Reviews of Ayuo's CDs
AOI is a very interesting new record from one of Japan's most enigmatic composers, Ayuo. He was born in Japan in the early-'60s but spent a formative decade in New York City (English is actually his first language, not Japanese) where he lived with his mother and an Iranian-American stepfather who exposed him to a great deal of Persian music as a child. He returned to live in Japan as a teenager and joined an early incarnation of Keiji Haino's Fushitsusha in 1979. Since then, he has released nearly a dozen albums and performed or collaborated with a staggeringly diverse group of individuals, including Kan Mikami, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Peter Hammill, Danny Thompson, the Fairport Convention, and Steeleye Span.
Though an eclectic artist, he seems to have a few predominate interests that don't seem to be too hard to reconcile, and this latest disc displays many of them. Ayuo is a wonderfully sensitive performer of pastoral psych-folk that touches on both Japanese and Anglo-Scots traditions--he's even covered Robin Williamson songs in the past. He is adept at recasting ancient Noh plays in modern settings without abandoning their strict forms, while simultaneously making them contemporarily relevant. He writes hugely epic world music synthesis that seem to have a lot in common with the direction the Boredoms have been heading in the last couple of years (i.e., an emphasis on the drone and a diverse array of multi-layered instruments like sitar-guitars and soft synths).
There is also a piece for solo bouzouki as well as a lyrical post minimal solo piano suite, here beautifully performed by the celebrated pianist Yuji Takahashi. His work touches on so many interests that intersect with those of the typical Other Music customer that I don't doubt for a moment that his profile is only going to be increasing over the next couple of years. [MK]
Biography by Thom Jurek
Ayuo is a New York-born Japanese composer. His name, literally translated, means "fish life." With the play as his muse - he has a lifelong obsession with it - Ayuo creates a terrain that doesn't cross all borders so much as create a new terrain upon which the concept of a "borderline" is alien. In his mini-opera Izutsu, traditional folk musics and instruments are given over equally to classical composition, new age atmospheric textures (without the accompanying electronica), and elements of true improvisation.
Reviews by Sean Westergaard
Ayuo / Ohta Hiromi
This album is so beautiful and beguiling it's difficult to put into words. Ohta Hiromi has a wonderful clear voice, accompanied by Ayuo on all manner of guitars, but that hardly tells the whole story. All the acoustic guitars give an almost folky feel, but all the wah-wah, fuzz, and sitar-guitars impart a nearly psychedelic edge at times. Violin, mandolin, and/or percussion are added on a few tracks, but it's mostly just voice and guitars. The arrangements are impeccable, and the tunes seem to have a familiar feel to them. The lyrics are taken from a multitude of sources, from a 13th century Zen Buddhist philosopher to Rumi, the well-known Sufi poet, to Nikos Kazantzakis, who wrote Zorba the Greek. Almost everything is sung in Japanese (there is a little English), which juxtaposes nicely with the music, creating a sensation of both familiarity and utter uniqueness. This is a recording that transcends borders, styles, and even description. Highly recommended.
Following the exquisite Red Moon collaboration with Ohta Hiromi, Ayuo returns to another medieval Noh play as a source, Aoi No Ue, also written by Zeami in the 14th century. However, unlike Izutsu, pieces not based on the Noh source material also appear on Aoi. "Aoi No Ue" is certainly the centerpiece of the album, lasting more than 20 minutes. It's a good deal more sparse than anything on Red Moon, with Ayuo's electric guitar ranging from ominously distorted to chiming and pretty and interacting with shakuhachi, biwa, and vocals. "A Stranger" and "Oh Light of My Heart" are both multi-tracked instrumentals that closely resemble the lush settings on Red Moon, with sitar-guitar and bouzouki prominent among layers of guitars. Ayuo has a fabulous assortment of tones and a knack for spacious arrangements, and the tunes themselves are beautiful. "On the Morning of March 1, 2005" is a lovely improvisation on solo bouzouki. Rounding out the program are a couple of solo piano pieces (played by Ayuo's father, Yuji Takahashi) that were originally commissioned for a dance performance. The first piece draws heavily from minimalism, maintaining the same rhythmic thrust as the melody shifts behind the rhythms. The second is basically the same composition, but on this performance the rhythms fracture and become slightly disjointed, although the melody is still discernible. These pieces are far different from anything else Ayuo has released stateside, and really speak of his abilities as a composer, not just a player. Because Aoi is basically four distinct sessions, it doesn't hang together as an album quite as well as his previous efforts (though savvy sequencing helps greatly). However, it does give an indication of the breadth of Ayuo's talents as a genre-smashing composer and instrumentalist.
