For roughly three quarters of a century, Japan has given birth to some of the world’s most radical realisations of organised sound. From the early Fluxus associated composers like Takemitsu, Ichiyanagi, and Kosugi; the psychedelic experimentalism of projects like Taj Mahal Travellers, Geinoh Yamashirogumi, Far East Family Band, Magical Power Mako, Flower Travellin' Band, Les Rallizes Dénudés; the free jazz of Masahiko Togashi, Masayuki Takayanagi, Yosuke Yamashita, and Akira Sakata; to wild contemporary wanderings of artists like Akio Suzuki, Otomo Yoshihide, Sachiko M, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Toshimaru Nakamura, Tetuzi Akiyama, and countless others, the country represents a continuum of sonic radicalism unlike anything else. Among the most noteworthy of the latter is the collective Marginal Consort, currently the quartet of Kazuo Imai, Kei Shii, Masami Tada, and Tomonao Koshikawa. Known to play live only rarely and release albums with even less frequency, for a project of such legendary status their discography is painfully thin. Thankfully, the Italian imprint, 901 Editions, is making inroads to remedying this with “06 06 16 - St. Elisabeth Kirche, Berlin”, an incredible three CD box set capturing the group in Germany during 2016. Comprising some of the most radical sounds of the last decade - sprawling with texture, immediacy, and startling absences - this beautiful edition contains three individually sleeved CDs and a twenty-eight-page booklet with an essay by Lawrence English, all housed in a lovely box. Truly monumental, historically significant, and not to be missed.
During the mid-1970s, a group of art students at the Bigakko school in Tokyo, working under Takehisa Kosugi, the renowned Fluxus composer, violinist, and member of Group Ongaku and The Taj-Mahal Travellers, came together as the free improvisation collective East Bionic Symphonia. They recorded a single album - their graduation project, released in 1976 under the title “Recorded Live” - one of the great artifacts of the Japanese sonic avant-garde - before going their separate ways. It wasn’t until 1996 that most of the members of that collective reformed under the moniker Marginal Consort, releasing their first album, “Collective Improvisation”, on P.S.F. not long after.
With a handful of exceptions during the last decade, Marginal Consort have only met once each year since 1996, gathering, without discussion or planning, a collective of horizontally organized independent solos that tend to last two-to-four hours, with each member spread out across the performance space, focused on their own act of individual creation. Only the audience, moving around them, can gain a full sense of the happening.
“06 06 16 - St. Elisabeth Kirche, Berlin” - only the fifth Marginal Consort release in more than two and half decades of the group’s activities - captures one of these performance events, staged in Berlin, Germany, in 2016. In typical fashion, it encounters the group in the throes of a three-hour concert, weaving a vast array of sound sources - electronic and instrumental - into rippling soundscapes of bristling textures, percussive rattles, and ambience, all threaded by complex tonal intersections. For a group with its member working in simultaneous autonomy, it’s startling how cohesive their sound is when mixed into a single, equally present band that would be difficult to obtain within the sprawling setting it preformed.
It couldn’t be said better than in the words of Marginal Consort member and performer, Kazuo Imai: “A form of sound that does not turn into music and a group that does not produce harmony; individual concepts and group fluidity; individuals who are at once independent entities and components of the whole; coexisting time frames and intersecting rhythms – these are among the images of group improvisation that have occupied my mind since the '70s. These images neither presuppose specific elements nor regulate the entire process. There always remain, however, the fundamental premises that sounds are separately produced phenomena and that their accumulation forms the whole.”
Deeply engaging, immersive, and transformative, 901 Edition’s release of Marginal Consort’s “06 06 16 - St. Elisabeth Kirche, Berlin” is nothing short of a historical event, adding much needed access to one of the most important projects within the global context of improvisation and noise. These are sprawling sounds within which to get lost, discover, and be reborn. This beautiful edition contains three individually sleeved CDs and a twenty-eight page booklet with an essay by Lawrence English, all housed in a lovely box. Ten out of ten and impossible to recommend enough.