Asuna: Valya Letters
White Paddy Mountain

Chihei Hatakeyama & Hakobune: It is, it isn’t
White Paddy Mountain

Chihei Hatakeyama, whose releases have been covered a number of times in textura's pages, is presumably the prime mover behind the Japan-based White Paddy Mountain label on which both of these Hatakeyama-mastered releases appear. Described as “a record of a real session,” the first pairs Hatakeyama with Hakobune (Takahiro Yorifuji) on a seventy-minute set featuring three settings recorded on January 3rd, 2014 at Hatakeyama's studio. Interestingly, the material is presented in an almost wholly unedited form, and the pieces appear in the order in which they were recorded. With Hakobune on electric guitar and Hatakeyama playing Juno 2 and electric guitar, the duo generates three misty, loop-based ambient-drone reveries that drift placidly, encouraging a contemplative response in the listener as they do so. The music typically presents itself as a dense, gently pulsating flow of multi-layered guitar textures whose crystalline tones reverberate alongside billowing masses of haze.

On paper, three long-form tracks of essentially similar character might seem like too much of a good thing, but in practice the recording feels less redundant and repetitious than one might expect—attributable perhaps, at least in part, to the hypnotic effect the music exerts on the listener. It's hardly static either, as the slow, climactic build-up that transpires during the final minutes of the central track, “Vibrant Color,” illustrates. More than the other two, the closing piece,“Slightly Near,” allows the natural voice of the electric guitar to shine through clearly and consequently enables the listener to better monitor the limpid interplay between the two musicians. The duo's music blooms with such unhurried grace and beauty, one comes away from the recording sincerely struck by the fact that it all came into being in real-time during a single session.

In marked contrast to It is, it isn't, Asuna's Valya Letters features pieces Naoyuki Arashi composed and recorded between 2003 and 2013. Currently residing in The Hokuriku Region, the Japanese artist began making music in 1999 using an old reed organ and electronics and made his formal debut on Lucky Kitchen in 2003. For the White Paddy Mountain release, Arashi drew inspiration from a scene in an old Russian movie of a girl sending letters, though precisely how that matches up with the recording's abstract instrumentals is a puzzle left to the listener to solve, though suggestive titles such as “Stars Flows in the Lakeside When Wind Ceased” and “Sparks Falling on the Back of Dark Blue Ship” might offer some help in that regard.

Valya Letters is also markedly different in sound design than It is, it isn't, with Asuna weaving multiple elements into five settings, two of them short and three each longer than eleven minutes. The presence of distinct track titles and running times is a bit misleading in this case, however, as the recording unfurls as an uninterrupted, forty-three-minute whole. Regardless, choral voices, field recordings, guitars, and electronics maintain a restless ebb and flow in Arashi's ever-flickering collages. Heavily phase-treated sounds abound within these ambient-drone shape-shifters, whose constant swirl gives them the character of kaleidoscopes whose patterns never settle for longer than an instant. At the very least, Valya Letters makes for an interesting companion recording to the one by Hatakeyama and Hakobune, given the numerous differences between them.

July 2014