Toshifumi Hinata – Sarah’s Crime, 1985

Guest post by Ian Hinton-Smith

Difficult to put into words. How to describe Sarah’s Crime? Smooth, evocative, dreamy, and deeply romantic. Perfect solo listening. Much like Soichiro Suzuki of World Standard on later albums like Canon, I’d dub Toshifumi Hinata a master of thoughtful, gentle composition.

While there’s very little information available about his background, it’s known that Hinata spent time in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Massachusetts and Surrey, South of England. Lazy English Sundays have certainly been captured on “Premonition.” You can almost hear his cream tea and plate of buttered scones rattling on the piano as he plays, looking out of a window onto the lawn. “Pavement,” with its pastoral field recordings, rain, thunder, and church bells, might also tell of his time in Surrey. Like those two tracks, so the rest of Sarah’s Crime has a cinematic quality that evokes a feeling, a place, even a storyline.

“Boardwalk” is a jazzy little moocher: sandy toes, seagulls in the South of France, and a sweet melodica/accordian duet. More than a hint of Pink Floyd’s “St. Tropez” but with a winking ballroom grandeur. The remarkable opening title track instantly conjures up a yacht slipping towards the horizon as the credits roll. Swells of violin filling the sails, synth pads rolling in and out like ocean waves, with perfectly prim drum machine drama. Like much of the record, it’s unabashedly romantic, but stops just short of saccharine. Tasteful as ever.

“Memories” feels like a take on the Korgis’ “Everybody’s Gotta Learn Sometime.” Plaintive piano chords, reverb-drenched harmonica, and a touch of Angelo Badalementi mystery transport you to a swaying cornfield. The standout track, however, which is alone worth the price of admission, is “Chaconne.” Vaporous whisps of slow curving chords pinned down by a Philip Glass/John Carpenter style repetitive chiming bell loop. Just as you’re drifting away on it (I often have this on my sleep playlists), it spikes up a notch, almost into drama, but the heartrate remains relaxed and sleep is only moments away. I adore this track. Four years of hearing it nearly every night and I never tire of it.

Something worth mentioning about this album, and Hinata’s style generally, is that his use of melody and phrasing over sublime chord patterns is like having someone reading aloud to you. Chord changes set up a scene while melodies conjure up slow but meaningful narratives. If An Artist Of The Floating World is ever made into a movie, the soundtrack is ready to go.

Finally, I’ll leave this review, as Hinata does, on closing track “Pentimento” with a question mark: does a failed romance amount to nothing? Or does the second half, where happy memories appear to come drifting back in passionate swells mean that it was worth it even if it’s over? Sit by the window, listen, and try to figure it out. I’m still trying. It’s alright not knowing sometimes.


Steve Tibbetts – Big Map Idea, 1989

An ECM favorite. Moody, pensive fourth world guitar (dobro?) ramblings, with tabla, kalimba, cello, pianolin, cello, and a slew of percussives by Tibbetts’s long-time collaborator Marc Anderson. Steel drums have never sounded so chilly! In spite of Tibbetts’s propensity for eastern instruments and modalities (and even for direct sampling, as in the field recordings of Nepalese chanting in the last three tracks), this record has always felt inescapably Appalachian to me. (Spoiler alert: the opener is a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Black Mountain Side.”)

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.

Gavin Bryars – The Sinking of the Titanic, 1990

A piece with a long, dense backstory, and many different iterations. As such, The Sinking of the Titanic feels very much like a living work-in-progress, just as contingent on the live performance as on composition, which is part of what makes it so special. Bryars explains the piece’s inspiration here and details its growth and performances here. The piece is a consideration of the sounds generated by the string sextet who played on the boat deck of the Titanic as it sank, and what the sounds would do if the music had continuously played into the water:

Bride did not hear the band stop playing and it would appear that the musicians continued to play even as the water enveloped them. My initial speculations centred, therefore, on what happens to music as it is played in water. On a purely physical level, of course, it simply stops since the strings would fail to produce much of a sound (it was a string sextet that played at the end, since the two pianists with the band had no instruments available on the Boat Deck). On a poetic level, however, the music, once generated in water, would continue to reverberate for long periods of time in the more sound-efficient medium of water and the music would descend with the ship to the ocean bed and remain there, repeating over and over until the ship returns to the surface and the sounds re-emerge. The rediscovery of the ship by Taurus International at 1.04 on September 1st 1985 renders this a possibility. This hymn tune forms a base over which other material is superimposed. This includes fragments of interviews with survivors, sequences of Morse signals played on woodblocks, other arrangements of the hymn, other possible tunes for the hymn on other instruments, references to the different bagpipe players on the ship (one Irish, one Scottish), miscellaneous sound effects relating to descriptions given by survivors of the sound of the iceberg’s impact, and so on.
Bryars began writing it in 1969 and recorded a 25 minute version of it in 1975 as a first release for Brian Eno’s Obscure Records (Eno himself produced the recording). After Robert Ballard discovered the Titanic’s wreck in 1985, Bryars dramatically reworked the piece to include additional sonic elements detailed above, as well as two children’s choral ensembles. The work was performed at the Printemps du Bourges festival in Belgium in 1990 in a Napoleonic-era water tower, with the musicians performing in the basement of the tower and the audience listening on the ground floor. The empty top floors of the tower acted as a giant reverberation chamber. For this recorded version of the live performance, Bryars added the sound of other ambient spaces, including that of the swimming bath in Brussels where the piece was performed “live” on a raft in 1990.

