Haruomi Hosono – 源氏物語 (The Tale of Genji), 1987

Another favorite from the Hosono canon. This was the score for the first animated adaptation of The Tale of Genji, a sprawling piece of 11th century literature written by noblewoman Shikibu Murasaki, considered by many to be the first modern novel in recorded history. (Isao Tomita later write his own symphonic adaptation of the story.) The anime was directed by Gisaburō Sugii, and while it only covers a small part of the epic storyline, the score is highly ambitious.

Scan courtesy of Kaleidophonics

Unlike much of Hosono’s catalogue, here synthesizer mostly acts as an atmospheric texture and instead puts traditional Japanese instruments, particularly koto, flute, and drums, front and center. What’s really astounding about this soundtrack is the layering of instruments, piling them up until they become unfamiliar: droves of fingerpicked strings sound like a hive of insects, waves of gentle hand percussion feel like the swells of inhales and exhales, processed flute suggests the shrieking wind. Despite a pervasive mysteriousness, and even ominousness, this is unmistakably gorgeous music, and structured in such a way that it will appeal to fans of more conventional synthetic ambient music–but retains a feverish futurist-classical elegance all its own.

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Carlos Maria Trindade / Nuno Canavarro – Mr. Wollogallu, 1991

Not really sure how to write about this one. Mr. Wollogallu is pretty slippery and there’s very little information available about it online. It’s split into two sections, with side A made up of songs written by Carlos Maria Trindade and side B of songs written by Nuno Canavarro, both Portuguese musicians, and both of whom contribute instrumentals through both sides. Songs range from the churning, Sakamoto-esque opener “The Truth” (which includes a sample from Network) to fourth-world, densely percussive “Blu Terra” with silvery sparse mood pieces in between, punctuated by spoken word samples. Somebody should make a movie just to have this as the score. Singular, transportive–this feels magical, in the truest sense of the word. Definitely an on-repeat record.

Dorothy Ashby – The Rubáiyát of Dorothy Ashby, 1970

Singular! Alongside the likes of Alice Coltrane, Dorothy Ashby was one of the first to bring the harp to the jazz scene. Most of her work is generous, harp-centric, free-flowing soul jazz, sans vocals (totally enamored of her take on “The Windmills of Your Mind“); the kind of music to make any social gathering feel like a movie, and any poolside feel like the swankiest lounge. 

Rubáiyát was a radical departure from all of that, and not just because she sings throughout (a shame she didn’t sing on more records; her vocal delivery is terrifically elegant and ghostly). Ashby composed Rubáiyát around the poetry of Omar Khayyám, a twelfth century Persian philosopher, and the resulting sound is a sweeping, psychedelic global mash-up, only occasionally veering into kitschy territory. Koto, mbira, flute, timpani, vibraphone, a few searing streaks of guitar, and of course, heavy harp throughout. Swirling, heady, and expansive. Good speakers a must. Also a personal favorite album cover.