Tag Archives: Bjork

Take a ride on a broken carousel with Japanese newgaze artist Ferri

Japanese musicians continue to inspire me. I just found an amazing new artist thanks to Mitsugu Suzuki, aka Cellz Cellar (mentioned in a piece I wrote about Japanese music a while back). Her name is Ferri. She composes, sings, plays keyboard, and mixes everything on a laptop. Her music sounds like a dream, with lush vocals and ethereal soundscapes. Sort of another take on shoegaze and postrock by the likes of Sigur Ros and My Bloody Valentine.

Ferri just released her first album, A Broken Carousel, in July. Cellz Cellar collaborated with her on one song (Zoetrope) and she will sing on a couple of songs on his next album, the soon-to-be-released follow-up to his debut 444. Can’t wait to hear that.

Here are a couple of outtakes you can stream and download for free via Bandcamp:

The digital album can be purchased through Amazon.com.

And check out this beautiful video for “Tomorrow Comes After Today.”

1 Comment

Filed under music, postrock, shoegaze, trip hop, video, world music

Cyberpunk: the future that will never be – and already is

A cyborg from the Japanese animated movie "Ghost in the Shell." The blending of machinery and biology is a hallmark of cyberpunk fiction.

I watched the Matrix the other night for the umpteenth time and got a little wave of nostalgia. Nostalgia about a future that never will be and in some ways already is. The Matrix is just one of many movies, books and songs that I think of as “cyberpunk.”

Life imitates art

Somewhere in a box I never bothered to unpack is an issue of Time from Feb. 8, 1993 with the cover story, Cyberpunk!. I had already read William Gibson’s Neuromancer and I wanted to read everything I could about cyberpunk, which it seemed was more than just a kind of science fiction. It was a movement. Technology it seemed, could be an outlet for rebellion. Computers and humanity were merging and that might be a good thing. Hackers, programmers and other non-conformists were going to remake society and take control away from governments and corporations. The world would be messy, free and exciting.

I’ve always loved science fiction in general, but cyberpunk was the main type of SF I read during the ’90s, back  when the Internet was new and I still had a dial-up connection.

The cyberpunk writers were among the first to foresee the way computers and communication technology would change the world. The main characters tended to be street types, outcasts with little or no respect for authority. Lowlifes. But lowlifes with a knack for using technology in novel ways. Hackers of various types. Outcasts. “Pirates.” The futures described in cyberpunk fiction are often ugly dystopias, but these guys are the heroes of the story. There’s a sense that they’re on the verge of conquering Goliath, at least on a personal scale. It got my attention. Why should the people at the top get to decide everything?

Self-styled cyberpunks were all over the topic in the ’90s, writing manifestos, trying to boil it down. It seemed dangerous and very exciting. Some of the concepts of cyberpunk that fascinated me the most: The street finds its own uses for things. Information wants to be free. Always yield to the hands-on imperative. Surf the edges.

It was people with that mindset who first looked at a compact disk and said, “Guess what? This isn’t an album. It’s a folder/directory full of files. Maybe we can take those files off and copy and transmit them just like any other files?” That realization and countless others like it have changed out world forever. Sometimes in good ways, sometimes not.

People like Napster inventor Sean Parker often found there were no laws to stop them from doing what they wanted. If there were, they tended to scoff at those laws. Before long, they had created the new reality and the bigwigs simply had to accept what they couldn’t change. Apple was among the first to accept the new reality and cash in on it with iTunes and the iPod.

Pandora’s Box

Where are we today? I’m not exactly sure. We’re in a chaotic world when it comes to technology. The hot shot hackers of the ’90s aren’t quite as big as they expected to be. Governments and businesses got pretty savvy about computer tech since then, the Internet more restricted in many ways. Corporations got their hooks into the Internet. Rebels turned into shills for those corporations. Governments (including the “free” ones like ours) are getting better all the time at censoring what we can see on the Internet.

There are still hackers out there that the U.S. government can’t seem to touch — research “botnets” sometime and see if it doesn’t blow your mind — but I suspect they are either backed by other governments like China, or organized crime, or both.

There are free agents who can still shake things up from time to time. I get a kick out of “hacktivists” like Anonymous and Lulzsec and the organized “leak” phenomenon epitomized by Wikileaks. But I can’t help but wonder where their activities will lead. Do they open the door for seriously bad actors of the world like Al Qaeda to hurt us? Are they just giving our government an excuse to become more restrictive? Do they make us more free, or put us more at risk of a fascist future?

