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The Sound of Zen: Chihei Hatakeyama

Hatakeyama - Desert

There’s a steady and unstoppable stream of releases by Chihei Hatakeyama, on his own White Paddy Mountain label as well as on other labels.
A short roundup of some of his recent releases: 

Hatakeyama - Desert


Dronarivm‘s last release for 2016 is a great example of the Zen-like calm of Chihei Hatakeyama‘s music.
Soft drones, the sounds of half-sleep, balancing presence with absence. Being somewhere while at the same time not being there…
The sounds you hear seem detached from its source: it’s hard to imagine that this is ‘the sound output from a guitar anp and the speaker.’
Recording in the basement of a studio – or, in his own words: “worked underground in the bottom” –  Chihei wanted to create images of the sky.
This “theme of desert and sky” is perfectly captured by the album cover photo by John Fowler.

You’ll have to tie yourself to your seat before listening to this album to prevent yourself from floating away through the window.

The Fall Rises


The Fall Rises is Chihei Hatakeyama’s second collaboration with Hakobune (Takahiro Yorifuji).

The two use their Stratocaster and Les Paul guitars to produces unhurried waves of sound “with excellent overtones […] hidden harmony with depth” that “reverberate slowly with chord like Slowdive and My Bloody Valentine.”

With their roots firmly in Japanese culture, it’s no real surprise that these “songs with a sadness and beauty, such as feel the coming of fall” have the refreshing atmosphere of a Japanese garden.

Also on Spotify

Crepuscular Grove


Talking of a Japanese Garden is a good link to continue with this album and venture quietly into The Crepuscular Grove.
Opitope is the ongoing collaboration project of Chihei Hatakeyama with Tomoyoshi Date. For this album they worked together with Asuna (Naoyuki Arashi).

The trio’s ambient sound textures are created with acoustic and electric guitars, analog synthesizers, homemade instruments and (lots of) found sounds and field recordings. This means the sound is somewhat more complex compared to the meditative drones of Chihei’s solo work, but is definitely has the same “nostalgic, idyllic atmosphere.”
Which is even more enhanced by the track titles: enigmatic English translations from the Japanese like Tiny Worms Wriggling Under The Light Shines  or The Lake Was Opened When Came Out Of The Grove At Dawn. 

Coastal Railroads in Memories


OK. One more Chihei before it’s time to drift off into the void. Or maybe becáuse it’s time to drift into the void.

The music on this album is inspired by “his memory of a view of the sea from (a) train that runs along the coast”, which explains somewhat enigmatic album title.
It must’ve been a peaceful trip judging from these five pieces (the title track being the longest with 16 minutes, the others around 7-9 minutes each) and their poetic titles like Butterfly On The RiverSide Big Stone or Sleeping And Listening On The Beach. 

As on most of his albums, the soft guitar is Chihei’s main instrument, embedded in processed sounds of piano and vibraphone. Chihei stresses the fact that the result was mixed on an analog mixer, not using a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation).

Also on Spotify

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Atom TM; Pinkcourtesyphone & Gwyneth Wentink; Chihei Hatakeyama & Corey Fuller; Hakobune

Apsidal Motion


Uwe Schmidt, alias Atom™ (not to mention the hundreds of different aliases he operates under) releases the second of the Texturen (Textures) series. At least I hope it’s gonna be a series, because Texturen I was a great work, and Texturen II is as good – if not even better.
This second part of Atom™‘s “minimalist, ambient magnum opus, airdrops you into a void of undulating sonic modulation with nothing but the dream of silent huskies for company”.  The “maestro of harnessing non-repetitive repetition takes that to a psychedelic extreme, constructing a smooth, digital crystal within the stereo field.

With a relatively simple setup (using only a Roland D-50 and a Quantec Yardstick), Schmidt proves again that he’s a true wizard of sound.
The piece starts with a drone based on sub-low frequencies so thick that you can almost lie down on it (so be sure to listen on a set with some serious speakers!), a minimalist drone with subtle shifting patterns to concentrate upon. Later in the piece (from around 22 minutes) the music breaks away from the drone and modulates into different textures, some of them humming – and pulsating – like large industrial machines. Before closing, the low frequencies almost make your ears feel like in an aeroplane rapidly descending. And then, at 54 minutes, it suddenly stops. Too soon.

