Chihei Hatakeyama: Bare Strata
Whereabouts Records

Listeners familiar with the previous output of Chihei Hatakeyama, a sound artist who lives on the outskirts of Tokyo, will have a pretty good idea of what to expect from his Whereabouts Records outing Bare Strata. In a short time, Hatakeyama has built up an impressive discography, with previous albums having been issued on kranky (Minima Moralia, 2006), Hibernate (The River, 2009), and Home Normal (A Long Journey, 2010), among others. His latest is as immersive as those, perhaps even more so given the fact that Bare Strata includes two pieces only, the half-hour title piece and the twenty-minute “Returning.” Though no instrumental details are provided, one presumes that Hatakeyama has used a variety of instruments, such as electric guitars, vibraphone, and piano, to generate the soundscapes. And the fact that no such details are clarified is itself telling in suggesting that the listener's focus should exclusively center on the sound mass, not the ingredients involved in producing it.

The two settings are not only different in tone but came into being in different ways, too: “Bare Strata” was recorded live in Sydney on August 27, 2011, while “Returning” was produced in Hatakeyama's Nakano studio on July 1, 2012. With the luxury of a half-hour running time at its disposal, “Bare Strata” can afford to take its time, and it does so, with various transformations and transitions occurring subtly and at a measured pace. Inspired by the natural surroundings of Australia's Cairns Beach that Hatakeyama visited whilst on tour, “Bare Strata” drones gently, its whistling, reverb-drenched tones presenting themselves at the level of a soft murmur and cultivating a mood of peaceful, undisturbed calm. It's a far from static work, however, as noticeable surges in intensity and volume occur, the most forceful perhaps occurring twenty-one minutes into a setting that ends up registering, strangely enough, as uncommonly sultry and humid. As peaceful, if not even more so, is “Returning,” whose forceful exhalation floods the aural space with a thick, hiss-coated mass of organ tones that's as towering as a tidal wave. Listen closely and you'll glimpse melodies buried beneath the surface, a move that in turn makes listening to Hatakeyama's sweeping ambient-drone epics a more than one-dimensional experience.

April 2013