EM Records / Japan / 2021 / 2LP
Here is a portal to a vast and relatively unknown world, the Japanese cyber-occult underground media scene of the early 1990s; our guide is the late Henry Kawahara, a media artist and electronic music producer whose expansive and visionary conception of digital technology merged with a desire to break free of the constraints of mere rationality. This collection, the first-ever archival release of his work, is drawn from recordings released during the period 1991-1996, an exceptionally fertile time for Kawahara. Originally released on CD by a few Japanese independent labels including Hachiman Publishing, a cyber-occult/new-age book specialist, the releases were available mainly in book stores, so this sumptuous and prescient music has remained relatively unknown. The original titles and tag lines of the CDs give clues about Kawahara’s interests and the music itself: Digital Mushroom, Subtropical Illusion, Never-ending Asia, and so on. This 15-track gateway compilation is available on double 12” vinyl and DL; the CD version has two extra discs featuring sound from two art installations entitled "Dysteleology - α" and "Dysteleolog - β" from the 1990s. All formats feature extensive English liner notes.
Henry Kawahara has been called “the Jon Hassell of Japan”, but upon closer inspection one finds that his work operates on very different terms. Like Hosono's forays into computerized Ryukyu folk “sightseeing music” or Tsutomu Ōhashi's Ecophony trilogy, Kawahara's world projected ancient musical traditions and notions of cultural identity onto the modern digital plane through a fusion of cybernetic thinking and pan-asian cultural introspection that makes Western attempts to do the same seem quaint in comparison. Kawahara's omnidirectional sound “illusions” were constructed not as albums but psychological experiences, billowing with a then-nascent notion of early 90s cybernetic spirituality that was proliferating on both sides of the Pacific as the hyperlinked state of global connectivity we know today was just beginning to crystalize. Through digital representations of folk instruments, shifting MIDI sequencing and custom binaural recording technology he aimed for psychoacoustic effect as much as artistic, all via a countercultural form of distribution untethered from the commercial expectations of post-bubble modes of artistic production. This EM collection draws out the best of his fruitful early-mid 90s period into a revelatory sequence, generously opening Kawahara's world to all. —Spencer Doran (Visible Cloaks)
Henry Kawahara's deal is Intimate, Intuitive, Adventurous, and Acidy! Spice is added to all, whether its ethereal guitar, nature effects, gamelan club trance, or LSD experimentations. In the vibe of Coil's “Love Secret Domain” and out there clubgamelan. The creative force of the jungle is mutated and interchanged with further sound palettes, and his effex palette has the schwing of a 90s grunge guitarist. His musical tendencies are natural and his scope and variety are dangerous. —Spencer Clark (The Star Searchers / Pacific City Discs).