The day many thought would never come has arrived. Midori Takada’s masterpiece of ambient minimalism, Through The Looking Glass, is being reissued, a collaborative repressing juncture between Palto Flats and the Geneva-based We Release Whatever The Fuck We Want Records. An exercise in depth through repetition, of melodic tension and release, and the cornering of a particular meditative bliss, Takada’s 1983 solo work has become something of a holy grail for record collectors, thanks in part to its scarcity on vinyl and nonexistence in CD format, and partly - mostly - thanks to its quiet genius. Having taken inspiration from the American minimalist movement, she formed the Mkwaju Ensemble alongside - among others - Joe Hisaishi and Junko Arase, in order to bring the influences of Terry Riley and Steve Reich into contact with Asian and African percussive expression. It was on Through The Looking Glass however, and her solo composition, that Takada’s ideas were able to become fully realised.
Its opener, Mr. Henri Rousseau’s Dream, plants us delicately in Takada’s world, where we sit amongst shimmering marimbas, distant birdsong and glistening chimes, while being pulled deeper into the dream by a recorder that seems to float through the mist. Crossing brings with it more momentum, being a masterclass in the exploration of percussive phase progression, and an indication of the new worlds that can open up when the spaces between sounds become so small so as to render them imperceptible; all from the seed of a solitary cowbell. On Trompe-L’oeil, Takada resumes a technique utilised in her childhood (and surely many of ours’) in turning a Coca-Cola bottle into a wind instrument. The effect is vaguely absurd, set as it is against a reed organ that sounds equal parts nostalgic and hopeful, the two tangling lazily together in a jaunty, drunken sway.
It is on the album’s closer however, Catastrophe Σ, that Takada sets forth her argument for the rhythmic power at the heart of minimalism. An understated bed of toms and bongos simmer beneath a harmonium-led opening, muted and bobbing, before thundering into motion in a breathless crescendo of percussion. Subtle rhythmic, melodic, and instrumental progressions instil the track with an urgency something like setting sail from a sleepy harbour into stormy seas, bringing us just up to the edge of the catastrophic end the title promises. Just in time, Takada applies the brakes, tearing asunder the compressed tension and leaving us gasping for air, desperate to experience, once more, such a thrill. It is a thrill that, thanks to this timely reissue, many more listeners will be able to reach for, again and again.
Words: Harry Reddick