATO CURIOSO:  Los Destellos originally had a female singer, but she left the group before they recorded their first record.  Her name was Elsa Salgado, and the band pays her tribute with two of their most popular songs, "Elsa" and "Para Elsa."
• Find Los Destellos' illustrated discography here.

Lumen Aura (Hand of God)

Gotta Get Outta Here!... Gotta Get Outta Here!

Charlemagne Palestine is a peformer/composer/video artist originally from Brooklyn and still active today.  Best known for his compositions in the seventies, he has often been compared to minimalists Steve Reich and Terry Riley. Palestine, however, emphasizes ritual over repetition, and the power of trance is specifically integral to his work.  In "Island Song," Palestine drives a motorcyle down a backroad in Hawaii with a an early model video camera strapped to his person, seemingly looking for a way off the island.  Having studied under Pandit Pran Nath, Palestine skillfully harmonizes his voice to the hum of the motorcylce engine, creating an interactive dialogue with his environment.  Shot the same year, "Island Monologue" follows similar themes with Palestine wandering through an impermeable fog, voicing his unbroken solitude.  But this is not the isolation of modern life Antonioni tuned into.  Palestine's work vibrates with human warmth across the chasm, and it is objectivity, the evironment bereft of human inference, which feels vapid..  Palestine stayed busy in 1976, managing also to release these two full-length albums:  Strumming Music and Four Manifestations On Six Elements.

[right click;save target as] or better yet, visit Ubuweb.]

November 25, 2010

TI-THO - Traumtänzer (1981) + Elefantenjäger (1983)

Ti-Tho-- a dimunitive of the duo's Christian names, Christina Marisa Calcagno and Thomas Stelter-- formed in the early 80s as a part of the emergent Hamburger punk and New Wave scene.  Like many other coagulations of disenchanted young people confined to urban centers, an assemblage of artists, musicians, and political activists began to stew in Hamburg.  In the late 70s, Alfred Hilsberg, a music journalist for the magazine Sounds, coined the genre term, Neue Deutsche Welle, describing the attitude and sound of Hamburg's music scene in his article, "Neue Deutsche Welle - Aus grauer Städte Mauern" (German New Wave - From Gray City Walls).    Speaking with several future luminaires of the genre, Hilsberg discusses in depth the distinctive effect German language and cadence had the NDW sound, and alludes to the environmental influence the fully-realized Economic Miracle had on Hamburg's middle-class. 

Ti-Tho released their first 7" on Hislberg's Zickzack* label.  The A-side is almost radio-friendly, but the strangely underrated B-side, "Die Liebe ist ein Abenteuer" pulses abrasively not unlike Crash Course In Science or Grauzone.  In 1983, the duo moved to the larger TELDEC label for their more accessible but equally great second 7".  Ti-Tho then signed to Polydor in 1985 and released two more 7"s in support of their big crossover LP which never came to pass.  Not an altogether uncommon story.  Very few New Wave bands survived the transition to a major label, and equal few of the cookie-cutter bands crafted in their image lasted any the longer.  If you come to this post a neophyte in NDW, Ti-Tho's first two records are not only a great point of entry, but overlooked masterpieces of the genre in their right.


*In 1980, Hilsberg started the Zickzack label and released essential Hamburger NDW from the likes of Xmal Deutschland, Abwärts, Leben und Arbeiten, and Kosmonautentraum. In 1984, he started the What's So Funny About? label, which became a major platform for the emerging Hamburger Schule scene as well as a German imprint for Test Dept. Nikki Sudden, and Scratch Acid, etc.

November 19, 2010

Illuminated Belle of Ball Plains

November 18, 2010

Hell Is Here, Welcome: Kenny Hill's Garden of Salvation

Leaving behind a wife and three children, bricklayer Kenny Hill up and moved to the gulf coast town of Chauvin, Louisiana in 1988.  With less than 3,500 residents, the Cajun shrimping community along Bayou Petit Caillou was scarcely aware of the reclusive Hill when he began renting a plot of land there for $250 a year.  While living out of a tent, he built a unique, one-room home and earned money as a construction worker.  In 1990, he quietly began making sculpture, combining paint and cement with wire mesh.  Within the decade, Hill made over 100 individual pieces of sculpture and an ornate lighthouse made with over 7,000 bricks.

