Friday, August 17, 2007

Japanese Telecom - Virtual Geisha

Japanese Telecom's 'Virtual Geisha' came out on Gigolo Records in 2001 and could lay claim to being the great lost Gerald Donald (I must return to referring to him thus as no writer/production credit is given) album but that doesn’t mean his best. Lacking as it does the kudos of any one single track standing out, with the possible exception of 'Cigarette Lighter', may be one of the reasons why it has become something of an obscurity in his canon. It might also be a case of his chosen anonymity working against the record. But a more pressing reason for this today is that it appears to be out of print. It’s also not one I’ve ever heard many fans talking about outside of Discogs entries. Which is a shame as it’s certainly his most pop album to date and the one it could be argued where he would for the last time so unashamedly venture down this most populist of paths.

The theme is similar to the preceding Japanese Telecom album as there are lots of Japanese imagery in the titles only this time mixed with his obvious interest in simulated sex. The artwork really says it all as far as where this album appears to be coming from although I would say it appears he more than likely only approved the work of ‘gorgeous Shana’ of the wonderfully named Abuse Industries. But he likely stipulated that the artwork should reflect the content. In this instance the telephone communication he obviously wanted to allude to was Japanese lines. Now I’m not an expert but maybe they go in for cartoons on all their line advertising or else this is a particular kink of virtual phone in Japan that Donald wanted to examine. The meaning of the album title itself may be slightly expanded on with the ‘she interacts’ appendage of the title track itself. Can we take this to indicate Donald emphasising with the virtual geisha herself as she deals with her clients? While a real woman would be at the end of these phone lines she would still have to play along with the fantasy to match her cartoon image. I would guess that the artwork is made up of genuine ads culled from Japanese magazines, if not, top marks for authenticity. The Japanese Telecom logo itself of a lone figure on the phone at a desk now also has an added significance. The type face used for the artist name also remains from the first album. In general this is a far more consistent album theme-wise than the more unfocused debut, this time with most of the titles all tying in neatly with the artwork, Japan and Japanese .

What appears to be a press release of the time described the album thus, ‘Debuting on Detroit's Intuit Solar last year, the mystic Japanese Telecom deliver a versatile ten-track release taking us on a technological journey from Dusseldorf to Detroit and Tokyo. Sizzling Kraftwerk style electro elements, futuristic motor-city techno visions and the new-age pop sensibility of Japan's neon culture. From full-fledged electrified techno to sublime electro robotix, this is truly something not to be missed.’

Opener ‘The making of Ultraman’ sounds more like something particularly sparse from the previous debut Japanese Telecom album of 1999 and serves as a reminder of those heady pre-millennial times, not. An instrumental but to be honest while it has a stark charm with that unmistakably dark Donald production touch it is a bit lightweight, especially to be the first track. Ultraman is a famous Japanese comic book hero. ‘Beta Capsule’ doesn’t really raise the standards and you might at this point start to think you know why this is his lost album. ‘Cigarette Lighter’ changes all that though. Probably the best known track from the album due to mass compilation appearances, the template used here is stripped down good time electro pop. ‘Enter Mrs Suzuki’ as in ‘entering her in a ual way’ no doubt, is a strange bunch of noises collaged together with no melody save a heavily distorted bass line that ‘enters’ midway. Quite a lengthy track which sounds like insects having , in Japan of course. 'Pagoda of Sin’ lightens the mood very much and sounds like it’s built upon some cheesy keyboard pre-set but is essentially more filler. But wait, all is about to change!

‘Virtual Origami’ is by far one of my all-time favourite Gerald Donald productions, don't ask me why, it's a gut reaction thing. I love the back and forth of the intro, the huge organ sound, those rising keyboard lines, the deep drum pattern and all the other lovely touches throughout. In many ways I could see it dismissed as standard good auto-pilot Donald but I disagree as it's another one of those tracks I have previously talked about when sometimes Stinson and Donald hit that magical point when everything inexplicably clicks and that feeling in your gut I mentioned just tells you, this is the one. In the past I persistently dropped this track at every opportunity while DJing and it always got a positive reaction.

