I must admit to having an ambiguous relationship with experimental music. The artist in me is forever curious about what my fellow creatives are up to, whereas the purist demands structure, songs, a recognizable melody, and so on.
One of the annoying things about experimental music is that a kind of hermetic intellectualism can all too often make you feel that it was only created for a select few who ‘get’ it, and the hell with everybody else.
Having said that, the Japanese artist known as ICHI is a breath of fresh air in the often insular world of experimental music. The press release for his latest album, Maru shows the monk like, diminutive artist proudly posing amongst stuffed monkeys, toy instruments and strange homemade noise implements painted in bright dayglo colors. You get the feeling ICHI is a lovable eccentric, a fun loving prankster who doesn’t take himself or his music too seriously. And judging from Maru, you would not be wrong.
ICHI’s career started in the underground scene of Nagoya, Japan. He met UK experimental artist Rachael Dadd at a festival and joined her in Bristol where they now reside as husband and wife. ICHI has toured Japan, the UK and Europe extensively and his music has gotten praise from BBC6’s Steve Lamaq and David Byrne among others.
When building tracks, the artist starts off by sampling random sounds he finds around him and using them to make a beat, over which he adds a wonderful array of toy instruments, found objects and wacky homemade music makers such as the kalilaphone and the stilt bass. Finally he sings, shouts, talks in his native language, sometimes joined by his wife or other musician friends.
The album starts off with the sounds of water sploshing around a steel drum in Hippo + 47 , transforming into a beatboxed rhythm and a series of Japanese-English translations courtesy of the artist and his wife.
Go Gagumbo, which has been getting airplay on BBC 1 and 2 and a slew of other radio stations, is without a doubt the catchiest of a bunch, starting out with an annoying mosquito sound leading the way to an insane but irresistible beat made up of a vaguely oriental sounding string instrument and homemade percussion, over which ICHI sings in a chipmunk voice. Sounds silly, you say? Very much so, and how refreshing and madly entertaining it is!
Which made me think…a mosquito sound? Where have I heard that before? And, bingo-Japanese avant pop wunderkind Cornelius used the same idea to start of one of the songs on his breakthrough album Fantasma. Kindred spirits?
Wakka Pi sounds like a children’s tune reminding me of pop minimalists Lullatone, another one of Japan’s seemingly endless supply of quirky, original music makers.
Foorai is described in the press release as “an ode to a change of wind coming”. Sung in Chinese, it is a minimalist sing along with steeldrum , various other percussion and some strange melodic instrument.
Closer Magic hour is the most ambient sounding, with toy trumpet over a children’s accordion (?) and the sounds of church bells and bird sounds.
ICHI fits nicely in the time-honored tradition of zany Japanese music from artists as diverse and eclectic as Cornelius, Lullatone and Kahimi Karie. He is a welcome addition to the world of experimental music with a combination of childlike wonder, a wacky sense of humour and seemingly boundless creativity. Comparisons aside, ICHI is very much his own man, a highly original artist who creates his own strange and wonderful world of sound and fun. Warmly recommended.
Out Now via Lost Map Records: Order it here.
ICHI is currently on tour in Japan with Rachael Dadd and Will Newsome. Keep up with Ichi here: www.ichicreator.com