When noise legend YoshimiO joined up with fellow Japanese musician Yoshida Daikiti’s project PSYCHOBABA in the early 2000’s, they decided to change the name to SAICOBABA. Phonetically, it’s still the same word, but then the meaning changed radically, from something like “crazy uncle” to “most ancient grandma”. This play on words is representative of the kind of psychedelic experimentation that SAICOBAB (same word, sans the final “A” – apparently it now also might stand for “most ancient baby”) excels at with Sab Se Purani Bab, with absolute shifts of meaning contained in the smallest of actions. Its roots are not in any kind of conceptual art but in mystical traditions that embrace the inherently playful nature of holisticness, as in the numerology of the classical ragas that Daikiti’s sitar so finely articulates. The addition of bassist Akita Goldman and percussionist Motoyuki Hamamoto, who plays various instruments including a gamelan, rounds out the lineup into a communal entity that successfully fuses all the disparate elements into place, not as fixture but as flow.
Parting from the idea that there are more than a few similarities between the structures of classical Indian and Japanese music, SAICOBAB plunges deep into philosophical themes related to the ritualistic use of numbers and proportions. This is a feature of many a musical tradition whose implications are usually that the abstractions of mathematics are made concrete not only in the natural world but also in our everyday lives, whether as the ratios of rooms, the unconscious rhythms of walking, or the logics with which we live by (odd numbers, for example, fall into the category of yang according to the principle of yin and yang). The first track, “naa Ra naa”, is an explosive recital in which YoshimiO’s intonation ambiguously transforms into distinct moods, anxiously demanding as much as it could be heard as sheer excitement; if the forms of ragas are meant to connect the eternal and the contingent, then SAICOBAB’s are not meant for the stability of a single affect that functions as a gateway to contemplation. Instead, it seeks instability, the relative safety of repetition used against itself at what would be, in comparison to most classical ragas, breakneck speeds and subtly swerving emotions. Usually, the psychedelic idea of your mind melting into the holistic divine brings with it a sense of singular emotional freedom with which the self becomes de-centered, which is to say de-bodied. Sab Se Purani Bab aims at completely the opposite direction, its fast rhythms, relentless percussion, and punk-like vocal jumps from traditional to noisy tones bringing the body to the forefront of an experience that is not contemplative but hyper-active, with affects all over the place.
Therefore, this is not psychedelic music to let your mind (reductively understood as your ‘self’) be free, but to let your entire self focus, your muscles tightening at the rhythm of the world around you, your breathing accelerating so much it matches the ultra-modern speed of a drug coursing through your bloodstream. This divinity is not to be found in the measured proportions of rationality and the loss-harmonies of holistic approaches, but in the yells and cries of that “ancient baby” who is so in sync with everything it has little to no memory, only a body. It reaches out to life not as an illuminated mind but as a sensory entity whose affects sway back and forth with its surroundings, its eyes not yet filtered by the trappings of reason. SAICOBAB’s debut album turns psychedelics on its head, an aggressive and noisy take on its commonplaces by going straight to the root, to the Indian classical music we’re used to associating with contemplation and meditation of the silent, unmoving type. But make no mistake, this is not the ‘meditation in movement’ of yoga either, always in control and taking years to develop – this is uncontrollable, immediately applicable, not attempting to clear meanings away for the Big One but to push them into one another as irreducible multiplicity (a word that sounds like something that it’s not), to anarchistically throw them into equal grounds so as to connect everything not through mastery but through experimentation. In the end, you don’t need to know anything, just go ahead and play it. (David Murrieta)