ProgressoR / Uzbekistan Progressive Rock Pages


Makoto Kitayama - 2008 - "Practical Encyclopedia of Kingdom Plantae"

(33:43, Dreaming & Poseidon Records)

TRACK LIST:                   

1.  Erythroxylon Coca 2:10
2.  Acer Saccharum 2:30
3.  Piper Nigrum 4:26
4.  Lilium Speciosum 3:18
5.  Quercus Suber 5:22
6.  Circuta Virosa 3:58
7.  Metroxylon Sagu 4:19
8.  Akebia Quinata 2:23
9.  Freesia 5:07


Makoto Kitayama  keyboards; programming
Takashi Hayashi  guitar (7)

Prolusion. Makoto KITAYAMA is a Japanese musician who's been active since the late 60s, most notably as vocalist and songwriter for the progressive rock band Shingetsu. Since this band folded at the tail end of the seventies, Kitayama has released two solo albums: the instrumental, keyboard-dominated, "Doubutsukai No Chinou" in 1982 (re-released in 2004) and the progressive rock outing "Hikaru Sazanami" in 2000. "Practical Encyclopedia of Kingdom Plantae" was released in 2008, and is the second part of a planned trilogy that started with his debut solo album, inspired by a series of book from 1932.

Analysis. Now here's a novel idea making music inspired by an encyclopedia about plants, and inspired to such an extent that the compositions have been named after various plants as well. Similar stuff may have been done before, especially in the field of music known as new age, but personally I haven't come across it. And by description as well as the factual information about this release one might suspect that this is one of those somewhat cheesy new age productions also. At least that is what I suspected: lush, mellow and dreamy soundscapes of the kind that are so effective when one needs to calm down and relax for a quick afternoon meditation (read: nap) after a stressful day at work. Useful music for this purpose, but not something you'd want to listen to for enjoyment only. However, this album is something completely different. I do get the notion that Kitayama indeed tries to describe the lifespan nature of these plants with music, but he does it in a very surprising manner. The most important part of his approach is to compress the span of the compositions instead of making drawn-out slow songs with subtle shifts in melodies and a gradual development, following the pace of a plant's development, the pace being increased a lot. And what happens slowly and gradually in real life comes across as much more dramatic in this compressed format. The structure of all the 9 compositions on this disc is basically very uniform. The songs start out with either lush or dramatic sonic textures, a theme is explored by one or more sounds, each sound exploring its own set theme or pattern, and these all build up to a climax. Some tracks will end with this climax while others have a short fadeout that follows. Rhythmic yet melodic percussion is a dominant feature throughout, supplying a very basic melodic pattern for the other sounds to lean upon. These patterns as they are often plural may evolve, but more often than not they will either explore slightly different textures at times during the song or disappear for dramatic effect and then return shortly after. Regular drums or pure rhythmic sounds are features less extensively used in these compositions due to the heavy use of melodic percussion solos. When used, the drums are loud and bombastic though, clearly adding tension and drama to the songs. Synth melodies supply the more fine-tuned parts of the themes involved, sometimes with dark and slightly menacing themes, but more often supplying a lighter, floating melody above the melodic rhythm patterns. The synths also provide electronic noises. I guess that some of these mimic the sound a plant makes as it grows and forces the soil away from its growth path; others I don't have the slightest idea about them. These electronic noises create a slight dissonance which fits very well within this framework of repeated, somewhat minimalist, themes, adding a chaotic element to compositions that might have come across as too rigid without this extra element. The end result are songs that are more dramatic than dreamy, melodic without being as easily digestible as your typical new age music indeed this stuff is rather complex in places. The individual layers are repetitive and with a certain classic minimalist tinge to them, but when these parts are played simultaneously it doesn't take that many of them before the composition starts becoming much more complicated than the average monochrome single- or double-layered new age composition.

Conclusion. A remarkable release in many ways, this is a CD that I think might be found intriguing by many who doesn't normally appreciate electronic instrumental music. Still, fans of experimental E-music will be the main target audience for this CD, especially those who think songs with minimalist tendencies and a progressive approach are a good idea.

OMB: October 10, 2008
The Rating Room

Related Links:

Musea Records
Poseidon Records


ProgressoR / Uzbekistan Progressive Rock Pages