Review by Thom Jurek
This work is a type of opera based on the great Noh play Izutsu, written by Zeami in the late 14th century. Ayuo has employed the use of hurdy-gurdy, Celtic harp, something he calls "sitar-guitar," Dharma-vina, and traditional gagaku instruments that come from the royal court music of Japan and Korea. But it is the vocals of Makiko Sakurai that pull these disparate elements into a whole so haunting and beautiful that it feels otherworldly at times. Sakurai hovers and swoops, weeps and cries, and philosophically intones over the proceedings. It doesn't matter that it's in Japanese (there are some translations); the emotions inherent in these pieces are shot through with sincerity and empathy. Each utterance is a vibration against eternal silence while acknowledging its eternal presence. There are places of musical and vocal interplay, such as on the opening chant, which lasts a bit over 12 minutes, or the shimmering, sadly beautiful "Izutsu 4," where double-tracked vocals and a Celtic harp pine to each other in sorrow. It feels more like a prayer than an aria with accompanying chorus, and perhaps it is. Ayuo has written a masterpiece of modern music that, while rooted in a Japan he admits he has never seen but only imagined, is its own country, a territory that unites the mind and the heart in sound, thought, and word. It is absolutely stunning; a classic of new music. (A note to store owners and record buyers: never mind where to classify it, just play it in store and it will sell itself.)
Another exciting release from the other side of the world. Aoi mixes psychedelic sounds with the Japanese tradition of Noh theatre music. It's a combination that works really well and results in something that's tuneful, organic and possesses a foreboding sense of dignity and depth. A truly accomplished album of ingenious music.
- Steeleye Span
Reviews of Ayuofs CDs by Gerald Van Waes
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Zipangu Rec.Ayuo : E no Naka no Sugata / What we look like in the picture (JAP,2006)****
First of all, I must say this is a beautiful looking package, which is, like the booklet, printed on high quality Japanese paper, which tickles all senses, including the touch sensibility for a change. Colours and chosen graphics and forms match beautifully, and when you take out the booklet some details change, thanks to a cut out window, revealing this like another surprise.
It is clear the music is conceptual, with references to Ayuofs childhood, like a collection of songs and memories that had a special meaning to him. Like a related soul, with a similar origin of experiencing the world, from the same period (for me I think for when I was around 21-23) I had or could have picked out the same songs with comparable significance, like the two Lou Reed songs from the gBerlinh album. For the same reasons a few other similar tracks from the same period and artists became something I was moved and personally affected by, like the songs from Syd Barrett, Bertolt Brecht/Weil, and a Joni Mitchell song called gRoses Blueh, which gets an ending from gBoth Sides Nowh. The lyrical quote of gNo one touches meh reminds me also of my childhood, and brings in more associations :
Lately, on television they showed as an educative attempt that it is a better cure for your emotions, to hug people. They showed how people who were constantly exposed to direct live reactions on the street made such peoplefs energy more aggressive, over-offensive, and over-defending and so on. You know they also say that abandoned children without proper care or education and constructive ideas from fathers, when grown ups, cmay find criminal activity a normal survival technique of lifefs activity. What still worries me and comes to mind is why such people donft recognise any form of love and spontaneous affective understanding, not only behave so much like idiots, like small children, show preferably a more ganimalistich nature, makes preservation of some cultural level in society a bit more difficult to maintain, because they donft care or want to know from all these unwritten rules which we have built out of social friendships and trust, and that became part of a social culture, where we no longer need to protect
everything so much (for me trust is like the quality of a culture), and secondly that we also have a few social ideas that protect us from the few failures. But such people use the protections and assurances for failures, to uplift their personal profit, and take advantage of the loose trust between people, because they donft really care, not even when it ruins society. Against such people, openness and positivism to an open world just sounds so naive. gwe are not intelligent enough for all the good we meanh.. We are not so much developed that everything we have fits with the human level we can preserve, when the door is also open to the wild west type of world is also ready to reshape the world, to replace it by their street game visions of a more arrogant primitive nature. (And I could even continue to worry, thinking what if such nature is let free to take things over by force, when we let the rules of the streets rule too much, under the protection form of a multicultural openness, society becomes like one big mafia world, with perhaps even some forms of dogma based greligionh as a so called hope, but also, the opposite, when we let only the idealists rule with protective rules, totalitarist regimes, as a system without wisdom, are also never too far away as a resukt for their ideas, if you would let them..).. All such thoughts come in mind when growing up in this world of change and increased interaction in the world. Also Ayuo adds here and there in the lyrics his own kind of growing questions to some of the songs. BUT in some way Ayuo also achieved in it his mature point where he becomes like a catalyst, as the predecessor of a different generation with a clairvoyance of how a world could hang together after allc
