The next freely-available music i want to explore in this series is by Man:Sha, an artist whose work suggests them to be Japanese, and based in France. i’ve not been able to find out any meaningful additional information about them, and only discovered their work in the first place due to my occasional ongoing fascination with the work of cyberpunk poet Kenji Siratori, with whom Man:Sha collaborated on an EP, X-Periment, in 2008. Similarly obscure is the French netlabel where Man:Sha’s limited output was released, Core:Back Records, which appears to have existed from around 2005 until 2012, possibly with Man:Sha at the helm. Only a handful of Core:Back’s releases (all EPs) were credited to Man:Sha, but two of them are particularly interesting and effective.
Kakugo / 覚悟 dates from 2011, the title referencing a concept of mental preparedness from the Bushido, the code of honour held by the Samurai. Its four tracks together present music rooted in dark ambient aesthetics, not so much conveying as hinting at the possibility of narrative. Man:Sha does this by putting the emphasis on atmosphere, the creation of an enclosing, hermetically-sealed world characterised by sonic archetypes – pitch, noise, impact – heard vaguely at something of a distance, but littered with small-scale glimpses of and allusions to identifiable sound objects. Throughout Kakugo, Man:sha keeps these different types of material separate, heard as parallel elements that work sympathetically alongside each other but are not otherwise affected by external details.
That perhaps suggests a kind of anti-dramatic stasis might result, but on the contrary, the results are striking and powerfully arresting. In ‘Kin’mon’, woodblock strikes yield to blank, throbbing drum reverberance, from which (punctuated by vocal stings) a variety of shimmering and plunking pitches poke through, before being wiped out by more demonstrative abstract scratches. Whereas in ‘Shutensatsu’, a multi-layered perspective comprising (from near to far) strong impacts, somewhat piercing tones, truncated mini noise surges and a burbling band of noise play out in a curious equilibrium that feels it could explode at any moment – made yet more palpable by an unexpected moment of repose exactly halfway through. ‘Keppuroki’ is more restrained, a habitat of deep throbbing bass and high streaks, filled with vague but pressing inner movement that keeps the referential qualities of its sounds slightly beyond any hope of recognition. Most powerful of all is ‘Gashin’, where a tantalising, far-off soft ticking is coloured by gentle snatches of distorted chimes before being shot through with harsh blasts of polarised noise, elaborated into a juddering texture that is allowed to intensify while being held in check.
Moon Eater / 鮮綠色龍 was also released in 2011 and again features four tracks, but Man:Sha allows them more time to develop, and the tone of the music is more assertively unsettling. Opening track ‘Radiant8klips’ sets the scene, an ominous amalgam of rumble, metallic shapes and rippling noise caked in lo-fi detritus and traces of vinyl crackle, its landscape constantly moving and wounded by sharp angular pitch punctures. In a similar way to ‘Keppuroki’, ‘Bakunawa’ is deliberately intangible, a drawn-out pitch layer moving in the midst of ongoing, distant clanging and bands of noise, though it proves deceptive, the maintenance of the atmosphere masking the fact that, by the end, all of its elements have gradually become much more forceful and close than we realised. ‘Vesperal Scream’ evokes the best of Lustmord (before he became a parody of himself), deep regular thuds combining with a faint floating drone – half pitch, half noise – and a variety of metal squeaks and wooden clunks to create a beautiful paradoxical environment of relaxed tension, like the anteroom for an atrocity. Wan clusters blanch the space, later appearing more focused in what sound like flattened out, smoothed off screams. There’s a similarly omnipresent sense of disquiet in ‘Sombre Cinabre’, which brings to mind the oblique monochrome theatre of Kreng. Possible voices resonate adjacent to rumbles, creaks and thuds, all of which sound filtered such that all air feels sucked out of this imaginary world, which itself seems small and horribly claustrophobic. The unspoken, implied terrors lurking within are exacerbated later by pulse-like thuds and faint but perceptible traces of a human voice and the regular beeping of something like a heart monitor.
It’s so easy to create, and so common to encounter, examples of music that adopt a palette of this kind but which turn out to be cheap, derivative, unintentionally funny examples of empty, po-faced pretention (back to Lustmord again). Yet Kakugo and Moon Eater are anything but that; they’re cohesive, deeply immersive soundscapes that combine restraint, allusion and a superbly-chosen and -handled range of elements to create vivid music that pulls us in while keeping us on our toes, trying to make sense of what we’re (half) hearing, sensing tension mount even though we can hardly understand why.
Originally released as MP3s on the Core:Back netlabel in 2011, both EPs are now available free from Man:Sha’s Bandcamp site. However, a note of caution: i can’t be sure but i have my suspicions that the lossless files available from Bandcamp are in at least some cases upsampled from lossy originals, so you might be just as well off grabbing the original MP3 releases from the Internet Archive: Kakugo is here, and Moon Eater here.