As the founder of Japanese psych legends Ghost, Masaki Batoh is best known for a blend of moody, atmospheric acid rock, dreamy folk, and experimental weirdness, both as the leader of the aforementioned band and on his infrequent solo outings. But while there’s an undeniable touch of experimental weirdness to be found on his solo effort, Brain Pulse Music, it’s still an album that stands a good distance apart from most of Batoh’s output.
Part of the reason for the album’s uniqueness might be the fact that it was inspired by unprecedented circumstances, namely the disastrous Japan earthquake of 2011, and all the destruction it entailed. Recorded in the wake of that horrible chapter in Japan’s history, Brain Pulse Music is a direct response to those events — the album is both a sonic statement of sympathy for victims of the tragedy and an aural poultice for the soul in its aftermath. A couple of the tracks here employ the titular technique, which involves generating sound directly from brian-pulse waves with the help of a special device. In itself, this technique isn’t terribly groundbreaking — famed avant-garde composer Alvin Lucier was doing this sort of thing decades ago, and Lucier probably wasn’t the only one. But the cuts that utilize Batoh’s brain-pulse method are nevertheless striking pieces of electronic minimalism — stark and compelling, they seem to illustrate a human brain’s attempt to come to terms with the epic scale of the Tokyo disaster, as long tones rise and fall plaintively, with little else to offset their movement.
The bulk of the album, however, is of an entirely different cast, employing acoustic instruments instead of electronics, for a much more organic flavor. Utilizing what sounds like traditional Japanese instruments — percussion, flute, etc.– the multi-part “Kumano Codex” dominates the record, and effects a timeless Japanese folk vibe. The “Kumano Codex” tracks are, in their own way, just as minimalist as their electronic cousins, as Batoh leaves a huge amount of space between all of the acoustic tones, but their intent is clearly one of calming, and perhaps a bit of a requiem at the same time. The hushed, peaceful feeling they create seems like an openhearted, humanistic sort of response to the Tokyo tragedy; and the fact that profits for the album will help the Japanese Red Cross only pushes this point home further.