Chihei Hatakeyama: Minima Moralia

Like the music of any genre, drones can be heard as intimate, extremely personalized creations or as impersonal entities as free of human intervention as one might imagine. Minima Moralia falls squarely into the first camp, with every moment disclosing the sensitive fingerprint of its creator, Chihei Hatakeyama. On his album debut, the Tokyo-based artist transforms acoustic sounds (guitars, vibraphone, and piano, plus Masahiro Kobayshi's violin on two pieces) via live laptop processing into slowly drifting ambient and environmental textures; in a number of pieces, gently billowing tones constellate around a wavering center of organ-like tones.

“Starlight Reflecting on the Surface of the River” suggests a peaceful pond whose moonlit tranquility can't hide the busy chatter of teeming insect life. Equally picturesque, iridescent clusters of harp-like guitar picking and gentle piano tinkles in “Swaying Curtain in the Window” literally evoke the slow movement of a curtain swaying in a gentle breeze. The 52-minute album includes meditative song settings in addition to drones. Rising behind the sparkling pluck of an acoustic guitar, gentle melodies haunt “Towards a Tranquil Marsh” while “Inside of the Pocket” colours the seeming crackle of fire embers with a horn sound suggestive of the Far East. The album's generally placid mood assumes a more industrial ambiance in “Beside a Well,” as if one were hearing the noises recorded there magnified a hundredfold. Ultimately, however, as naturalistic as Hatakeyama's song titles are, the sonic material alone conjures outdoor vistas just as vividly without them.

February 2006