A melancholy riff on Somewhere Over The Rainbow. Each note from its lonely piano held in delay like a photograph fading. A synthesised love theme that soundtracks Deckard and Rachel caught in a sunrise cut by drawn blinds. A wall of Shoegaze feedback describes Summer and lens flare. Throbbing electronics. Didgeridoo drone. Whispering sirens. Sweet cyborg sighs. The promises of angels.
On first listen Karel Arbus and Fiji Takamatsu`s Some Background Plaza (You can check out the full release here) had me thinking of Andras Fox` releases on Basso`s Growing Bin. His solo Overworld, and his 69 collaboration with John “Eleventeen Eston” Tanner. Post-Rock Electro-Acoustic Ambient sketches. But on repeat I can hear more similarities with the catalogue of Jonny Nash`s Melody As Truth imprint. The sustained keys of Suzanne Kraft doing Vangelis. The geetar twanging with Jonny`s Avant-Blues. Throw in some gypsy violin, bamboo percussion a la Midori Takada`s Mkwaju Ensemble, plus a few Wally Badarou-isms and you`ve got a debut set to create a stir. And that`s without the mystery that surrounded the cassettes. A dozen or so of which appeared out of nowhere in lucky postboxes around a month ago.
When they finally dropped the anonymity, the press release revealed that one of the artists, Eiji Takamatsu, is a neighbour of mine. So given the proximity, and the fact that nights out in this quiet town are few, it seemed rude not to meet up for a drink. The conversation took place over whiskey cocktails in the Art Deco bar of the Mampei Hotel. John and Yoko took up residency in the hotel for a while back in the 1970s. Briefly turning the place into a Japanese Hippy Mecca. They still have a small museum to commemorate the fact. To be honest, I`d never been, and this was the perfect excuse.
Where are you from?
Karel: I’m from Esperance, Western Australia.
Eiji: Honolulu, Hawaii.
Where are you based?
Karel: I’ve been living in Takayama, Gifu, Japan for about twenty years.
Eiji: Since about 2008 I’ve been living in Karuizawa, Japan.
How long have you been making music individually?
Karel: I’ve been playing the guitar, for my own amusement, since I was a teenager and Eiji had played keyboards for a couple of bands in Honolulu. But neither of us had released anything until now.
What inspired you to start making music?
Eiji: When I was at school I learnt piano but never thought about actually writing my own stuff. When I was in college I got roped into playing with some cover bands who needed a keyboard player. When I moved to Japan a few years ago to help out with my uncle’s business I found the evenings were pretty quiet. I was listening to a lot of different music, but mainly a lot of Ambient stuff, and I usually fell asleep with my headphones on. After a while I started messing around with my keyboard again and slowly various ideas started to take shape.
Karel: I`d been sitting in on some jam sessions in a local bar at the weekends, but it wasn’t really my thing. Whenever you get a group of middle-aged guitar players together, no matter where you are in the world, it always seems to descend into a Blues session! I’ve always been a fan of more left-field stuff and when I met Eiji and we started talking we seemed to have some ideas in common and also a desire to try something neither of us had done before – to make a record!
How did you meet?
Eiji: On the floor of a bar in Nagano!
How long have you been making music together?
Eiji: There’s been some long gaps between us making anything together. Most of Some Backland Plaza was actually recorded in 2012. We finally completed it around the end of 2015. Then we didn’t know what to do with it!
Has the process been straight forward?
Karel: It’s was fairly simple. We just sent files back and forth to each other and gradually honed it down to a coherent set of tracks. There’s a hell of lot of unused material so hopefully we can make another album or two at some point.
Was there a concept behind the recording of Some Backland Plaza? What does Some Backland Plaza mean?
Karel: Well, we knew we wanted to make something quite minimal, with a cinematic edge to it, but beyond that there wasn’t really a fixed concept. It was more a particular aesthetic we were aiming for. The title is actually from The Crossing by Cormac McCarthy. It’s a phrase that always stuck in my mind.
I can hear strong similarities between what you are doing and Jonny Nash`s Melody As Truth label. Were you aware of Melody As Truth or Jonny`s music?
Eiji: We only discovered him recently. I’ve been a big fan of Gigi Masin for many years and we learnt about Jonny through their Gaussian Curve project.
Karel: I’m not that up on what’s going on musically around the world these days. But I’ve become big fan of Melody As Truth since Eiji played me some releases. I’ve been surprised to discover how much interest there seems to be in more tranquil, meditative music at the moment.
Can we expect to hear more music from you either individually or as a duo?
Karel: Hopefully! We have quite a lot of unfinished material to work through but there’s plenty of ideas there!
Are there any live gigs planned?
Eiji: Possibly, we’ve been talking with the label about the idea of doing some performances. We’re just considering the best way to present it.
At this point we adjourned back to mine. It`d been a long time since I had any “captives” in the record room. While I attempted to locate personal favourites in the mess, the guys ran through a few of their influences. I have to say they have cracking taste. It was one of those super nice moments when you realise that there is still so much great music out there.
This Mortal Coil / Dreams Are Like Water
My Bloody Valentine / Sometimes
John Barry / Fun City
Dead Can Dance / Amnesia
David Axelrod / The Human Abstract
John Adams – Grand Pianola Music
Brian Eno / And Then So Clear
Eric Satie / Caresse
Klaus Schulze / My Ty She
La Monte Young / Pre-Tortoise Dream Music Part Two
Karel Arbus & Fiji Takamatsu`s Some Backland Plaza is out now on Jansen Jardin.