Ché-SHIZU’s A Journey 2LP (BE-004/53)
To be released by Black Editions on May 25, 2018.
Artist Biography & Images
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“I filed A Journey in my head under “mystery” … Turn to the left and you hear one thing, turn the the right and you hear something else. And a week later, when you turn in those same directions, don’t you hear something else again? That is Ché-SHIZU. Unfathomable depth… It became apparent that this was off-kilter, unique music that could only be generated by a genius.”
– Ben Chasny (Six Organs of Admittance, Comets on Fire, Drag City)
CLICK HERE to read Ben’s full recollections about Ché-SHIZU, A Journey and P.S.F. Records….
Biography & Album Information
Ché-SHIZU is one of the most original and mystifying groups to ever emerge from the Tokyo underground. Founded by master improviser Chie Mukai in 1981 the group has been guided by her singular vision for nearly 40 years. Throughout its history Ché-SHIZU has challenged traditional notions of song structure and improvisation- embracing a seemingly shambolic approach that on closer listen reveals a deeply coherent and at the same time surreal world. Mukai’s signature instrument, the Chinese er-hu , an ancient two stringed bowed instrument rarely found outside of traditional music, only further set the group’s music apart in the avant-garde and underground rock. Even within the wildly diverse roster of artists championed by the Tokyo label P.S.F. Records, Ché-SHIZU is a playful and confounding outlier.
Early on Mukai became active within the avant-garde movement flowering in Tokyo during the mid-1970’s. In what she would later describe as a life changing experience she studied with renowned Fluxus composer and violinist Takehisa Kosugi. Mukai recalls “That encounter was so huge for me, much more than any one technique. Even in terms of the er-hu, I only started playing it because Kosugi gave it to me.” In 1975 she joined his East Bionic Symphonia, a large improvising ensemble featuring students from Tokyo’s Bigakko artschool. From there she contributed to improvising avant-garde groups including an early version of Marginal Consort and later the Vedda Music Workshop. Her work with Ché-SHIZU however is where her vision most clearly emerged and garnered her the most acclaim.
In an interview with G-Modern Magazine, the magazine published by P.S.F. founder Hideo Ikeezumi, Mukai recalls, “Initially Ché-SHIZU was an improvisation unit comprised of whomever I was playing with. The first Ché-SHIZU performance was at Goodman in Ogikubo, in 1981. Taniguchi from Hijokaidan joined us for that performance. There were three of us in the group, with one member usually rotating in or out…One day it occurred to us to ask Tori (Kudo) to join. The next day, I heard a melody in my head… I thought, “That must be coming from the neighbor’s place,” but I wrote it down anyway. I wrote lyrics to the melody on the train, and that same day it became our song “Hi no Umi.” We’d perform “I’m Dancing in My Heart,” which I had played with a group that pre-dated Ché-SHIZU, and “Hi no Umi,” and then we’d shift to improvisational material. That became a routine for us for a while, but with more songs under our belt, we became more and more like a real band. That was also kind of strange, come to think of it.”
Ché-SHIZU released its first album I Can’t Promise in 1984 on Zero Records, in time the album would become a revered classic, later re-issued by the legendary Osaka label Alchemy Records. It would be another ten years before another full length would be released. During that time the group performed extensively with various rotating line ups. Some of these performances would be released later on cassette and CD- however even these recordings only loosely hinted at the fully realized vision that their second album would reveal.
In the summer of 1994, Mukai led the group to Studio J in Tokyo to record an album for the P.S.F. label. While the studio had been used to record fellow label mates Keiji Haino, White Heaven and Kan Mikami, Ché-SHIZU’s sessions yielded music from a seemingly different universe.
Released later that year, the album was titled A Journey – Fittingly, it is a sprawling excursion through ethereal dreamscapes, the group confident in its own resplendent joy. Over the album course, the group creates a spontaneous, loose form of chamber pop that weaves folk and a light psychedelia into something entirely unique. Pop songs like “Juso Station” intersect with instrumentals such as the title track to create a varied yet coherent improvisational language. The album invites listeners to take a journey through memories and dreams, to days gone by, to forests and mountain lakes, to haunting runs in the dark and bright morning illuminations. The album is full of a sort of romance and yearning. “I write melodies first, and then write lyrics for the melodies,” said Chie Mukai in an interview from G Modern. “ When I get a melody down, I sing it to myself over and over, and the right words for the melody come naturally. So I turn those words into lyrics. I’ve never written a lyric based on a preconceived image or concept. The words do tend to illustrate the way I was feeling at the time, though. Only later do I understand their meaning..”
Ché-SHIZU takes improvisation to a far different place than many of its peers, the results elucidating a hypnotic, melodically unique album of loose beauty. Recorded and produced in a proper studio, the album also presented their clearest, most precisely defined recording to date. In the years since, A Journey has become a signature album in the group’s catalog.
