THE ELECTRONIC WORLD OF ZERO GRAVITY
by Paul Collett and Carlos M. Pozo

Since the early 80s Japan has cornered the market on energetic individuals in music, whose discographies are vast mazes through which few western observers have managed to navigate - Masami Akita, Otomo Yoshihide, Eye Yamatsuka, Tatsuya Yoshida, Akifumi Nakajima, and to lesser degrees, Nanjo (High Rise), Keiji Haino and Maso Yamazaki (Masonna). Kazunao Nagata, though active only since the mid-90s, is rapidly becoming a leading member of this sleep-less group, producing, mastering, recording, performing and releasing records under a countless number of aliases and collaborations, as well as running two electronic music labels: Transonic and Zero Gravity. Though Nagata has released music on both his imprints, it is through Zero Gravity that he has chosen to release his 4 confoundingly great solo CDs, and it is for this particular label, and its 25 (so far) completely unique releases of contemporary electronics that Kazunao Nagata is most likely to be remembered.

The label itself is a mystery - no web presence, no mail address listed in the CD booklet, nothing except a fax number, the recurring name of Kazunao Nagata, and the physical presence of the discs themselves, and their immaculate design aesthetic. SLP DESIGNS (Ryo Miyoshi and Yuuske Simizi), the graphic designers responsible for all 25 discs, have created 25 mini-posters of precision fine-line graphic detail.

Zero Gravity began its life in 1996 as an offshoot of the visionary techno label Transonic, which was itself an offshoot of the slightly earlier IDM/techno Trigger label, though working in a totally different world to this dance-derived scene. For Zero Gravity deals less in beats and rhythms than in pure squelch and ping, sonic manipulation without the manic baggage of the hardcore electronic noise brigade but as disorientating and numbingly freaked.

Early (1996) Zero Gravity releases like "Kamakura" from SUZUKISKI or "For Speaker System" by STRANGE GARDEN suggest a label coming to terms with it's potential. Displaying post-techno and in STRANGE GARDEN'S case obvious dub sensibilities these releases are some of the less overtly tweaked output from the label. SUZUKISKI is a breakbeat/techno project of Suzuki Takahiro who has other releases on quality Japanese techno labels like Soup Disk and Silverstone, as well as a couple of self-released discs that were some of the earliest manifestations of non-generic off-the-wall bedroom techno in Japan. Classy and high-tech home listening IDM for fans of sleek Detroit Techno or Ken Ishii and mid-period Autechre - with little of the electronics-overload that typifies every subsequent Zero Gravity release. At this point in its evolution, the differences between Zero Gravity and mother label Transonic were not too obvious - the apparently out of print ZGV-002 was a mini album by PACIFIC 231 (Hasumi Shigeomi & Miyake Takemasa) which was later expanded and reissued as "Tropical Songs Gold" on Transonic. Suzuki Takahiro also collaborates with Nagata as FANTASTIC EXPLOSION, a group that has released several discs of collaged drum'n'bass exotica on the Transonic label. Also roughly along the lines of Suzukiski is Ken Katsumata's ARCHE TYPE outfit, whose collection "Sky-Scraul-Space (Movies 1992-1995)" (ZGV-014) and recent discs such as "Marmalade Pa Pa" on the Nan label are playful video-game electronica for fans of Mike Paradinas or Aphex Twin. ARCHE-TYPE, along with Nagata's early oufit ORGANIZATION, NINA-NOHO, MIND DESIGN, and TRANSONIC JOKERS' Yoshihiro Sawasaki appear on a Transonic compilation titled "The Roots of Transonic - Trigger Label 1990-1993". The Nagata / ORGANIZATION tracks on that compilation are from 1992 and 1993, and are in structure much more Warp-styledtechno than the freewheeling noise heard on his Zero Gravity CDs. TRANSONIC JOKERS is a supergroup amalgamation of Transonic talent - Nagata, of course, plus the aforementioned Sawasaki and Naka Tomizawa, who has a disc out as KING OF OPUS, also on Transonic.

TAGOMAGO is Tsuyoshi Nakamura (also of NERVE NET NOISE) with or without our man Kazunao Nagata and have released several CDs on Transonic, though "Flower Instrumental" (ZGV-006) did make it on Zero Gravity. A description on some Japanese website I found pegged these guys as "the sound fusioning Avant-Garde and Pop damping various elements such as Disco, Drum'n'Bass..." and who could top that, really? TAGOMAGO's mix of cut-up beats and sampled collage madness is a bit more at home on Transonic than on Zero Gravity, for whatever that's worth.

