Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Ten Kai

Released 1978 on Wergo Spectrum
Reviewed by gogmagog, 20/01/2008ce

Kitaro - Ten Kai (1978).

Given the large amount of outright abominations created in its name, it is easy to dismiss out-of-hand the practitioners of the nascent late seventies and early eighties New-Age movement. More importantly, arguably more so than any other nation, it is the Japanese that are guilty of serving up more than their fair share of this smorgasbord of light, airy synthesizers, tree-bells, and water-garden samples. That said, if ever there was a justifiable case of ‘throwing the baby out with the bathwater’ in this most detested of musical idioms, then it might well be Kitaro’s first solo LP proper: the (mostly) delightful Ten-Kai (Astral Voyage) of 1978.

After the disastrous break-up of the original Far East Family Band line-up - following the recording of Parallel World - keyboardist Kitaro retreated to the Japanese countryside, something which shows in the pastoral shadings of this album,. The fade in to “By the Sea-Side,” for example, takes upwards of a minute before even the most gentlest of sounds is heard amongst the samples of tidal shores softly buttressing this aural shoreline. Feverish electronic chattering beaches itself upon this most peaceful of musical environments, as the tide ebbs out, leaving only a high whistling synth-line to accompany these chimp-like mutant electro sounds. A peaceful Japanese melody sounds out, joined eventually by a brand new tidal undertow borne out of huge chordal swipes of string-ensemble synthesisers. Aqueous bubbles of electronica fizz all around, as if to keep the (sub-)marine sonic metaphor intact. This is up there with the most sublime of late-seventies Ashra (sounding very similar to that group’s fantastic meta-hymn, “Deep Distance,” from the New Age of Earth album).

“Soul of the Sea,” perhaps sails nearest to the candle-pale whimsy of the burgeoning New-Age idiom; but even this track somehow retains its dignity throughout, earthy picked acoustics and creamy keyboards, possessing a lot more bounce than Kitaro’s later piss-poor collaborations with the New-Age-obsessed Jon Anderson. Luckily, tracks three and four completely seal the deal for me with this LP: “Micro-cosmos” is a particular highlight - as thunderous sound-FX and wanton Eastern percussion accumulate behind a fabulous sitar-and-moog mantra. The queasily fat moog-sound slithers around the stereo band like a bloated python after the kill, as the resonance and cut-off knobs are skilfully manipulated by this acknowledged master of analogue gadgetry. There is a rarefied air about the piece - as solemn, processional eastern traditionalism meets outright futuristic abstraction - the sitars, bending around a fulsome drone, and the wiggly analogue tendrils, put me in mind of fellow musical mystic: Al Gromer. Resultantly, this piece would not sound at all out of place hibernating within the interim period asserted between Popol Vuh’s In den Garten Pharos and Hosianna Mantra LP’s, or even tucked away on the Nosferatu soundtrack. This track is made all the better by the proto-techno moogadelia that follows it on “Beat” - just the sort of plangent, meditative, tribal-space-funk that would have Juan Atkins or Derrick May a-creaming in their jeans come 85’ and the nascent Detroit uprising. [I’d love to hear this track played at 45rpm (but can’t as I only have a cd-r) - it would make an outright techno barnstormer of the highest order, and yet still retain its nourishing godhead-dedicational foundations]. Beginning with a high-pitched “game over” space invader yelping over a squawking deep-bass synth that grunts and belches out the bass line like some terminally grouchy space troll; a hypnotic mid-frequency sequencer soon joins the groove, and an eerie funk-hymnal develops, mournful synthesisers joining the ascent..until…

…Until…the rushing ocean-samples birth us back to the garden of Babylon just in time for us to kick back and relax for “Fire”: A slow water-garden trickle is heard (yes, alright, point taken), but, hey, this one is not heralding some twenty minute Yamaha DX7 synth wash (-with-occasional-biwa) yawnathon; but a holy acoustic mantra embellished with elegiac weeping synth, backed only by non-rhythmical wood blocks. That is until the band crash in, and we’re off into the LP’s biggest Far East Family moment yet: as majestic a collection of multi-layered keyboards as one could expect from one of the cats who laid down the mighty Nipponjin (1975). A lolloping strum-n-drum rhythm (with occasional avant-garde biwa abuse thrown in for good measure) - the keyboards twine around each other and the choral ascends momentarily, until everything is abandoned again for a more lone, stroked, acoustic guitar. Its up there with United Artists-era Popol Vuh or Gila’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee for that classic creamy rock-guitar sound. Light, frothy, but with a strangely fulfilling body of substance!

“Mu” and “Dawn of the Astral” hint at the Ethnicatronic drama of the hugely-successful Silk Road soundtrack, all earnest synthesisers and mutant spaceship roars, over boundless bass-pedal drones, before mutating into the arpeggiated-choral of “Endless Dreamy World” which momentarily sounds like Tyndall-meeting-T.O.N.T.O to rescore Bobby Beausoleil's soundtrack to ‘Lucifer Rising,’ before shifting again to more abstract electronic doodling, in the vein of Bernard Sjazner’s ZED project, for the next track: “Kaiso” but this is a brief interlude, as solemn acoustic start to trill Far Out-like and a wearisome organ sings away - a very sad penultimate tune - it again stays just the right side of outright whimsy. Last Track “Astral Trip” begins with a raucous (free-)drum’n’biwa space raga, a spectral ostinato groove sounding ghost-like in the next room - before the trance-like synth arises once more - a slow moog sonnet - Rick Wright at the end of Shine On perhaps - a Shulze-like sonic horizon (slow mid-70s Schulze down a couple of hundred bpm and your left with Rick Wright anyway) - with fireworks displays of synthetic noise being blasted over to the beyond, spectral string instruments are occasionally hit, strange wind instruments blown, and still the elegiac melody holds court, the occasional hint of a choral emerging out of the mist - it’s a monument of seventies kosmiche exploration, and a fitting noble end to this (mostly passed over) LP.

Kitaro would hit big with the soundtrack to Silk Road, probably his last record with anything worthwhile on it, but with Ten Kai in particular, the keyboardist could hold his own with any of the exponents of seventies space-rock.

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