Chihei Hatakeyama: The River

Electronic listeners already may be familiar with Chihei Hatakeyama from the albums the Japanese artist issued on kranky and Room40, 2006's Minima Moralia and the recent Saunter respectively. As fine as those both are, they're trumped by this lovely collection for Hibernate Records, which elevates his meditative ambient music-making to a higher level of refinement.

Applying laptop processing to acoustic instruments such as guitars, vibraphone, and piano, Hatakeyama creates gauzy settings that ebb and flow as gently as a river and contain a wealth of textural detail suggestive of the natural splendours one sees along the river's banks. In the opening “Jade Green River,” upper-level electrical tones disturb the otherwise placid drone that murmurs quietly below, while in “Light Drizzle,” bright tones whistle through the forest, like blinding light breaking through the trees' branches. Particularly dense is “Lance and Arrow,” which buries a simple repeating theme under whirring noises, high-frequency tones, and the crackle of field recordings. In its final tracks, the album moves into a more serene realm, starting with the delicate “A Temple in the Past” and then the ten-minute “Phantasm,” which brings a symmetrical design to the album when the opening piece's upper-register tones once again appear.

Perhaps Hatakeyama had Heraclitus in mind when choosing the album's title, given the Pre-Socratic philosopher's oft-cited saying, “You cannot step into the same river twice, for fresh waters are ever flowing in upon you” (whose meaning shouldn't be taken literally but instead means that, of course, you can step into the same river twice but that the river you step into will be different from the one it was before). Certainly Hatakeyama mini-soundscapes (or, as he calls them, “memory-evoking soundscapes”) evoke the natural realm in ways that go beyond associative titles such as “Mud,” “Gray Hued Sky,” and “A House in the Fog.”

December 2009