Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Sounding It Out

The name "Soundhouse" alone was enough to tickle the attention of a musician or sound artist. Hearing Mr. S talk about it, it almost sounded like some kind of audio wonderland, a sort of paradise on earth for people keen on things that make and shape noise.

I first heard about it back in 1997, when the music club at Ye Olde Academy was suddenly given a throbbing wad of money to be used to buy a SOUND SYSTEM for the school's 20th anniversary celebration. (We'd already been using a sound system, but for an event like this we definitely needed a SOUND SYSTEM.) Mr. S was no longer really a faculty supervisor of the music club, having been put in charge of the kyudo (Japanese archery) club right at about the time I'd come on board, but he had long provided various kinds of support since, unlike the rest of us, he'd had actual working experience as a stage hand and sound engineer. He was the one who knew everything there was to know about microphones, mixers, amplifiers, noise reducers, pink noise generators, white noise generators, sound spectrum analyzers, equalizers, digital and analog reverb, drum-type washing machines, machines that went "bing", and a partridge in a pear tree. After Herr Maestro Ogawa had pored over various catalogs and spoken with consultants, he finally gave up and put the whole SOUND SYSTEM project into Mr. S's capable hands. It wasn't long before an eye-popping array of gear started arriving, not least of which was a giant mixing console that looked like it belonged in a Roppongi studio rather than in a modestly-sized private school in the middle of the sticks. Nevertheless, it all somehow wound up being well within the budget. We asked Mr. S how he'd done it, and he smiled and said, "Soundhouse!"

The catalog he showed me was enough to get my senses spinning. However, he said that was nothing compared to their warehouse showroom at their main complex in Narita. He also warned me that, as a musician and home recording artist, if I actually went there, it would be at my own peril.

It turned out that I'd been driving by that main complex every time I'd gone on shopping runs to Narita. However, it just looked like an old warehouse or shipping depot and didn't seem very welcoming. After just a short period, it didn't look very open, either. Mr. S insisted that it was still in operation and showed me the updated catalog to prove it, but my attempts to make an intentional trip there always ended at a locked gate. Not long after that, the signs were all gone, and the place looked dead as a ghost town. I finally just gave up, and the Soundhouse fantasy disappeared from my consciousness.

Cut to a few weeks ago. As part of my recently-renewed interest in guitar-related gear and especially effect pedals, my attention had been drawn by a new line of pedals put out by TC Electronic. I already have (and really like...and have already used quite a bit) their Nova Repeater delay/echo, and would be happy to own ANY of the new line (he he he...he he he), but I was limiting my focus to their Hall of Fame reverb unit. My old BOSS RV-3 delay/reverb, though definitely not bad, was a bit too limited for my satisfaction, and my Marshall Reflector reverb, though having great sound despite its low price, has some design flaws which make it problematical to use (and got it taken out of shops after only a year or two). On the other hand, the demo video for the Hall of Fame pedal had me very much in love (with the PEDAL, you moron!), so I started shopping around. It was considerably less expensive than I'd expected, but I wanted to avoid getting yet another item from Amazon. It was listed for the same price on the catalog for my usual chain music store haunt, so I made the rounds...without success. Other online music shops had it listed, but were more expensive, so I was about to bite the bullet and call up Amazon again when I suddenly found it for quite a bit cheaper in a very unexpected place: the online catalog for Soundhouse! Prowling around the site like Charlie in the Chocolate Factory, I found that they had the Hall of Fame pedal in stock at their NEW complex in Narita...for which they provided a map complete with a video showing how to get to it! I don't need to tell you where I went on my next Thursday morning substitute holiday...

Once again I was greeted with what looked like a factory or warehouse rather than a customer-direct store...complete with a customer parking lot located on the opposite side of the street requiring a walk through a security gate, but there was no problem finding the showroom and order desk. It was interesting to note that I came in right behind a foreign-looking heavy metal band who proceeded to serenade me with some impressive (and LOUD) shredding as they tested out a Bogner amp. Meanwhile, I walked drooling around stacks of amp heads, cabinets, and combos (Marshall, Matchless, Behringer, Bogner, Carvin, Peavy, Fender, Vox, Line 6, Roland, Mesa/Boogie, Soldano...)(*pant pant pant*) and then checked out the rooms dedicated to studio and club equipment before I finally went to the order window and asked about the little, red pedal. I had to register, but soon I was carrying a receipt downstairs to the pick-up room, where I had to ring a doorbell and provide numerous body scans (well, I DID have to ring the doorbell) before they'd unlock the door and give me my order. Considering the items they had in stock, I could understand the need for all the security, but it was still a bit unnerving. At any rate, I had my Hall of Fame pedal, and now I know where to go if I want to get good gear for a lower price than the regular retail outlets.

Now I just need time to play with the toys I have...