If you consider how the term gWorld musich started, it started in fact from rather conservative ideas around the first idea of what gWorld Musich would be, something I never liked too much because I noticed much disadvantage with that. The term opened up after a while, bringing in mostly not too spontaneously developed crossover possibilities starting from standard traditional forms, but that last kind of forced opening could easily forget how this still starts from the same starting point which was conservative and limited and based upon recognisable repetitions. If only there would be taken another starting point for a world related genre based upon gcreative@musich understandable for each generation, and country of origin, taking elements from all over the world only for this creative inspiration, this would be much more like gWorld musich for me. But since that term is already taken for something else, I could only think of new terms like gall-worldh music for music with traditional world and creative elements from anywhere in the world and with a completely open vision, or when really more neutral and completely open to whatever there is interesting in the world, this is purely creative in the true sense a gwhole-worldh music style which is understandable and similar anywhere in the world. Often for this western crossovers were taken as a good example, but it is in no way just typically western. For this kind of style, Ayuofs music is visionary, and a perfect, if not one of the best examples. Being raised by an Iranian stepfather, living in the US for a short while, with Japanese predecessors, knowing much of Japanese traditions, fine English examples, something Middle Eastern music he is a true World citizen, with respect for his own countries heritage, as well as other achievements, and that alone is already a good starting point. After taking to the composer I realized why Ayuo had such a natural way of a world-vision roots. He explained : "I grew up between two official step-fathers and two official step-mothers, not counting all those in between. The good side was that I was exposed to a lot of different life styles and culture. On the other hand, it left me without a stable home and without solid roots in one specific culture. Therefore, I started to use my music and writings to create virtual "home" incorporating all the elements that was around me when I grew up. Therefore, the Persian influences, the Noh, the Celtic influence, the psychedelic music, etc. If I tried to do only one of them, it may start to sound false. Altogether, it could create my very own "roots music"."
musich understandable for each generation, and country of origin, taking elements from all over the world only for this creative inspiration, this would be much more like gWorld musich for me. But since that term is already taken for something else, I could only think of new terms like gall-worldh music for music with traditional world and creative elements from anywhere in the world and with a completely open vision, or when really more neutral and completely open to whatever there is interesting in the world, this is purely creative in the true sense a gwhole-worldh music style which is understandable and similar anywhere in the world. Often for this western crossovers were taken as a good example, but it is in no way just typically western. For this kind of style, Ayuofs music is visionary, and a perfect, if not one of the best examples. Being raised by an Iranian stepfather, living in the US for a short while, with Japanese predecessors, knowing much of Japanese traditions, fine English examples, something Middle Eastern music he is a true World citizen, with respect for his own countries heritage, as well as other achievements, and that alone is already a good starting point. After taking to the composer I realized why Ayuo had such a natural way of a world-vision roots. He explained : "I grew up between two official step-fathers and two official step-mothers, not counting all those in between. The good side was that I was exposed to a lot of different life styles and culture. On the other hand, it left me without a stable home and without solid roots in one specific culture. Therefore, I started to use my music and writings to create virtual "home" incorporating all the elements that was around me when I grew up. Therefore, the Persian influences, the Noh, the Celtic influence, the psychedelic music, etc. If I tried to do only one of them, it may start to sound false. Altogether, it could create my very own "roots music"."
This is another, brilliant release of Ayuo, and as a song related album it is the best I have heard from him so far. It could mean something on the international market, if only people would start to recognise the inevitable great talent of Ayuo, something which has not been achieved yet, despite effort of support by people like Peter Hamill and such (who worked with him before). Any Acid folk lover, I recommend just to start with this album and gRed Moonh and I am sure also you will become a fan.
PS. The album includes a new version of the suite of songs released as "A Painting of You and I" in gRed Moonh. Because the original title could be translated a number of ways, the English title here appears as "What We Look Like in the Picture".
Ayuo (guit, vocals) with Ueno Yoko (vocals), Hara Masumi (vocals), Jadranka (vocals, saz, guitar), Chino Shu-ichi (piano), Takahashi Yuji (piano), Sawada Jyoji (sound collage)
Extra background thoughts by Ayuo :
"The story behind "A Picure of You and I" , "Izutsu", "Lament" in both Carmina and Izutsu and the two songs set from "The Dream of Red Mansions" in Kazue Sawai's album are basically the same. Edgar Allen Poe's poem, Annnabel Lee also has the same story. The writer, Yukio Mishima, once started writing a short story based on Edgar Allen Poe's Annabel Lee, but found it so similar to Izutsu, that he put in a quotation from Izutsu after he finished the story.