Hiroshi Yoshimura – Soundscape 1: Surround, 1986

Very, very special record. Hiroshi Yoshimura was a minimal ambient composer who, in addition to a slew of excellent recordings, also made soundtracks for Tokyo museums, galleries, malls, train stations, and (as is the case here) prefabricated houses. We’ll definitely be hearing more from him later, but this feels like the right place to start during such gnarly heat. Surround sounds very much like the cover looks, not just because of the field recordings of bodies of water but because of the way the music moves: in ripples, ebbs, and flows. This is, for lack of a better word, gorgeous. For fans of Yas-Kaz and Inoyama Land.

Jorge Reyes & Antonio Zepeda – A La Izquierda Del Colibrí, 1986

A La Izquierda Del Colibrí (“to the left of the hummingbird,” named after Huitzilopochtli, an Aztec deity whose name translates roughly to “hummingbird’s left”) is a collaboration between Mexican prog and ambient cornerstone Jorge Reyes (who has collaborated extensively with Steve Roach) and Antonio Zepada, a dancer, free jazzer, and ambient musician. Both had a strong interest in pre-Hispanic instruments, and they’re used extensively here (ocarina, teponaztli, and omichicahuaztli, among others) alongside a slew of synthesizers. A La Izquierda is mostly instrumental and heavily percussive, dense with tribal drums, purply synth pads, and rainstick textures. It also goes real hard on the wind instruments and field recordings of birds, so if you’re not excited about pan flutes, you should probably skip this one. Otherwise, take it for a drive and enjoy! Note: the last track doesn’t seem to be listed on any of the pressings that I can find, and I can’t find any information about it, but it’s really good so I’m including it anyway.

Ernest Hood – Neighborhoods, 1975

A personal favorite. A rare example of a record acting explicitly as a vessel for nostalgia without being maudlin. From Kill Ugly Radio:

Ernie was a Portland area Jazz legend, along with his brother, saxophonist Bill Hood. Ernie played with many great jazzbo dudes in the 30’s and 40’s, before his career was cut short by polio. He ventured into community radio and also played improvisational Zither music. His son Tom (who gave me this LP) once played me a recording at my house at 3AM of Ernie jamming in his kitchen with Airto Moriera. It was amazing! Ernie went on to help co-found KBOO radio, where his son is now the station engineer (and a damn fine DJ).

Comprised of zithers, keyboards, and field recordings of suburbia, Neighborhoods is heavy and hazy with childhood summer delirium–humidity, mosquitoes, and the smell of asphalt–but somehow it’s just as much about naivety as it is about aging; equally interested in the act of looking back and the thing being looked back upon. As Ernest says in the very moving liner notes, this isn’t social music–it’s almost invasively intimate, making it ideal for reading or headphones listening in the park. Give it a few listens to let it get its hooks in you. I hope you connect with it–this is a special one.

Futuro Antico – Dai Primitivi All’Elettronica, 1980

Guest post by Dru Grossberg
Jetting out their debut album in 1980, this runs a neat sonic parallel to Jon Hassell’s notion of fourth world music, melding minimalism, ambient and South Asian classical tropes. Futuro Antico are an Italian group interspersed with Indian and African members, rather than another distant westerner’s constructed exotic fetishism. They live up to their name, which renders the sound timeless. Often, it’s tricky to decipher whether this is a product of childlike, spontaneous vulnerability, or calculated engineering. There’s a host of indigenous instrumentation present, as well as synths, vocals, and maybe even a didgeridoo. 
If cascading pianos, howls of swinging creatures in the distance, or labelmates of Franco Battiato peak your fancy, click away.

Clifford White – Spring Fantasy, 1987
Remember those kiosks at convenience stores that had all the nature sounds and pop new age sauna music graphic buttons? I used to stand there pressing them the entire time my mom was shopping. Spring Fantasy is kinda like the musical incarnation of that. This album comes replete with gallops, whooshes, cacaws, pops, bubbles, and faerie sounds. Thanks to Greg Davis and his legendary new age blog Crystal Vibrations for letting me in on this one. Tracks from this record keep getting pulled from Youtube, but you can preview the whole album here.