Angels feature prominently throughout Hill's "Garden of Salvation" in a variety of forms.  There are some angels who help while others condemn.  Paths wind their way to visions of heaven and hell.  Cowboys, New Orleans jazz musicians, angels with shrimping boots, and many self-portraits give the sculpture garden both a broad sense of Americana and a personal story of despair and redemption.  His self-portrait on his lighthouse centerpiece [seen above] depicts Hill with a face half-white and half-black, denoting his own struggle with good and evil.  Under a self-depicting sculpture of Hill with his heart bleeding, an inscription reads:  "It is emty [sic]."

Around 2000, some who knew Hill said he'd lost faith in God, and with it, the desire to work on his creations.  "This part of my life is done," he told one man.  When parish officials demanded he clean up the property or leave, he disappeared overnight, leaving several works unfinished.  When faculty from the Nicholls State Art Department visited the property, they found Hill had knocked the head off one of his Jesus statues, and left a note behind which read, "Hell is here, Welcome."

The sculpture garden has survived four major hurricanes in the ten years since Hill vanished.  Neighbors who knew him say he's living in Arkansas with his brother.  Others say he found a job overseas.  The fact that there has been little damage to his Garden of Salvation is testament to Hill's superior craftsmanship.  Within 30-50 years, the entire gulf coast of Louisiana will most certainly be underwater.  There's always the chance that, some two hundred years hence, Hill's expression of his inner turmoil may be rediscovered largely intact in some future archaeological excavation of submerged Cajun country.

November 11, 2010

Cha Cha Cha!

October 14, 2010

Purple Chicha: Peruvian Cumbias Rebajadas (MR#1, 2010)

In anticipation of The Roots of Chicha 2 coming out on Barbés Records this month, I've decided to post a personal concoction of my own.  Like many people who had their first taste of chicha from Barbés' first Roots of Chicha compilation, I have since invested some time into tracking down any chicha I could find. Cumbias, on the other hand, are one of the most popular styles of music in Latin America, and therefore it's been much harder to find the real gems. One day, while searching out mas cumbias, I came upon a Sonido Martines playlist on WFMU for something known as "cumbias rebajadas. These slowed down, dubbed up cumbias reportedly emerged from Mexican urban centers like Monterrey as early as the 70s-- decades before DJ Screw and the Sizzurp scene of the nineties.  Limitation was the inspiration, as shoddy equipment and cheap phonographs in Mexico's discotecas couldn't keep up with the all-night dance parties.  Club patrons began to ask for more of these slow-churning dance numbers.

Chicha is both a style of music specific to Peru and a lightly intoxicating beverage.  Musicians in and around Lima began incorporating electric guitars and organs into their traditional ensembles, either influenced by the psychedelic music coming out of the First World at the time or simply because it was cheaper to buy these new, faddish instruments than the "specialty" items traditional Andean music demanded.  Suffice to say, if you are here by way of internet search, you are most likely aware already of chicha's lilting, otherworldy quality. 

Chicha is also a drank made by village women who chew maize and spit it into a large vat to ferment.  Saliva is an essential component to breaking down the corn mash.  Chicha is usually yellow, but purple corn is also used with spices and fruit to make a mostly non-alcholic beverage known as chicha morada.  Of course, the coincidental color of chicha morada has nothing to do with the prescription-strength cough syrup known as sizzurp or lean throughout the southern United States.  Nor have Peruvians gotten much into cumbias rebajadas.  In fact, chicha had always been looked down upon as slum music by most of Peruvian society until The Roots of Chicha compilation popularized it here in the States.  Ruminate on the cultural complexities of combining indigenous music unearthed by privileged Americans with fucked up Mexican party music and hip hop drug culture from the Dirty South as you get your lean on to Purple Chicha, slowed and throwed by yours truly.


October 4, 2010

Dead to the World (A Student's Dream)

A Student's Dream,  a bodysnatcher's resurrection.

September 28, 2010

KHANA RUNG THAWI (คณะ รุ่งทวี) - แห่สดดนตรีพื้นบ้านหนองโก ชุดที่ 8 + 9 (hae sot dontri phuen ban nong ko, vols. 8 & 9) (20??)

