/ Shigenori Kamiya

Shigenori Kamiya - MU [Canyon, 1980, LP]

The lost continent of MU - a myth born of a mistranslation, of an ancient continent from which the people of Atlantis and the Incan Empire all derived, as refugees fleeing from a sinking continent. This theory inspired the publication of "Super Mystery Magazine MU" in 1979, which to this day is Japan's highest-circulation magazine dedicated to "the mysteries and curiosities of the world": UFOs, fairies, and other paranormal occurrences. A rough equivalent, both in terms of content and popularity, would be the "MUY Interesante" magazine for the Spanish-speaking world.

Picture of Shigenori Kamiya
The man himself

Kamiya Shigenori, race driver turned musician and early adopter of synthesizer technology (including the monstrous ARP 2500 System) was, in 1980, a huge fan of MU and this album is essentially a "soundtrack" to the magazine, a collection of musical soundscapes inspired by the tales of UFOs and ancient peoples like the Appalachian Civilization, better known in English sources as the Lost Tribe of Clover Hollow. The album is half experiments in synthesizer sound technology, including a recording of Bible passages coded into binary data which was then processed into sound using an Apple II, and half beautiful electronic melodies with a very unique sound, a product of the rare ARP 2500. Perhaps he was inspired to use the machine by Close Encounters of the Third Kind - and in this album there is also a Message, possibly for the aliens that once populated MU. I have found Kamiya's sound to stand alone in a way that I don't think anyone else has, and with the gear list in the back cover I can tell he brings quite a bit of technology and expertise to the table. Also, if the cover seems familiar to Star Wars fans, that's because it was created by none other than Noriyoshi Ohrai, who shortly after the release of this album was tasked by George Lucas to create the poster for the international release of The Empire Strikes Back - perhaps the "science fiction" magazine Lucas picked up in Japan was none other than "Super Mystery Magazine MU"?

Liner Notes

Below are the translated liner notes, which I don't believe can be found anywhere else at this time. I have been listening to pieces of this album for many year before snatching up a copy of my own, and the song-by-song breakdowns really enrich the experience. Thanks to megchan for the translation!

The full booklet. A lot of writing about the artist, the magazine and the songs, and even pictures of Kamiya's studio!
Liner notes - Check the pictures of Kamiya's studio on the right

Kamiya's Profile

Real Name: Kamiya Shigenori

With his sculptor grandfather and painter father, he was raised in a family of artists. While at Aoyama Academy, he fell in love with the guitar and soon mastered it. In college he worked with Kawasaki Ryo [Editor's note: Ryo Kawasaki is a famous Japanese jazz guitarist and electronic music pioneer, known for his creative chaining of synths before MIDI became widespread and for his guitar-based synthesizers. At the time of the original publishing of this post, he was still performing in Estonia, and had a wonderful website, which is now down. He passed away in Tallinn in 2020], Masuo Yoshiaki, and others. During that time he also became enamored of racing and was passionate about both hobbies. After improving his driving skills, he entered the Japan Grand Prix (GT class) and even won a prize. However, during practice he lost control of the wheel and was almost fatally injured when he ran into a fence. At that time, he experienced the afterlife.

After that was when he encountered the synthesizer, which was still little known at the time. Intrigued by the unlimited possibilities of the synthesizer, he began to focus on it as well as the guitar. This was when Kamiya the synthesizer player was born. After that, he focused mainly on music for commercials and won the ACC Award (often called the academy awards of commercials) multiple times. Kamiya became a name known to those in the know. At the time he built a home studio and hooked his synthesizer up to a 24 channel tape recorder and a computer in order to explore various possibilities.

In November of 1979 the Super Mystery Magazine Mu debuted, focusing on the mysteries and curiosities of the world. Thanks to its unique editing and content, it immediately became a hit among young people.

It goes without saying that this album's creator, Kamiya, was one of them, but he was not content to be just a fan and believer, and instead determined to make full use of his talents as a "sound creator" to express "Mu" in the form of music.

It feels like you can really see the "vitality and movement of the young" there.

First he began by imagining "Mu" as a movie and then setting out to create his album as the soundtrack to it.

Of course this movie "Mu" was a grand romance and sound spectacular with the magazine Mu itself as the protagonist.

Eschewing the traditional acoustic instruments of the past, this album was made with synthesizers, the sound of the future, creating the modern and psychedelic sound one would expect from the non-traditional youth-aimed Super Mystery Magazine Mu.

In addition to synthesizers, he also made use of the micro computer. Just a few years earlier it was said common for a single record to take about a year to make. That sort of old fashioned technology seemed unsuited to the synthesizer's cosmic sonority and futuristic sound, and "Mu" the soundtrack was available scant months after the publication of "Mu" the magazine. The role of the micro computer in the soundtrack's release cannot be overstated.

The creator of this "Mu" album, Kamiya, is that rare musician whose turbulent life wouldn't seem out of place for a hero found within the pages of "Mu" magazine. Although he is now a jazz guitar player and synthesizer manipulator, he also followed his childhood passion for motorcycle racing to compete in the Suzuka Circuit on a Honda Benly Racing 15CC with a No.0000000007 frame. Next he made the switch to four wheels and planned to enter the 24 Hours of Le Mans race as the owner of an S-600, but after being gravely injured during practice, he decided to devote his life to music.

