Blast from the Past: Yoshi Wada - Lament for the Rise and Fall of the Elephantine Crocodile
This time I’m gonna try to start a new “column” entitled Blast from the Past, in which I’ll post reviews of older albums, that are either a) really goddamn amazing or b) made a huge and long-lasting influence on my music taste or c) both (most of the time it will be c), mind you). I have quite a few albums stacked up, so I thought it would be nice to guide my dear Readers through the annuals of more obscure outer limits & psychedelia.
We all know drone music and we know how it’s supposed to sound and what it’s supposed to be doing to the listener. We also know that there’s been a surge of acid-soaken drone cats proliferating in the psychedelic underground. We may also know that the drone music has existed in Eastern music for hundreds, maybe thousands of years and that it has been “discovered’ by the Western musicians under the lead of La Monte Young (among others!), who also happened to be one of the key members of the New York based Fluxus movement. Fluxus focused on the re-invention of art and music and deeply exploring avant-garde forms of creative expression. Fluxus “collected” many, many artists, visionaries, experimentators, and reasearchers in human psyche.
One of the members of the Fluxus members was also Yoshi Wada, born in Japan, who move to New York in the 1960’s, to join the crowd of hip cats who were blowing people’s brains back then. The monumental “Lament for the Rise and Fall of the Elephantine Crocodile”, originally released as a vinyl LP on the mystically named India Navigation label, is the result of work Wada began in 1979, and consists of two equally lengthy tracks: “Singing” and “Bagpipe” (both clocking in over 30 minutes on the CD version). The opening “Singing” is a study on the relation between reverbation and human, wordless vocals. Yoshi Wada admits to studying with legendary (yet virtually uknown) Indian vocalist Pandit Pran Nath and learning to emit lengthy, abrasive vocal tones. Through the half hour of the track, Wada’s voice, recorded in a dry swimming pool, creates a deep resonance within the chamber of the pool, leaving long residue after the long, hypnotic notes of the composer’s voice. The vocals, low in pitch, somewhat coarse and almost throat-like in execution, are like a religious ritual in itself, a slow, bare-bones introduction to the more varied part of the track, where Wada finally hits some higher notes and gets more “freestyle”, sounding at times almost like Marian Zazeela at the height of her collabs with La Monte Young and his Theatre of Eternal Music.
The following “Bagpipe” is probably the droniest, most monumental drone you’ll ever hear. And I’m not exaggerating. Yoshi Wada doesn’t mess around here, there is no gradual raise of drone or any sort of gentle introduction: the listener is thrown head first into the impenetrable concrete wall of DRONE, written in huge, capital letters. One can only guess how loud the instrument (a specially prepared bagpipe, see the link in the beginning of this review for pictures and a more detailed description) was when this composition was recorded. Last.fm mentions, that most of his music is “usually performed at very high volume, allowing for the music’s overtones to be heard very clearly”. This is very, very true for “Bagpipe”: the louder you play it, the more details you can hear in it. Oooh, I need to start another paragraph for “Bagpipe”. Cause this shit’s off the hook, son.
If you think you’ve heard some heavy, pure drone because you managed to sit through a few Sunn O))) albums or because you have listened to pretty much entire Emeralds discography, all tracks, without skipping at stopping, you might be in for a true endurance test with Yoshi Wada’s “Bagpipe”. A 30-minute long, absolutely monolithic and utterly impenetrable wall of instrumental, eternally suspended droning note played on a heavily modified bagpipe, further enhanced with plumbing fittings and additional sources of air to ensure a steady flow. The sheer heaviness, the sheer power of this track is enough to promise a life-changing experience. When I first heard “Bagpipe”, I was under the impression that it can be easily used for falling asleep, when I just play it from my phone. Instead I went through an intensely focused trip through the hidden dimensions and delicate changes being amplified to almost earthquake-like chaos state. The singing emerging from the wall of drone sounds like the most primal, or maybe the final, sound of the human race, the last, final trace of human voice in this world. The timbre of the sounds changes slightly through the course of the track and although the changes in sound seem to go on a truly geological scale, after a few listens one can really feel the slow, gradual shift to a slightly higher or lower tone.
Both tracks by Yoshi Wada are experiences in attentive, focused listening. Tracks like these allow the listener to discover another level of understanding of sounds, at an almost microscopic scale, reduced to minute details in the fabric of massive sound. “Lament…” is a monumental, heavy and monolithic album, and it seems like a sort of ultimate statement in listening, but once it’s given a chance or two it unveils and exposes its infinite, suspended beauty.