Midori Takada – Through The Looking Glass (1983 / 2017)
The tale of Midori Takada’s first LP – Through The Looking Glass, is a lens into the present as much as the past. Originally issued in 1983 to overwhelming silence, the album almost immediately fell from view. For decades, the shadows cradled one of the greatest works to emerge from the 1980’s Japanese experimental avant-garde. An elegant gesture of second wave Minimalism – standing with the best of its era, it is a product of distinct cultural specificity and hybridity – as global as it is Japanese. Original pressings are as rare as they come. For many record collectors, it is among the great holy grails – a nagging frustration, the unobtainable gem.
While the Takada’s music should be allowed to stand on it own, the narrative of Through The Looking Glass extends beyond sound. It joins a larger conversation concerning cultural and creative historicization and appraisal – of the biases and failures laying beneath the histories we encounter and presumed to know. The fate of Takada’s great work is an unavoidable case. A masterpiece failed by its own time – rescued by fans, many of whom were not yet born when it originally emerged. Its presence in the contemporary landscape indicates a larger body of effort in our era – emending and rectifying sins committed in the past. While the vinyl revival has its detractors, its origins draw from the astounding contributions made by record collectors – a product of open ears and hearts – the hunt for gold laying in wait. Standing against trend and presumption, these efforts have pulled music from the grip of a capitalist industry and the shadows it cast – framing discoveries democratically, for their quality alone – offering countless neglected artists the attention they deserved. This is the source and spirit from which vinyl reissues have grown, and which, in the hands of Palto Flats and WRWTFWW, returns the brilliance of Midori Takada to our ears.
Takada – a classically trained percussionist and composer, began her career with the Berlin Philharmonic, before returning to Japan to form the Mkwaju Ensemble – members of the larger body of genre defying music unfolding within the country during the late 70’s and early 80’s – a scene which included the legendary voices of Hiroshi Yoshimura, Inoyama Land, Satoshi Ashikawa, Mariah, Aragon, Eitetsu Hayashi, Yasuaki Shimizu, among others. The Mkwaju Ensemble releases two astounding LPs in 1981 – rhythmic marvels which are among the most sought after artifacts of their day. Through The Looking Glass – Takada’s first solo effort, follows fairly rapidly on their heels, finding her in a more meditative, complex, and composed state. It is a work of stunning texture, ambience, sonority, and structure – drawing on diverse musical traditions – from the explicitly avant-garde, to New Age, and traditional musics from Japan and Africa. Slow to unfold – its arrangements are profoundly complex, yet appear entirely at ease. Built around diverse ideas of rhythm, Takada’s sensibility has few parallels. Many have been inclined to superficially site Steve Reich’s poly-rhythms as a source, but more careful listening reveals that she shares far more with Charlemagne Palestine – looking past the beat and note, for a higher path beyond.
Like a great deal of Japanese music from this era, Through The Looking Glass doesn’t fit in. It defies loyalty, genre, and description – sidestepping association and signifier – sculpting entirely new interactions of sound. It is a shimmering beauty – entirely singular, and unquestionably one of the great masterpieces of its day – taking musical Minimalism to uncharted realms. An effort in sonic joy – playful, light, and airy, as it is rigorous and challenging. Through The Looking Glass presents an alternate narrative to our orthodox histories – lost truths once forced to the depths. While being both entirely of its moment and timeless, it is equally among the few contributions made by a woman to the canon of Minimalist music – made even more rare for being Japanese. The presence of its astounding quality offers an opportunity to unwind the sins of the past – to seek the lost truths of the movement, and to place a great artist where she rightfully belongs. Like most of the avant-garde, Minimalism was global and diverse – extending far beyond the boys clubs of America and Europe. A fact which, when seen through the prism of Through The Looking Glass, can’t be ignored.
Ever the optimist, even I’m surprised how much attention Palto Flats and WRWTFWW’s joint reissue has received. The press and praise has been overwhelming. It’s well deserved. As a rule, I offer my voice to those releases which need it the most, but I’ve waited anxiously for the reissue of Through The Looking Glass for nearly decade. It is one of my great loves. I couldn’t avoid lending my praise. I’m deeply grateful to both labels for the work they have put in. Rather than get caught in the fervor, I decided to wait until it had died down – to remind those who haven’t bought it yet, that this album is an absolute must. One of the great lost joys of Minimalism – a work that time nearly forgot. I can’t recommend it enough. You can listen below, and pick it from most records stores, via Palto Flats or WRWTFWW direct, and from SoundOhm. It’s available as a single LP at 33RPM, as a limited 45RPM 2xLP, and on CD. Grab it before it’s gone.
Midori Takada – Through The Looking Glass (1983)