KAZUNO NAGATA himself is responsible for four of the best modern electronic CDs yet released. The first, "The World of Electronic Sound" (ZGV-005) pretty much sets the scene: primitive pulsing drones, crackling with the sound of live electric fuzz and hum with live DAF-esque percussion on a couple of tracks, and with wholly inappropriate track titles like "Come on and Love" applied to freaked electro-psychedelia. Like a lot of other material on the label this release suggests classic electronic work from Europe and the US of decades past, though Nagata and Zero Gravity happens to be a lot more fun than most of the "reference points". "The World of Electronic Sound 3" (ZGV-019) like the first release is a collection of shorter tracks, heading further out than the previous material and featuring a track recorded when Nagata was fifteen years old; sounds like he was immersed in a world of tape collagists... But the real massive stuff comes with the second and fourth installments in The World of Electronic Sound series. Vol. 2 (ZGV-018) is two twenty minute-plus live recordings done on ARP-2600, Roland 100M and analog synthesizers coming at you from some space you never knew existed, a space definitely preferable to where most of us are now. Maybe the place to start with Zero Gravity, though the best releases here have so much going on it's hard to pick anything definitive of the label's general visionary post-rock consensus. Vol. 4's (ZGV-020) 46 minute track "History of Showa #4" (ARP 2600, Echo unit, Turntable, Rhythm box, Samples, Editing) leads deeper and deeper into Nagata's world, a darker world than earlier releases, one that more than transcends the title (Showa was the period in Japan from 1926 to 1989, the time of the Showa Emperor.)

Bleeding out of the electronic splattage of Nagata's releases is some form of song; something you're not going to hear on MASAAKI KIKUCHI'S "Formula" (ZGV-011). It's predominately modern musique concrete with heavy electronic/noise juxtapositions as well as feedback drones (perhaps comparable to Pomassl's "Trail Error" CD) and computer sliced sound. "Formula" is arguably Zero Gravity's most obvious self-conscious pointer back to the "classic" electronic sound artists of the 50s/60s. MASAAKI KIKUCHI also leads and plays wood bass for the KIKUCHI ARTS QUARTET, whose "straight jazz/free jazz" CD "Rearmed Flowers" is out on Sun Out Recordings, apparently another offshoot of Soup Disk.

NERVE NET NOISE, a duo of Tsuyoshi Nakamura ("System Rouge, Mix & Effects") and Hiroshi Kumakiri ("System Blue, Wink & Effects") concentrate on high-end, fuzzed drones mixed with some intense electronic bleepage on their release "This Island Earth." System Rouge and System Blue are self-built synths, and undoubtedly the main source of the barely under control sonic explosions on this disc. NERVE NET NOISE also has an extremely minimal CD, "160/240" on the Meme label.

All these people turn up in various combinations on the ELECTRONIC MUSIC FESTIVAL release, (ZGV-009) all live recordings done over a number of months in 1996 involving the mainstays of Zero Gravity. The peak here is an "all-star" jam session between NAGATA, NERVE NET NOISE, TRIO RAKANT plus Utah Kawasaki and Nob Ohtake. And the seven of them, while they take their time, do manage to create the total electronic blow-out you've been waiting for. Played at the correct volume this will quite possibly redefine concepts of the man-machine interface. The collaboration between Nagata and Kikuchi is kind of interesting too. Kikuchi uses a wood bass to throw some deep organic sounds into the synthetic array although the focus eventually shifts to machines and a hypnotic pulse. Obviously a good introduction to Zero Gravity... other stuff includes Nagata in excess solo mode and a tweaked reworking of the NTT (Japanese telecommunications monopoly) talking clock from Kawasaki/Ohtake.

Another possible starting point for the curious might be the "Mixed 0" CD, (ZGV-015) in which Nagata does a kind of plunderphonics thing on his own label, sampling, cutting up and mixing together the first fourteen Zero Gravity titles. The end results give you no clue to the individual releases but provides a wonderfully deep view into the label's aesthetic sensibilities.

TRIO RAKANT is a duo of Akaiwa and God Nagato - their CD "Kokorosususu" (ZGV-012) is non-threatening electronic driftage and pulsation for the most part, as abstract and intriguing as most of this label's releases. The use of live sax on a few tracks is a particularly good idea. The sax player, Masahiko Okura, also played on STRANGE GARDEN's superior second effort "Mumbo Jumbo" and has numerous one-off (?) collaboration recordings on compilations like "Circuits Brasileiros" on 360° and "Silverization" on Soup Disk.

