October 23rd, 2006


Gutevolk are good people

Well, I have a new "favourite song from the future". It used to be O.LAMM and Midori Hirano's Silviphobia. Now it's "Sing A Ring" by Gutevolk. They're songs from the future because they're on records that haven't been released yet. O.LAMM's new album comes out in November, and Gutevolk's newie, "Tiny People Singing Over The Rainbow", isn't released (on Japan's Noble Records) until February of 2007. But, with Hirono of Gutevolk's permission, I'm giving you a foretaste of the song today.

It was pure serendipity that Hirono Nishiyama and I were playing Barcelona on consecutive nights this weekend. We go back exactly ten years -- I remember meeting Hirono in 1996, when she stayed with my then-girlfriend Yoyo at the Paris apartment belonging to an anthropologist called Condominas, who'd covered his walls with musical instruments brought back from the highlands of Vietnam. Hirono played them all, recording them on a DAT machine. Then she played us her own compositions on a Yamaha pad sequencer. They were weirdly formal, gently schizoid children's songs, and I was entranced. Later we collaborated on a track called "Butterflies", which has still never been released. Hirono signed, appropriately enough, to Nobukazu Takemura's Childisc label, making brilliantly minimalist records like "Yura Yura" which inspired me to coin the term Cute Formalism. She then switched to Haruomi Hosono (ex-YMO)'s label Daisyworld and released "The Humming of Tiny People", an important record for me when I lived in Tokyo in 2002.

Hosono got too busy to keep directing Daisyworld, and the label ended. Now Hirono is on Noble. She collaborates with Noble artist Kasumasa Hashimoto (whose own warm, synthetic-voiced trip hop can be heard on his release "Gilla"). She still teaches primary school one day a week, she's married and has a child herself, and she lives in Yokohama. Her music has lost some of its stark minimalism (in that sense, her Hashimoto period resembles Tujiko Noriko's time with Aki Onda), but there are lovely, lovely things on her forthcoming record.

"Sing A Ring" stands out for me because its round-like structure and complicated key changes remind me of favourites like Moondog and Magazine. It could be an outtake from "The Sound of Music" (Hirono would make a good pirouetting governess, a Japanese Julie Andrews) or the most beautiful, gentle Bond theme John Barry never wrote. It joins a list of songs that simply say "hello" (Anne Laplantine has one, and of course there's Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" or David Bowie's "Everyone Says Hi") yet make it sound like the wisest statement in the world. And it captures the "taboo on friendliness" element I was trying to express on my own current album; the fact that, although friendliness and positivity can seem like the most banal things in the world, in fact they're incredibly challenging for us -- and can be world-changing. I think again of what I wrote about Hikaru Furuhashi in Hello (and goodbye) flowers, or the photographs of Rinko Kawauchi. Japanese women artists really are my gurus. They do this "hello flowers, hello rainbow" stuff better than anyone.

Sing A Ring (live and studio excerpt) (6 mins 44 secs, 6.2MB mp3 file)