It is hard to believe that this soundscape is created by the same guy that released the unforgettable albums of Senor Coconut, but it is…. you simply cannot underestimate the genius of Uwe Schmidt.


I only recently found out about this album, which was released in january of this year. Which means that – no surprise – the physical edition has sold out by now. I still want to mention it because the digital version remains available, ánd because of the rather unusual combination of ambient drones and harp.

Richard ‘Pinkcourtesyphone‘ Chartier teams up with Dutch harpist Gwyneth Wentink for this EP-length (19 minutes) piece called Elision. Wentink is an internationally acclaimed harpist, who performed audio-visual versions of Terry Riley’s In C and Simeon Ten Holt’s Canto Ostinato (one of the greatest and most performed Dutch modern classical/minimal compositions) – among many other activities.

Elision means ‘the omission of an unstressed vowel or syllable in a verse to achieve a uniform metrical pattern’, so this particular piece is not only about what is played, but also about what is left out. Her harp sounds different – sharper? brighter? – than usual, because she is playing a triple harp: a replica of a harp from around 1600 made of 3 rows of strings instead of the commong single row.
Her (improvisation) is craftfully manipulated and merged with Pinkcourtesy‘s drones ‘under and over a hazy sonic shroud of worn romance and phobophobia.”


More minimal drones from the prolific Chihei Hatakeyama, this time in collaboration with Corey Fuller (one half of Illuha).
plays pipe organ on three of the four tracks, and an analog MS20 synth on the fourth. His droes are wrapped in Chihei’s soft guitar drones and together they weave a very – very – relaxing sonic blanket.
Euphotic, by the way, refers to the uppermost layer of a body of water that receives sufficient light for photosynthesis and the growth of green plants.’

Apsidal Motion

Also released on Chihei Hatakeyama’s White Paddy Mountain label is Apsidal Motion: Hakobune‘s latest title in his extensive discography.
It is a single 42 minute minimalist drone, ‘inspired from such beauty of a starlit sky of Nigata (country side of Japan)’, created (as usual) with electric guitar sounds transformed to unrecognisable floating drones.
There’s not much happening, but that is intentional: the music intends to pull the listener ‘into some sort of long dreamtime’.
Physical orders also include a bonus CDR with a 21 minute liveset from Nishiwaki.

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Bas van Huizen, Orphax, Chihei Hatakeyama, Dirk Serries


You only need one short look at the (A5-sized) cover to know that you’re in for something different. The title is – as usual for Van Huizen‘s releases – untranslatable: a nonexistent dutch word which could mean something like ‘entangled force’.

‘Van Huizen searches for music that can speak for itself’.
And so it does – but once you watched the fantastic teaser video (check below) there’s no escaping the striking surrealistic images conjured by this combination of sound and images!

Kluwekracht is created from voice, guitars and singing bowls – but the resulting power ambient is never far from noise and may not be anything like what you would expect from this combination!

Dream Sequence

For this short 3″ EP-release – the first of a series ‘with a dreamy touch’ – Orphax (Sietse van Erve) used a 40 year old Digisizer DIY synth to create the basic drone material.
‘A weird machine that has a high random factor and many errors’.
The result is a nice meandering, adventurous – yet dreamy – drone piece with enough variation to keep your attention for its full 21 minutes length.

Five Dreams

Once you’ve heard a few of his releases, you’ll immediately recognise the soothing sounds of Chihei Hatakeyama.
The calm, slow and peaceful meditations on Five Dreams are no exception.

Inspired by Ten Nights of Dreams‘ by Soseki Natsume, which were each set in different time periods, Hatakeyma presents his interpretations of five dreams, each one from a different month.
The basic sound files were recorded in 2008 using an electric guitar, but Hatakeyama took all the time he needed to edit them until they were ready to be released.

