I started writing this two years ago, but couldn’t find the right words. Midori Takada’s debut Through The Looking Glass is an album that shrugs off description, flitting on dream logic like a hummingbird through a garden. I’m still not sure I can capture what makes this album special, but I’m happy to try and convince everyone to listen.
The quickest way to state the appeal for myself is this: the album sits at the perfect crossroads between my love of modern classical music and Japanese surrealism. There’s a lot more to it, though.
Released in 1983, this was the first full length recording from Japanese composer Midori Takada. For a long time it was considered one of those holy grail records, the kind selling for far too much money on Discogs, bootleg digital copies passing between fans with hushed reverence. Based on my love for Steve Reich, Philip Glass, Terry Riley, and other modern composers, I was sent a copy years ago with the assurance that I’d fall in love. I did, immediately.
Through The Looking Glass was uploaded to youtube in its entirety and has now stood as the only video I’ve had bookmarked for years; it’s a well I go back to every time I feel the need for its particular flavor of spiritual refreshment. Here it is:
1. Mr. Henri Rousseau’s Dream (0:00)
2. Crossing (11:15)
3. Trompe-l’œil (20:30)
4. Catastrophe Σ (26:00)
Thankfully, Takada’s long-lost treasure was officially resurrected by Palto Flats and We Release Whatever The Fuck We Want (WRWTFWW) Records this month. That means this timeless masterpiece is now getting into the hands of both longtime fans and, hopefully, a lot of new listeners. Through The Looking Glass has been issued on both single LP vinyl and limited 45rpm 2LP formats, both cut directly from the original studio reels at Emil Berliner. This was the famed recording space for classical record label Deutsche Grammophon, a name that carries a lot of weight for certain listeners. Incredibly, they’ve included extensive liner notes and even pressed the album to CD, increasing the potential audience.
The album itself is a four-song suite that moves from gentle marimba pulsing into a maelstrom of percussion, flush with organic touches that conjure an atmosphere of curated jungle fantasia. To listen is to take a ride through an ethereal sound world, blending traditional Japanese instrumentation and African structures into an unrecognizable yet grounded atmosphere. There’s a lived-in vibrance to these songs, full of woodwind bird calls, ocarina trills, and twinkling bells. The surfeit of tactile instrumentation circles and supplements the meditative pulse of Takada’s compositions, breathing wild life into a genre that often feels cold to the touch.
Midori Takada debuted in 1974 with the Berlin Philharmonic after graduating from Tokyo University of the Arts, growing her career through solo concerts both in Japan and abroad. She eventually released two solo albums; long after Through The Looking Glass came Tree Of Life, in 1999. The massive gap was filled with constant work both as a solo artist and as a composer and performer in live theater. Her spare music casts a hypnotic spell in any form, echoing her affection for the coherence between sound and the living human body.
As found in the liner notes, Takada explained her approach for the album:
“When I thought about it in retrospect, all the tracks actually have the same concept. The only subtle difference from track to track were the techniques I experimented with, and yet the main theme of the music on this album was the notion of time and body, of physicality. While approaching this idea in a multitude of variations, I wanted to understand how my physical body would react.”
The quote is the closest we could as for a description of not how but why the music feels so natural, so alive.
Through The Looking Glass was, incredibly, crafted entirely by Takada alone, despite the expansive communal effect of its sound. On marimba, gongs, cowbell, woodwinds, bells, harmonium, and a variety of percussion instruments, she weaves a mystical tapestry of modern minimalism unlike virtually anything else out there. Through The Looking Glass is truly a one-of-a-kind experience that has been mercifully yanked through time for those of us alive in 2017.
The album can be purchased on standard vinyl, 45rpm 2LP, and CD editions right from the WRWTFWW Bandcamp page.