Masahiko Okura also plays with Takehito Nakazato's DUB SONIC ROOTS (also known as DUB SONIC WARRIORS or DUB SONIC STARSHIP ARKESTRA... you get the picture) as does Masaaki Kikuchi. They're a big group - on the "Live at Uplink Factory November 3, 1996" CD (ZGV-010) seven members are present, almost all credited with providing percussion - it's no surprise that they create a heavy deep rhythmic sound shot through with free sax squalls and waves of electronic disruption. NERVE NET NOISE also make an appearance on this CD, with a solo track and on a 30 minute collaboration with DUB SONIC ROOTS. The solo track is more of their familiar dentist drill-like high-frequency drone while the track with Dub Sonic is a tribal pound/electronic freakout of immense proportions. DUB SONIC also has a more recent CD on Creativeman Disc titled "Dub Fantasy".

"Static Pulse" (ZGV-006) is the title of the solo effort from UTAH KAWASAKI, who also has a track on Soup Disk's early (1996) "Silver World" compilation of Japanese electronics alongside TAMARU, AKIRA YAMAMICHI (aka MONTAGE) and Nagata's ORGANIZATION. "Static Pulse" offers 37 tracks of synth patterns, looped radio sounds and scratchy samples. Not dissimilar to a harsher analog Oval or maybe Aube's (slightly) gentler tracks.

TAMARU has released three discs on Zero Gravity: "Karmaless" (ZGV-008), "Fuyu Ni Katarita" (ZGV-016), and "Yume No Tochu" (ZGV-022). The music of TAMARU barely registers above the subconscious; low frequency bass and electronic emissions hover around the audibility threshold providing a very precise ambient disruption. If there is a difference between TAMARU and other ZG releases it is that the music here seems to be very digital - most likely solely produced on a computer. For that reason alone, and in spite of the fact that TAMARU is ostensibly an electric bass player, the music on this disk is reminiscent of other recent music for computers - Terre Thaemlitz, Carl Stone, Farmers Manual and maybe Oval. TAMARU's own personal touch is probably a unique subtlety and delicacy - everything flows at a very slow pace, and there are gaps of near-silence in all his pieces. TAMARU also feature on the excellent if rather foreboding "Silver Minutes" compilation from 360° (the "out jazz division of Shi-Ra-Nui" if that means anything to you) a collection of new (?) minimalist Japanese artists all sharing a commitment to the kind of exactness and restraint documented by TAMARU.

The most recent batch of Zero Gravity releases (ZGV21-24) simply cement their reputation as one of the most extravagantly unique currently operating electronic music labels in the world - from the near silent digital whimpers of I.S.O. and TAMARU to the barely controlled sound-blasts of HADO-HO.

ICHIRAKU YOSHIMITSU is an improvising musician who played drums and electronics on Omoide Hataba's "VUOY" LP. "The Music of Surround Panner" (ZGV-024) is, as the title indicates, an ode to the disorienting power and beauty of stereo panning. Mazes of harsh and random high end frequencies bouncing from channel to channel - very abstract and insane stuff with the occasional harshness of sound offset by pristine recording, like a more energetic Ryoji Ikeda with attention deficit disorder. This release also continues Zero Gravity's penchant for off-the-wall titles: "Machine Headz" and "Pinball Wizard" are the highlights.

I.S.O. is a live performing trio consisting of Ichiraku Yoshimitsu on electronics, Otomo Yoshihide on "records, CDs and guitar", and Sachiko M (Gound Zero member, previous releases on her own Amoebic label) on "sampler with sine wave". Although the three members of this group have clear ideas and identities of their own, the music on the "Live" CD (ZGV-023) seems to be especially inspired by the recent wave of glitschy European electronics (Oval, Pita) as well as the low-volume compositions of Bernard Günter.

HADO-HO, which the liner notes translate as "aura-cannon" is Takehito Nakazato, of DUB SONIC. When a ZG label disc comes labeled: "warning - it may damage speakers & possible loss of hearing" I pay attention. Alas, "Sonic Wave", (ZGV-021) didn't really damage anything, but it is one of the most exhausting ZG discs yet - very fragmented, and very obviously (for the most part) the product of "a broken mixer and a few effects" as the unusually informative notes tell us. 19 tracks of loud mic tapping, electric hum, feedback squeals, all clinically recorded. "Extreme mixing desk music" he calls it - and that's probably what you're getting here, the noises you get when you start plugging your mixer cables in where they're not supposed to go. A track titled "Live at Damage Express" is mostly stage patter and audience talk/laughter, as a good-humored Nakazato introduces his brief loud pieces, and the audience responds with wild applause - crazy - we should have all been there.

