Haruomi Hosono – Mercuric Dance, 1985

A favorite. Not purely an ambient record, as there are a handful of more jittery, percussive tracks in the second half, but a good deal of this is, for me, ideal music to work to. Ringing, jewel-like washes of synth, but with a certain weight that similarly intentioned records seem to be lacking. The navy blue cover feels very apt–there’s something angular and a bit severe about this that I love. Recontextualized elements of traditional Japanese drumming throughout. I think this was made for a modern dance performance, but can’t find any additional information online–if anyone knows, please fill us in. Enjoy.

[Mix for LYL Radio] The Oddlogs Episode 4

I made a two hour guest mix of long-form instrumentals for Lyon/Paris based online radio station LYL Radio. The Oddlogs is their series of guest sets with different music bloggers from around the world, and their lineup has been excellent thus far so I’m honored to be in such good company. I wanted to take advantage of the long time slot to use lengthier, more meditative tracks that are less synth-heavy and more acoustic-centric, with (almost) no vocals. There’s also a lot of excellent natural reverb and room tone in here. In the spirit of the music, I recorded my talkback segments in my bathroom for added reverb, and made my best attempt at ASMR-esque speaking. For what it’s worth, I think it makes a solid snow soundtrack. If you like the mix, you can download an mp3 version without my speaking in it here. Enjoy!

Tracklisting:
1. Joanna Brouk – Winter Chimes
2. Raul Lovisoni – Amon Ra
3. Daniel Lentz – Lascaux
4. Daniel Schmidt & the Berkeley Gamelan – Faint Impressions
5. Daniel Kobialka – Orbital Mystery
6. David Casper -Tantra-La
7. Ernest Hood – From The Bluff (Excerpt)
8. Roberto Mazza – Artigli Arguti
9. Vincenzo Zitello – Nembo Verso Nord
10. Pandit Ram Narayan – Rāga Kirvani
11. Seigén Ono – Suimen-Jo Niwa
12. Joel Andrews – The Violet Flame, Part 2 (Excerpt)
13. Stuart Dempster – Secret Currents

Kenji Kawai – Ghost In The Shell, 1995

A few days ago, poor Steve Aoki revealed his remix of the iconic 攻殻機動隊 (Ghost in the Shell) theme for the forthcoming remake. The remix is the EDM equivalent of trying to embroider lace with a power drill, and incensed anime fans have flooded the comments with rage (as well as with links to the also-iconic theme from the Stand Alone Complex series). Rather than adding further insult to injury, I wanted to share the original soundtrack, as it’s one of the best anime soundtracks (and arguably one of the best soundtracks, period).

To make the aforementioned theme, scoring giant Kenji Kawai combined Bulgarian choral harmonies and traditional Japanese vocal techniques into a wedding song with lyrics in the ancient Japanese language Yamato Kotaba. The theme is repeated in three different variations, all of which should give you goosebumps. The rest of the soundtrack is gorgeous, murky atmospherics: submerged keyboards, sparse taiko, synthetic strings, ominous clanging, a lone (Spanish?) guitar. If you haven’t seen the movie, song titles like “Nightstalker” and “Floating Museum” should be able to paint a sufficient picture. The real curveball is the closer, sometimes listed as a bonus track, which is a bubblegum pop sung in Cantonese. Many reviewers complain about the inclusion of the jarring closer, but I think a slightly psychotic ending makes sense in the context of a movie about fragmented personhood in a cyberpunk dystopia. Bonus round: here’s a very beautiful live performance of the theme.

David Casper – Tantra-La, 1982

Snow day favorite from private issue new age icon David Casper. Drawn-out, weightless instrumentation: piano, glass harmonica, kalimba, sheng, xiao, cello, upright bass, oboe, flute, ocarina, pennywhistle, gong, and synth–but never particularly busy, in spite of all that. Enjoy!

