REVIEW: V/A - "Butoh"

By Mike Ventarola

Chain Border

ButohThere are various versions of Butoh as a dance form, but for the purpose of this CD review a little preface to the ingredients utilized to create this compilation is in order.

Butoh, translated, means "dance step," which is meant to incorporate the connotation of a dance of darkness. As an avant-garde art form, it combines elements of dance, theater and improvisation while also utilizing aspects of traditional Japanese theater and German Expressionist dance.

As opposed to a traditional dance, Butoh dancers are often depicted with white painted bodies, emulating slow movements and contorted postures. The dance evokes contradictory images of decay, dread, desperation, eroticism, rapture and at times, motionlessness. Typically, it is meant to be controversial yet uncomfortably familiar with its universal language of movement which relates to the sometimes horrific human condition.

For an excellent article on the history of Butoh, the reader is referred to

Middle Pillar, as a recording label, once again dares to go where few dare to go, by bringing a form of the avant-garde into our world. With the advent of so much commercial synth-pop on the rise in goth clubs, it is refreshing to know that some still opt for artistic merit over commercialization at all costs. One needn't have a background in dance to appreciate this CD, but one needs to understand that it is a relative leap away from traditional dance music as one could hope to get, with the exception of a few tracks that could easily slide between the rules.

Kobe opens the disc with heavy Japanese style drums, which seems to set the stage for some of the elements to follow.

A Murder Of Angels is right at home with the aspect of dread with the track Words That Lay Buried Forever. Not every artist can take the sound of rippling water and weave it through some of the most macabre sounds known to man.

Mors Syphilitica veered from their typical sound and created a rather unique style and improvisation that could actually work well in a few of the more adventurous goth dance clubs. Had I not read the credits, I would have sworn that a Japanese band created this track. Lisa Hammer utilizes vocal registers that are more traditional to the Far East and does a superb job with it.

The Machine In The Garden contributes the "smooth motionmix" of The Unaware. It is haunting, eerie and mystical all at once. This song helps to really pin point the mental images of the Butoh dancers who utilize improvisation to depict dread, fear and eroticism. If you have only heard this version on MP3, you are clearly missing out on some of the more lush and opulent sounds that are not easily translated online.

The Unquiet Void, long known for the hybrid style of light and dark sounds, contributes Chrysalis, which is an exclusive track for this compilation. Like A Murder of Angels, The Unquiet Void traverses through a myriad of musical roads to incorporate more layers of starkness and dread than we have in the English language.

Sumerland contributes Morpheus which is an ethereal piece with deep male vocals accompanied by gentle piano notes and steady rhythmic drumming. It is highly probable that a Butoh dance company would utilize this track for eroticism and the profane simultaneously.

A Murder of Angels contributes yet another exclusive track, which opens with the sounds of whales and odd shimmers and screeches from the ocean bed. This is probably the lightest track from this artist that I have ever had the pleasure of hearing, as it borders more on ethereal than their usual "damnbient" style that one has become accustomed to. The dark elements are somewhat muted with the lulling of the ocean sounds from the whales, which belies the fluidity of movement.

Wench ominously opens the track Damnation with angelic sounds and thumps that segues into a synth dance rhythm. The vocals carry the track along from something that would have been comfortable in a dance club to something that belongs in a theatrical production or at least in a film soundtrack somewhere where additional tension is required. This is an amazing showcase of addictive percussion married to ominous sounds.

The Machine In the Garden once again appears with an exclusive remix of Midnight. It follows with the synth energy of the previous track. Apart from being a Butoh composition, this is the type of track one would want to hear as they are getting ready for a night on the town.

The Mirror Reveals adds a remix of Moebius Stripped, which is an interesting dance restructuring of this song. No matter how many percussive beats that are added, however, one cannot deny the impact of Kit Messick to carve away at the heartstrings of the listener. Her vocals have a way of breaking a heart at times with a simple word inflection that it is simply uncanny.

Thread delivers Blue Darkness, which has the closest to a Far East sound married to up-to-the- minute electronics. It is experimental and instrumental and conjures up quite a number of mental images.

Zoar's instrumental track Secrets of Death shares the uncanny similarity with creating macabre sounds like A Murder of Angels, only this artists takes it a step further and makes it one of the most delicious tracks you could hope to hear in a goth club at some point. This is eerie work, but it is meshed with such fine synth-percussion that you just have to fall in love with it from just one listen. For the life of me, I can't understand why I haven't seen this on any club playlists recently.

The Unquiet Void adds yet another track, Angels (TheTortoises Are Nodding Mix), which utilizes backward masking and vocal samplings between dark droning sounds. The vocals are somewhat schizoid and seem to be an open window into the lives of some forlorn characters in a tragic urban play.

Kobe's Aftermath ties the CD together with yet another drumming track that at once has a Japanese structure with elements of machinery ticking in the background.

Middle Pillar Presents is not a commercial label that intrigues the "disco dollies" who flood the clubs looking for the latest fad gadget dance song. Instead, they combine the elements of high art and beauty in the darkness for the sophisticated pallet. Their music is for those comfortable with cogitating on the darker side of the human condition and how it can be best transformed via the sound medium. That being said, Butoh actually has a number of tracks that would work in a dance club provided the clientele stopped requesting all this happy, poppy crap and took their neon lighted necklaces to the clubs that catered to that sound instead.

All of the tracks on Butoh are either exclusives or exclusive remixes, making some of the songs fresh and new no matter how many times you may have heard them before in their initial incarnation. The digipak is quite unique as well as it is a quad-foldout with an interesting hard sponge type of spindle to hold the CD in place. Needless to say, the packaging is as unique and artistic as the music it contains.

Middle Pillar has become the leader in dark music that avoids cheesiness. All of the works in the series of releases are akin to museum quality paintings, only theirs are done via sound as a canvas. The variety of music not only lends to rumination, but also provides layers of atmosphere for those times that call for it. If your recent forays through the underground clubs are leaving you longing for dark music with a purpose, you simply can't go wrong with any of the Middle Pillar Presents releases and compilations, including Butoh.

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