- Anyone who has spent time trawling YouTube for 1980s Japanese music will have known Midori Takada's Through The Looking Glass long before the reissue was announced in January. For reasons that remain hazy, YouTube's autoplay function has aggressively promoted this 1983 album, pushing it past 1.6 million views. Sure, it's a wonderful album, pioneering and abstract, but this algorithmic help has been at least partially responsible for fuelling recent interest.
Enter Palto Flats, the Brooklyn label that reissued another holy grail of Japanese music, Mariah's Utakata No Hibi, and the Swiss outlet We Release Whatever The Fuck We Want, who have joined forces to rerelease Through The Looking Glass. The album's reissue has sparked discussion about Takada's contribution to minimal music, in a manner similar to the articles around last year's release of Femenine by Julius Eastman, a gay, African-American composer whose work was largely ignored in his own lifetime. As with Femenine, the overdue appreciation of Takada, a Japanese composer and percussionist, has shown the minimal and ambient canon to be more diverse than the established names of Steve Reich, Philip Glass and Terry Riley. Unlike Eastman, Takada is around to enjoy her belated rise to prominence, and is currently touring Europe.
Through The Looking Glass was Takada's first solo LP and one of her landmark creative works. (She was also part of Mkwaju Ensemble, a trio originally led by Joe Hisaishi that explored African-influenced polyrhythms and was featured on Chee Shimizu's 2016 Better Days compilation.) The soft chimes and bird calls of "Mr. Henri Rousseau's Dream" evoke the landscapes of the French painter. The album's cover art, by Yoko Ochida, also echoes Rousseau, whose jungle scenes were a product of imagination rather than experience. Takada's approach is similarly abstract—her music, clearly taking inspiration from Asia and Africa, is the result of hunkering down in a studio to create sonic utopias with marimbas, reed organs, gongs, ocarinas, bells and even Coca-Cola bottles.
On "Crossing," Takada experiments with marimba-led polyrhythms in a way that recalls Reich's "Six Marimbas," while the flute- and accordion-like sounds of "Trompe-L'oeil" meander peacefully. The masterful 15-minute closer, "Catastrophe Σ," shatters the tranquillity of the other pieces as it builds towards a turbulent, ritualistic drum crescendo. Takada recently told The Wire that when she wrote that song in the 1980s, she was "imagining a world that was heading toward destruction." That, as much as anything, makes Through The Looking Glass's reemergence in 2017 feel timely.
01. Mr. Henri Rousseau's Dream
04. Catastrophe Σ