Mono has always had a flair for the epic. Over the past 10 years, from its first record to the latest, Hymn to the Immortal Wind, the four-piece experimental Japanese rock band has honed a massive, all-encompassing sound that leaves you stunned by the majestic beauty of electric guitars, especially when coupled with violins and cellos.
Though many of Mono’s records have striven to achieve a delicate balance between electric revelries of drenching distortion and the subtleties of orchestral music, none has done so more deftly than Hymn to the Immortal Wind. Mono has long seemed to operate under the belief that more is more, and for this album, the band enlisted its largest chamber orchestra ever, with nearly 30 (mostly string) players adding even more depth to the group’s already intricate style.
“It was not our initial plan to work with such a large group, but as I composed the album, the instrumentation came naturally, and we felt it would best fit the emotion of the songs,”Taka Goto, who founded the band and plays electric guitar, says. “Our music is heavily influenced by classical music so we’ve been wanting to take the next step in exploring more orchestral compositions.”
Mono’s emphasis on orchestration heightens the cinematic quality of its music, and on the new album, Goto collaborated with the writer Heeya So and wrote the songs based on stories she crafted, which makes Hymn to the Immortal Wind something of a concept album.
“We both had a very similar vision about memory and how it transcends lifetimes. It was a story we had spoken about for a while but didn’t expect to become the theme of the album,” Goto explains.
So’s tales are dreamy amalgams of binding love and promises to be kept across deep oceans and snowy woods, all bound together by a kaleidoscope of memory and carried on the wind.
“Wind symbolizes that which we cannot see but we know exists—traces of memory left in the soul, traces of the energy and movement of the universe,” Goto says. “While she continued to write it, I started to compose the album as if I were scoring a film, scene by scene.”
In line with the elaborate nature of the record, Mono will be backed by an orchestra for two shows in celebration of its 10th anniversary, the quartet’s only North American performances. And in a perfect marriage of interests, Mono will be playing as part of the Wordless Music series.
In its third season, Ronen Givony says he founded the half-classical, half rock and electronic music series in an effort to mirror the way passionate fans listen to music (often on a iPod in shuffle mode), easily transitioning from, say,Thelonious Monk to Chopin to Aphex Twin.
“Unexpected connections and shared concerns seem to arise when you introduce kind of incongruous things next to each other,” Givony says.
Though Mono recorded Hymn with Chicago musicians, the band will perform at The New York Society for Ethical Culture and (le) poisson rouge with the Wordless Music Orchestra, a New York ensemble that Givony originally pulled together for the American premiere of Johnny Greenwood’s “Popcorn Superhet Receiver” at the beginning of last year.The orchestra will start the evening with the New York premiere of Arvo Pärt’s Symphony No. 4 (with contemporary music conductor Jeff Milarsky leading the ensemble), after which it performs with Mono.
Mono played its first show outside of Japan in New York (where its record label Temporary Residence Limited is based) in 2000, which Goto considers to be a land mark for the band, making the upcoming anniversary performances even more meaningful. And the fact that the quartet has succeeded for over a decade in pursing experimental post rock, despite the fact that the underground music scene in Japan is relatively small, is a testament to the mass of devoted fans across the globe.
“There were many discouraging moments in the past, but I suppose we’ve managed because of international support and good friends around the world,” Goto says. “It has not been easy—there was a time when touring internationally and surviving on only music seemed impossible. So we are very grateful for how far we have come.”
May 8, NY Society for Ethical Culture, 2 W. 64th St. (at Central Park West), nysec.org; 7, $25/$30. Also May 9 at (le) poisson rouge.
Wordless but very loud: Mono