Archive for March, 2012

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Music of the Day: Boadrum, by Boredoms, Live in London

March 30, 2012

Experimental rock band Boredoms (also known as V∞redoms), lead by vocalist and visual artist Yamantaka Eye (who also goes by the names Yamataka Eye, Yamatsuka Eye, 山塚アイ, and eYe, among others) perform their high-intensity percussion piece Boadrum at the Forum London in November of 2010.

Boadrum isn’t so much a single piece as a performance concept, with the drummers and other percussionists each triggering various ambient effects through their motion and playing, with Yamantaka himself adding his own vocals.

Below, they perform Boadrum 111 (so named because of the 111 drummers gathered together for the performance, as well as the fact that the performance took place on November 11, 2011) at Byron Bay, Australia.

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Robots Hit the Beach for Lunar Exploration Training

March 27, 2012

The seaside Nakatajima Sand Dunes in Central Japan hosted several would-be lunar explorer robots and their support teams on March 13 for a public demonstration and training run in a simulated lunar environment.

Aichi University of Technology's LUBOT at Nakatajima

Seven teams from universities around Japan arrived here with their robots after being invited by JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) to come and show off their work. As a follow-up to their Kaguya probe, which took HD images of much of the moon’s surface from 2007 to 2009, JAXA has proposed sending a rover by 2025 to continue Kaguya’s work by exploring the moon’s surface directly, and has been collaborating with universities in creating new rover designs.

The Nakatajima Dunes, just a short bus ride from Hamamatsu City in Shizuoka Prefecture, were selected for their wide expanses of soft, fine sand dotted with large rocks and the treacherously steep inclines that come close to the kinds of terrain the rovers will encounter if they make it to the moon. The high winds and sea spray they experienced on the beach, however, are unlikely to be a factor.

Notable designs include the Track-Walker 2 from  Tohoku University in Sendai, which used multiple caterpillar treads to navigate the uneven terrain by lifting itself over obstacles too big to crawl over.

Tohoku University's Track-Walker 2

Aichi University of Technology brought LUBOT, an eight-wheeled design that features a movable arm for mounting video cameras and a working scoop for gathering samples.  The video below was taken by the students themselves during a test run at Nakatajima last July.

Another design that garnered a fair amount of interest was the Tri-Star IV 3-wheeled rover from Tokyo Institute of Technology. The wheels use a combination of flexible supports and metal claws to navigate uneven and unstable terrain, and appears capable of righting itself if it turns over. According to Professor Shigeo Hirose, it can navigate slopes as steep as 30 degrees, and has mobility at least equal to what the US and Russia have built so far.

 

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Music of the Day: Spiritual State, by Nujabes, feat. Uyama Hiroto

March 23, 2012

Today’s music of the day is Spiritual State, an instrumental ambient jazz-hip hop piece by composer and DJ Nujabes from the posthumous 2011 album of the same name. Fellow DJ Uyama Hiroto (composer of recent Final Fantasy scores) provides additional work on this piece.

 

Nujabes (real name Jun Seba) gained recognition in the international hip hop community for his unique blending of rhythm tracks with atmospheric jazz into serenely meditative creations, and he spent a good deal of time in the US collaborating with American artists.  Sadly, in 2010 he died in a car accident in Shibuya Ward in Tokyo at the age of 36. He left behind a number of unpublished tracks at his Hydeout Productions studio, and after being finished by his friends and fellow artists they were released as this album.

Enjoy.

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Tuesday’s Music of the Day: Lady, by Rajas

March 19, 2012

I’m uploading this a day early since tomorrow’s a holiday and my PC at home is on the fritz.

Rajas was (and still is, as the members routinely get together again for weekend club performances) a Kyoto-based hard-rocking hair-metal band that released several albums during the ’80s. Their sound is very similar to Heart, both instrumentally and in the vocals of lead singer Sen-chan (in pink. Non-chan in white played bass). This track, “Lady”, was featured on their 1985 album, Turn it Up.

 

 

They made a few TV appearances as well, including this performance of “Liar” (from the same album), complete with annoying VJ voice-over in English.

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Friday Music of the Day: Wao, by Asakusa Jinta

March 16, 2012

Regular visitors to this blog may have noticed that I recently started ‘Music of the Day’ posts featuring lesser-known Japanese performers from a range of genres.  My hope is to make this a regular feature on Tuesdays and Fridays, and I’ve been digging around for new sources of music to share in the future. My purpose in this is twofold: to share the work of Japanese performers that have faded from memory or who have only reached a limited audience, and to prod myself into posting updates on a more regular basis, doing brief posts during the week and longer articles on the weekends. How long each post is will most likely depend on how busy I am at work. [November 2012 Edit: didn’t work apparently, judging by the summer-long gap in my posts. Oh well.]

