Born in 1951 in Tokyo, Midori Takada is a classically-trained composer and percussionist who was also influenced early on by free jazz, ambient and experimental music. The artist studied western minimalism while exploring African percussion traditions with musicians from Ghana, Senegal and Burkina Faso as well as Asian music traditions such as Bali’s Gamelan music or traditional Korean music. Midori Takada released two albums in the early 1980s with her own percussion band – the Mkwaju Ensemble – but the financial constraints associated with the running of a group of musicians led to the launch of her own solo career and the recording of her first solo album.

Released by RCA Japan in 1983, Through the Looking Glass is a landmark four-track ambient and minimal recording which was largely ignored at the time. Following a surge of interest online in recent years, the album was jointly reissued on 20 March 2017 last (in digital, CD and LP Vinyl formats – including a double 45rpm LP version) by Geneva-based WRWTFWW and New-York-based Palto Flats record labels.

Midori Takada - Through the Looking Glass (1983 - reissued 2017)
Midori Takada – Through the Looking Glass (1983 – reissued 2017)

Through the Looking Glass was originally released as a Vinyl edition and as years passed, the recording turned into a much sought-after collector’s item, sometimes fetching high prices at auctions and record fairs. In recent years, the recording also found an entirely new audience when the original tracks were uploaded on YouTube in 2013.

One particular clip (which is no longer available) exquisitely juxtaposed Douanier Rousseau’s original “The Dream” painting (1910) with the “Mr Henri Rousseau’s Dream” track to stunning effect, magically bringing the ambience of the jungle scene to life. To introduce the artwork, the painter had written the following poem:

Yadwigha in a beautiful dream
Having fallen gently to sleep
Heard the sounds of a reed instrument
Played by a well-intentioned snake charmer.
As the moon reflected
On the flowers, the verdant trees,
The wild snakes lend an ear
To the joyous tunes of the instrument

Working as a hypnotic soundtrack to the painting, “Mr Henri Rousseau’s Dream” plays like a three-dimensional sound structure which was achieved by varying the distances of the microphones as the instruments were recorded individually. The multi-layering of the tracks generates a fantastic vibrancy throughout the twelve minute-long composition.

Henri Rousseau: The Dream (1910) - CC Wikimedia Commons
Henri Rousseau: The Dream (1910) – CC Wikimedia Commons

The more percussive “Crossing” and “Catastrophe Σ” are driven by intertwining progressions on marimbas and drums respectively while the flute sounds return on “Trompe l’œil”. Except the musician didn’t use flutes or recorders but rather experimented with an assortment of half-filled Coca-Cola bottles to achieve different pitches.

Recorded in two days on analogue tapes, the entire album was performed, over-dubbed and self-produced by Midori Takada who plays all the acoustic percussion instruments, a reed organ, piano and recorders.

The musician quotes Steve Reich, Terry Riley and Brain Eno as major influences, but her unique blend of African and Asian styles combined with improvised recording techniques in the studio turned Midori Takada’s solo début into a magnetic and dreamlike piece of original work.

The renewed interest for the music of Midori Takada has sparked a series of reissues and her 1990 collaboration with Japanese jazz pianist Masahiko Satoh Lunar Cruise was recently re-released on the WRWTFWW label. Re-issues of Midori Takada’s second solo album Tree of Life (1998) as well as Mkwaju Ensemble’s self-titled début and Ki-Motion (both 1981) are also in the pipeline.