Cult Classic: Yasuaki Shimizu-Music For Commercials: Made To Measure Volume 12.

In 1980, musician and producer Marc Hollander founded his own record label Crammed Discs in the Belgian capital Brussels. Later that year, his avant-rock group Aksak Maboul released their groundbreaking sophomore album Un Peu de l’Âme des Bandits on Crammed Discs. Little did Marc Hollander realise that his label would still be going strong forty years later, and would still be releasing ambitious,  innovative and progressive music.

Having founded Crammed Discs, Marc Hollander took charge of the day-to-day running of the nascent label and became its artistic director. He spent much of his time listening to demos and looking for new artists to sign to the label. Over the next three years,  the label went from strength-to-strength and singles and albums were released to critical acclaim and enjoyed a degree of commercial success. It was no surprise when founder Marc Hollander stared to cast his net even wider looking for right artist to sign to Crammed Discs’ eclectic roster. 

By 1983, the label was thriving and Marc Hollander decided to launch the Made To Measure series which over the next four decades would release albums by mavericks, innovators and pioneers whose raison d’être was to release exciting, esoteric and experimental music that was way ahead of the musical curve.  The music was usually much more experimental than was being released by the other artists signed to Crammed Discs. Many of the artists who released instalments in the Made To Measure series specialised in ambient and electronic music. There was also a loose concept to the Made To Measure series. Each album in the Made To Measure series could’ve been a soundtrack to a film, television program or dance. When the series was launched in 1983 it was quite different to what other labels were doing.

Four years later in 1987, Marc Hollander signed Japanese composer and saxophonist Yasuaki Shimizu to Crammed Discs. Later that year, he released his timeless cult classic Music For Commercials: Made To Measure Volume 12 which was the latest instalment in the Made To Measure series. It featured twenty-four tracks. Twenty-three were short pieces of music were originally meant to provide the soundtrack to commercials on Japanese television. They also showcased Yasuaki Shimizu’s versatility as a composer and saxophonist as he flitted between musical genres on tracks with titles like Seiko 1, Boutique Joy, Sharp 1, Honda and Bridgestone 4. These tracks lasted less than two minutes. The exception was  Ka-Cho-Fu-Getsu which was the soundtrack to a computer animated short film. Just like the rest of the tracks it was a captivating introduction to Yasuaki Shimizu who by 1987 was already an experienced composer and musician.

Composer, saxophonist and producer Yasuaki Shimizu was born in Shimada, Shizu on August the ‘9th’ 1954. Growing up, he embraced music and learnt to play the saxophone. By the early seventies Yasuaki Shimizu had decided to embark upon a career as a professional musician. 

The first many people heard of Yasuaki Shimizu was when the twenty-four year saxophonist released his debut solo album, Get You, in 1978. This carefully crafted combination of jazz and jazz-funk and would introduce Yasuaki Shimizu to Japanese music fans. 

A year later, and Yasuaki Shimizu returned with his sophomore album Far East Express in 1979.  By then, Yasuaki Shimizu had formed a new experimental rock band, Mariah.

The newly founded Mariah released their eponymous debut album later in 1979. This was the first of six albums that Mariah released between 1979 and 1983. 

Mariah returned with their sophomore album Yen Dreams in 1980. By then, Mariah music was continuing to evolve. That would be the case throughout the band’s career.

Despite leading the experimental rock band Mariah, Yasuaki Shimizu continued his solo career. He released his sophomore album Berlin in 1980, with his third album IQ 179 following in 1981. Meanwhile, Yasuaki Shimizu’s groundbreaking band Mariah were about to release two albums during 1981.

The first of these albums was  Auschwitz Dream which was followed by Marginal Love and then Red Party in 1982. By then, Mariah’s music continued to evolve and was being discovered by a wider, international audience.

It was a similar case with Yasuaki Shimizu’s solo albums. He was already regarded as a musical pioneer, and someone who was capable of pushing boundaries to their limits, and sometimes, way beyond. That was the case on Kakashi, which was released in 1982, and nowadays, is regarded as a genre classic. However, it was the last album Yasuaki Shimizu released until 1987.

The following year, Mariah released what was their swan-song Utakata no Hibi which fused traditional Japanese festival rhythms with rock tempos and sounds. It was hailed as an ambitious album that nowadays is regarded as a genre classic and this was a fitting farewell from Mariah.

With Mariah consigned to musical history and Yasuaki Shimizu’s solo career seemingly on hold, the musical pioneer embarked on yet another musical project, Yasuaki Shimizu and The Saxophonettes. This was essentially a one-man band, and over the next two years, Yasuaki Shimizu released two albums as Yasuaki Shimizu and The Saxophonettes.

Later in 1983, Yasuaki Shimizu and The Saxophonettes released their  debut album was L’Automne à Pekin. It was an ambitious homage to the golden age of Hollywood, albeit with a twist. Yasuaki Shimizu and The Saxophonettes combined lush, underrated strings with a myriad of electronic sounds and a reggae rhythm section. It was an intriguing and captivating combination that found favour with critics. So did the followup Stardust, when it was released in 1985. By then, Yasuaki Shimizu had left Japan, and was spending his time in Europe.

Yasuaki Shimizu was dividing his time between London and Paris, where he became part of both cities vibrant music scenes. Marc Hollander remembers: “I met Yasuaki Shimizu when he was living in Paris, around the mid-eighties. We were mutually interested in a Shimizu/Crammed collaboration, and we came up with the idea to gather the short pieces he had created for television commercials, and release them in our Made To Measure composers’ series which, at the time, already included ten releases of mostly instrumental music.”

