Thursday, 12 November 2009

Chihei Hatakeyama - August (Under The Spire)

I have been a fan of Chihei Hatakeyama's work since I met him whilst we were both playing at the BEAF festival a few years ago. He gave me a copy of Minima Moralia (Kranky) and its one of those rare times when you listen to something that quietly forces you to just take it in.

I didn't hear much about Chihei after that, except from the Opitope release (Chihei and Tomoyoshi Date). Even when I first moved back to Japan, despite meeting up with Chihei again and seeing regular shows I wondered when his next release would be. Well 2009 answered that with aplomb with releases on Magic Book Records, Room40, Hibernate, Under The Spire, as well as his latest full album release 'A Long Journey' due out late December on Home Normal. Its good to see and hear Chihei releasing regularly right now as he is one of the most talented drone/minimal young producers around. Whilst all of the releases have been rather excellent, its been his UTS release August which has been on my stereo nearly daily for the past couple of months now.

Under The Spire release great unique works from both established and new artists, and whilst all of their releases have been superb, its August that has touched me the most. August is made up of three tracks running at 37 minutes long. Kicking off with Grass Pillow, a very subtle, slowly phased drone, fades in with a sparse set of looped tones coming in and out. The phase effect gives the piece a real sense of movement, but a kind of dreamy, slow wave rolling movement. I must admit, I don't see grass here...just a slow, dark ocean more than anything. But from about the 8 minute mark, the piece evolves into something really quite haunting and beautiful.

Swallow is the shortest piece of the three at just over 5 minutes long, yet is probably the most beautiful. Its a very narrow track in terms of frequency as it all happens in the mids, but this adds a rather lovely mysterious air and leads rather nicely into the more open A tube amp for an electric guitar. The final piece opens up the range with its field recording highs. The tones remain in the same range initially but quickly change and evolve as the piece moves on, opening up more and more. As the highs increase and take over, around the 9 minute mark a vocal sounding loop enters, with what sounds like vibraphone tones laid overhead. As the drone fades out, you are left with an incredibly open, profound and graceful work, bringing a perfect conclusion to a rounded and complete album.

Despite its title this is very much a winter album in my opinion; peaceful, slow, deep, with visions of waves, mist and peaceful emptiness for good measure. Taken in as a whole, August is nothing short of utterly compelling listening. There are too few artists who seem to have the ability to make something so rounded as Chihei does in his albums, and I would say this is Chihei's finest example of that so far.


  1. August is going to be re-released in autumn 2010 on Under The Spire, keep an eye on the website for info.


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