Storm of Silence

The Glacial Movements releases are all related to winter, and cold desolate icy landscapes.  So is this collaboration of Chihei Hatakeyama with Belgian ambient music veteran Dirk Serries:

“My work with Chihei is one for the winter. Amidst the icy landscapes, the isolation and the desolate space. When nature becomes almost super linear, less expressive in colour but with equal strength and severity. […] Chihei’s approach to my sources were different, more isolated, perhaps colder and distant. Almost like something you witnessed in the distance on the horizon, something less concrete and hard to define.”

A perfect description of the seasonal ‘isolationism’ in these recordings, but at the same time I never really feel any ‘coldness’… I feel nothing but ‘warmth’ when listening to this music.
Not the kind of tropical, festive summer heat of course, but the kind of warmth you feel when you decide the weather’s too bad to to go out an so you stay at your comfortably heated home to surrender to the dark and sleepy winter days.
So: perfect winter music indeed.

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Sakamoto-Illuha-Deupree; Chihei Hatakeyama; Lauki; Sonmi451; Roach-Metcalf-Thomas



When you listen to this improvised set for piano, guitar, pump organ and synthesizer, it is hard to believe that these four musicians never played together before.
Ryuichi Sakamoto, Taylor Deupree and Illuha (Corey Fuller and Tomoyoshi Dale) only met each other just a couple of days earlier, on the occasion of Ryuichi Sakamoto’s “Forest Symphony” installation celebrating the 10 year anniversary of the Yamaguchi Center for Arts and Media.
“‘Perpetual‘ is presented in three movements that traverse from soft layers of synthesizer and processed guitar, to open, airy sections of prepared piano and silence, to finally coming to rest in a most hauntingly delicate lullaby of lonely piano, crackling found objects and field recordings and tones suspended like mists.”

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If there is one musician capable of creating an aural equivalent of mist, it must be Chihei Hatakeyama.
The music on “Mist” – “inspired from such beauty of fog-like phenomena which reflexts the thin light to fine mist” – has the same comforting isolation a thick layer of mist surrounding you can sometimes have. 
The album’s closing track, “Nangoku” was originally created for a 24 channel PA system installation for extra immersion. But for those without a 24-channel home sound system, the stereo version on this album also does a great job!


Lauki - Thaw

(Mikel) Lauki is probably a familiar name due to his collaborations with Pleq.
“Waiting for the Thaw” is his third solo album (the first two ( 69º54´S​​-​​135º12´E and GEA ) are available in digital format only).
It’s not only perfectly titled for the time of year – the end of winter- , but it’s also an album where Lauki’s ‘weakness for contemporary classic music, generative art and the aesthetics of the digital error’ blend perfectly into a perfect soundtrack.
The music is inspired by the classic Mauritz Stiller film Herr Arnes Pengar” (“Sir Arne’s Treasure”, 1919), a Nordic tragedy in which “the frozen atmosphere that envelopes the plot, the scandinavian winter, gets its own role.”
That is not just true for the movie but definitely for the soundtrack too!

Limbic System

The 50th release on the Time Released Sound label is a new one from Sonmi451, a.k.a. Bernard Zwijzen.
The limbic system is a complex collection of brain structures, “supporting a variety of functions including adrenaline flow, emotion, behavior, motivation, long-term memory, and olfaction (sense of smell).” On this particular set, the overall emotion are calm, friendly and warm – ‘a melodic and crystalline set of electronically treated ambiance’.
And with an omnipresent soft japanese female whisper.
As with most TRS releases, “The Limbic System” comes in two limited editions: the deluxe “Case File” edition (70 copies) and the standard version (150 copies).


Monuments of Exstasy

Combine the synth layers of Steve Roach with the frame, shaman and bass drums of Byron Metcalf and the didgeridoo and percussion of Rob Thomas, and the result is a hypnotic ‘tribal ambient’ set that is indééd an impressive  ‘monument of ecstasy’!
“Byron’s drums and percussion fuse with Steve’s hybrid grooves, array of analog modular, virtual analog synths and mixing enhancements; Rob’s serpentine didgeridoo weaves aboriginal textures and otherworldly voices, adding ancient layers to the trio’s flows and soundscapes.”

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