Monday, February 13, 2012

JAM DESHO: J.A. Seazer - Revival Record of the Rose Egg SOFIA!

By Steve Jones.

I was asked the interesting if loaded question of "what interests you about music from Japan in particular?" earlier this week.  It's a good question, and it's one that gave me some pause.  There are a lot of small details and stories which led up to this Samsonite Samurai feature, and there are more than I can fit into a single blog entry, but I think it is best to start at the beginning.  After all, there had to be some spark, some piece of music that started me down this dark, dark path.

Well, like many kids in America, my first inkling of the country and the idea that is Japan came from video games and anime.  And up through the better part of high school, video game music, particularly Nobuo Uematsu's Final Fantasy soundtracks, was the only kind of music I actively listened to outside of classical compositions.  So I suppose you technically could say that Uematsu was my introduction to Japanese music, but honestly I think Uematsu's music was more a reaffirmation of the things I liked about classical music, rather than any kind of game changer.  It wasn't until one night when I happened to catch The Adolescence of Utena film on the International Channel that I was 1) introduced to a whole new world of anime that wasn't Pokemon or Sailor Moon or DBZ and 2) introduced to J.A. Seazer.

There are a lot of reasons why the Revolutionary Girl Utena series is strange, but one in particular which stood out to me was the sound of the duel choruses.  So you know what I'm talking about:

"What the hell is this music?  I mean, it's kind of rockish, kind of metal, but there's this choir of voices and what the hell are they singing and what is with these chord progressions and what?  Music like this exists?  Who makes it?  And why do I like it?"

Eventually my digging led me to the 8 soundtrack albums released for the show.  Of those, the 7th in particular interested me, because it was supposedly a compilation of songs by the duel chorus composer J.A.Seazer, and, more intriguingly, none of the songs were from the series or movie.  I downloaded it song by song (these were the dial-up days!), listened to it, and it immediately became my favorite album.  I burned a CD of it and printed a makeshift cover for the jewel case.  This was Revival Record of the Rose Egg SOFIA!

J.A. Seazer was a pretty enigmatic person, and even the internet was of little help all those years ago.  I learned he was a member of and the composer for an experimental theater group in the '70s called Tenjo Sajiki.  After that, he seemed to fall off the face of the planet until Utena director Kunihiko Ikuhara, who admired the work of Tenjo Sajiki, hired him to compose the duel choruses in the late '90s.  This strange choral music seemed to be his forte, and this album remains one of the more unique and indescribable entities in my collection.  I guess Magma is kind of similar?  Honestly, the best description I've read, and one that I wish I thought of myself, is "the Vienna Boys Choir singing Megadeth in Japanese."

Revival Record of the Rose Egg SOFIA! is a collection of 13 songs of psychedelic prog rock infused with Middle Eastern and Asian folk sounds.  You may not be able to understand the voices, and that isn't necessary for enjoying these tracks, but I do encourage you to head over to's Audiology page and check out the translations available (as well as the excellent review).  The lyrics are appropriately abstract with little clear meaning, and just the track titles alone are gems: "Astragalous Earth Backgammon," "The Solitary Existence of the Petite Universe: A History," "We Who Have Cast Ourselves Aside Become Fallen Angels," and so on.  It's all very cosmic and very fun.

J.A. Seazer essentially served as my gateway artist into the foreign and exciting world of Japanese music.  It was a weird place to start, admittedly, and I do not expect anybody else to follow this path, but Seazer is still an important figure in my own musical history.  His music was my first glimpse into a whole world of contemporary music that did not receive radio play, and which I could not find in my parents' collection.  Music could be a shocking and uprooting thing, and that was a lesson I was glad to learn.

(Steve Jones willingly listens to music from anime series. If this does not disgust you, follow him on Twitter.)

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