Review Summary: "I don't regard my life as insufficient. Inside the brushwood gate there is a moon; there are flowers." - Ryokan Taigu
“Children imitating cormorants
are even more wonderful
A poem by one of the Great Four haiku masters, Kobayashi Issa (1763-1828).
A poem of absolute delight, a poem of joy so innate it works across all culture.
The thing is, this isn't the 18th century. From where I'm writing from, Atlanta, this isn't Japan. This isn't even the 1980's, the decade which the music of “Kankyo Ongaku” was made. Yet, being one of the most surprisingly necessary releases of 2019, “Kankyo Ongaku” comes to us from a former era of Japan - comes to show us how contemporary the ageless meditative spirit is. Not unlike Issa’s poem.
Deeper yet into Issa’s haiku, it’s also not unlike us to love the human imitation of the absolute sublime; The human artistry which tries its best to hit the mark of nature without deviation, but inevitably ends up being a mere humble impression of that beyond us.
Imitation of the sublime is where our album, “Kankyo Ongaku,” rests. Looking back through the lens of 2019, the tech and electronics used on this album could be considered… cute. A different era of music, listening to these meditative odes brings to me a smile like that of watching a young child imitate a bird; In actuality, of course, the performance is nowhere near the mark. But the fact that human expression is capable of recognizing the immaculate, and capable of having nothing else but the desire to pay homage to it, is honestly hilarious - honestly wonderful!
We have tracks like “Praying For Mother / Earth,” laden with trickling streams and bird-chirps. “Variation III,” a New Age track backed by rhythmic waves and traditional Japanese percussion: Japanese percussion used in such a way us modern westerners might liken it to Tim Hecker’s Anoyo released earlier this year. You will find this traditional percussion used heavily throughout the album, as well as some simply wonderful sleepy-time high-chime keyboarding. Key-present tracks like “Blink,” “Umi No Sunatsubu,” and opener “Still Space” recall an innocent nostalgia from three or four decades prior; it’s almost the feel of backing music to an older, wholesome, top-down JRPG.
When approaching this album, one may look at the label “New Age” and, like me, wince with experienced prejudice against the generic backing music of countless meditation guides. If there’s anything I can guarantee to you about this album, it’s that it is such a higher cut above most New Age, and most general ambient-heads, like myself, will find a lot of material here that is both worthwhile and quite memorable.
“Since I left the household,
throwing myself into the world as it is,
I have erased all dates.
Yesterday I lived on a green mountain;
today I play in town.
More than one hundred pieces patch my robe.
A single bowl knows no years.
Leaning on my walking stick, I sing into the
laying out a straw mat, I sleep under the moon.
Who says I don’t count?
This body of mine is just this.”
A poem by famous vagabond and Soto Zen Master, Ryokan Taigu (1758-1831).
Such as this poem, “Kankyo Ongaku” is a meditative expression of the natural spirit. Childlike in wonder (as were Ryokan and Issa), the album captures that spirit which knows no years. A various-artists collage of the era and region, it is composed of many patched, multidimensional pieces. After the initial novelty of this album’s existence, continual listening will unfold an erasure of all dates (The '80's? Huh?). The “Kankyo Ongaku” experience is of joy, introspection, contemplation, and the bare delights of human nature. Just lie back, and enjoy. I’m not promising anything mind-blowing, but I am promising something genuine.