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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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Various Artists – Just a Moment

Just a Moment

The Japan Earthquake and the Nuclear Disaster following it seem to have vanished from the media radar completely.
Which is strange enough, since the effects of the latter will be felt for decades (at the very least), and it’s unlikely that the people that were directly affected bu the earthquake have recovered from the disaster by now.

There have been some heartwarming beneficial releases by ambient/experimental artists until now, most notably the “Kanshin” and “For Nihon” albums. But for causes like this, there’s never ‘enough’ that can be raised for those that have suffered.

So, Harry ‘Spheruleus‘ Towell  teamed up with Bartosz ‘Pleq‘ Dziadosz  to curate another compilation in support of those affected by the Japan March disaster.

Just a Moment is released through the Audio Gourmet label, originally specialized in the short 15 minute  ‘coffee/tea break’ EP editions.

With a playing time of over one hour, this album is way too long for your coffee/tea break or your lunch break even. But the special thing about this album is that it contains contributions by 60 artists, thus limiting their contribution to about one minute length – which means that a selection of this album will fit any break you like!

The diverse selection of artists and music cannot, strictly spoken, be called “ambient” in genre. But for most of the artists included, ‘ambient’ is basically not the right genre definition at all. This might as well be called the “new acoustic experimentals“, the “slow movement“, or the “nouveaux impressionistes” – whatever you prefer. 

I’m not even beginning to name-drop here, if you check the contributors you’ll find many familiar names on the list, and hopefully some new names too.
Their music on this contribution is diverse but fits together very well.
It’s a pleasure to listen to these tracks playing randomly. And, because of the short time span of the tracks, this album also may succeed as a soundtrack library for future film directors.

PLEASE do me (and of course not only me) a favour when downloading this album: pay more than the 2.99 GBP minimum requested.
Your donation will go to those that were victim of the Japan earthquake, via Ian Hawgood (of Home Normal fame), who’s wife is currently working directly with some of the people affected. 

With 60 artists on a single album, it’s impossible to choose one single example…so just browse through the Bandcamp sound samples below:

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For Nihon

For Nihon

If you are remotely interested in this kind of music you’re probably familiar with this release already. 
But in case you’ve missed it: 

Shortly after the Japan earthquake on March 11th this year, Keith Kenniff (a.k.a. Goldmund/Helios) and his wife Hollie decided to ask ‘a few friends’ to participate in a compilation album to help raise money for the Japan Earthquake Relief Fundset up by New York’s Japan Society.

The ‘few‘ friends quickly became ‘many‘, and the list of artists contributing to the (38) tracks featured on For Nihon” reads like an impressive who’s who in popular ‘pop ambient’:  
Arms and Sleepers, Dustin O’Halloran, Peter Broderick, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Biosphere, Hammock, Olafur Arnalds, Jon Hopkins, Nils Frahm, Alva Noto, Ryan Teague, Max Richter, Goldmund….And this is only just one-third of the full tracklist!
I guess it’s best to check the full list on the release page and order your copy immediately!

In the same period, Kanshin”  was also released: another double CD set equally impressive. There are no artists doubling on these two double-album sets – another proof of the liveliness of the ‘ambient’ music scene. 

On “For Nihon”, the ‘ambient’ definition may be slightly debatable, however.
Compared to Kanshin (which is leaning somewhat more towards experimental soundscapes), For Nihon is more ‘pop-oriented’ in style, and has a slightly lighter tone. Thus, it will probably also appeal to listeners less familiar to ‘experimental’ music. 

On the downside, I personally find the sequence of tracks somewhat less balanced at times.
For example, I think the Balmorhea live version of ‘Clamor‘ sounds a bit loud and somewhat intrusive, placed this way between other tracks (especially immediately following Alva Noto’s characteristic electronics..

But that’s just nitpicking, of course! Overall, it’s a great collection, a compilation very much worth buying.
For the music itself, if you want – but even more for the cause it supports (100% of all profits are donated to the Japan Earthquake Relief Fund). 

To ‘us’ living far away, march 2011 may seem a long time  ago, and the media hardly cover the issue now.
But in Japan people still struggle everyday to be able to recover from the disaster.  

“For Nihon” is available as a double CD set as well as digital download (MP3/FLAC).
Both are available for the same price ($20) (which probably means you donate somewhat more if you choose the download version?). Either way, don’t hesitate!  

For Nihon – compilation sampler by Keith Kenniff

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Various Artists – Kanshin


It’s a kind of a reviewers no-go to write something like “If you buy only two albums this year, let it be these”.

But in fact, if I could only recommend two albums to you, I’d recommend these two 2-CD compilation sets.

One is For Nihon – curated by Keith ‘Goldmund’ Kenniff and his wife Hollie. This set has been available as digital download for some time, but I’ll be reviewing this later as I have to wait for the physical CD to arrive. 

The other is called “Kanshin”  and has been released this week. 

Both these double CD-set present an unbelievable array of contemporary artists contributing their music to help raise money for the current recovery in Japan following March’s terrible earthquake.

Kanshin is the result of the combined efforts of Daniel Crossley (Fluid Radio/Fluid Audio/Facture), Jonathan Lees (Hibernate/Rural Colours), with additional help from Ian Hazeldine (Cover art), Wil Bolton (Mastering) and Damian Valles (Digital distribution).
Their names may be as familiar as those of the contributing artists, indicating the ambient/soundscape music scene has become a close (but not closed) community in recent years.  There’s even a direct link to the charity organisations that receive the funds, via Ian Hawgood (Home Normal label owner), who is living in Japan with his wife who is currently devoting her time to charity relief organisations.
“We felt that any funds we can send this way would probably have more of an immediate impact than donating via one of the larger UK charities.”  

Maybe there is a slight irony in the fact that a community of artists that normally have serious difficulties getting any income at all from their activities gather together to raise charity funds.
But do not underestimate the power of this community (especially since you’re part of it yourself!) 

Kanshin presents no less than 31 tracks – almost 2 1/2 hours of great music. I will not even begin to mention the contributing artists: below is a link to the bandcamp player, so you can stream all tracks on the album to hear for yourself.

There’s a lot of awesome music on this set, which would be one of the best releases this year even if it wasn’t related to the Japan recovery cause.

But for this cause, I would even have bought this CD set if it had been filled with silence only.. 

Links to buy the 2CD version HERE

Bandcamp Digital Download HERE

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