Geinoh Yamashirogumi – Symphonic Suite AKIRA, 1988

It was very moving that a handful of you reached out to check on me after a week of silence–I appreciate the concern! I’ve been a bit absent for two reasons, the first being that trying to do anything on the internet these days invariably gets derailed by a wormhole of endless bad news. The second (happier) reason is that my partner and I just moved into an apartment together last week, so I’ve been in heavy nesting mode, and now that we’re done fighting about whose duvet cover to use I can finally look around and feel funny about feeling this happy.

I’ve been holding off on a Geinoh Yamashirogumi post because I felt nervous about picking one record, but here we are. Geinoh Yamashirogumi is a massive musical collective, purportedly several hundred members deep, that emerged when a choir founded in 1953 began testing the limits of what choral music can do. Their study of world music and eventually digital audio techniques led them to release a series of records in which they covered an enormous amount of ground, culminating in a trio of records concerned with the cycle of life and death. Luckily, one of those three records happened to be the Akira soundtrack.

There are a lot of repeating motifs across the trilogy, both thematically and in direct sonic parroting. All three use choirs to astonishing effect: Balinese kecak aided and abetted by reverb and multiplication; individuals pacing back and forth and winding their voices around one another, frantic, fuming, barely even singing; Japanese Noh undercut by taiko; buzzing hives of thousands hulking thunderously; whispers volleyed back and forth for minutes on end; traditional spiritual chant gone off the rails–songs that are so intensely evocative of huge, folk-futurist environments that they’re uncomfortable to listen to in your apartment (though they work very well on the subway). They also all lean heavily on gamelan: interestingly, in the 1980s MIDI synthesizers couldn’t accurately replicate the tonality of the traditional gamelan ensemble, so the group had to custom-program their synthesizers in order to build the necessary micro-tuning tables.

I picked Akira from the trilogy because it hinges the three together: Ecophony Rinne (1986) brought the group to the attention of director Katsuhiro Otomo, who (as the story goes) wrote the group a blank check with which to make this soundtrack–meaning that this record enabled them to push their technical possibility forward and further develop the musical language that they had already been speaking for years. I love the case this album makes for what movie soundtracks can (and perhaps should) do, the way it refuses to be background music (or even conventionally cinematic) but instead dives into the movie’s messy chaos and bounces around and off of it, building and dying in time. The closing “Requiem,” as the title suggests, starts as a reverb-soaked Western mass, but the organ goes astray and eventually loops back into the opening “Kaneda” theme, at which point it becomes clear why Katsuhiro Otomo commissioned a score from a group obsessed with life and death cycles: the inhabitants of Akira are fixated on the past in a desperate attempt to avoid repeating their catastrophic mistakes in the future. The parallels extend further: the music of Geinoh Yamashirogumi is a splicing of traditional folk spirituality with advanced programming, and Akira‘s Neo-Tokyo still clutches to religion in spite of its pseudo-futuristic setting. Cleverer and weirder still is when a prog-pop song steps in after eight tracks. It’s jarring enough to make you wonder if you’re listening to a different record, until within seconds you pick up on the familiar jegog percussive backbone, which makes such perfect sense that you might feel more “in on the joke” than you ever have before. Brilliant from all angles.

Lastly, I’d like to point out that moreso than with most records, having a “preview track” here doesn’t make much sense, as this album is so diverse and can only really exist as a whole. Please take the track below with a big grain of salt, and if you’re at all interested, do consider a listen in its entirety in headphones.

