On her first new release in almost 20 years, Japanese composer Midori Takada joins London-based musician Lafawndah on a short but fascinating multimedia project with mythical overtones.
Myths, like drum patterns, accrue force with repetition and meaning with reinterpretation. Take the myth of the blue fox, an animal with a coat so white it can turn a different color entirely. In Senegal’s Serer religion, it’s believed foxes were mischievous tricksters. The Icelandic poet and Björk collaborator Sjón devoted a novel to the blue fox, in which the beast gives the protagonist, the Reverend, a reason for living. In 20th-century Britain, the Blue Fox became a nuclear warhead. The animal particularly charmed Japan, where, fittingly, given its provocative and transitory nature, it was variously a messenger of the divine and a god itself. And now, it reappears again as Le Renard Bleu, the first new release in almost 20 years by Japanese composer Midori Takada, who knows a thing or two herself about myths and patterns.
Takada’s landmark, limited-run 1983 album Through the Looking Glass sat for 35 years on the wishlists of fans who’d heard only tales of the four-track wonder. Takada created and produced the album herself, overdubbing lines of marimba, harmonium, Coke bottles, and cowbells into unsettling reveries. Its 2017 reissue established a place for her in the pantheon of minimalist composers like Terry Riley and Steve Reich, along with experimental performers like Meredith Monk—and perhaps even solo studio wizards like Prince. In a way, Looking Glass was a Music for 18 Musicians, made by just one.
Le Renard Bleu is something different: a series of collaborations in both content and form. Sonically, Takada has joined forces with the London-based singer/producer Lafawndah, best known for her 2016 pan-global (or even post-global) pop EP Tan. Visually, the pair took up with filmmakers and artistic directors Partel Oliva for an accompanying film, of interest mainly as a chance to see how Takada creates her sounds, and a one-sided 12" with a flip etched by Parisian illustrator Neila Czermak. Logistically, the crew found funding and distribution from cult fashion house KENZO, whose runway shows Lafawndah has soundtracked.
This glittering crowd is a far cry from Takada’s nights spent alone Scotch-Taping percussive arpeggios in the 1980s. But those riffs reappear in Le Renard Bleu, after an introductory scene-setting of solitary bells. Metallic resonances like hair-raising flares cut across the eerie calm. And then Lafawndah stalks in, her voice shapeshifting between Lisa Gerrard, Anita Baker, and Kelela. “Fox sing for me,” she demands, “about how one mind learned to read another.” A conversation—between Lafawndah and the fox, and between Lafawndah and Takada—begins to take shape.
Over the next 20 minutes, Takada maps for the singer vast grounds of handbells; antique cymbals; myochin hibachi, a kind of highly resonant wind chime; various drums and marimba; and even the water phone, a stainless steel and bronze ring of tonal rods surrounding an echoing pool of water, created by the fortuitously named Richard Waters. A gang of drums joins the hunt, as marimba lines play hide and seek with the vocals, and while things never quite reach the expository thrust of, say, Peter and the Wolf, it’s clear there are actions, with consequences, afoot. Eventually, bright metallic peals of bells, friendlier cousins to the early flares, cleanse the air with soft exhalations.
It’s one hell of a trip, even if Le Renard Bleu’s profile might pale compared to the epic, four-part Looking Glass and its legacy. Hopefully, it’s no epigraph to Takada’s storied career. Perhaps like Sjón’s Reverend, this fox gave her something to believe in, a reason to rejoin the material world in search of new adventures. In the end, we’re just lucky to hear the tale.
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