There are trends that make me feel hopeful about the high-tech world:

Rebellion against authoritarian governments, using technology as a way to spread dissent. It has helped topple several governments in the Middle East and given serious heartburn to others.

Circuit-bending. A way of making musical instruments out of toys and other electronics. Some of them sound very good and have been incorporated into the music of professionals like the Legendary Pink Dots. Definitely in the spirit of cyberpunk.

Other forms of hacking. People have taken apart and repurposed all kinds of devices. One of the most interesting hacks was that of Microsoft’s Kinect, a game system controlled by motion sensors. Who knows what the techies will do with that. It could have huge potential. Microsoft even agreed and started letting people do it.

All in all, I think the public attitudes cyberpunk culture helped define have been a great force for creativity and against inertia. I am still curious about what toys and tools the “big boys” will give us, and curious to see how the clever little guys among us will break and twist them to their own purposes — and ours. I still find myself saying, “bring it on.”

Cyberpunk music

I think of cyberpunk as primarily a literary movement, but it also captured the imagination of musicians. I wouldn’t say cyberpunk is an actual genre of music — it tends to be electronic or industrial music, but not always. Below are some videos with music and/or visuals that fit in with the cyberpunk movement:

The Prodigy – “Firestarter.” The Prodigy always seemed like a quintessential cyberpunk band to me: electronic sounds, subversive themes. Didn’t hurt that their song “Voodoo People” got included in the Hackers soundtrack.

Clock DVA – “The Hacker.” Good song with a primitive but cool music video made on an Amiga computer (Beware if strobe effects give you seizures.) It has a message of rebellion against authority, a common theme in cyberpunk.

KMFDM – “Drug Against War” Industrial group KMFDM is considered by many to be a part of the cyberpunk movement. Lots of rebellious, subversive messages. Their album covers and this video featured really cool Soviet propaganda-style art.

New Order – “True Faith” This video was an early portrayal of virtual reality, a cornerstone of cyberpunk fiction. It came out way back in 1987, so early I didn’t even understand what it represented.

Autechre – “Second Bad Vibel.” I remember seeing this on MTV’s AMP years ago, when they were on a bit of a roll, before sinking into utter irrelevancy. Not exactly sure what this represents, but it definitely has that cyberpunk theme of biology meets machine.

Bjork – “All Is Full of Love.” Robots making out. Seems to capture that cyberpunk spirit, as did much of her Homogenic album, with its new emphasis on electronic music. It shows machines that are alive, capable of warm feelings. Not sure what I think of that after chatting with Cleverbot recently — it can be rather rude.

Warren Zevon – Run Straight Down. Best-known for his hits, “Excitable Boy” and “Werewolves of London,” Zevon made a cyberpunk-themed album in 1989 called Transverse City after reading works by William Gibson. It didn’t do well at the time. Too weird for the masses I guess. But I think it sounds pretty good.

Billy Idol – “Power Junkie.” Billy Idol put out an album called Cyberpunk in 1993. Not exactly sure what I think of the music, but you have to give him credit for spotting a trend early and helping popularize the concept.

Cyberpunk reading list

Although the pioneers of cyberpunk have mostly moved on as the world caught up to the future they were writing about, the classic cyberpunk is still enjoyable and some of those writers continue to crank out impressive writing. Here are some of the writers whose books inspired me and are still great reads:

William Gibson

Neuromancer, a novel about rebellious underworld types (including a woman with switchblades built into her fingers) and artificial intelligence, was probably the book that most influenced the cyberpunk culture. (Gibson actually coined the word cyberspace in Burning Chrome.)

Other Gibson books I would highly recommend: Idoru, Virtual Light and Pattern Recognition.

Bruce Sterling

Next to William Gibson, Sterling is the writer I most associate with cyberpunk. One of his books, Islands in the Net, made a huge impression on me. It’s about the power of rogue stateless organizations. While it is a bit outdated, it holds up very well overall. Every time I hear about something like Al Qaeda, Columbian drug cartels or the Somali pirates, I think “Islands in the Net.” He was incredibly prescient.

He edited a collection of genre-defining short stories called Mirror Shades: The Cyberpunk Anthology. In fact, Mirror Shades wouldn’t be a bad place to start if you never read any cyberpunk fiction and want to find out what it’s all about. He also wrote a non-fictional book in 1993 called The Hacker Crackdown: Law and Disorder on the Electronic Frontier. It examines the phenomenon of computer hacking and the American government’s early efforts to stamp it out.