Khana Rung Thawi's electric phin freakout was made available online for the first time just a few months back at the venerable มนต์รักเพลงไทย.  Two glorious 25 minute slabs of instrumental molam sing improvising with requisite keyboard washes and drum machine accompaniment, insane enough to fry even the most hardened of fuzzed-out minds.  This isn't the kind of epic psych that takes ten minutes to get flying. It wastes no time hitting its stride.  Kicking off with rapidfire electronic drums, the speed never lets up a minute, and before you know it, it all abruptly fades out at the end of the tape.

Lam sing is a recent style of Molam which emerged some time in the mid-80s in and around Isan (Thailand's northeastern provinces) and has become very popular there in recent years.  Lam sing is a reference not only to the speed and ferocity of the musical style but also to its original roots in Isan's biker fraternity culture. An appropriation of the English word "racing," sing literally means to go racing by on motorcycles.  The performers wear gawdy and outrageous costumes and the lyrics are often filled with sexual innuendo.  Scantily-clad female dancers, known as hang khreuang, serve as the hype crew.  Usually recorded live at festivals, lam sing songs are long because they were orginally a way of speeding through traditional luk thung and lam songs in a medley form.  Recently, much has been made in Thailand (and Laos especially) of Molam's loosening morals.  Lam sing is just one of many modern styles that has abandoned Molam's traditional lyrics of moral instruction for more lucrative themes as jilted love, carefree partying, and, of course, riding motorcycles.

Here's hoping volumes 1-7 of "Fantastic Festival Sounds of Ban Nong Ko" find their way online soon!

คณะ รุ่งทวี

September 14, 2010

So The Birds Will All Be Clean

"I don't want to achieve immortality through my music.  I want to achieve immortality by not dying." --Jack Blanchard (Facebook status)

Floridian pair Jack Blanchard & Misty Morgan perform "Tennessee Bird Walk" from their Birds of a Feather LP (1970).

September 5, 2010

ABY NGANA DIOP - Liital (1994)

Aby Ngana Diop's truly awesome mbalax cassette has already been posted at Likembe and, more recently, Awesome Tapes from Africa, but it's far too mind-blowing not to propagate further.  Mblalax (literally "accompaniment" in Wolof) is a modern dance genre very popular in Senegal, Gambia, and Mauritania, where it has dominated the radio waves since the 80s.   Aby Ngana Diop, from Dakar, was the first taasukat (singer) to record an album of modern mbalax music.  The mixture of styles creates an intense listening experience:  Diop's modulated voice reminds me, at times, of the lady from Poltergeist, shouting moral instruction to the youth behind the veil.  Musique concrète horses, trains and sweeping brooms are overwhelmed by insanely complicated sabar drum rhythms, which sound like they may fall apart any moment.  The whistling synth loops offer an other-worldly parallel to trance music coming out of the West at the time.  Liital was a huge hit in Senegal, and musicians like Diop's nephew, Cheikh Lô, continue to create popular variations of its songs.  The extreme popularity of the mbalax genre is unique to the region.  Since at least the 90s, it has been a staple at baptisms and weddings, and its fanbase transcends social barriers like age or class.  Aby Ngana Diop died in 1997.  This cassette is her only known recording, though one can hope there are wedding videos and live recordings out there somewhere.

Originally, mbalax referred to a specific accompanying rhythm in a sabar drum ensemble.  Sabar was incorporated into the popular Afro-Cuban sound after Senegal's independence from French colonial rule in 1960.  Use of sabar, along with singing in native Wolof, were similar to other cultural shifts in Africa's so-called Négritude movement, attemping to reclaim a pre-colonial identity untainted by colonial influence (see Guinea). 

Essential ingredients of mbalax include: 1) a taasukat, usually from a griot family background, who sings about moral issues, offering social advice.  Taasu, a poetic story-telling form usually performed by women, has been sited as an antecedent to rap music. 2) Sabar drums, the fundamental root of mbalax; the term itself refers to an accompanying Sabar rhythm.  Sabar, usually an ensemble of twelve or more drums of different kinds, create incredibly complex rhythm patterns which rely on bukk, or smaller phrases, like a vocabulary that all the drummers are familiar with.  3)  The Yamaha DX-7, called marimba in Senegal-- though real marimbas have never been used in Senegal--  refers to a specific marimba sound the Yamaha DX-7 makes and has been the third essential component to mbalax since the 80s. 

