February 4, 2008

Susumu Yokota

Beautiful and brilliantly-executed ambient electronic music. It has just enough variety and subtle shifts of texture and timing to make this interesting to listen to, not just to send you to sleep like a lot of other ambient. The soft harp-like synths bubble away gently in the background, while splashes of sounds are woven subtly around with great timing, without becoming over-produced. It feels pedantic to describe the individual tracks of such a smoothly-flowing work, but I'll mention a few. "Hagoromo" shows off Yokota's skill for subtly off-beat loops. "Hisen" has an electric piano noise that could have come from Radiohead's "OK Computer". The slinky vocal samples of "Kodomotachi" and the jazz-tinged "Naminote" give the album extra dabs of colour, before it floats away with the ethereal "Kirakiraboshi".

Skintone Collection

For over 20 years Susumu Yokota has been creating a diverse body of work which, since 1998, he has released on his own Skintone label. While this work is lazily categorised as ‘ambient’, that name really is a disservice. Yokota’s music is rarely happy to find space in the background and tracks have much more movement of ideas within them than ambient music strictly uses.
Being a compilation is possibly the only fault of this disc as a listening experience, and it is a minor fault at that. The diverse nature of Yokota’s music means that the tracks jump about stylistically a little. ‘Card Nation’ from 2001’s Grinning Cat is ominous atmospherics under piano, violin and vocal snatches punctuated by heavily reverberated clangs and hisses. ‘Illusion River’ from 2001’s Will is pretty Rhodes glissandos and opera swoons under a raw, harshly cut drum loop, the tension between the two aesthetics continually shifting the focus of the track and providing considerable forward momentum. Traditional Japanese instrumentation finds its place in tracks such as ‘Live Echo’ (from 2002’s The Boy And The Tree) and ‘Sentiero’ (from 2005’s Distant Sounds Of Summer collaboration with Rothko). These are seamlessly blended with classical western instrumentation and contemporary electronics to great effect throughout. Whether creating a contemplative mood in ‘Kawano Hotorino Kinoshitade 1998′ (from 1998’s Image 1983-1998) or splicing samples into abstract shards to be recomposed in ‘A Heart-warming And Beautiful Flower Will Eventually Wither And Become Dirt’ (from 2007’s Love Or Die), Yokota avoids cliches and keeps every detail serving the whole exquisitely.
Every piece on this collection is musically noteworthy in some way. Compiler Ben Eshmade, of the program ‘Chiller Cabinet’ on Britain’s Classic FM has done a good job of creating a reasonable flow across the tracks. As mentioned, though, it is hard to listen to the entire disc and not notice the joins between disparate works. However, the strength of the material means that this leads to a desire to hear the original works in their entirety, where the flow and continuity that is core to this music can be heard and fully appreciated. As a compilation which opens up Yokota’s work to new audiences, sending them in search of his back catalogue, this is a great success.

Blog archive
Susumu Yokota & Rothko- Distant sounds of summer

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