Rudy Rucker

You really can’t fail with this guy. All of the books in his Ware Tetrology are extremely entertaining tales of rebellious robots, subversive people, and wacky futuristic cultures. He was heavily influenced by Lewis Carroll, and you can tell. Hardware, Software, Freeware, Realware are all great reads. They interconnect, but don’t have to be read in order. Also, while not really cyberpunk, his novel about infinity and the afterlife, White Light, will blow your little mind. Can’t recommend it enough.

Neal Stephenson

Snow Crash is an immensely influential novel in the cyberpunk genre. It contains a well-crafted, entertaining world with really fun characters. It had a big impact on gaming and computer culture. The use of the word avatar to describe a virtual character that represents you started in this book. The Diamond Age is another cyberpunk classic, about a future dominated by nanotechnology. Some of my favorite Stephenson novels are actually not cyberpunk or even science fiction. The Baroque Cycle: Quicksilver, The Confusion, The System of the World; and The Cryptonomicon.

John Shirley

Also a prolific horror writer, John Shirley wrote an excellent series of SF novels about a revolution against a global fascist state. A Song Called Youth is a trilogy that includes Eclipse, Eclipse Penumbra and Eclipse Corona.

Below is part one of a documentary about cyberpunk. Very interesting to watch. Kinda feels outdated and spot on at the same time.


Filed under commentary, industrial, music, Uncategorized

Japanese music has really come of age

Like many Americans I am fascinated by Japanese culture. Of course I appreciate the deeply traditional parts of their culture — gardens, calligraphy, geishas, sushi, martial arts. But what I really love is Japanese pop culture.

Just about every generation of Americans alive today has sentimental attachment to some aspect of it. Godzilla, Gamera, ninjas, anime, Pokémon, Yu-Gi-Oh cards, the characters of Japanese video games.

And karaoke. It used to be something crazy Japanese businessmen did after work. Now it’s as American as apple pie. Most don’t even realize it’s a Japanese word. I love the way the Japanese take what they like from American culture — rock ‘n’ roll for example — and put their own special twist on it. I have some established favorites among Japanese musicians, like Ryuichi Sakamoto (of Yellow Magic Orchestra) and Cornelius (Keigo Oyamada). I’ve also picked up a few new favorites.

Since the very day I started this blog I have been planning to talk about some of my favorite Japanese musicians, but I put it off because I wanted to get it right. Then came the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami and I thought, “Oh crap, I wonder if we just just lost some of them?” With as many people as they lost — 10,000 dead and 17,000 missing last time I checked — it’s possible, although I don’t know of any musicians who didn’t make it. A couple of my recently-discovered favorites dropped out of touch for a while, but I’ve since gotten hold of them and found out they are OK.

Cellz Cellar

Mitsugu Suzuki, who performs under the name Cellz Cellar, creates some of the most moving music I’ve heard in a long time.  His styles include inspired ambient, shoegaze and electronica. Most of his music is instrumental, but he also works with singers. He is an admirer of Western music and shows incredible taste based on the  covers he chooses (Bjork’s  “Army of Me” and Radiohead’s “Nude”). I made friends with him and became a huge fan back when I was active on TheSixtyOne. He’s also the Japanese musician I was especially worried about — he lives in Kanagawa, which was hit by the tsunami, though it wasn’t as severely damaged as other cities. I was relieved when I finally got hold of him and he told me he was all right.

My favorite Cellz Cellar song so far is Epiphillum, featuring vocals from Shuichi Mizohata:

Pendulum is another beauty:

You can stream more songs from his album 444 on his MySpace page. You can also purchase digital files of his work through 7digital.com.

Chiharu MK

I discovered this young lady while digging deep in TheSixtyOne. She’s an amazing pianist who performs what I would call modern classical music. She describes herself as a sound artist/music composer/pianist and visual artist.

In addition to piano, she makes music with electronics and sound installation. She reminds me a bit of Ryuichi Sakamoto and in fact, she has had some of her music featured on his radio show in Japan. So far she has put out an EP called Piano Prizm and a full-length album called Waterproof. She used hydrophone for Waterproof, creating an underwater piano sound. I REALLY like the title track from that album.

Here she is performing music for an art exhibit about snow sculpture called “White Noise/Snow Division”

All the songs from Piano Prizm and Waterproof are available on Itunes.

You can find more about her here.