[For those who like their figgers bigger, the Likembe link has a 192kbps cassette rip.  I like the way this 128kbps rip sounds better.]

• Ethnomusicologist Patricia Tang's work was an essential resource for all things mbalax
• A lot of great mbalax can be found over at freedomblues, including Fatou Guewel Kara's 2002 album and this old burner from the "I Don't Give a Damn" Generation of the 90s.
Is "Dieuleul-Dieuleul" sampled on NWA's "Express Yourself"?  [EDITOR'S NOTE: not unless Dr Dre had a time machine.]

August 31, 2010

Kitty Cat Hand Clap

August 27, 2010

HALLELUJAHS - 肉を喰らひて誓ひをたてよ (1986)

"There’s something about this record that’s hard to get a grip on. It seems to float on layers of melody rather than rhythm, and in places it has an incomparable start of autumn melancholic atmosphere." --Alan Cummings

Hallelujahs is a one-off side project for frontman Shibayama Shinji (柴山伸二) , who played in Idiot O'Clock at the time, and currently comprises half the duo, Nagisa Ni Te.  Shinji pressed just 300 copies of 肉を喰らひて誓ひをたてよ on his own label, Org Records.  Hallelujahs' lo-fi psych haze has an ephemeral quality-- melodies waft beneath a sweet end-to-summer bummer.  Or as one review (re:Idiot O'Clock) put it:  "Do they even have porches in Japan?"  Northern Hemisphere, this record meets you at just the right time. 

Niku Wo Kuraite Chikai Wo Tateyo

                                                  (Thanks to Immortal Serenades for the fine photos)

August 16, 2010

August 12, 2010

LOVE LIFE - Discography (2000-2002)

   (stolen with love from Jeff Winterberg's Rat-a-Tat-Tat Birds)

Love Life formed their unholy alliance in 1999 when long-time lovers cum bandmates, Katrina Ford and Sean Antanaitis (Jaks, Celebration) joined with bassist Anthony Malat (UOA, Great Unraveling, Bellmer Dolls), and drummer David Bergander (Arbouretum, Celebration).  Ford and Antanaitis left their homebase of Ann Arbor and their amazing band Jaks behind, eventually making their way out to Baltimore. They all moved in communally and formed a sound organic to that confluence. Practicing for several months before playing out, they developed, in the process, an amazingly insular performance aesthetic.  They often played on the floor, lit incense and a hundred some-odd white candles.  Ford's ferocious voice and her commanding stage presence pushed Love Life into the realm of spiritual experience.

Antanaitis plays an angular, woozy guitorgan (an electric guitar with the organ built into the frets!) with a style all his own and Malat, at his dirgy best, serves as the pummeling groove behind Katrina Ford's androgynous wailing.  I'd be remiss not to mention the advise found in the liner notes to both albums-- "We recommend listening to this recording on headphones."

Love Life

• After releasing their debut, The Rose He Lied By (2000), the band toured extensively, released a 7", then their final album, Here Is Night, Brothers, Here the Birds Burn (2002) on Jagjaguwar before they called it quits. 
• Thanks to My Tape Up In Here for the beautiful rip of the Hex It Out heart-shaped 7" (or is it a 10"?).

August 10, 2010

Anatomy of Anatomy: Minagaki Yasukazu's Kaibo Zonshinzu

Interestingly, the Japanese began to adopt Western medical techniques at the same time they were closing the book on a rather disasterous chapter of Western cultural incursion.  When guns arrived for the first time in 1543 with Portugese traders, Japan was fifty years into Sengoku Jidai ("Age of the Country at War").  Feudal lords were vying for military control of the country, and so began to purchase large quantities of guns from the Europeans for an upper edge.  The lords learned quickly that, with the musket, the greatest warrior with a lifetime of training  could be easily killed by a footman with only a minimal set of skills. 

