Masaki Batoh - Brain Pulse Music

Masaki Batoh is perhaps better known as the main man behind Japanese experimental rockers Ghost, a band not famed for their prolific nature but revered in certain circles for over 20 years and responsible for some fine music, not least their wonderful collaboration with Damon & Naomi from 2000. Batoh is even less prolific with his solo work, having not released anything under his own name since 1996; but the 2011 earthquake disaster that shook Japan to its very core affected Batoh not only personally – he and his family were evacuated from Tokyo - but musically too. Batoh wished to create a requiem for the victims of the earthquake and tsunami, and upon returning to his acupuncture clinic (yes, seriously) he noticed the mental anguish of many of his patients, and resorted to making something that would reconcile body and soul. He had been already planning an entirely electronic record constructed from bio-electric brain patterns before the earthquake, but to this he added traditional Japanese instrumentation to form the prayer of Brain Pulse Music. Now, this is where it gets really interesting…

Here comes the science bit: Batoh commissioned the BPM, a machine that reads brain patterns, a truly original piece of equipment that helped him realise his dream of creating music from extracted brain waves. Essentially, the person who wears the BPM on their head creates music with their mind. Their fucking mind, man. Can you believe it? And according to Drag City you’ll be able to buy it from their store later this year. Brain Pulse Music was eventually composed in two days; the first spent experimenting with the BPM on subjects and the second adding the traditional Japanese instruments. The resulting rhythms mirrored the sounds found in traditional Japanese religious ceremonies and festivals, and if Batoh had aimed for an organic and soulful record to be made from what’s an extremely inorganic source, then he has most certainly succeeded.

Opening track ‘Kumano Codex 1′ begins with lovely chimes but makes way for high-pitched harmonic drones that on first listen I was sure were the work of the BPM, but going back and listening again found that they also take the form of sounds you might get from a reed instrument. Either way, it’s the sound of the organic and electronic coming together to create something interesting, but more importantly, truly moving. ‘Eye Tracking Test’, the next piece of music, is altogether more unsettling: five minutes of slightly oscillating electronic pitches, it’s the sort of thing that might soundtrack a tense moment in a Japanese horror film; the sound of the anxiety Batoh’s patients must have felt following the earthquake and tsunami…

The ritualistic chiming percussion of ‘Kumano Codex 2′ and the wooden drums and flute of ‘Kumano Codex 3′ are much more soothing, perhaps the sound of mourning, then of recovery and regeneration. It’s a beautiful and sad interlude, before ‘Codex 4′ takes flight on a brighter and lighter flute sound and ceremonial drumming. ‘Codex 5′ is a barely-there track of gentle chimes, and it lulls the listener into a false sense of calm before the shock of the final track.

‘Aiki No Okami’ translates roughly as the “great spirit of aiki”, with aiki being a martial arts principal that works on understanding the rhythm and intent of the attacker in order to find the best position to counter-attack. The meaning here is surely twofold: Batoh’s attempts through music and therapy to soothe the mental tribulations of his patients, but also a way to counter the effects of last year’s tragedy. The music is truly unsettling and upsetting, with the title being chanted over distorted percussion and stabs of electronic dissonance from the BPM. Just as the track begins to reach what seems to be calm closure, the noise and disruption is doubled, returning more powerful than before. It’s the sound of the earthquake replicated in music, and it’s as close as I ever want to get to such an event.

Brain Pulse Music isn’t a record I’d return to very often, but it does have its moments and Masaki Batoh’s intentions certainly have to be admired – music can work as therapy and we’ve all experienced emotional ups and downs thanks to it. But if you don’t like the sound of this record after reading, then perhaps the fact that all proceeds from the sales go to the Japanese Red Cross might just prompt you to investigate it anyway.