Chihei Hatakeyama: Winter Storm
A title such as Winter Storm connotes turbulence, even violence, but as listeners familiar with Chihei Hatakeyama's music are already aware, such words are hardly the first ones that come to mind when his name is mentioned. As it turns out, the Tokyo-based sound artist chose the title for the seventy-one-minute album not in an attempt to convey its sound character but instead because its title track was inspired by a heavy snowfall that hit Tokyo on February 8, 2014. Issued on Hatakeyama's own White Paddy Mountain imprint, the album also was recorded during the winter season, specifically between February and May of this year. Its content, however, is anything but chilly.
Winter Storm features four serene settings, with three clocking in at around the twenty-minute mark. What's perhaps most remarkable about the material is that Hatakeyama is able to so effortlessly hold the listener's attention despite the pieces stretching out as long as they do. And that he sources the tracks' sounds using nothing more than a Fender Stratocaster and a Roland Alpha Juno 2 also speaks volumes about his soundsculpting abilities.
Composed for the closing party of an ambient record store in Japan, “Don't Ask What” unfolds with the kind of quiet grace for which Hatakeyama's music has become known. The material moves as if in slow motion during its twenty-three-minute run, with Hatakeyama patiently building overlapping layers of guitar tones and synthesizer washes into a dense, shimmering whole. While it's sometimes possible to hear the electric guitar and analog synthesizer as distinct sound elements, often the instruments' sounds blend to form a blurry, indissoluble mass. A case in point is “Window to the Past,” which drifts like a nebulous cloud for a comparatively modest eight minutes, and “Lydia,” whose fragile threads are so delicately connected they feel as if they could separate at any moment.
Don't be fooled by the album title and wintry imagery on the package: Hatakeyama's ethereal ambient-drone material is suffused with the warmth and splendour of a peaceful summer evening, and as a portrait of the artist, Winter Storm is most flattering.