One of the things that makes these soul-clearing albums so special is their ability to invoke a massive range of emotions. Hidden in their simple melodies is a world of reflective nostalgia that is far beyond bitter sweet. In the 100 or so years that Western music had been introduced to the shroes of Japan, modern Japanese composers have been creating their own brand of work not only from the traditional acoustic instruments but also electronic and emerging technologies.
1. Satoshi Ashikawa — Still Way (Wave Notation 2)
This album is the easiest way to transport yourself to an idyllic Japanese garden, laden with crystal outcrops and secret paths to follow in slow motion. The vibrations of the chimes in Still Park — Ensemble, hypnotize your mind into stillness.
The purpose of the Wave Notation series is to highlight the development of music as it becomes background noise (adverts, shopping centres, movies, etc), but be a positive product of that. Sadly, Satoshi Ashikawa died a few months after making this record. That closed the Wave Notation series and his record label, Sound Process, which also released Satsuki Shibano’s Erik Satie, the final installment in the series.
2. Hiroshi Yoshimura — Music for 9 Postcards (Wave Notation 1)
The first album in the Wave Notation series is definitely my favourite. Its blue, melancholic tones are the most precise musical resemblance of morning light through the bedroom window that I have ever heard. While you sit on the edge of the bed and last night’s dreams evaporate, letting the buzz of the day enter, this album will quietly slip into the gap of waking reality and compliment your meandering early morning thoughts.
Hiroshi Yoshimura is an artist of ambience, whose sound is inextricably linked with space. He and Ashikawa were the Japanese composers that defined the Wave Notation series as “environmental music”. Yoshimura is a prolific musician, so there’s a lot more ambience where this came from. Check out his discogs, or keep searching through his albums on YouTube.
Close your eyes and breath slow, regular breaths. Can you feel it? Your physical body has become an 8Bit flower, blowing gently in the pixel-art mountains of Japan. Be still, and grow in your own time.
Watering A Flower follows a similar philosophy to Wave Notation. It is music specifically designed for an environment. Though they both share the same inspirational fishpond, they have one major difference: Watering a Flower was written for a chain of department stores, Muji. In a way, the movement of music in this direction is precisely what Ashikawa was criticising with Wave Notation.
Its composer, Haruomi Hosono, is a Japanese synthesizer powerhouse. As well as being the bassist in a band with Ryuichi Sakamoto and Yukihiro Takahashi, Yellow Magic Orchestra (then sometime after, Sketch Show), he’s released a load of awesome solo albums like S-F-X.
Originally published at www.japannakama.co.uk on April 14, 2020.