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In Japan, the atmosphere sets the mood

Anyone who has ever been to Japan has probably noticed the particular attention paid to sound in all its forms in many public and private spaces in big cities. The sonals, embodied in timbres studied, stand out from the hubbub of the station halls without ever having to turn into loud sirens; background music, though woven from the same insubstantial piano and bossa-nova tablecloths as anywhere else in the world, dresses bars and lifts gently, without ever imposing itself; even outdoors, the sound design a museum or commercial gallery occasionally evokes an electronic avant-garde that is surprised to see so perfectly integrated into the environment, without disrupting or disturbing any passer-by. Strolling along the inner ramp of the Tokyo Spiral, art center built in 1985 in the upscale neighborhood of Aoyama by underwear firm Wacoal "To merge the worlds of culture and enterprise", we can for example enjoy a remarkable collection of synthetic and aerial instruments signed Yoshio Ojima, titled in approximate French in the text A collection of links. The latter discretely sound the hybrid spaces designed by the star architect Fumihiko Maki and bring us back to a bygone era when utopia in a megalopolitan environment still seemed a reality.

Haiku. Besides the inclusion, for the first time outside of Japan, of a piece of Ojima music, one of the virtues of Kankyo Ongaku, new compilation of the Californian label Light in the Attic (Lita) in his series devoted to Japanese popular music from the 60s to the 90s (after E Fri Tree Can Shed Tears, remarkable anthology of the dawn of folk rock on the edge of seventies) is to enlighten us on this cultural and urbanistic particularism with a history lesson: the transformation of Japan into an eldorado of acoustic art of living and ambient music is a civilizational and economic fact that will interest far beyond from the middle of the music lovers a bit perverted passionate about utilitarian music.

In the West, it is customary to trace the business of decorative music to five pieces of "Furniture music" composed by Erik Satie between 1917 and 1923, the concepts of John Cage or the first experiences of using BGM (background music, background music) in factories in Chicago as early as the end of the XIXe century, inseparable from the rise of Taylorism and the alienation of the American worker. In the introductory text to the anthology he compiled at Lita's invitation, the American musician Spencer Doran goes back to a Bashô haiku ("The bell of the temple is silent./ In the evening, the scent of the flowers / prolongs the clink") and Satie boom initiated in the 1970s by avant-garde composer and critic Kuniharu Akiyama with a series of two-year recitals sold out. But if Satie's music has become one of the landmarks of Japanese pop music at the time, it is above all the philosophy of discreet and prophylactic music – ideal for helping the soul to heal from the annoyances of life. in the capitalist supernova – which flourished in a Japanese society more prosperous than ever before in its history but on the verge of perpetual nerve crisis.

Hybrid. Kankyo Ongaku, whose title literally means "Environmental music", brings together 23 pieces or extracts of pieces that present themselves both as typical Japanese avatars – and immediately recognizable as such by their sophistication – of the ambient of Satie and Brian Eno, and unique hybrids at the edge of the search for good be, acoustic avant-garde and corporate sponsorship. Even before recognizing this or that name of a pioneer of local pop (Haruomi Hosono, to the honor of several reissues at Lita this summer) or progressive rock (Akira Ito, Far East Family Band), we note that 'some of the works compiled are more or less direct orders from companies such as Sanyo, Seiko, Toyota or Muji, and intended to dress the spaces of a building or be offered to the delivery of an air module conditioning.

The musician presented as the most central and influential of the selection, Satoshi Ashikawa, was both a researcher passionate about the idea of ​​music that allows the individual "To establish a relationship to one's environment more pure and similar to that of pre-industrial times" and a lucky entrepreneur whose avant-garde boutique, Art Vivant, was funded by the Seibu chain of department stores. Others, such as the pioneer Hiroshi Yoshimura – whose first sound installations date back to 1973 – or Takashi Kokubo, have become renowned ambiancers and acousticians, sounding as much in shopping centers as underpasses, office buildings or model homes. It's all the double paradox of the ambient, voluntarily discrete music that at the same time offers itself as an ideal commodity by its ability to blend in with the decor or be vampirized by advertising and that radically undermines the habits of listen too determined to popular music. The bewildering number of plays on YouTube – media that we know how much it accompanies the lives of employees of the tertiary sector – of several works compiled here would in any case tend to prove the windfall they present to our senses thirty or so years after their conception. As if, beyond their beauty – sometimes detached, sometimes intense – and the typical dust of the 80s that they carry, these pieces of music, whose first project was to be discreet, actually sheltered an ability to us to quiet momentarily the perpetual acme of a vociferous and ultraconnected modernity, that of our time – as if they had premeditated it.

Olivier Lamm

Kankyo Ongaku, Japanese Ambient, Environmental & New Age Music 1980-1990 (Light in the Attic Records).



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