Within a hundred years, the Tokugawa shogunate had appropriated almost all of the remaining guns on the island, and Samurai had largely returned to using swords and spears.  When 20,000 Christian peasants were led by prophecy to take up guns and occupy Hara Castle in the so-called Shimabara Rebellion of 1638, the Japanese government used their dusty old rifles to suppress the rebellion.  It was the last time guns were used in Japan for 200 years.  The rebellion prompted the shogun to ban all Westerners from the island, except the Dutch who had given the government aid against the Christians with their battleship and cannons. 

For the next 200 years, encroachment of Western culture was literally confined to an artificial island, known as Dejima.  Forged from a natural penisula, there was only one bridge on and off the island with a guard on either end to prevent foreigners from interacting with the mainland.  At this time in Europe, great strides were being made in medical science.  Holland began sending scientists to Dejima, who would bring their various books of learning with them.  Some of these books would then be sold illicitly to Japanese scholars or offered as gifts to the shogun.  Eventually, an exchange of information between the Dutch scientists and Japanese scholars was formalized in what became known as the Rangaku Movement.  Appointed scholars could study and learn European sciences, but could not practice them. 

One student in particular, Sugita Genpaku, obtained a copy of Ontleedkundige Tafelen, a Dutch anatomy book, and it blew his mind.  The Japanese had never practiced any form of dissection. Making an official inquest to dissect the bodies of executed criminals*, Sugita was amazed by the detail and accuracy of the anatomy illustrations.  Eventually, he published the Kaitai Shinsho, Japan's first anatomy book.  Beholden to the European aesthetics, the book even sports Greek columns and a Classical style of illustrating anatomy.  As Pink Tentacle points out, the typical anatomy illustration of the day featured an idealized physique in Classical Greek pose and a placid expression on the face of person whose organs are yet exposed.

In 1819, Minagaki Yasukazu (南小柿 寧一), a physician from Kyoto, painted these illustrations as part of an ongoing Rangaku correspondence with Dr. Philip von Siebold.  83 illustrations from over 40 dissections, and there's little information available beyond that.  But what we can glean from these remarkable illustations is that Minagaki was interested in disseminating accurate anatomical information in an aesthetic style more familiar to the Japanese than the Classical Greek bodies of the Kaitai Shinsho, with their placid expressions and disemboweled organs.  Here, the faces of these executed criminals look twisted in anguish and bodily fluids pool beneath body parts.  There's a realism to them that the European anatomies of the time lacked -- which is the more macabre is up to the taste of the reader.


* The Japanese weren't the only ones who used the cadavers of executed criminals to learn about the human body.  In Europe and America, though it was technically illegal, almost all of our knowledge of human anatomy came from executed criminals or robbed graves.  In England, anatomy instructors would even tell their students exactly how many corpses they were required to furnish for their own studies that semester.  Universities officially employed grave-robbers to keep up with growing demand in the medical field, and their income was substantial.  It wasn't until the twentieth century that grave-robbing ceased to be an unspoken prerequisite in college anatomy classes.  In general, the students would pay professional "resurrectionists," who might dig up as many as 500 corpses in a year.

• All 83 illustrations of the Kaibo Zonshinzu used to be hosted online at the Tohoku University Library until very recently.  As far as I can tell they are no longer availabe, but I will keep a weather eye to post them here again when I find them.

July 25, 2010

Life Behind the Sand Curtain

الحياة وراء الستار رمل

July 22, 2010

VA - Chaabi Music From Al-Maghrib + Black Plastic Singing Flats (Mississippi Records Cassette Series)

Chaabi Music From Al-Maghrib is a collection of Moroccan music in the "proto-rai" vein of Sublime Frequencies' 1970s Algerian Proto-Rai Underground fame.  Black Plastic Singing Flats is a pan-Asian collection of pop and psych.  True to the hand-made enthusiast quality of these tapes, there are typos and misappropriation of artists to songs, but the point is to hear things you may not have heard before, and then go seek more of it out yourself. 

I separated Chaabi Music From Al-Maghrib into individual tracks and cleaned it up a little bit.  If I recall correctly, I copped Black Plastic Singing Flats from BIG STATES.  And every good sort owes himself a visit to Root Strata where you can find just about any of the Mississippi cassettes available to be found.  On a Doo Wop/Soul tip, I also recommend the two House of Broken Hearts tapes I posted back when.

Chaabi Music From Al-Maghrib (MRC-009)

Black Plastic Singing Flats (MRC-011)