As a guitarist, he played with many artists including Sound Limited [Editor's Note: Better known as "Takeshi Inomata & Sound Limited", the band behind the famous Sounds of Sound L.T.D album] and Sharps & Flats [Editor's Note: Better known as "Nobuo Hara and his Sharps & Flats]. During this time he also mastered the skill of arranging through self-study.

Electric guitars require an amp, but those can sometimes break down and leave you in the lurch, so continuing his childhood interest he began to research ways to further link music and electronics.

His encounter with the synthesizer was perhaps the first in Japan. Before Tomita Isao first picked up his Moog III, Kamiya was already pioneering the field as a studio musician from the time JVC introduced the ARP2600. [Editor's Note: Isao Tomita is renowned throughout the world as Japan's synthesizer pioneer with his album Snowflakes are Dancing in 1974, an adaptation of Debussy for Moog. This is quite the claim!]

In the world of music and electronics, he is not just a craftsman, but continues to display the romance and dreams of his boyhood in his work, bringing a breath of fresh air to the world of television commercials. Companies such as Shiseido, Suntory, Toyota, and others have made use of his synth sounds in their commercials, and he says his dream is to develop his studio into one that can offer observation courses. This album is truly filled with his dreams and romance and musicianship.

Song by Song Commentary

A Side

  1. First Step
    This is an intro, or maybe the music that plays before the curtains rise. In terms of Mu Magazine, perhaps it's the table of contents? Beginning with something like a space voyage, it flows naturally into an exotic rhythm and melody which draws closer, only to return to the feeling at the beginning and then fade into the void.

  2. Mu Crystal
    A psychedelic and gutsy piece that could be nothing else but the very theme of Mu. From the solid sound of a spaceship factory comes a strange sound that brings to mind an alien invasion. It truly sets the mood befitting a "mystery magazine".

  3. Time Trip
    A beautiful man and woman...in other words, a young couple playing on a field when suddenly a time machine whisks them up and takes them away to a dimension of terror...is what this feels like. This song makes full use of the synthesizer's ability to not just replicate the sound of other instruments, but to create sounds that do not otherwise exist. The movement through these sounds is a pleasure.

  4. Appalachian Road
    This brings to mind not the real-life American Appalachia of Aaron Copland's ballet, but rather the prosperity of a mythical ancient civilization. Through telepathic communication with the gods, Kamiya-san knows that Appalachian civilization had contact with that of the Incan Empire in South America through caves in the earth!

  5. Message
    A message from Earth made by using a micro computer (Apple II) to turn words from the Bible into data. Here on Earth there was a commercial, so it's only natural the call of "Mu" would have such an impact!

  6. UFO Dance (Introduction)
    The rhythm of the Morse code distress signal sent out by the passengers of the UFO deepens into a bass line, with a psychedelic cosmic sound in the background that gradually dominates, eventually masking the SOS and making it difficult to hear. And with that thought of "what will happen next?" the first side comes to an end.

B Side

  1. UFO Dance
    The gorgeous yet bizarre dance of the aliens aboard the UFO is the climax of the whole album. The sound is psychedelic, yet the melody is also somewhat human, possibly because although the aliens are alien, they are also sapient beings just like us. I think this music could easily be used for some sort of nude dancing. I highly recommend it to anyone in that business! [Editor's note: Yes, it really does say that. Left as-is for historical accuracy.]

  2. Concentration
    The dictionary defines concentration as "exclusive attention to one object; close mental application". In other words, it could mean that the manipulator, Kamiya, has concentrated all his skills as an electronic musician on this part, or it could mean to call to mind the difficulty one would have in communicating with aliens. As for you the listener, will you focus your concentration on what the music is saying or simply be absorbed by the capabilities of your sound system?

  3. Barbarella
    This is the theme song for a Mu Magazine covergirl...so it's very romantic. Kamiya-san, you've got a crush on her, haven't you? It's too bad everything just red and green LEDs where it counts, though.

  4. Mu Opacity
    To look once again at the dictionary, we find opacity defined as the state of being opaque, and opaque defined as "not transparent or translucent; impenetrable to light; not allowing light to pass through". If Crystal on the A Side is Mu's opening theme, then this is its closing theme, perhaps the table of contents on the back page of the magazine? Despite Kamiya's modesty, this is a lovely and compelling track.

  5. Day Dream
    In contrast to A-1, this baroque and polyphonic piece is the music that's played once the curtains go down, letting the audience know it's time to go home. You can imagine Kamiya at the exit wearing a wig and respectfully greeting you the customer as you leave.

  • Written by Sound Designer Wada Norihiko

Track List and Rip

MU has for a long time held a special place in my heart due to its strange and unique sounds. I hope it becomes one for you as well!

A1 - First Step
A2 - MU Crystal
A3 - Time Trip
A4 - Appalachian Road
A5 - Message
A6 - UFO Dance (Introduction)
B1 - UFO Dance
B2 - Concentration
B3 - Barbarella
B4 - MU opacity
B5 - Day Dream

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