The title track, 'Virtual Geisha (she interacts)' is another high point on the album, slow to start, very laid back, great bass line throughout. Could even be a very slowed down Neptune's Lair era Drexciya track. 'Japanese Matrix' is very short, as in seconds, no more than a melody. As I only have the vinyl version of the album to work from, 'Remote Transmitter' confusingly appears to be two tracks, at least going by the times (about 6 mins) given on the CD entry at Discogs. If I'm wrong there is an extra un-credited track on the LP version but if you look at the vinyl you can see no visible gap at the brief point of silence when each 'track' meets so when it was originally cut it was definitely done as one continuous composition. To add to the confusion there is indeed an extra track on the CD version, 'Virtual Origami 2' which appears to be a slightly shorter version. Of course if you have any more information on this please let me know. Taking ‘Remote Transmitter’ as a single track then I much prefer the first half, all organs, slow release bass lines and computer noises trotting along at mid-tempo but found the latter half a product of Donald going into bad auto-pilot production mode, it really goes nowhere and is rather dull once you get pass the first minute, sounding very unfinished. Obviously the two tracks are totally unalike melody-wise. The title I guess is self-explanatory, I can't see any added significance.

The final track, ‘Mounting Yoko’, is again very reminiscent of Donald’ production of the time, this being one of his more sparse examples, there is a real sheen of perfection to this ‘futuristic motor-city techno vision’. Going by the title does this mean that in Beatles speak Gerald Donald is a Yoko Ono r or perhaps it means he likes her? It's worth pointing out that if you slowed down this track and went forward 1 year it could be a near carbon copy of 'Devoid of Wires', minus that tracks vocals, from the first Arpanet album 'Wireless Internet'. As I said it is one of those signature Donald tracks, one for the time capsule. It’s important to note that he is at times starting to repeat himself at this stage of his career and he no doubt recognised that in himself.

The sleeve notes tell us that the album was licensed from Intuit-Solar, the Detroit label which put out the first Japanese Telecom album but surprisingly they never released an edition of it themselves in the States. They may have planned to, it would have been fairly lucrative, it certainly wouldn’t have lost them money anyway but for whatever reason they never did. I’m guessing then that Germanys Gigolo Records edition was then only ever available on import in the States and hence a bit more expensive than the average release, so maybe cost or even availability might have been a factor in the albums non-popularity. I read an interview with DJ Hell where he talked about how he wasn’t in direct contact with Gerald Donald but instead dealt with people who had the rights to licence his material. While Dataphysix, which I can‘t believe is operated by anyone other than Donald himself, was one of those ‘people’ he might also have been thinking of how he acquired the rights for this album. In the artwork Gigolo are at pains to indicate that this is not just another one of their new acts but something a bit more exotic by using the legends ‘Detroit Style Electropop’ and ‘made in Germany via Detroit’. What Gerald Donald made of all this I don’t know.

Again, as already mentioned, like the previous album there are no credits, Heinrich Mueller or otherwise, completely anonymous, it could even be a virtual artist for all the information we get. To date, and after 6 years it doesn’t look like there will be anymore Japanese Telecom albums (go on, prove me wrong!), this has been the only truly anonymous project from Gerald Donald.

To be honest and brutally frank there are only 4 and a half truly great tracks on this album but the rest is pure Donald through and through, warts and all, albeit the man he was in solo guise between 1995 and 2001. Still that’s 4 and a half more than many lesser acts that probably get more praise and recognition than him but that’s another story. Maybe this album shows the first signs he was getting tired of it, it was all too easy, he was now running in circles with ‘electropop‘, the joke not funny anymore. I went into this somewhat in the Der Zyklus II article that it's likely that this final Japanese Telecom album could well have been completed for some time before it's release, maybe even prior to the Der Zyklus II 12". While his next move into his Arpanet guise would still initially retain many of his old production signatures, his themes would begin to get far more studied, although his continued fascination with electronic communications would continue. ’Virtual Geisha’ then stands as the high water mark of Gerald Donald’s dalliance with a genre he helped to define, with Der Zyklus II showing the first real signs of change, but from this point on he was facing a crossroads.

As ever I now face my own, till next time.

The 5 year anniversary of James Stinson's passing has come and gone and in the absense of anything offical to mark it like reissues or otherwise I can only recommend a mix that was sent to me. I guess for now it is up to the fans doing things like this to keep his memory and his music alive for the future where it belongs.

Also right now someone is hosting 'that' James Stinson Detroit radio interview from May 2002. I mean to transcribe this here sometime soon.


Blogger skkatter said...

Ultraman is a really famous Japanese comic book (and then TV) superhero who originated in the 60s but is still popular today over there. He's the guy the power rangers ripped off!

1:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting to read, thanks

6:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for all. Your drexciya blog is very informative.

9:34 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...


The first of many planned artist pecials on Bleep43 radio was in February 2006 and concentrated on the music of the late James Stinson and Gerald Donald. ]

The mp3 of the three hour mix featuring a slew of Drexciyan material, from Glass Domain and Clarence G. to the early Drexciya releases, Arpanet, Japanese Telecom, Lab Rat XL, etc.

5:03 PM  
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