The 25th Zero Gravity CD, unheard as of yet, credited to CRYSTAL FIRST featuring UNIVERSAL INDIANS, is apparently a Merzbow project. Nagata and Akita - something to look forward to.

The Roster:

Kazunao Nagata TRANSONIC JOKERS, FANTASTIC EXPLOSION, ORGANIZATION

Utah Kawasaki UTAH KAWASAKI

Masaaki Kikuchi TRIO RAKANT, STRANGE GARDEN, KIKUCHI ARTS QUARTET

Yoshihiro Sawasaki TRANSONIC JOKERS, YS, or DOCTOR YS for Sublime label

Naka Tomizawa TRANSONIC JOKERS, KING OF OPUS

Takahiro Suzuki SUZUKISKI, FANTASTIC EXPLOSION, TECHNO THE GONG

Ken Katsumata ARCHE-TYPE

Akaiwa TRIO RAKANT, STRANGE GARDEN

Ryo Suda STRANGE GARDEN

Tsuyoshi Nakamura TAGOMAGO, NERVE NET NOISE

Nob Ohtake appears on ELECTRONIC MUSIC FESTIVAL (ZGV-009)

God Nagato TRIO RAKANT

Sachiko M. I.S.O., GROUND ZERO

Takehito Nakazato DUB SONIC

Ichiraku Yoshimitsu I.S.O., GROUND ZERO

Tamaru TAMARU

Masahiko Okura TRIO RAKANT, STRANGE GARDEN

Some Links:

1. Transonic Records home page
This unofficial (I think) page is a couple of years out of date, yet contains information about the first 10 or so Transonic CDs, as well as brief RealAudio samples from each release.

2. Kazunao Nagata / Zero Gravity article (in German)

3. Yoshimitsu Ichiraku Information (in Japanese)

4. Kimitaka Matsumae home page (in Japanese)
A musician with some connections to Zero Gravity and Transonic.

5. Trigger, Transonic and Por Supuesto, Suite Supuesto
A page that somewhat explains the roots of Transonic and Zero Gravity. Primarily in Japanese, with quite a bit of English text scattered throughout.

6. Zero Gravity listing at Forced Exposure
buy! buy! buy! A good source for info on ZG - cover scans and descriptions of the discs in stock.

7. Soup Disk label
Several ZG-related personnel appear on various Soup Disk releases.

8. Nerve Net Noise
Pretty informative page - check out the info on their "system blue" and "system rouge" synths.

9. Anomalous Records
I've bought all my ZG discs here. Stock fluctuates - check the online catalog.

10. New Zealand and Japanese Psychedelic Noise
Paul Collett's site of reviews and information.

Discography:

ZGV 001 SUZUKISKI "Kamakura"

ZGV 002 PACIFIC 231 "Tropical Songs"

ZGV 003 TEMDENDAM SUAY "Sounzer Paranoun"

ZGV 004 STRANGE GARDEN "For Speaker System"



ZGV 005 KAZUNAO NAGATA "The World Of Electronic Sound"



ZGV 006 UTAH KAWASAKI "Static Pulse"

ZGV 006 TAGOMAGO "Flower Instrumental"



ZGV 008 TAMARU "Karmaless"



ZGV 009 VARIOUS ARTISTS "Electronic Musical Festival"

ZGV 010 DUB SONIC ROOTS MEETS NERVE NET NOISE "Live At Uplink Factory"



ZGV 011 MASAKI KIKUCHI "Formula"



ZGV 012 TRIO RAKANT "Kokorosususu"

ZGV 013 NERVE NET NOISE "This Island Earth"

ZGV 014 ARCHE-TYPE "Sky-Scraul-Space (Movies 1992-1995)"

ZGV 015 VARIOUS ARTISTS "Mixed "O"



ZGV 016 TAMARU "Fuyu ni Katarito"

ZGV 017 STRANGE GARDEN "Mumbo Jumbo (Ritual Of The Back Yard)"

ZGV 018 KAZUNAO NAGATA "The World of Electronic Sound 2"

ZGV 019 KAZUNAO NAGATA "The World of Electronic Sound 3"

ZGV 020 KAZUNAO NAGATA "The World of Electronic Sound 4"



ZGV-021 HADO-HO "Sonic Wave"



ZGV-022 TAMARU "Yume No Tochu"



ZGV-023 I.S.O. "Live"



ZGV-024 YOSHIMITSU ICHIRAKU "The Music of Surround Panner"

ZGV-025 CRYSTAL FIRST featuring UNIVERSAL INDIANS

Contact:

Zero Gravity

Fax: +81-(0)3-3299-4505