By Bree Davies
By Emerald O'Brien
By Gina Tron
By Jon Solomon
By Drew Ailes
By Courtney Harrell
By Kyra Scrimgeour
Kawabata Makoto, the high priest of Japan's Acid Mothers Temple & the Cosmic Inferno, conducts English-language interviews via e-mail with the help of a translator, and that's appropriate. After all, his livelihood is founded on translation, albeit of a very different sort. "My music is something that I constantly hear from the cosmos," he declares, "and I merely re-create it so that others may hear it, too."
As this statement implies, Makoto sees recordings such as IAO CHANT From the Cosmic Inferno, a new Temple masterwork on the Ace Fu imprint, in mystical terms. He didn't conceive them. Instead, they came to him as gifts from infinity. Far from being a songwriter, he's more akin to the Ark of the Covenant as described in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Think of him as a transmitter, a radio for speaking to God.
The Deity clearly had a lot to say prior to CHANT, since the album consists of a single song -- "OM Riff From the Cosmic Inferno" -- that clocks in at more than 51 minutes. Nevertheless, Makoto believes that when judging "OM," size doesn't matter nearly as much as excellence does.
"People don't think that Beethoven's Ninth is wonderful just because it takes over seventy minutes to perform, nor that a Beatles song is fantastic because it's over inside three minutes," he maintains. "Each piece of music has an integral and necessary length of performance time. Compared to ordinary rock songs, our music seems to be long, but that is only because the music itself demands that specific length. Its length or brevity has nothing to do with its quality. A worthless piece of music will sound painfully long even if it lasts for less than a minute. And a great piece of music can sound too short even if it lasts for over an hour."
"OM" falls into the latter category. The piece shifts and undulates countless times over its span, with aggressive guitar patterns, hyperkinetic beats and other standard rock elements rubbing against drones, polyrhythms and otherworldly effects conjured by the Temple's current congregation: Makoto, bassist Tabata Mitsuru, electronics expert Higashi Hiroshi and drummers Shimura Koji and Okano Futoshi. The results will strike most listeners as mind-bending, but to Makoto, they're as natural as can be.
"I never deliberately search out the new," he stresses. "I just try to live fully from moment to moment, but somehow, new things come to me, even without me wishing for them. That's what makes life interesting."
Makoto's background is equally intriguing, in part because his influences cross all national and cultural boundaries. He grew up in Osaka, where he was regularly exposed to native Japanese artistic styles. For instance, his grandfather was a Noh theater performer, and Makoto's father often sang songs from this tradition around the house as his son was growing up. His mother, in contrast, was a fan of Western classical music and had a personal bias against pop tunes. Her partiality may explain why Makoto eventually gravitated toward prog, proto-metal and experimental electronic works, as well as the efforts of classicists unafraid to juxtapose beauty with dissonance.
Still, Makoto's biggest influence could be found inside his own head. From his earliest memories, he heard a type of ringing in his ears that he initially thought was "messages from UFOs." An auditory specialist might suspect pseudacusis, a malady in which individuals suffer from mistaken or false hearing, but he doubts that there's a medical explanation. According to him, "Hearing tests have never uncovered any problems. In fact, I have very good hearing, so I don't believe that there is anything physically wrong with me."
Whatever the case, this condition turned beneficial after the ringing mutated. "Now I don't hear it as sound, but rather as a clear form of music," he reveals. "Sometimes it even sounds like it's being played by an ensemble." The persistent sonic bombardment has its negative side. Because "the nature and purpose of the sounds is unknown to me," Makoto notes, "there is nothing I can do to control them." But by opening himself up to the experience, he discovered a bottomless well of material. All he needed to do was listen.
His first musical endeavor, Ankoku Kakumei Kyodotai, or Dark Revolution Collective, which he formed in 1978, had a couple strikes against it: The players didn't have proper instruments (for the most part, they made their own) or anything beyond the most rudimentary knowledge of recordings. Thanks to their naiveté, AKK recordings such as Psychedelic Noise Freak were wildly spontaneous, breaking rules that Makoto regularly ignored as the years wore on. Yet he's no basher of music education.
"I am not jealous of musicians who have formal training, nor do I think that I am in some way superior to them because I don't have that knowledge," he insists. "If I were to think that way, it would merely be a case of the grass always being greener." In his opinion, "technique is only useful insofar as it allows me to precisely re-create the sounds I hear. Technique that goes beyond that, then, creates a desire for the musician to show off his chops. But if I had less technique than necessary, I wouldn't be able to re-create precisely the sounds I hear, and I would be forced to make more simplistic arrangements of them.