Ichiko Hashimoto – RahXephon soundtrack
I have to admit I don’t really “get” anime – maybe I didn’t try hard enough, but the anime movies I’ve seen so far sorta left me flat – so I might have overlooked this music if not for a user on Rate Your Music. Hashimoto’s songs cover a wide range of styles – acid jazz, pop, classical, trip hop, and various fusions of the above. Some of the songs have a spacey, mysterious ambience that reminds me of Erik Satie’s Gnossiennes. I can’t seem to get enough of them. One of the songs, “Yume no Tamago” is one of the most beautiful pieces of music I’ve ever heard. I found an English version, but I prefer the Japanese by far:


I’ve known about these guys for several years, but I still love them. They play a kind of jazzy pop, very piano driven, most of it upbeat. They remind me of Ben Folds Five in their style. They have a ton of videos up on YouTube. I found them because I decided to look up the girl who sang on “Mars” by Towa Tei. Her name is Harada Ikuko. She has a nice voice and is a pretty good keyboard player as well. Their official website is in Japanese, and I can’t read it, but there is an English fan site, http://clammbon.metalbat.com, with a lot of information about the band — including the fact that they made it through the earthquake and tsunami OK. The site also has a page with several links showing how to buy Clammbon’s material outside Japan.

This is “Chicago,” one of my favorite songs from the group:

And last but definitely not least, it has been over a month since the earthquake and tsunami, but Japan still has a lot of people who need help. Here is a list of reputable organizations you can donate to if you would like to contribute.


Filed under indie, music, Uncategorized

Loving the Alien – Little Green Mixtape (or maybe not so little)

As a longtime science fiction buff, I have been very excited by recent news that there could be life on Saturn’s moon Titan. Of course, it’s a lot more likely that it will turn out to be a chemical process (although what is life, really, but a chemical process?), and if there is life, it will most likely be microbial. But I can’t help but think there’s something more substantial out there. Little green men. We might not meet them, but it’s a lot of fun to think about them. A while back I put together a CD-R full of songs about aliens. Kind of in the tradition of the mixtape only a lot bigger. You can get a lot of mp3s on a CD-R. I fudged on the concept here and there — the point was to find songs I liked. I had a lot of fun digging through my CD collection and the Internet and I found the following:

Byrds – Mr. Spaceman
Blue Öyster Cult – E.T.I. (Extra Terrestrial Intelligence)
Carpenters – Calling Occupants Of Interplanetary Craft (The Recognized Anthem of World Contact Day)
Creedence Clearwater Revival – It Came Out Of The Sky
David Bowie – Starman
David Bowie – Hallo Spaceboy
David Bowie – Loving The Alien
David Bowie – Life On Mars
DJ Spooky – Object Unknown (w/ Kool Keith)
Dr Octagon – halfsharkalligatorhalfman
The Wipers – D-7
Husker Du – Books About UFOs
Babylon Zoo – Spaceman
Dr. Octagon – Aliens
Jefferson Airplane – Have You Seen the Saucers [live]
Jefferson Starship – Home
Jefferson Starship – Have You Seen The Stars Tonite
Jobriath – Space Clown
Jobriath – Morning Star Ship
Jonathan Richman & the Modern Lovers – Here Come the Martian Martians
Kelly Family – Fell in love with a Alien
The Kinks – Animal Farm
Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry – Starliner
The Meteors – Attack Of The Zorch Men
Misfits – I Turned into a Martian
Patti Smith – Birdland
Pink Fairies – The Pigs Of Uranus
The Pixies – Motorway To Roswell
Radiohead – Subterranean Homesick Alien
The Rezillos – Flying Saucer Attack
Roky Erickson – Creature With The Atom Brain
Roky Erickson – You’re An Unidentified Flying Object
Seu Jorge – Starman
The Wildhearts – Sky Babies
Sheb Wooley – Flying Purple People Eater
Spacemen 3 – Starship
Yellow Magic Orchestra – Cosmic Surfin’
Judas Priest – Freewheel Burning
Styx – Come Sail Away
UFO – Martian Landscape
Billy Thorpe – Children of the Sun
War Of The Worlds – Eve Of The War (Hybrid Mix)
A Flock Of Seagulls – I Ran (So Far Away)
Joe Meek And The Blue Men – I Hear A New World
Split Enz – Poor Boy
A.R. Kane – A Love From Outer Space
The Byrds – C.T.A. – 102
Lustmord – Aldebaran of the Hyades
Fountains Of Wayne – I Want an Alien for Christmas
The Stranglers – Waiting For The Men in Black
Neil Young – After the Gold Rush
The Legendary Pink Dots – The Saucers are Coming
Kaleidoscope – Beacon from Mars
Deep Purple – Space Truckin’
Björk – Earth Intruders (Mark Stent Extended Edit)
Bikini Kill – Alien She
Blondie – Rapture
Boyracer – Area 51 Revisited
The Comsat Angels – Red Planet Revisited
The Comsat Angels – I Come From The Sun
u.f.o. feat. Dee Dee Bridgewater – Flying Saucer
Cletro, Eddie – Flying Saucer Boogie
Towa Tei – Mars
Teenagers From Outer Space – Prepare to Possess Earth’s Women
Monster Magnet – Space Lord
Buddy Clinton – Take Me To Your Ladder ( I’ll See Your Leader Later)
Kansas – Nobody’s Home
Scary Bitches – Lesbian Vampyres From Outer Space
The Wildtones – Martian Band
Close Encounters Of The Third Kind
Buchanan Brothers – (When You See) Those Flying Saucers
Joe Satriani – Surfing with the Alien
Bonzo Dog Band – Beautiful Zelda
Atomic Mosquitos – Alien Roundup
Billy Bragg & Wilco – My Flying Saucer
Creedence Clearwater Revival – It Came Out Of The Sky
Cabaret Voltaire – Venusian Animals
DJ Spooky – The Terran Invasion of Alpha Centauri Year 2794
Dr. Octagon – Aliens
Japan – Alien
Kool Keith – Livin’ Astro
Leonard Nimoy – A Visit To a Sad Planet
Meat Beat Manifesto – Oblivion/Humans
Meat Beat Manifesto – The Tweek
The Residents – You’re a Martian/Home
Robert Gordon – Flying Saucer Rock ‘n’ Roll
Sonny Day – Creature From Outer Space
The Ventures – The Fourth Dimension
Twinkeyz – Aliens In Our Midst
Tool – Faaip De Oiad
Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – Zero From Outer Space
Dane Cook – Abducted
The Telescopes – My Name Is Zardak (Drop Your Weaponz)
The Busters – Space Patrol Orion
Bela Fleck & The Flecktones – Flying Saucer Dudes
The Cramps – Mojo Man From Mars
Devo – Auto Modown/Space Girl Blues
Feathers – space alien blues
Little Walter – Flying Saucer
Perrey-Kingsley – The Little Man from Mars
Placebo – Mars Landing Party
Smokey Wilson – The Man From Mars
Little Shop of Horrors – Mean Green Mother From Outer Space
Butch Paulson – Man from Mars
Cibo Matto – Sci-Fi Wasabi
Add N To (X) – Take Me To Your Leader
Queen – Flash
The Astral Army – Interstellar Shortwave
Aqua Teen Hunger Force – A Typical Mooninite Weekend
Cacogenic Systems – Alien Probe
Hanzel Und Gretyl – Take Me To Your Leader
Tony Mattherhorn – Man From Mars
Neanderthals – Werewolf from outer Space
Ran-Dells – Martian Hop
Leonard Nimoy – Alien
Klaatu – Calling Occupants (Of Interplanetary Craft)
Marty Quinn – Genuine UFO Contactee
Mellotones – Flying Saucers
Sam Space & the Cadettes – Take Me To Your Leader Cha Cha
Floyd Robinson – My Little Martian
Jesse Lee Turner – The Little Space Girl
klaatu – the loneliest of creatures
Julian Cope and the Teardrop Explodes – Spacehopper
Jesse Lee Turner – The Little Space Girl
Hermann, Bernard – Klaatu
Brownsville Station – The Martian Boogie
The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Third Stone From The Sun
Jamiroquai – Cosmic Girl
Jorge Ben Jor – Space Man (Homem Do Espaco)
Pete Johnson – Death Ray Boogie
Pink Floyd – A Saucerful Of Secrets
Pink Floyd – Let There Be More Light
Pixies – The Happening
The Prodigy – Out Of Space
Robyn Hitchcock – Welcome to Earth
Robyn Hitchcock & the Venus 3 – Adventure Rocket Ship
Slowdive – Souvlaki Space Station
Smashing Pumpkins – Spaceboy
Spacehog – Spacehog
Legendary Pink Dots – Terra Firma Welcome
The Webb Brothers – Beyond The Biosphere


Filed under music, Uncategorized