They are about a boy and a girl, who grow up together in the same village. They fall in love and marry. One dies and the other continues to live in the memory of the life they had together. The story seems very simple , but it's actually about one's identity and roots.
I once had a conversation with Peter Hammill in which he told me that he raised his three children in a small town near Bath, England because he wanted to give them a solid sense of roots. He said "I never had that because my parents were moving around constantly. In this modern age, being able to grow up with the same people in the same place is important. because that way you really get to understand people. The musicians that I toured with, and that went on to tour the States all wound up with broken homes." (He was tallking about menbers in Genesis and King Crimson.) I said " I've never had the chance of being in one place long either. Just when I turned three, I was in Berlin. I was in Stockholm, when I was four. Then from the time I turned six to when I was fifteen, I was in New York City. Sometimes, we moved to a few different places in one year. My familly menbers kept changing too. I've had Iranian and English step-fathers, as well as an Irish-American step-mother." Peter: "Oh well, for me, it was all in England." Kurt Vonnegut wrote an essay that his greatest influence was his cultural anthropology teacher at College. Robert Renfield, his teacher, wrote constantly about what he called a "Folk Society". He wrote that although primitive societies all have their various differences, there is one thing that is in common. It is that they are all so small that everyone knew each other for a lifetime. Experiences were communicated by word of mouth, so the old were respected for their memories. There was little change. People were all able to treat each other as people instead of as things because they each of them knew where they were coming from and what they were thinking.
Now this tends to sound like the lost paradise or the garden of Eden. People throughout history in every land have written about such utopias. In the 60's, people went out to communes to try to create such a society. They failed because they no longer had such tradition, had no fixed rules of human relationships, couldn't really understand each other nor about human nature.
When I look at small societies, I also notice that people living in them are often much more envious of any who is more successful than everyone else. People there also hate anyone that is slightly different, and are highly prejudiced. There is a composition I wrote called "The Taiko player of the Forest", which was one of the tracks deleted from the CD, "AOI", released from Tzadik. This composition is about someone, who is trained as a drummer because he's slightly different than everyone else. People in his village all treat him like an outcast, and outcastes were often trained to be musicians because they couldn't fit into society. This kind of situation existed in small villages in both Japan and Africa, and probabbly many other places.
For me, the most interesting and influencial book I've read in the recent years is Matt Ridley's "Nature vs Nurture", which is a book that examines the roots of human behavior. Matt Ridley is a science journalist. He writes about how our genes absorb experiences from the society we grow up in, and our immediate environment. Scientists who study genes now believe that all human beings on the earth are descended from the same group of people that originated in Tanzania in Eastern Africa. Parts of this group started to leave the African continent from about 50,000 to 60,000 years ago. The differences in the environment and how each set of people coped with it made the changes in the people around the earth. But we are still 99.99% alike.
Matt Ridley also writes about Kasper Hauser. Kasper Hauser was a man who grew to be 16 with almost no human contact. He was able to learn some vocabulary by imitation, but had a problem understanding grammer. Matt Ridely writes the ability to learn language is inherited, but the language one learns to speak is imprinted from the society they are raised in. The same goes for culture. And that there is a time limit for this imprinting, which is up to about the time you are 15. As I was raised in various places until I was 15, reading this had quite an impact on me.
The German film director, Werner Hezog, made a film called "The Enigma of Kasper Hauser" with music by Popul Vuh's Florian Fricke.
I believe that understanding about life science will help uncover a lot about human behavior, and that this is what we need." Ayuo
TzadikAyuo : Izutsu (JAP, 2000)***
TzadikAyuo / Ohta Hiromi : Red Moon (JAP,2004)*****
The first Tzadik album, Izutsu has calmly evolving semi-classical eastern music with lots of more exotic instruments, like celtic harp, sitar-guitar,.. and is highly original acoustic music. It has lots of texts by filosophers and great thinkers from Japan, Middle East, the West. It has a wonderfully balanced sound of instruments and quite atmosphere. It can be considered as new Japanese music with a global vision, also musically. The main piace is based upon a classic Noh play by Zeami (1363-1443) interpreted into a musical piece in a very individual way (celtic harp, koto, psaltery, voice mostly).
The second release is even more alternated. It subcrosses all genres varying from new music to crossover psychedelica with middle eastern touches. With lots of instruments, also electric, and always with a wonderful combination of sounds. This comes with the beautiful song-oriented voice of the Japanese pop singer Ohta Hiromi. Highly recommended ! A must-have of global world vision psychedelia !
