Hiroshi Hasegawa communes with chaos
Japanese noise pioneer explores the outer reaches of cosmic music
In 1913, futurist Luigi Russolo argued in his manifesto "The Art of Noises" that the pure harmonies of composers, such as Bach and Beethoven, failed to arouse the modern ear. Music must embrace noise to keep pace with the metallic thunder of machinery. One can only assume Russolo would have loved a Hiroshi Hasegawa show. From his seminal group Cosmic Coincidence Control Center (C.C.C.C.). to his solo work as Astro, Hasegawa has spent decades exploring noise's manifestations, and continues to pioneer new ways of enrapturing audiences with sound.
Before Hasegawa became a permanent fixture in the underground noise scene, he discovered his love for non-musical sounds as a child making field recordings with his father's open reel tape recorder. Those recordings differ from the discord of his current output, but the process introduced him to an essential quality of noise. "Noise is the music where destruction and creation live together," Hasegawa says. "It has completely rich, deep, and sensational sounds, and that's why noise has continued to appeal to me."
Hasegawa entered the Japanoise movement in the early '90s when acts such as Masami Akita's Merzbow were starting to break through to a global audience. Unlike Akita's subdued stage presence, Hasegawa and C.C.C.C. co-founder Mayuko Hino embraced a live performance hinged on overloading the senses with aural and physical chaos. Hino translated her background in sadomasochistic exhibitionism to the stage by pouring hot wax onto her naked body and shrieking into a microphone.
C.C.C.C.'s recorded output broadened the possibilities of noise, from the psychedelic washes of drone on Amplified Crystal II to the squalls of feedback on Rocket Shrine. "When I played in C.C.C.C., we just created chaos sounds," Hasegawa says. "But now I purposefully create more cosmos from the chaos."
When the group's output slowed down, Hasegawa branched out on his own under the name Astro, and through a myriad of collaborations. While chaos and excessive decibel levels never left his music, much of his solo work covers an even wider breadth of sound than C.C.C.C.
With the album Sanzagaike, released under his own name in 2013, Hasegawa creates collages of field recordings with a sensibility bordering on conventional beauty, but stabs of static and cosmic analog sounds subvert a sense of peace. One of his latest releases, a collaboration with fellow noise musician Dave Phillips, titled Insect Apocalypse, follows a similar blend of organic sound and constructed noise. Phillips manipulates insect recordings while Hasegawa injects layers of distortion.
When performing solo, Hasegawa employs a sparse selection of samplers, pedals, and a few analog synthesizers. The setup looks feeble when compared to the cacophony it creates. Typical show feature Hasegawa hovering over an array of electronics, using improvisation to create and destroy a searing wash of dissonance. "The concept of my performance is searching for alternative ways for communication as a soul collective," he says. "Improvisation is the best way to conduct such a search." Like his recorded material, his performance doesn't rely on the mere shock of sonic brutality, but on a nuanced command of tension and release.
His insistence on visceral communication and physical catharsis derives from an ideology embodied in C.C.C.C.'s aesthetic. In an interview for the Art Demolition documentary, chronicling C.C.C.C.'s performance at Taiwan's Art Demolition Festival, Hino laid out a simple definition of the group's philosophy: "So-called noise is an anti-authority representation, as music itself is a kind of authority, which makes its own restrictive framework. This is why I call myself a 'noise-maker,' or someone who fucks art and fucks music."
Hino and Hasegawa's work disavows an overly cerebral path to noise, preferring a highly emotive and mindful approach of engaging the listener. They both stress the importance of noise revealing something about the noise creator, believing a purely intellectual method leads to a limited sound. "Vivid and thrilling music is born by feeling the momentary atmosphere, like a Japanese 'ki,' which is created by various energies such as the field of the place, audiences, other artists, and so on," Hasegawa says. "It is like a ceremony for meditation, and the sounds are sometimes aggressive and sometimes static."
In his manifesto, Russolo mused on the future of noise, writing that, one day, artists wouldn't create noises as an imitation of technology, but would "combine them according to their artistic fantasy." Hasegawa's work fulfills Russolo's vision, pushing noise beyond the constraints of machines and into the infinite possibilities of its creator.