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Wire's sonic zeitgeist knows no boundaries

Certain music magazines do more than just chronicle the ins and outs of bands and fans. In their pages they capture the mood of a particular era. Thus Rolling Stone was more than just a San Francisco rock magazine, and so London’s The Wire is more than just a magazine about modern music.

Talvin Singh

Originally founded in 1982, the magazine didn’t find its bailiwick until the early ’90s. As the boundaries between genres began gently collapsing and smaller specialized labels started to thrive, new varieties of music that were unclassifiable and played at the interstices of genres came to the fore. The Wire has become the champion of post-rock, new electronica or whatever guise groundbreaking music has taken.

“The current editorial position is to view the magazine as a hub for non-mainstream music,” explained publisher and editor in chief Tony Herrington in a phone interview from London. “There is a commonality regardless of the genre.”

The typical Wire reader might be a person whose record collection started somewhere with the more innovative strands of punk rock, then dived headlong into avant-garde jazz and improvisational music, with a dollop of obscure global beats and the latest dance floor innovations thrown in.

“There were a lot of people who were interested in a vast swath of music that was bound together by offering an alternative view of culture,” said Herrington. “The magazine has become a place to discuss all kinds of specialized music that has come to fruition over the last decade but whose history has been floating around between the typical musical categories.”

In an active attempt to cultivate new culture, The Wire regularly produces music events in London and across Europe. With the British Council, it brings the first live taste of its eclectic musical views to Japan on Nov. 2 in Tokyo and Nov. 3 in Osaka, for two evenings of “adventures in modern music.”

Japan, with its deep, dark, noisy underground scene has been a prime subject in The Wire’s pages (the prolific output of Masami Akita’s Merzbow project seems to be in practically every issue). Herrington produced a compilation of Japanese avant-garde music for the Virgin label in 1994 called “Cosmic Karoshi Monsters: Tokyo Invasion Volume I” that featured many of the leading lights of Japan’s avant-garde scene including Hoppy Kamiyama, Keiji Haino and, of course, the Boredoms.

“The Japanese seem to be doing things that make so much of Western music seem staid and dull in comparison. It brings such a new perspective about what we thought we knew about rock or jazz,” said Herrington.

Though The Wire’s first foray into Japan will be a combination of British and Japanese artists, there is a distinctly Eastern vibe.

Talvin Singh, the most well-known face of London’s Asian Underground, will play a solo, improvised tabla set. Singh’s distinctly hip profile gleaned from his work with Bjork and his interest in Eastern-tinged dance hybrids often obscures the fact that he is a classically trained musician. The tabla is regarded as one of the most fiendishly difficult of percussion instruments, its possibilities in dynamics and tone giving rise to a rich and varied musical vocabulary.

Electronica artist Paul Schutze has also played with the polarities of electronica and global rhythms using both tabla and gamelan samples, while turntable artist Philip Jeck will concentrate his energies on a collection of old Indian records for his performance.

Jeck is a turntablist but in a sense far removed from that of the club DJ (though he has tried his hand at that too). Using old-fashioned Dansette record players, he creates layers of sonorous sound from the serendipitous crackle and pop of analog recordings. It is the aural equivalent of a Murnau film, stark but strangely beautiful.

“The artists are a spread of different approaches showing the bits and pieces that the magazine has covered,” said Herrington. “Currently British alternative or underground culture is very vibrant and there is a lot of ethnic diversity to it.”

Many Japanese musicians have also been looking East rather than West for inspiration lately, and the two DJs included on The Wire’s roster are no exception. Kaoru Inoue (Chari Chari) began as one of Tokyo’s first ambient DJs before taking years off from the club scene to become one of the city’s leading authorities on world music. Eye Yamataka has been leavening the Boredom’s usual in-your-face sonic barrage with a slightly subtler Eastern air.

Though at first glance the line-up could seem almost too diverse or too challenging, there is a common sensibility.

“Though these artists are quite different, there is a certain hypnotic effect, perhaps from an Asian influence,” said Herrington, “that is complementary.”

In line with the nationwide state of emergency declared on April 16, the government is strongly requesting that residents stay at home whenever possible and refrain from visiting bars, restaurants, music venues and other public spaces.
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