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"We are the erotic as well as the ascetic, the grotesque and the beautiful, the fragmented ritualized and improvised whole. We experience the medium and the world beyond our bodies not through stagnant objectification, but rather through intense mutual sensation within the movement of the dance." - BUTOH

Middle Pillar's Butoh Compilation
Butoh: The Dance of Darkness
~by Blu
(photos courtesy of Middle Pillar')

"What's Butta?"
Butoh, pronounced "Boo - toe," is a form of dance that first exploded onto the art scene in the late 1950's/early 1960's shattering long held beliefs about dance and movement against the backdrop of postwar Japan. In rebellion against the strict codification of traditional Japanese dance and driven by a need for a more personal means of expression, it combines dance, improvisation, theater and Japanese elements with German Expressionist dance. Called both controversial and universal in its expression, its become an internationally recognized form of dance with troupes through out the world. 

In 1959 Hijikata performed a piece called Kinjiki, an adaptation of Yukio Mishima's novel Forbidden Colors. This short piece, without music, raised such a scandal that the lights were turned out on the performance before it was over. Hijikata was banned from further performances with The Association and became an "outlaw dancer" in Japan. Hijikata joined with Kazuo Ohno, who was heavily influenced by Western dancers including German Expressionists,  to further develop this avant garde form that would later become known as Ankoku Butoh (literally the Dance of Darkness). 

Butoh performances "often deal with taboo subjects both in brutal and serene is the simplicity and purity of movement. The wonder of the body's ability to move, to express itself.1"  Butoh has been called, "shocking, provocative, physical, spiritual, erotic, grotesque, violent, cosmic, nihilistic, cathartic, mysterious2" and often evokes "images of decay, of fear and desperation, images of eroticism, ecstasy and stillness3."

Making The Idea Happen
I asked Kevin at Middle Pillar how the idea for doing this compilation formed and if either he had any personal interest in Butoh. 

Kevin replied, "It was important to us to do a label comp that had rhythmic elements, that strongly suggested movement, but that not betray the integrity of the label. We're relatively young, and impressions mean a lot. If we came out with a re-mix compilation of dance tracks, that might appeal to the gothy-club side of our potential audience, but it might alienate those that prefer the more esoteric side of things, who just happen to be our biggest supporters.  I've recently become more interested in Japanese culture and I felt that perhaps a 'Butoh' themed compilation, might be a perfect marriage between the darker, experimental side of of the music and a more rhythmic approach that might allow... dare I say it.... dancing!"

"I watched a single, solo, Butoh performance many years ago. The act was powerful, descriptive, kinetic and tortured, all at about the same time. I did some research when the idea came to me about the possible theme for a Middle Pillar label comp, and I was surprised at how varied Butoh was, in theme and design. Although nothing I read or saw expressed the notion, I couldn't help but feel that some of the dark themes derived from  the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, although some Butoh concern themselves with how it feels to be a flower, or bestiality or the awkwardly ridiculous. It's really a mixed bag thematically."

When asked how he went about chasing the bands and tracks, he said, "Some of the bands on the comp expressed palpable excitement at the prospect of doing a song based on Butoh, but other artists had no idea what the hell I was talking about.  'What's Butta?' I can almost hear them speaking aloud! "

"I did ask that while the songs didn't have to be exactly inspired by Butoh, like in the instances where we were getting material already written, that the music or themes not be antithetical to what I consider to be a rather broad idea. The music should be dark, rhythmic or suggesting movement, and under seven minutes. For the bands on the label at that time, we asked that a previously issued track be re-mixed with the comp theme in mind. Bryin and Derek from A Murder of Angels actually gave us two new tracks that were done before hand, and fit extremely well. The Wench track, Thread re-mix and Zoar re-mix were done specifically for the comp in mind and those three cuts vary greatly in style and substance, yet work very well with the Butoh frame." 

The packaging itself on this CD indicates a taste of what lays in store musically. Rich in thematic colors and objects, its one of the more elaborate CD sleeves I've seen in a while. 

 Kevin related, "Howard Forbes of Unknown Graphic Services ( did a really incredible job on it. I knew I just wanted the Japanese characters for Butoh on the cover and the MP logo on the back. Howard did the rest. Not only has Howard worked with us before (he did the layout for The Mirror Reveals 'Frames of Teknicolor' and oversaw The Unquiet Void's 'Between The Twilights'), but he has a definite affinity for Japanese culture." 

"As for the package we knew we wanted to use the soft-spot packaging which was a recent product development from Oasis Duplication, our pressing plant. It allows for eight panels of graphics, which unfolds like a book within a book with no plastic parts!"

The Compilation
The compilation opens and closes with two instrumental tracks from Kobe that act as the prologue and epilogue effectively binding this mixture of dark aesthetics.  The powerful drumming of "Primary" sets the stage and conjures images of live traditional Japanese drumming (kudos to the boys at Middle Pillar for the feel of authenticity) - effectively communicating the mystery and pride that is core to Japanese culture.

A Murder of Angels usher in the dark ambient ("dambient") undertones of this CD with their track "Words That Lay Buried Forever." Creepy enough to be the backdrop to the scariest movie you've ever seen, this cinematic composition is a descriptive masterpiece utilizing atmospheric elements and dissonance to develop a sense of vast, lonely space. As bell tones sound out in spooky echoes and haunting humming slithers through the background, you can almost see forms take their place on a dark, back lit stage and my imagination swirls with the curling, morphing, grotesque movements that would accompany such music. If your nerves are frazzled by the tension in the air when this piece ends, it did its job. 

