There’s a label called 12k run by a fellow named Taylor Deupree, also a composer who releases his music on the label. The label releases music in a variety of styles in what could be (but probably should not be) called “post-ambient”, meaning it’s sound art that’s not traditional ambient or avant garde (traditional…sheesh).
Anyway, all this convolutedness on my part just proves that when you get this deep into music, genre names just sound stupid. All I know is I have an emusic account, and when there’s a new 12k release, I don’t ask no questions, and 12k don’t tell me no lies…I just Hoover up that sucker. And it’s almost always a big winner. Even the label’s “imprint look” works for me…purdy pictures on every release. If I still bought CDs, I’m sure I’d have loved to line them up on a shelf in exact order of release, just like a real OCD type would. Fortunately, I no longer have CDs on display to fuss over.
So, this release, the debut by Illuha, kind of proves the point of all this blah-blahing I was just doing. Illuha is a duo of sound artists, one Japanese, one American, who came together to record this album in a church in Bellingham, Washington. While we can now utilize all kinds of simulated reverb on our laptops via plug-ins, the fact is that real acoustics don’t lie, kind of like you need a tube amp to rock properly. And the acoustics of the recording environment plainly are part of what makes this recording so very special.
The fact is, I have no idea what to call this recording. Ambient? Kind of. Chamber pop? What the hell is that? Post-rock? There’s no rock! “Modern classical”? Surely everyone knows that term is rubbish. Bartok is rolling over in his grave at some of the watery pop-ambient nonsense getting labelled “Modern classical”. Whatever Shizuku is, it’s just plain beautiful.
The one word I’d use to sum up this music is “delicate”, and that comes partly from those old-churchy vibes. Every little sound, no matter how quiet, seems to take on the greatest of intimate, contemplative importance, and no sound is wasted, because the spaces between the notes are just as important. Lengthy opener “Rokuu” is evidently the star turn of the show, beginning with several minutes of field recordings, chirpy electronics and what I believe to be a synthesizer, leading into simple strumming on an acoustic guitar. And never has a simple progression seemed so very important as it does here. At the end it’s joined by some equally langorous cello. Almost painfully beautiful stuff.
The duo’s site says that “pipe organ, vibraphone, dulcimer, accordion, rhodes, piano, and analog synthesizer” were used on the recording, so really I shouldn’t be guessing what’s making what sound (well, I know exactly what an acoustic guitar sounds like).
The rest of the recording is not dissimilar – flowing sounds, little chirpy, chimy noises in the background, some friendly-sounding field recordings added for good measure. Several tracks are more piano-based, and we all know how heartbreaking a well-played piano piece can be. These guys do a great new take on the old Eno/Budd paradigm. One track features a poem read by a well-regarded Japanese poet, but me not understanding a word of Japanese, you’ll have to tell me if it works. The closer, “Kie”, feels much more positive in tone than the melancholy of the rest of the album, leaving us sweet listeners in a happier place than when we started.
This kind of music is actually beneficial in possibly measurable terms. It’s not just entertainment, it’s necessary for a healthy life these days. For in an ugly new world where dreams are crushed under the monotony of low-paying office jobs, politicians have no idea how to take the human species forward for the benefit of all, and where the environment is being chewed up at an alarming and obscene rate, one thing we need a bit more of is…delicacy.