Review of Letter Of Sounds [12k1038]

Cracked (AT)

In the last decade “ambient” has lost its intended meaning of inventor Brian Eno, which I want to bring back into memory again at this moment. Cue parts of the liner notes from his 1978 masterpiece Ambient #1: Music for Airports: “Ambient music is intended to induce calm and a space to think. Ambient music must be able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting.” So, originally the term wasn’t intended to mean slow, longwinding textures of music that don’t move or ever change (though it didn’t exclude that) and it definitely didn’t mean music that is so inobtrusive that it diffuses into the background like tapestry or furniture. The whole loads of records constipating the racks of your local music store that are called “modern living” or “cafĂ© sounds” are bland and bleak misunderstandings filled with meaningless beats and none better than small doses of narcoticas sold as sleeping pills. Forget all about that.

Keichi Sugimoto has taken up again and again the original definition of ambient music and expanded and inhaled the basic principle. On Letter Of Sounds – oh, what a telling title – he sparks a flame that hopefully carries across the wide deserts of music formed by boring electronic music. Even in his previous work, in the electro-acoustic quartet Minamo or as Filfla, he has bypassed the non-ety of a lot of electronic music. He has also chosen or been chosen by labels that stand like bonfires of interesting ambient in the wide desert mentioned before, like 12k (see also Sawako), Apestaartje (see also Anderegg) or Plop (see also Kazumasa Hashimoto, Gel: or Fenton). If these labels carry the image of being of utmost boringness by some music listeners and critics, then they have already fullfilled one half of Eno’s original statement, ie. to be ignorable. That these listeners and critics are only able to see or hear that one half tells a lot more about them than about the labels or artists on them. These music journalists put on CDs and expect to be gripped by the music (or shocked, awed, puzzled, fluffed, rocked, whatever) and this doesn’t happen. Because it reduces music to something used for effect like a tool.

Ambient music on the other hand at first consists of something outside the listener, it is just there. It seeps into the background and sudddenly (or not) enters the listeners mind. It has given him freedom to explore his thoughts, to think and dream or to concentrate on the music. This subconscious effect on the mindest of the listener is the true aim of ambient music and what differentiates good ambient from music that is only called ambient but actually is not.

Which also means that the music, as unobtrusive and easy to listen to it might be, must also be of high quality. Something Sugimoto has become known for in the last decade. On Letter Of Sound” he builds soft tracks that glisten on the outside and feel like swimming in a calm ocean at sunset on the inside. Percussions are on this side of glitches, bass sounds pulse warmly without origin, keyboards and sounds follow their own gentle harmonies. Even disturbing sounds like rings or digital skips are incorporated into shining structures of endless possibilites. All tracks are about open rooms with a lot of echoes and light effects. They don’t fascinate with size but with detail and their grandness opens up only by surprise. Like the metro station Les Halles in Paris, which seems so small at first but then, after you enter through a tiny two wing door you suddenly find yourself in a mall that goes over four stories and features everything from fnac to designer clothers.

That tiny door is the listeners attention. It is but a possibility. Staying outside or going in is just the same. But whatever you do loitering about on the outside is another possibility fabricated by what is behind the door. Summing up I am almost sure that Letter Of Sounds refers to a letter as in the alphabet and the beginning of a plan to build a collection of intricate constructions of sound that all follow their own implemented rule and aim. Now, don’t start talking about architecture and music, because good architecture is just another kind of ambient (music).

P.S.: I didn’t even mention at the necessary length the highlight of this CD, the collaboration with vocalist Naoko Sasaki aka Piana, but I’ll leave that as an incentive for you to walk through the door.

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