The listener is then given some resolve when Mors Syphilitica pick up the dissonant chord and temper it with angel-like vocals that skip carefree over whatever darkness lies beneath in their song "As A Mirror (Dance Hall Mix)." When the beat of a strong bass drum kicks in, they are off on a journey. The tone here is one of adventure in the face of adversity.  An excellent track and one that'll certainly garnish some spins at goth clubs. 

"The Unaware" by The Machine in the Garden proves to be a slower piece with an almost trip-hop groove behind it that keeps the tempo interesting while drowsy female vocals soar in a dreamlike melody.  Later they contribute the track "Midnight (Dancing There)" which is a more dance-oriented piece with a faster tempo. Again, the vocals are impressive and contribute a sense of movement to both pieces. 

With "Chrysalis", long time Middle Pillar band The Unquiet Void spins the listener back down into an ambient void where choruses of voices boom and angels melt into demons and back again. The listener is again left in tension at the end of this track only to get resolution in the next track by Wenches. [A word of praise to Middle Pillar for song sequence on this - it's very effective]. Later in the CD, The Unquiet Void contributes "Angels (The Tortoises Are Nodding Mix)" which is a fairly disturbing ambient piece sprinkled with voice samples. It's a dark world we're spun into where your notions of what's good (Angels) is twisted. 

"Morpheus (repraise)" by Sumerland is surreal and sweeps in to absolve the fear. You are set afloat in a dreamy wash of chimes, piano and chants that comes across as spiritual enough to make you cry. The making of this song - I've heard from the band members, was as inspired as it sounds. The vocal chants that Dorien does on this track are something that came to him as the music was playing - unrehearsed. What he was channeling that day I'm sure we'll never know but the after effects of that recording make goosebumps rise on my skin. 

Murder of Angels comes in again with "Vessel of the Incubi" - an organic song full of chirps and textures against a backdrop of menacing drumming and droning tones. A stately melody line of synthesized strings develops in the background is brought out more clearly by the middle of the song adding a very worldly feel to this lush and dense song. 

"Damnation," an exclusive track by Wench, continues the organic, ethnic feel in their own severely seductive way. Primitive percussion beats supported by a deep male chorus are flanked and highlighted by the slithering feminine vocals. Dark and rich, this song is my favorite on the CD.

The Mirror Reveals, who just released a full length CD on Middle Pillar Presents, contribute "Moebius Stripped (There's Always Tomorrow Mix)" which added some nice textures and beats onto the original ethereal track making it almost sythnpop in style. Its rather like Ivox (Battery's side project). 

Self-described as "experimental electronic aggro-ambient music," Thread brings us "Blue Darkness (Inverse Mix)" which starts off with what sounds to me like futuristic chimes of the orient. This instrumental piece vibrates between experimental electronic and dance - there's enough tweaking going on to give your brain and ears a work out and your feet will gladly follow the beat. The dark images of Butoh dance are communicated very nicely through this music. 

Called "...masters of the cinematic instrumental..." by the New York Times, Zoar gives birth to "Secrets of Death" - a fast ride through layers and layers of spookiness backed by a grooving beat. Again, motion is the underlying theme here and this will not disappointed. Cynical and evil , the music moshes about without a care in the world.  What's more sublimely delicious then knowing the Secrets of Death? Referred to as "Dark Industrial Dance" I think most people will be surprised how accessible this track is. 

In the end, Middle Pillar has accomplished what it set out to do on an impressive level. This CD in total, from the art work to the individual songs, is an expressive interpretation of Butoh - in its tone, movement and exploration of the human psyche and state of being. Its about dance and what it's like to be submerged totally within that concept. In this they've truly created something that is beautifully dark. To my knowledge, no other culturally rich compilation of this kind has been attempted by other labels in this genre. The thought and vision that went into this was spectacular and any time music can make you more culturally aware is something quite special indeed. Congratulations to Middle Pillar and all the bands that contributed tracks - its something to be truly proud of. 

Tracks and Band Links:

Middle Pillar

"Primary" - tribal drumming / instrumental - exclusive track. 
"Aftermath"  - tribal / industrial / instrumental - exclusive track.

"Words That Lay Buried Forever" - damnbient / instrumental - exclusive track. 
"Vessel of the Incubi" - damnbient / baroque / instrumental - exclusive track. 

"As A Mirror (Dance Hall Mix)" -  ethereal / female vocals - exclusive track. 

"The Unaware (Smooth Motion Mix)" - ethereal / goth / female vocals - exclusive mix  of a track from the forthcoming  Out of the Mists CD MPP994. 
"Midnight (Dancing There)" - gothic / female vocal - exclusive mix of a track  from from the One Winter's Night  CD MPP999.

"Chrysalis" - ethereal / tribal / instrumental - exclusive track. 
"Angels (The Tortoises Are Nodding Mix)" - dark electronic /experimental / vocal samples - exclusive mix of a track from the  Between The Twilights CD MPP99. 

"Morpheus (Repraise)" - ethereal / male vocals - taken from the All Is Always Now CD-EP. 

"Damnation" - ethereal / goth / female vocals - exclusive track. 

"Moebius Stripped (There's Always Tomorrow Mix)" - dark dance / eclectica / female vocal - exclusive mix of a track from the Frames of Teknicolor CD MPP997. 

"Blue Darkness (Inverse Mix)"   - "Experimental electronic aggro-ambient music w/ complex rhythmic and melodic substructures." dark electronic /experimental / instrumental - exclusive mix of a track from the  forthcoming Abnormal Love CD. 

"Secrets of Death" - dark industrial dance / instrumental - exclusive track. 

Butoh references:

1"The Art of Butoh Dance by Ralf Rosenfield"

2 Bonnie Sue Stien, "Butoh: twenty years ago we were crazy, dirty and mad." The Drama Review 30 (1986)

Micahel Sakamoto

3Butoh Net

Kobo Butoh