Now that Crammed Discs had agreed to release a Yasuaki Shimizu album, the Japanese composer, saxophonist and producer began choosing the tracks that would feature on Music For Commercials: Made To Measure Volume 12. It featured twenty-four instrumentals, with twenty-three tracks lasting two minutes or less. There was one exception, Ka-Cho-Fu-Getsu which was the soundtrack to a computer animated short film. Mostly, though Yasuaki Shimizu was keen to showcase his work creating Music For Commercials.

Yasuaki Shimizu recalls how: “TV commercials in the late ’70s and ’80s didn’t advertise the practical features of products, they were meant to build strategic corporate images. You might even say they took a musical approach in their visual expression, though perhaps that’s an overstatement. Being restricted to a time span of a minute or less made it ideal work for refining my intuitive powers. I made a conscious choice not to remix the tracks for this album. The final version of the original recordings appear here untouched, although I do remember working to link the individual tunes, and on the overall mood.” That is apparent throughout Music For Commercials: Made To Measure Volume 12.

When Crammed Discs released Music For Commercials: Made To Measure Volume 12 in 1987, critics and cultural commentators lavished plaudits and praise on this captivating and intriguing compilation of music. It finds Yasuaki Shimizu fusing elements of ambient, avant-garde, classical, electronic and experimental with jazz and traditional Japanese music. These genres are combined on twenty-four tracks that are very different. 

Tachikawa is elegiac and ethereal, before Seiko 1 becomes urgent and dramatic, while Seiko 4 has a similar urgency. Very different are Seiko 2 and Seiko 3 which are understated soundscapes with an enchanting minimalist sound. Sen-Nen 1’s is a beautiful ambient sounding track, and like many of the tracks in evocative and rich in imagery. It’s a similar case with tracks like Boutique Joy. By comparison, Ricoh 1 has a much more experimental sound. So does Ricoh 2, which is a genre-melting track with a mesmeric and futuristic sound. Laox also showcases a futuristic eighties sound and combines with this with lush strings. This is an intriguing and successful combination, and like all the tracks on Music For Commercials: Made To Measure Volume 12, has a cinematic sound and is full of imagery.

Shiseido has an orchestrated and evocative sound that is guaranteed to paints pictures. It’s also one of the most memorable tracks on Music For Commercials: Made To Measure Volume 12. Seiko 5 has a jaunty robotic sound, as if trying to sell a groundbreaking futuristic product. It gives way to Sharp, which mixes sultry jazz with electronics, avant-garde and industrial music. Sen-Nen 2 finds Yasuaki Shimizu combining his jazz saxophone with experimental and ambient music. Mesmeric but beautiful describes Honda, which is one of several tracks which incorporates elements of Japanese music. It’s a similar case on Suntory, where a myriad of percussion adds an almost hypnotic sound. Knorr is another genre-melting track where classical vocal and cello combine with occasional flourishes of piano and crisp drum rolls. They may be unlikely bedfellows but play their part in the success of this beautiful, evocative soundscape. It gives way to the Bridgestone 5.

This is the five soundscapes that Yasuaki Shimizu recorded for Bridgestone. They have a much more experimental sound than many of the other tracks. Bridgestone 1 head in the direction of free jazz So to some extent does Bridgestone 2, which combines a myriad of experimental and ethereal sounds. Then on Bridgestone 2 found and experimental sounds are fused with a braying horn and drama. Very different is Bridgestone 4 where the saxophone plays slowly and ruminatively before strings sweep and swirl on Bridgestone 5. It closes the Bridgestone quintet. 

Ka-Cho-Fu-Getsu is ten minute soundtrack where Yasuaki Shimizu showcases his skills and versatility during this captivating musical adventure. It takes twists and turns as Yasuaki Shimizu throws curveballs springs surprises, as a myriad of subtleties unfold as this musical pioneer creates a groundbreaking and genre-melting opus. Closing Music For Commercials: Made To Measure Volume 12 is Seibu, which sounds like an excerpt from an opera and shows another side the versatile virtuoso Yasuaki Shimizu

After its release in 1987, Music For Commercials: Made To Measure Volume 12 became Crammed Discs most sought after releases as a new generation of record buyers discovered the delights of this groundbreaking album. Eventually, it was almost impossible to find a copy of Music For Commercials: Made To Measure Volume 12. Those that owned a copy of the album were holding on to them. As a result, demand was greatly outstripping supply. That was no surprise.

When the album was released in 1987 only a relative small number of LPs and CDs were released in 1987. By then, Marc Hollander knew how many albums one of his releases could sell. He was determined not to press too many copies and knew he could always repress this Music For Commercials: Made To Measure Volume 12, which showcases Yasuaki Shimizu’s versatility as a composer and saxophonist as he flits between and combines musical genres. The result was a captivating album from a true musical pioneer, and one of the best instalments in Crammed Discs’ Made To Measure series. 

Thirty-three years later and the Made To Measure series is still going strong. However, Music For Commercials: Made To Measure Volume 12 is still regarded as one of the best instalments in Crammed Discs’ long-running and prestigious series. That will continue to be the case for the foreseeable future as Yasuaki Shimizu’s Music For Commercials: Made To Measure Volume 12 is an ambitious album of inventive, innovative and cinematic music that is evocative, rich in imagery and is truly timeless.

Cult Classic: Yasuaki Shimizu-Music For Commercials: Made To Measure Volume 12.

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