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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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Kissy Suzuki; Suisen; Darren McClure; Yann Novak; Hakobune
– shortlist –


In the Shortlist sections, I will mention the albums that I enjoyed listening to, but couldn’t find the time (or the right words) for a “full review” for. But still, these albums deserve your attention!


Kissy Suzuki is David Teboul a.k.a. Linear Bells. “Proposte Monochrome” is a tribute to the french painter Yves Kleinand is a perfect companion to some of his work – the Monochrome Works in particular. Core piece of this album is the 41 minute title track, followed by two (relatively) shorter pieces called “blue chambers” and “white chambers”. All long, immersive drone pieces.


Suisen is a collaboration between Tomotsugu Nakamura and Darren McClure.
Nakamura’s primary artistic practice is composing music by acoustic instruments and field recordings, while  McClure ‘folds together electronics, drones, and processed field recordings to create pieces of minimal, abstract ambience.”
“‘Suisen’ is the Japanese name for the Narcissist flower, a common sight that signals the first signs of spring. Our music tries to convey this feeling of renewal, enjoying the intangible aspects of a season’s transition.”

World is Made of Words

Contrary to the title statement, there are no words on this beautiful 20 minute drone piece that can be downloaded (for free!) from the Yugen Art netlabel.
“The real secret of Magic is that the World is made of Words. And that if you know the Words that the World is made of, you can make of it whatever you wish” (Terence McKenna)


“In Liminality the artists explore different states of ambiguity that occurs in the middle stage of the compositional process before its structure has comes to fruition. The piece inhabits the threshold between sonic discovery and and fully realized composition. Liminality explores a similar pallet of sounds, always on the verge of becoming something more, but never fully materializing.”
The recordings that this album is based on were originally recorded at the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris, in April 2013. So, among others, the spirit of Jim Morrison may be hovering around somewhere deep in there!

Vitex Negundo

Three gentle guitar improvisations/meditations, based on the memory of the movie “The Farewell to the Ark” by Shuji Terayama.
Hakobune (Takahiro Yorifuji) starts “throwing notes in the air”, and they all seem to fall at their right place.
“Sparse, let them have the time to drift and unfold to full impression. – Setting up the right mood to calm down.”

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Ian Hawgood & Friends – Wolven (A Modern Reinterpretation)


In its relatively short existence (almost 4 years), the Hibernate label has presented us with many beautiful releases and positioned themselves as one of the most important independent labels at the very centre of the ‘ambient’ music scene. Or – since it’s increasingly difficult to use the word ‘ambient’ as a genre definition: music “both abstract and melodic but always with a hint of melancholy.”

The Hibernate label kicked off in 2009 with a release that set a high standard immediately: Wolfskin“, by Ian Hawgood – well-known for his own music as well as from the labels he curates: Home Normal and Koen Music.

Hibernate and Koen Music (KoMu) now present a 2-CD set revisiting the original “Wolfskin” release, called Wolven – A Modern Reinterpretation”.

As the slightly changed album and track titles suggests, this is not merely a ‘cover’ album of the original. The tracks take their inspiration from the original album, which “referenced a series of nightmares Ian had as a child, focussing on elements of dreams and violence by marrying beauty with the harsh.”

Wolven does not just portray the original recordings from Wolfskin in a different light – it also takes another look at the concept of dreams and nightmares. This time, the album strives to literally tread the pathways in Ian’s dreams – not without its terrifying moments along the way but always accompanied by a comfort pillow to keep you from harm.”

On the first CD of this 2CD set, Aaron Martin‘s cello takes center-stage and sets the (rather dark) mood. Embedded in layers of organ, keys and guitar fed through various tape reel machines, and mixed in with interpretations by Dag Rosenqvist, Spheruleus, Pillowdiver, y0t0, and Hakobune, the music easily and almost naturally shifts from ‘post-classical’ acoustics into abstract electronic soundscapes.
With “The Dance”, it takes off with exactly the same chord that concluded the original Wolfskin album – sticking close to the original concept and atmosphere, but at the same time a completely different, new, approach.

For the second CD, Brock Van Wey (aka bvdub) chooses a different approach. His characteristic bvdub sound creates a different, somewhat lighter atmosphere: three extremely long (24 – 32 minutes each) tracks with layers upons layers upon layers of (stretched and dubbed) samples, slowly accumulating – somehow his music always makes me feel as if my head (as well as the room around me) is filled with sound until there is not a empty space left….

If you know the original Wolfskin album, it is of course interesting to compare the details from these tracks to their original sources. But it is not necessary to know the original album to fully appreciate this new reworking, as it presents an inspiring set of different kind of contemporary ‘atmosphere music’.

Hibernate is releasing the physical 2CD-version, while Komu offers the digital download version of the album.
The release date is set for May, 19.


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