Nao: Hakoniwa (The Miniature Garden)

Hakoniwa (The Miniature Garden) gives us thirteen bright and creaky mini-collages of found sounds and keyboard meander from Nao. Originally from Japan but now London-based, the so-called aural dada-ist assembles her pieces using a wealth of real-world noises and toy instruments. Light-hearted in spirit, Nao's recording exudes a child-like quality in the sheer delight of its discovery and exploration, and its vignettes often suggest real-time recordings made in a home where a beginning piano player is doing her daily practice routine amidst the clatter and clutter of everday life—a cat meowing, children playing, clocks ticking, phones ringing, people laughing, a caged bird chirping, and so on.

Though singing, music box, and acoustic guitar (on “Ainoie”) sounds appear on the recording, the primary instrument is piano, around whose tinklings all other sounds constellate. Her cooing, child-like voice surfaces during the jaunty “Apple Pie,” ruminative “Kareha,” and ethereal waltz “Ainoie” to add contrast to the otherwise piano-dominated songs. And though Nao's level of technical command on the piano might be open to question—the waltz in “Licoris” breaks down repeatedly, with Nao gamely tackling it again and again—, the recording nevertheless has its charms. On “Komichi” and “Asobi,” the insistent rhythm of vinyl crackle accompanies what sounds like the electronically enhanced and intertwined sparkle of piano and music box. That crackle carries on even more forcefully into “Ballet,” where kitchen noises, footsteps, and a ringing phone form a dense backdrop to Nao's piano musings.

The pieces, all of them composed, performed, recorded, and mixed by Nao and most in the two- to three-minute range, are all of a piece, variations on a theme, as it were. The title's well-chosen, as the recording does very much come across as a miniature garden of earthly delights brought into being by Nao, and the haphazard, collage-styled cover design likewise complements her music's character.

December 2011