Unhappy trails 

Kawabata Makoto's Acid Mother of all freakouts

"Oh man, I don't believe this question!"

Kawabata Makoto seems to snarl indignantly when asked by e-mail if the Japanese "soul collective" he helped found in 1996 -- Acid Mothers Temple and the Melting Paraiso U.F.O. (Underground Freak Out) -- incorporates any previously set parameters within its improvisational trip music.

"There's virtually nothing fixed about Acid Mothers Temple," he asserts. "AMT is, was and should be over 90 percent improvised. The basic themes may be composed -- but after that, everything else is improvised. 'Structure' ties music down, stops it breathing."

For a man who publicly proclaims a love for the WWF, little is scripted about Makoto or AMT, which currently includes Makoto on guitar, Higashi Hiroshi on synth and guitar, Uki Eiji on drums, Tsuyama Atsushi on bass and vocals, and singer Cotton Casino.

"How could you think that we fix anything about our songs?" Makoto says. "As for theories, all we want to do is rock."

Rock isn't everything to AMT, however. Some members of the group fish; others travel the world on spiritual quests. Communal though independent, they share houses and stages, and all attempt to live outside the realm of worldly influences.

It wasn't always that way for Makoto. Growing up in Osaka in the '70s, he was exposed to everything from Deep Purple to Amon Düül to classical Indian drones. What most fascinated Makoto, however, was the prospect of combining extreme trip music with the electronic/musique concrete experiments of composers like Karlheinz Stockhausen.

But when Makoto formed his first band, Ankoku Kakumei Kyodotai (Dark Revolutionary Collective), in the late '70s, the reception was cold. The group was freeform, but not free jazz. Playing noisy space rock with synths and self-tunings, DRC was stuck between no wave and new wave, yet accepted by fans of neither.

So DRC dropped off the mainstream radar, releasing more than 40 independent cassettes before Makoto moved on, experimenting with musique concrete-like solo overdub pieces. Then, after stints with Musica Transonic and Mainliner, he got together with like-minded musicians who had no outlet, and Acid Mothers Temple was born.

Originally little more than a means to distribute limited-edition CDs and CDRs from the pool of talented musicians surrounding Makoto, AMT was not meant to be a touring band. But there was something about the group's sound -- an extreme combination of Hawkwind, Can, the Melvins and the Velvet Underground -- that elicited international attention.

"AMT is composed of rockin' fools and social dropouts," says Makoto. "Rock is a way of life that refuses compromise. [It] has nothing to do with a style of music, and everything to do with a style of living."

And many things rock AMT's sonic universe -- which is as filled with sensory input as the traditional universe has stars. Disorienting frenzies of friction-strained strings over the rolling rhythmic thunder of drums (as on their latest CD, New Geocentric World of Acid Mothers Temple); French Occitan traditional troubadour music (from La Nòvia); WWF's The Rock -- all these things come to bear in the ever-changing experience that is AMT.

"In the live situation, with all our hearts and all our energy, we try to capture and re-create the music that is most fitting for that time, that place, and for the people who are together there with us," says Makoto. "And if everyone can glimpse the universal principle for even a second, then we'll be more than happy."

For years, people have been saying rock is dead. AMT have always disagreed, but they're willing to play until people get a literal answer. Can you smell what the rock is cooking?

Acid Mothers Temple plays Mon., March 18, at Eyedrum, 290 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. Major Stars also perform. 9 p.m. $8-10. 404-522-0655. www.eyedrum.org.

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