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Almost hypnotic: the Japanese Ambient (feat. STRA)

A unique sound and a musical genius to be rediscovered through a mix that leads us on an acoustic journey by contrast in the Japan of the economic boom.

by Nanban

Many pages have been written around the birth, around late 70s and early 80s, of a phenomenon whose reverberation still resonates with subtle force - even more than it did at the time - in the rooms of many melomaniacs: we are talking about Japanese ambient music (so-called kankyō ongaku), the subject of an extraordinary rediscovery in recent times.

The attempts to identify its roots lead back to the most varied explanations: from the connections with what was happening in the West with Brian Eno, Harold Budd, Robert Rich and with the earlier compositions of Erik Satie, which in addition to being an inspiration would have also facilitated their diffusion, to the technological innovations - closely linked to the Japanese economic boom - that emerged in the music field, such as synthesizers, passing through environmental issues and artistic references, attributable to the Fluxus movement - popularized in Japan by Yoko Ono and Toshi Ichiyanagi - which moved in the direction of a symbiosis between art and life, considering the former an inextricable part of the everyday latter.

Inoyama Land

Indeed, the fact that many pieces of ambient music have been commissioned to become the background musical theme of department stores such as Muji or Spiral or to mitigate the acoustic chaos of Japanese cities with a softer and more pleasant sound (as in for emergency alert for earthquakes) could be a clue in this direction, but in the end it is difficult to draw a secure connection, even because anyone creating ambient music in those years considered working outside a real movement and their works have long been confined to the shelves of a few adventurous connaisseurs, who saved them from bargain bins.

Leaving aside the most famous exponents such as Ryuichi Sakamoto, Haruomi Hosono and Joe Hisaishi, who had previously gained a certain popularity with very heterogeneous projects, names such as Yoshio Ojima, Satoshi Ashikawa, Midori Takada, Masahiro Sugaya and Hiroshi Yoshimura have emerged from the darkness only recently, partly in a daring way, through the mysterious equations of the Youtube algorithm, triggered by the growing interest in the Japanese ambient genre, stimulated in turn by a handful of heroic explorers of the musical abysses (such as Chee Shimizu and Spencer Doran) and small indie record companies.

A whirlwind of events, chances, circumstances that allow us today to rediscover composers who, in a more globalized world as ours, could have already assumed in the past a much different role on the music scene.

And it is starting from one of the most important names, that of Hiroshi Yoshimura that, with a mix developed exclusively for Nanban by STRA, this small but exciting exploration begins, with an uninterrupted immersion in his most representative works - such as the debut album Music For Nine Post Cards or Green, Pier & Loft - but also in lesser known albums, such as Flora, Soft Wave for Automatic Music Box, Wet Land and others: a one-of-a-kind mix, which also offers, by contrast, a clear musical representation of Japan's hypercapitalist dimension during the economic boom.

Its author, like others of the ambient scene, has unfortunately not been able to enjoy the glories of this rebirth, having disappeared prematurely in 2003, but his works, conceived to voice shopping malls, underground passages, office buildings or model houses offer an all-round image of an obscure musical genius, whose sound post cards still illuminate us with extraordinary relevance.

(Michele Marchetti) is an architect, a visual designer, a remixer and a DJ.
Stra likes to experiment by crossing cultural and musical boundaries.