Over the past 25 years Makoto Kawabata has proven to be one of the most explosive and versatile guitarists / overall musicians in the world. He has toured and recorded tirelessly - solo, with collaborations and most notably his group Acid Mothers Temple. On the occasion of the newly released edition of Musica Transonic's debut LP, Kawabata writes about the group's formation in collaboration with Asahito Nanjo (High Rise, La Musica) and Tatsuya Yoshida (Ruins, YBO2). His original recollections in Japanese can be found on his personal blog; they are here available as translated by Justin Simon.
P.S.F. Records released Musica Transonic’s first album, Glorious Musica Transonic (English title: Musica Transonic) in 1995. A quarter of a century later, US label Black Editions has reissued the album as a 2LP set.
The original Musica Transonic CD was a highly significant release for me. I was a hard-working but struggling guitarist at the time, and was overjoyed to finally have an album under my belt. I could never have imagined that I’d go on to release music with a group of independent labels scattered around the globe. So this particular album is a profoundly memorable one.
I designed the original artwork. Most graphic designers had already migrated to computers by then, but I was hopelessly behind the times, and gave the printer a paste-up. I’m so grateful to Black Editions for their superb reproduction of the original outer and inner sleeve in their deluxe gatefold edition. Glancing at the track listing, I discover a surprise…eighteen tracks? The original release had twelve, but Black Editions has generously added six bonus tracks. It makes sense, though; Musica Transonic recorded day and night, and there was plenty of material that didn’t make it onto our official releases. Nanjo’s La Musica imprint has released many of these tracks on cassettes and CD-Rs over the years. It’s a testament to the mastering world’s technical advancements that the sound of the Black Editions version is far superior to the blown-out sound of the original. I haven’t spoken to Nanjo in nearly twenty years, but I heard he compiled the bonus tracks and remixed and remastered last year’s Black Editions reissue of High Rise II. So I guess he applied his talents to this reissue as well. My memories of those days are hazy, but if I’m not mistaken, most of the tracks on Musica Transonic were first takes. The back story to the band’s formation is that, during one of my regular visits to Nanjo’s house for week-long (or sometimes even two-week long) recording sessions, Nanjo asked me if there were any drummers I’d be interested in playing with. Without a moment’s hesitation, I told him, “Tatsuya Yoshida from YBO2.” I was dumbfounded by Yoshida’s incredible drumming the first time I saw him play with Phaidia, and I loved his recorded work with Aburadago, YBO2, and Ruins. I used to call him “Japan’s Charles Heyward.” I remember discussing Yoshida once with another This Heat fan, Ochiai (drummer for cult Osaka group Heddiku), and asking each other, “How on earth can he play like that??” Eventually, Nanjo, Yoshida and I ended up in a studio together, and Musica Transonic was born.
Many of those who attended our performances thought we were playing “fully composed material.” And I can see why we might have left that impression; even our completely improvised performances gelled into pop-like structures at times. For us, for example, an improvisation along the lines of “A+B+A'+B+C+A+B'+D+C+A''+B''+E+B+C+A+A” was a spontaneous composition. So I can see why we may have been misunderstood. Nanjo, Yoshida and I always listened carefully to each other, and instinctively knew when to play part A and part B, and when to take a left turn to part C. Our approach aligned perfectly with what I felt was the essence of improvisation. For me, an improvised performance was one where songwriting, arrangement and performance all happened simultaneously, the ideal context for experimentation and outlet for honing ones skills.
Here’s an interesting anecdote related to this particular album. Long before I met her, when she was still in high school, Picachu (from Afrirampo) picked up the original CD as an impulse buy, intrigued by the artwork and the text on the obi. She grew to love the album and, years later, shortly after we met, was shocked to learn that I had played guitar on Musica Transonic. If I manage to find any photos of the group’s early performances online, I’ll post them here (and I apologize in advance for posting without permission). When I close my eyes and think back to those early Musica Transonic studio sessions, I’m amazed that a quarter of a century has passed. I was only in my early thirties then, and considering how quickly the subsequent twenty-five years have flown by, I can’t help but feel that the final chapter of my life is fast approaching, and I had better make swift decisions and double down on all the work I still have left to do.