Asakusa Jinta’s 2005 album, Asakusa Ondo

That said, today’s Music of the Day is Wao(和ヲ), a new song from Asakusa Jinta (浅草ジンタ). Their early albums were put on the ska shelves of the stores, but the band’s Wikipedia page describe their music as purified, new-era rock, and on the band’s own page they describe themselves as “Asianican Hard Marching Band.”

As the name suggests, their roots are in Asakusa, Tokyo’s famous shitamachi (old neighborhood) in the northeast. In its heyday, Asakusa was Tokyo’s prime entertainment district, filled with restaurants, taverns and theaters, and serving as the gateway to the more infamous Yoshiwara red-light district. They still exist today, but there is a definite sense of yesteryear throughout the neighborhood, especially when compared alongside Shinjuku, Shibuya and the rest of Tokyo’s districts of glass towers. This is a neighborhood that was never quite part of the bubble.

This prewar music-hall style has strongly influenced the band  (indeed, their first performances were in Asakusa’s rakugo theaters), as can be seen in their instrument choice and theatrical performing style, but their sound is also heavily influenced by early 60’s-era American rock and jazz (Asakusa has also been home to many jazz clubs from the 50s and 60s onward). It makes for a unique blend that’s steadily evolving as the band moves forward.

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Music of the Day: Innocence, by Blood Stain Child

March 13, 2012

Blood Stain Child is an Osaka-based band that produces what they describe as “hybrid metal trance”, layering rhythmic synthesizer and smooth female vocals over grinding guitar and roaring male vocals. I’d actually been a fan of them for some time before I discovered they were from Japan.

The group formed in 2000 and their most recent album, Epsilon, was released just last year. This track, “Innocence”, comes from their 2007 album, Mozaiq.  It starts off sounding much like a video game intro before diving straight in, full throttle. Enjoy.

 

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Bob McGrath – from Showa-dori to Sesame Street

March 10, 2012

Lots of singers and other performers end up in Japan one way or another, and it’s not that uncommon for them to achieve a measure of success here that outweighs what they were able to generate in their home countries. For most of the ones that start out here, “Big in Japan” is as far as they ever get, but some manage to parlay it into a springboard to fame back home and worldwide.

One example I discovered recently was Bob McGrath, an American-born tenor who performed with the Mitch Miller Orchestra in the early 1960s before traveling to Japan as soloist, where he found success singing Irish ballads and other tunes in English and Japanese. In this clip, with stills of his albums and from his performances, he sings Koji no Tsuki (“荒城の月) in Japanese:

If he looks at all familiar, you may recognize him from the TV show he joined in 1969, soon after returning from Japan, and where he is still performing today, over 40 years later:

Yes, that’s the same Bob we grew up watching on Sesame Street. I purchased a set of the early-season DVDs for my own son a little while back, and while thumbing through the booklet that came with it, there was a trivia note saying that Bob had been a “pop star” in Japan before joining the show. My older in-laws didn’t recognize the name, so I did a bit of searching on YouTube and found these:

Bob singing a variation of  “Jingle Bells” in English and Japanese”

Kaze no Yureteru Oka ni (風のゆれてる丘に) / On the Windy Hill

Koi no Sasurai (恋のさすらい) / Love’s Wanderings

During his time in Japan, Bob came back to appear on To Tell The Truth, where the contestants had to guess which of the three panelists was the real Bob McGrath. It doesn’t seem that the other two had done much preparation, since they could hardly answer any of the questions about Japan or Irish ballads. Some of the contestants also seemed to know a fair bit about Tokyo (I’ve been here over 15 years and I don’t know what’s in Kami-Meguro).  They guess correctly, and he rewards them with one of his songs.

They mention in the opening that he’d performed at the Copa Cabana and the Latin Quarter in Tokyo. After reading about some of the things that went on in those clubs in Robert Whiting’s Tokyo Underworld, Bob’s gentle demeanor seems like an odd fit.

He also appeared on I’ve Got a Secret, where the contestants have to guess that Bob has been performing in Japan (they must not have seen the To Tell The Truth episode). I love his rendition of “Home on the Range” in enka style.

Unfortunately, Bob didn’t appear in the 1988  Sesame Street TV movie “Big Bird in Japan”. That would have made an interesting addition to the show.