"Izutsu" label-entry : http://www.tzadik.com/CDSections/NewJapan/ayuo.html
"Red Moon" label-entry : http://www.tzadik.com/CDSections/NewJapan/ayuo_hiromi.html
Midi Inc.Ayuo Takahashi : Nova Carmina (1986)***
Therefs a great variety on this disk so I have to listen a few times more before being able to describe it all, going from what sounds like medieval music (one song, sung by Maddy Prior*) over traditional Japanese and other cultures' folk elements over to 70fs progressive pop. Nice! Some arrangements are done more minimal with keyboards compared to the more known later Ayuo pieces.
Other participators : Dave Mattacks *, Peter Knight, Peter Hamill, David Lord, Aideen Mongan, Sanshin.
Tzadik Ayuo : AOI (2005)***
I liked very much the song gThe Strangerh which was to be found for download on the support webpage for Ayou. I thought at first Ayuo was going to build a whole CD around this. The first track of the CD, "The Stranger" is a different version of this track. The main piece however, "AOI no UE" is something different and is based on a medieval Japanese Noh play said to be written by Zeami, based on an episode in "Genji Monogatari" (Romance of Genji"), written by Lady Murasaki Shikibu, who finished writing it in 1004 AD. The novel is mostly about the romantic adventures of Prince Genji with Aoi as his first wife, who he married at 12, but he falls in love with Lady Rokujo when he is 16. When both were trying to get to a festival, Aoi found her way blocked by Lady Rokujo's carriage. So she gets her servants to break down throughthe barrier of luggage and goes on her way. Being humiliated and jealous of Lady Aoi's existence, Lady Rokujo's anger develops into an angry spirit that flies out of her body, even though she herself is unaware of it. This is where this play begins.
The music is based on Sangen, Biwa, Shakuhachi, a lot of medieval -styled Japanese singing and a lot of electronic and glissando guitars. The play is about revenge, but Ayou sees this tale as a metaphor for a lot of things that have happened since the Cold War if we think of modern terrorists, nationalists, religious fanatics, as well as anti-terrorist politicians. gShe seeks retribution for the hurt and humiliation with a justification of an act of hatredh, an act which in the end will destroy Lady Rokujo. There is also another piece with a similar instrumentation to "A Stranger", called "Oh Light of My Heart". Originally, Ayuo wanted to put in more world music influenced psychedelic pieces, but John Zorn wanted less of these, and more Avant-garde pieces. As a result there is a number of pieces that unfortunately have become unused out-takes from this album. There are still no other labels interested in Ayuo so he had to make the compromise, which in the end still is successful.
gThe Strangerh used fuzzed bass, sitar-guitar, and has an exotic and psychedelic flavour. gAoih is a combination of old Noy theatre music with traditional instruments, mixed with electrified instruments, first used in an experimental, rather avant garde way, fitting with the old way of improvising, then singing mixed with electric improvisation half psych/folk/avant garde, with a weird result in its own harmonic sphere. Thhe improvisations thoroughly begin to make a compromise with the idea of the first track, first bringing in other combinations and improvisations, like folk, classical (piano), middle eastern (saz?), all heading towards a new psychedelic conclusion (guitars, and other instruments). The tracks hold a perfect middle between an improvisational feel with a very structured and thought over arranged evolution, with nice harmonic developments. Another great work from Ayuo.
Audio : "The Stranger" (or here), "AOI no UE","Ulysses and the City of Dreams - Episode 2" or more at
Info : http://www.tzadik.com/index.php?catalog=7260
Two more albums are listenable and downloadable for a cheap price at http://www.ambientmusic.com/
One is a very early recording from 1983, and the other is from 2001.
(This site was designed by Iwao Yamazaki, ex-drummer for Ghost. The site also has a track by his improvisational group, Out to Lunch, and two ambient guitar tracks by Mandog, the guitarist with Damo Suzuki's Network. Mandog also has a new band with the leader of Acid Mother Temple).
CarminaAyuo : live October 2001
gInstincth is an unusual track for Ayuo, with trance-rhythms. This is followed by some songs, often accompanied by guitar, one with an avant-psych experimental part. Therefs a much more loner feeling in this album compared to the other Ayuo releases Ifve heard.
Carmina Ayuo : Carmina (1983)**
This collection of well fitting together songs and instrumentals show glimpses of the original style of Ayuo, in a minimal, and very individual, and often rather improvised way, with use of traditional (both western and eastern) and new, mostly analogue electronic and acoustic instruments and guitars. "Carmina" is a good, cheap starter for Ayuo, but not as compact and composed as the "Red Moon" masterpiece.