This single is definitely a great document of Japanese tradition folk music and a great fun oddity kind of release of two pieces of music that feel like totally different genres of music but work so well together :)
Favorite track: 新春譜 Shinshunfu (SUGAI KEN Rework).
The cover of this release features a gradation of color, a subtle but complete infusion of one element into another, an almost imperceptible moment where A becomes B and both become more. And that is one way of thinking about the music in this release, a piece composed in the mid-1950s, and a 2018 re-working of that same piece. The original was composed by Kōhei Amada and played by an ensemble in which the Japanese traditional instruments koto, shō and taiko fuse perfectly with the French grand harp. The composition itself also melds Amada’s traditional, classical sensibilities and his knowledge of the deepest roots of Japanese music with his appreciation of new developments in both Japanese and Western music. Another element to consider here is the role of Amada’s voice and lyrics, fusing noh and other traditional elements with a modernity foreshadowing the rise of the singer-songwriter, melding high tradition with folk impulses. This theme of gradation and infusion continues in the other piece of music on this release, Ken Sugai’s revision of the original, with its puzzling amalgamation of analog/digital, acoustic/electric, and performed/programmed, with the various temporal and geographical elements of Amada’s music melted and melded into the 21st century.
EM Record's release of little known koto auteur Kōhei Amada continues the label's tireless mapping of multi-hued human expression, sitting outside genre convention and confusing record store clerks everywhere. "Shinshunfu" is sectioned into two parts: a more recognizable duet between koto and Irish harp, and a complete 180 into an elongated vocal piece repellent with droning shō and taiko drum bass hits. This concoction brings up familiar scents: Lou Harrison's small ensemble harp pieces, or a Japanese recasting of the Medieval troubadour songs performed by transcultural-minded early music groups like Studio der frühen Musik or Hespèrion XXI. Yet these comparisons are merely abstract, "Shinshunfu" exists at a crossroads, a form both distinctly Japanese and distinctly "other", a complex blend of folk strains that is deep with emotional resonance and hard to place even for aficionados of Japanese traditional music.
Sugai Ken's rework renders the source material almost unrecognizable, pushing even further in the non-deterministic, GRM-like meta-concrète direction of his recent work, jump-cutting in high definition between synthetic birdsong, haunted vocoded voice and arresting, back-of-the-head foley. Of "Shinshunfu", only the drone of the shō and the occasional taiko hit appear in plain view. The exploration sits comfortably in the idiosyncratic sound world that Ken has been prolifically constructing for himself in the last few years (what he has come to call "Japanese electronic-folklore"), just as brilliant as one would expect.