Tuesday, 5 February 2019

From the sublime to the epic - Kitaro turns 66

Masanori Takahashi, the multi-instrumentalist and electronic music legend who became known world-wide as Kitaro, turned 66 yesterday.

He began playing electric guitar in school, and later turned to synthesizers. International acclaim arrived during his years in the Japanese progressive rock group Far East Family Band, when he not only met the Berlin School electronic music luminary Klaus Schulze, but latter also produced the band's two albums.

Kitaro's first solo albums were released in 1978 and 1979, but a huge break-through came with the phenomenal soundtrack he composed in 1980 for the Japanese documentary series The Silk Road. The vast project, which managed to span 17 years, resulted in four electronic albums that are still landmarks of the genre.

His vast discography got him nominated 16 times for Grammy Awards (and Kitaro won one with Thinking of You), and it has huge musical range, too.

Although his music was categorised as "New Age" in lack of a really fitting label, Kitaro's instantly recognisable electronic compositions go from phenomenally delicate motifs and structures to ethnic elements originating all across the world map, from space ambient harmonies to soaring orchestral epics.

While synthesizers have been at the core of his music, electric guitars and percussion instruments, chiefly the mighty Taiko drums, also have a strong presence in his music.

From sublime and delicate sonic paintings we hear on Silk Road or the landmark album Oasis, he can seemingly effortlessly and extremely competently move to vast orchestral visions infused with Japanese traditional music - something we can hear on epic albums like Kojiki.

Latter is based on the ancient Japanese sacred text of same name, and it remains a perfect example of how Kitaro fuses state of the art electronics with ancient musical traditions and Western orchestral arrangements.

There are infinitely delicate and scintillating, translucent structures in his music, there are thundering Taiko drums, woodwind textures ranging from South-American to Japanese traditions, soaring electric guitars, and electronic harmonies that seem to emanate without human intervention from some other Universe.

His technical wizardry is always at play, and one of the most characteristic and individual lead sounds in all of electronic music is what Kitaro used extensively on his albums, a patch he originally created on the vintage Korg 700s synthesizer.

However, he remains one of the few synth legends that view technology "merely" as a creative and expressive tool for passionate and deeply human music - Kitaro, which means "man of love and joy", has never allowed technology to take over and become an end in itself. No wonder that his music can be heard in anything ranging from meditation classes to symphonic concerts and Golden Globe-winning Hollywood epics like Oliver Stone's Heaven & Earth.

Many happy returns and continued blissful harmonies in life and music, Takahashi-san!