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Some May Colors...Just Because

May 2011 color 2

Some purple ayame (iris) growing by the fishpond near my house. (I have yet to find a camera that effectively captures that color!)

Praying ayame beckon to a sky
Ugly and gray, not wishing for sunshine.
Rather, they hope the rain that draweth nigh
Pours not with cesium or iodine.
Lovely flowers, but even they
Endure the isotopes of May.

You can also see a few scattered remnants of the magenta azaleas in the background.

May's greeting
Against the green bush,
Great blast of color bursting forth,
Enraptured herald of the new beginnings
Neither stymied nor slowed by the
Tectonic ripples of March.
Affably pink.

May 2011 color 6

Here's a white ayame growing in my late mother-in-law's little garden next to my father-in-law's little "field" ("fieldlet"?). A little of my neighborhood(?) is also visible.

Where are all the houses, I say?
Have they jumped up and run away?
Indeed, they are there,
Tucked away tight somewhere
Exiled even from the light of day.

May 2011 color 4

Speaking of white, this large, pure white hydrangea bloomed wayyyy earlier than the others.

Wetness in the air
Humidity increases
Insects cry and fly
Tremors rattle every day
Even so the flowers grow

May 2011 color 7

Then there are these yellow things that keep popping up in the "20th-of-an-acre farm". They're apparently a weed and kind of a pest, but FIL insists that they have value, so he always leaves them where they appear.

You never know just what you can expect
Each year my wife's dear father grabs his hoe.
Lord only knows just what he will do next;
Lots of the time he simply lets it go.
Of course he always plants some seeds
While also cultivating weeds.

And of course, we can't forget the most basic color of Spring:

Good riddance, winter cold;
Really, it was just getting old.
Even so, I know well
Ere the hot humid hell.
Now it's time to start dealing with mold...

...but it's still pretty. More to come!

Friday, May 06, 2011

Real-Life Cursed Videos...and a Real-Life Cursed Song

Recently, perhaps the MWP (Most Watched Program) on our TV these days has been "Honto ni Atta! Noroi Bideo" (本当にあった! 呪いビデオ), which literally translates as "Cursed Videos That Really Were", or perhaps "Real-Life Cursed Videos". The popularity of the 1990's Japanese horror novel "Ring", and the various movie and TV drama versions of it that were made in various countries around the world (including the US), firmly ingrained the idea of the cursed video in the Japanese psyche. It was therefore only natural that a TV series would eventually be made showcasing home videos that accidentally contained something spooky...or had a spooky real-life story associated with them.

"Honto ni Atta! Noroi Bideo" was made in the early to mid 2000's for direct-to-video release. It consists of the regular series, which includes 14 regular episodes and 10 "specials" including the eponymous full-length movie described here. At any rate, one of the satellite channels has been showing a run of a few episodes each week, gradually rotating through the series so that each episode gets repeated a number of times. Each episode centers on the work of one particular investigative team (I'm not sure how many different ones there are) as it checks on the background and surrounding circumstances of each video featured. One episode usually includes a little fewer than half a dozen such videos. Some also have some kind of running story that continues through a number of episodes, such as the ongoing investigation of a rumor or a particularly chilling case.

Most of the stories involve a home or surveillance video in which something strange appears in an otherwise ordinary situation. It can be something like a weird shadow or reflection, what seems to be a person in a place where no person should logically be, a ghostly apparition, a strange distortion in someone's face or a part of their body that was later injured, ghostly voices, unexplained sounds, or the unintended(?) filming of something that just should not be. While some might merit a smirk and a "Yeah, maybe with a little imagination and some good rice wine, that might look almost kind of like a hand," others are just plain freaky. Some have been positively disturbing. Of course, perhaps inevitably, there are also those that strain their credibility well past the breaking point, sometimes to the point of making a whole episode seem like it jumped the shark. It's still good, clean, spooky fun to watch...especially when a particularly freaky story sends my son into a jittery fit.

Speaking of which, although I have posted this story on this blog before, I'm going to re-tell it in response to popular demand. This isn't a "real-life cursed video", but rather a "real-life cursed song". I swear that this story is 100% true, at least to the best of our observations at the time; although I'm sure there are many logical explanations for what happened, at the time it all added up to something extraordinary.

The year was 1998. I was still a fairly new face at Ye Olde Academy. It had also only just come out that I was able to compose and arrange music. The chief director of the music club told me that he'd be more than happy to have the orchestra perform anything I came up with. High on the success of my first, surprise arrangements (another story...), I decided to go for broke and write an orchestral suite. It was entitled "Wahluna" and was based on the legend of the Nimiipuu (Nez Perce) princess of that name...the noble but ill-fated figure who, together with her newlywed husband Tlesca (or Tlescaoe) of the Blackfeet, became the most famous victims of Oregon's Wallowa Lake monster (story here). It was a story I'd long been taken with, and the musical strains were already in my heart. I reconfirmed the issue with the chief director, got his enthusiastic approval, and tore into the project as if my life depended on it.