Daniel Lentz – On The Leopard Altar, 1984

Such a cool record. This was Daniel Lentz’s first album and was one of the seven releases on the short-lived Icon Records. Though Lentz’s background seats him pretty squarely in the realms of academia, On The Leopard Altar avoids much of the dryness that I associate with minimalism–it’s more generous, unafraid to lean into pop sensibility and pleasure. (Fittingly, he went on to make two records with Harold Budd.) “Lascaux” is a gorgeous nine minutes of 25 tuned wine glasses resonating in and out, with nothing added but reverb, and it acts as a new age drone meditation piece, with glasses serving as both shruti box and chimes. “Requiem” attempts to capture the experience of hearing a lone singer in a large, empty cathedral, with big church bell tolls, rolling keyboard chimes, a vocalist bathed in Julee Cruise-esque reverb, and a few pretty incredible overtone moments. The gorgeous title track is very warm, present vocals delivered with a choir boy-esque straight tone purity, over rolling keyboards and (I think) more wine glasses. On “Is It Love” and “Wolf Is Dead…” we hear more typically minimalist long-form weaving of gamelan-inspired rhythmic pulses in the vein of Reich and friends, and vowel-based vocal pulsing in the vein of Monk and friends, but even these are structured in ways that suggest a pop sensibility.

Yutaka Hirose – Soundscape 2: Nova, 1986

One of three records funded and released by Misawa Home Corporation for use in their prefabricated houses between 1986 and 1988. (The other two releases are both by Hiroshi Yoshimura; I’ve posted my favorite of the two here.) As with some of the other Japanese minimal records I’ve shared, Nova is an unabashed embrace of, as Spencer of Rootblog phrased it, “the illusion of nature in a hyper-urban environment.” Judicious use of water, insect, and bird field recordings, sparse bells, piano, and synth. Somehow just as evocative of an idealized, imagined natural world as it is of the synthetic, heavily manicured interiors that seek, roundaboutly, to reference nature. Regardless of where this puts you, it’s very good.

Joanna Brouk – The Space Between, 1981

My favorite release from the venerable Joann Brouk, considered one of the founders of New Age music, who studied under Terry Riley and Robert Ashley at the Mills College Center for Contemporary Music, and whose work you’re already familiar with if you’ve listened to the worldbuilding I Am The Center compilation.
Streamlined, super minimal, classically inclined ambient that avoids a lot of the ornamentation and explicit emoting of new age. Just chimes, synth, and piano. Leave it on repeat for a few hours.

[Mix for NTS Radio] Getting Warmer Episode 1

Excited to share my first episode of “Getting Warmer” for NTS Radio. Tracklisting below. If you like it, you can download it here. Enjoy!

Tracklisting:
1. Mark Isham – Raffles In Rio
2. Yas-Kaz – The Gate of Breathing (Excerpt)
3. A.r.t. Wilson – Rebecca’s Theme (Water)
4. Double – Naningo (Lexx Edit)
5. Elicoide – Mitochondria (Excerpt)
6. Yoichiro Yoshikawa – Nebraska
7. Salma Agha & Bappi Lahiri – Come Closer (Excerpt)
8. Len Leise – Forlorn Fields
9. Lino Capra Vaccina – Voce In XY
10. Eric Vann (Joel Vandroogenbroeck) – Algues Marines
11. Denny Lather – Timeless
12. Aragon – 家路
13. Dip In The Pool – Silence
14. Ryuichi Sakamoto – Put Your Hands Up
15. Grace Jones – The Crossing (Ooh The Action…) (Edit)

Elicoide – Elicoide, 1987

The first of two releases from the mysterious Franco Nonni (keyboards) and Paolo Grandi (strings). They released a second album in 1990 with a larger ensemble (does anyone have this lying around?), and then Nonni went on to become a psychiatrist (cool reason to break up a band). This seems to get tossed around in progressive rock and jazz circles, though to me it’s neither. I’d call it squarely fourth world (cringe term), with a dip into murky synth drone (“Interludio con Dedica,” “Linfoceti”) and some moments of brassy baroque-isms (title track). For me, the album peaks at its bookends: “Mitochondria” and “Mitosi” are sublime, drawn-out meditations that build and bubble, leaning heavily on what sounds like a synthetic gamelan ensemble and smoothed out around the edges with strings. Ideal for fans of Jon Hassell, Yas-Kaz, and Hosono’s more ambient works. If it’s for you, it’s definitely for you.