To this day, Mukai regularly leads improvisational workshops focused on movement, sound, voice and other foundational aspects of performance. She has continued to collaborate with a wide array of artists including Fred Frith, Merzbow and 75 Dollar Bill’s Che Chen. Mukai has also been a member of Tori Kudo’s improvising orchestral group Maher Shalal Hash Baz– a group that shares Ché-SHIZU’s playful and open spirit. Accordingly, Kudo, a key figure in Tokyo’s music and arts underground, has also been a frequent member of Ché-SHIZU. In addition to P.S.F. , the label that first introduced her to a wider international audience, she has recorded for the venerable SIWA, Mesh-Key, and AQM labels. Mukai continues to actively tour and record, Ché-SHIZU with Mukai at the helm can be expected to visit the U.S. for performances and to release new music in the coming months.
Black Editions is proud to present Ché-SHIZU’s A Journey, newly re-mastered, in its first ever vinyl pressing: A deluxe two LP edition cut at D&M Berlin and pressed at Pallas Germany including new expansive artwork and lyric translations, housed in a spot gloss heavy gatefold jacket.
Ché-SHIZU – A Journey 2LP
Black Editions (BE-004/53) – May 25th
A1. Juso Station
A2. A Dream of Trousers
A3. Vestige / Shadow
B2. Nokogiriyama No Inu
C1. A Broad Daylight
C2. Shaking by the Waves, Actually
C3. Mariam Matrem
C5. Lovely on the Water
D1. A Journey 1
D2. A Journey 2
Chie Mukai – Vocal, Er-Hu, Piano, Tambourine
Takuya Nishimura – Vocal, Bass, Guitar
Keita Koma – Vocal, Guitar
Shinji Shibayama – Vocal, Drums
Takafumi Sato – Vocal, Piano
All tracks produced and arranged by Ché-SHIZU
All tracks recorded and mixed by Masanori Ihara
All tracks recorded at studio “J” Tokyo, 1994
Additional mastering by Jeff Yellen, Ridgeline Sound
Vinyl mastering by Mike Grinser, Dubplates & Mastering, Berlin
Originally released in 1994 on CD by P.S.F. Records, Tokyo, Japan (PSFD-53)
Ben Chasny’s reflections on Ché-SHIZU and A Journey:
“Where as the stars, so often compared to golden spikes, are symbols of fixity, the nebula, on the other hand, the Milky Way – to which a thoughtful view should attribute the very same fixity as it does the stars – is, during an evening’s contemplation, the theme of constant changes.” – Gaston Bachelard, Air & Dreams 1943
In 2018, most attempts to use the P.S.F. label to describe a sound are basically referring to a few bands like High Rise, White Heaven, Haino in his many forms, and maybe Gasenata. That leaves out a whole lot of music in the P.S.F. universe. To state that there is a P.S.F. sound is as ridiculous as stating that there is an ESP Disk sound. There was a vision: a classification that could only be known to the dearly departed Hideo Ikeezumi, mastermind behind the label. Now that Black Editions are re-issuing these P.S.F. releases, it’s excellent and apt that the next record to join Tokyo Flaskback, Haino and High-Rise is Che-SHIZU’s A Journey.Exploring P.S.F. as a youngster, all I knew was that whatever record they put out, it would be awesome. It could be rock, jazz, folk, whatever, it was always amazing. So when I first picked up A Journey, although the sounds were different than anything I had heard before, I trusted the label. Listening to Che-SHIZU re-arranged my brain. The most immediate sound was Chie Mukai’s kokyo, which I thought was an insane violin. After I realized what I was listening to, the compositions started to embed themselves inside my mind. It became apparent that this was off-kilter, unique music that could only be generated by a genius. I will admit, at the time I didn’t know much about Chie Mukai, the leader of Che-SHIZU. She certainly didn’t get the press that others on the label were getting at the time. She still doesn’t get the press that those crazy rock guys get. Hopefully that will change with this record. I filed the record in my head under “mystery.”
Later I would find out that she had played in the legendary East Bionic Symphony, studied with the Fluxus master of the waveform Takehisa Kosugi, and that Tori Kudo of Maher Shalal Hash Baz (a band that I was certainly prepared for by Che-SHIZU’s sound) had been in the band at some point. I think the moment it hit me how much I didn’t know about her was during the 2004 Instal Festival, which I was lucky enough to have been invited to. Chie Mukai was scheduled to play but couldn’t make it due to cancelled flights. I was disappointed, but the saxophonist and all round bad-ass Masayushi Urabe was downright devastated. He referenced Chie Mukai in a way that was so reverent I realized that even though I had my own relationship to the music, I had so much more to experience with her songs. And isn’t that what the best music gives us? Unfathomable depth? Music that moves with us? Turn to the left and you hear one thing, turn the the right and you hear something else. And a week later, when you turn in those same directions, don’t you hear something else again? That is Che-SHIZU. Unfathomable depth.
I will not describe the music within in detail. All I will say is that the record begins with a bass riff that would sound right at home on the first Clark Hutchinson record and in no time dissolves into such a nebulous atmosphere that dear old Gaston Bachelard, quoted above, would no doubt have dedicated at least a chapter to the dynamic imagination of Che-SHIZU had he been fortunate enough to be alive and hear this record during his lifetime. It is a nebula to never be fixed, a theme of constant change.
-Benjamin Chasny 2018