Chihei Hatakeyama Minima Moralia

[Kranky; 2006]

Rating: 4/5

Styles: melodic drones, electroacoustic music with a pop slant
Others: Fennesz, Keith Fullerton Whitman, Eluvium

There's a fine line between free-form composition and sonic wallpaper, and Japanese sound artist Chihei Hatakeyama toes it perfectly on his first solo album. Minima Moralia pays enough attention to tension, dynamics, and space that its pleasures extend beyond its glistening array of textures, but it lays on the sparkle thick enough that it can be enjoyed on a surface level.

Hatakeyama put these seven drifting pieces together by reworking vibraphone and guitar snippets on his laptop, and while these instruments sound drastically different in their new context, Hatakeyama looks back on them fondly: you won't hear any chopped, fuzzed, or even remarkably reverbed sounds here, just pure, stretched-out tones. Each sound takes a deeper breath, and we're asked to breathe deeply too, as there are innumerable particles of gemstone melody to inhale. Hatakeyama is most interesting when he interpolates more recognizable notes into glacial microtonal curves and allows more "natural" sounds to function in strange ways. "Swaying Curtain in the Window" pulls this stunt off marvelously, transplanting a seemingly innocuous acoustic guitar into a Fenneszian sea and allowing it to be reimagined as a mesmeric, mystical device. These moments make for deft reversals of American experimentalists' Orientalist recontextualizations of traditional Asian instruments. Westerners have often employed tablas, sitars, khaens, and other Eastern instruments in avant-garde pieces that feature unconventionally played acoustic Western instruments or heavy electronic processing, playing into cultural notions of Asia as an inherently foreign stage for white dude fantasies by exploiting the fact that its folk music naturally sounds bizarre and "other" to our ears. While I doubt establishing a sociopolitical subtext was at the forefront of Hatakeyama's mind as he doctored up these sounds, questions of the social implications of recontextualized sound resonate particularly deeply with this work because of the way in which it makes stock elements of our pop and rock music behave in highly unlikely manners. Where many of his labelmates get lazy and hide in the shadows of cinematic ambiguity, Hatakeyama allows his music to move and converse, even at its most abstract, and in doing so, he lets some surprising subversions bubble up.

1. Bonfire on the Field
2. Swaying Curtain in the Window
3. Starlight Reflecting on the Surface of the River
4. Towards a Tranquil Marsh
5. Granular Haze
6. Inside of the Pocket
7. Beside a Well

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