Review Summary: That world is but a simulated blur/step away from konoyo/into the void/ Not alone you never were
Imagine that you’re looking at a moonlit pond that you’ve just thrown a heavy stone into. Imagine you’ve somehow forgotten that you’re looking at a pond, that the waves and ripples blurring and disfiguring the image of the moon in the water have become the only reality of that image that you perceive, an image rendered chaotic, and without form. You look at the pond and see beauty there, in a distorted moon broken into a thousand pieces, pieces which swarm and coalesce in patterns that can only seem turbulent and random, but which obey laws you don’t fully understand. Then, you look up and see the moon in the sky, clear, whole and serene. There is an unfathomable gulf between the moon in the sky and the moon in the water, and you understand that although both are the real moon, it’s impossible that either truly exists. That gulf, that undefinable emptiness is the true reality, without which there can be neither moon nor reflection.
In interviews, Tim Hecker has stated that in approaching the ideas of “Konoyo”, (this world or the physical world), and “Anoyo”, (that world or the spirit world), he decided to work with the negative space in between those two realities, a concept which vaguely correlates to the Japanese term “ma”, for which there is no direct translation. The concept of space, of emptiness, on a record as aurally dense as Konoyo seemed counterintuitive on the surface, and on that album’s own merits it would have been hard to justify. It’s the reflective, crystalline Anoyo, in conjunction with its turbulent companion album that brings that concept of the space between, the separation that nonetheless implies both interconnection and nonbeing, to fruition.
Constructed of the same elements, and adhering to the same general ethos, Anoyo offers resolution to its counterpart by acting as its undistorted reflection. Where Konoyo was a challenging, sometimes austere, sometimes cacophonous expression of the impermanence and motion of this world, as told through the mutation and distortion of gagaku, Anoyo is more serene, a meditative reflection on the next world that allows its musical roots to largely go undistorted. As such, Anoyo isn’t as overwhelming or challenging as its companion piece, its beauty revealing itself more readily, more naturalistically, sweeps of koto blooming out of electronic haze and keening bamboo flutes piping mournfully. Each piece drifts and flows into the next one, roaring noise and jagged synths playing more of a subtle companion role to the traditional instruments, rather than subsuming and recontextualizing them as on Konoyo. The effect is an overall sense of tranquility, a pensive, sedate atmosphere that can make the album seem overly placid at times, especially for Hecker, but which works best as a counterpoint to the expressive maelstrom that is Konoyo.
In Japanese, the terms Anoyo and Konoyo are only ever used in reference to the other, expressing the inseparable relation of “this world” to “that”. In a sense, this indicates that the two albums are a complete work, although Tim reinforces the concept of “ma” by releasing them separately. It’s a lofty and difficult concept to try to delineate through music alone, and it would be too easy to dismiss it as the faux-deep pretentious posturing that ambient artists all too often fall into if there wasn’t so much sheer effort and thought put into its execution. Hecker remains the premier voice in ambient music today, and although on its own Anoyo may not be his finest, when paired with its reflection, its counterpart, it’s the full realization of what is perhaps Hecker’s most ambitious vision.