You have to understand that this was at least a full year before I got my first music-writing software, and I was writing the score by hand with pencil and paper. I was spending every available minute on it with a level of obsession far greater than Facebook or Zynga could ever hope to coax out of me. It was getting to the point where my eyes could barely see and my hands were too stiff from writer's cramp to be of much use, but still I kept at it.

That's when things started to happen.

First items started disappearing and then turning up in weird places. Household appliances started malfunctioning for no apparent reason. Then my daughter, still less than two at the time, suddenly started having screaming nightmares every night. We'd close and lock all the windows and doors when we went to bed at night and then wake to find the window in my daughter's room open (at a time of year when it shouldn't be). Then we started hearing what sounded like someone walking up the stairs at the same time every night, and then walking back down at the same time every morning (waking us up...and there was never anyone there).

Then my wife seemed to fall under attack. She started having minor but strange health issues. Almost every morning she'd go out to her (locked) car to go to work and find it still locked, but with items thrown about the interior. One night she left two bags of marked exam papers in there and found them all dumped out (but nothing stolen...not even valuables she'd left in there...and the car still locked). At the same time, various knobs and bits in her car started falling off, and the engine started acting goofy. One morning she found a mirror had dropped off. Another morning she found a flat tire.

To make matters worse, in my dreams at the time I almost always saw what looked like a dark-featured woman watching me from the shadows...and felt like I was being pursued.

I finally finished "Wahluna" and turned it over to the chief director. (He had the orchestra try it once...while I wasn't there..., declared it "over the kids' heads", and filed it away till further notice. It's still there in a box.) However, the strange goings-on didn't stop, and while my wife moved our daughter downstairs, I slept alone upstairs and did my best to meditate and try to figure out what was going on. That's when I had the ultimate dream.

In the dream, I was standing there looking at my sleeping body while a strange light filled the room (not the first time I'd had such an experience). Then I felt like I was pulled through some kind of door, and suddenly I was being guided by a group of people through a village to a campfire deep in the to which was what looked like a Native American medicine man. A very ANGRY medicine man. He told me his name was "Tlaloc" (which, I later found, happens to be the name of the Aztec god of rain, but anyway...), and he told me it was all my fault. Apparently I had put so much energy into my composing of "Wahluna" that I'd actually summoned her spirit. She'd been deeply touched...even infatuated. That had aroused the jealousy of her husband, Tlesca, and he'd started causing trouble. That had led Wahluna in turn to attack my wife both out of jealousy and to spite her husband. "Tlaloc" told me that the best way to solve the problem would be to compose a tune for Tlesca, too. That would satisfy his great pride and cool everyone down.

I woke up the next morning and immediately started work on "Tlesca", which ironically turned out to be one of the most successful tunes of my early, analog recording days (even despite that LONNNNNNNG, sloppy introduction..). Sure enough, all the strange goings-on came to a full stop. Things stopped disappearing or opening of their own accord, my daughter stopped screaming at night, my dreams stopped freaking me out, the footsteps on the stairs went away, my wife's health cleared up, and her car stopped getting messed with. My wife and daughter started sleeping upstairs again, and everything seemed normal and peaceful again.

However, the story doesn't end there.

My muse was exhausted...not to mention frustrated by the curt dismissal of "Wahluna" after all that trouble (even though not doing it had probably been a very good thing). However, after a while I got the urge to create again, so I went back into my little home studio and started work on an acoustic guitar-based tune. I managed to lay down a couple of guitar tracks plus drums, bass, and an organ part before I decided to turn in for the night.

As I walked up the stairs to the bedroom, I suddenly heard what sounded like soft footsteps and a rustling of fabric like someone wearing a robe was moving through the room. But at the same time, I could hear my wife snoring in the bed. Then I heard my daughter shriek in her room. In a panic, I tried to dash in, but I ran into...something. How do I describe it? There was nothing there, but was like a patch of chill. Like a little gust of cold wind that was trying to be physically solid, but not quite succeeding. It knocked me off balance as it passed right through me...and then I heard what sounded like someone running down the stairs on their toes. A bolt of adrenaline went through me, and in a pure rage, I ran down in hot pursuit of whatever it was. Slowing as I passed through the almost pitch-dark living room, the surge of anger faded, and I started to wonder what the hell I was doing. That's when I heard the crash inside my studio. That's when I said, "FUCK IT," went back upstairs, and stood guard until I gave up and finally went to sleep.

The next morning, I went to check on my studio. The acoustic guitar I'd used to record the night before had been flung across the room. I guess Tlesca, or whoever it was, had gotten it out of their system, because, as far as I know, they haven't been back since.

Yes, I swear this story is true. Misinterpreted and/or over-imagined perhaps, but still true.