Thursday, 17 October 2019

Shinji Wakasa - Tranquilo Trasciendo

Album: Tranquilo Trasciendo
Artist: Shinji Wakasa
Catalogue no: RTE 013

     1.      Rera
     2.      Hystricidae
     3.      Wood, tar, water, fire
     4.      A light house
     5.      Ray
     6.      Strix down

Rottenman Editions is a Spanish label and art studio, and this is the very first offering of theirs that I have had the opportunity of reviewing. Shinji Wakasa is a Tokyo-based artist, composer, and sound designer, and here we are presented with a selection of six of Wakasa’s ambient tracks, all very much filtered through a uniquely Japanese sensibility, one which has pervaded their culture throughout the whole length of their history. This is ambient based around responses to nature and its inherent beauty, but also there’s a sense that it’s not only the beautiful that’s the focus here but also the less comfortable aspects too. Running through most of these seemingly serene pieces there’s something of an undercurrent with a darker tone, but admittedly it’s a very subtle one, but then I think that’s part of the point – we see only the surface of nature, not the nitty gritty of its workings.

‘Rera’ starts proceedings off with echoing tones set against a backdrop of running water, which precedes tinkling iciness, like water droplets from melting icicles hitting water. Swathes of string-like chords float and weave between the pin-sharp notes, creating the sense of cold and snowbound landscapes. As glorious as that landscape may look its very frigidity is a danger: behind the delicacy of sheets of snow blanketing implacable mountainsides there’s always the threat of an avalanche. Jump into that freezing water and you may feel the insidious fingers of ice robbing you of warmth and sensation. Get lost in this environment and you will never make it out alive.

‘Hystricidae’ (or Old World Porcupine) is not quite as prickly as one would suspect, nevertheless the low drones and whistles tend to suggest that this beloved creature, for all that it looks (and sounds) cute it does have a deadly arsenal at its disposal, and that you annoy it at your peril. Those quills aren’t just for show. Fundamentally, though, they’re benign, herbivorous animals, and that’s what this particular piece is telling us: as long as we leave them be then they’re not the dangerous beasts we sometimes think they are, given the fearsome array of spines they carry with them. I suppose what it’s saying in effect is that this is what nature as a whole is – that it is benign and all-embracing but that it does have its defensive (and dark) side that we ignore to our detriment.

Lest we think that nature is all red in tooth and claw ‘Wood, tar, water, fire’ reminds us with its ringing tones and sweet drones that nature is indeed a beautiful tonic to all the miseries and woes of life and the world. The shapes and colours beguile the eyes and ears, soothing the furrowed brow, softening the worried expression, and extracting the stress, even if it’s only for a little while. The jewels of what nature gives us enchant the senses, and bring us back to our place in the world. The reverberating tones of ‘A light house’ bring us back somewhat to the untarnished reality, a deep drone infusing the background with a velvety darkness upon which the treble tones shine all the more brightly. However, the manipulation and treatment of those tones suggest a species of undertone that’s diametrically opposed to the overall effect of light the title would perhaps imply. In this case, those shining notes are a whimsy, a kind of foreground distraction to take the eyes away from what’s going on in the background.

‘Ray’ brings nature right into our cerebra, with birdsong, dripping and running water, and even a train horn. Into this come clangorous tones which appear to compete with the background story, setting up a slight tension and a dichotomous counterpoint. There are two viewpoints being outlined here – the natural and the unnatural, one the world has given us and the other that which we have foisted upon the world. It’s the competition between the two, the fight for habitat and resources allowing each side to survive. Sometimes it seems that, in our arrogance, we have forgotten that we share our environment with other living creatures that have as much, if not more, right to be here.

To round things off we have ‘Strix down’, another reverberant and ringing piece, backed by a rhythm that’s reminiscent of one of those traditional Japanese bamboo zen water fountains, perhaps indicative that everything has a rhythm, one which we would do well to take note of and live by. Water is itself a motive force, one which we’ve harnessed but one that also has the ability to destroy. In amongst these ringing tones there is perhaps a warning, a note of caution. In order to survive we must find the rhythm of life and walk to its beat, rather than attempting to impose one of our own on the world around us.

This is a thoughtful, and thought-provoking, set of compositions, one that should be listened to carefully and attentively. There is a message here, for those that care to hear – the world is a beautiful place but that we shouldn’t take it for granted. Just like a garden, in order for stability to be maintained it has to be tended and nurtured (especially a zen garden). A garden is an individual responsibility, but tending the greater garden of the world is a collective duty. This album is a rejoinder that we should shoulder that responsibility, not only by showing us what’s glorious about it but also what it’s capable of if neglected. In other words, just as we are essential to the natural order of life, nature is also essential to our way of life. Thoroughly recommended.

Available as a download, a CD in an engraved wallet made from Fabriano paper (Rosaspina 250 gr), and with ‘Ray’ & ‘Strix down’ as bonus tracks, and a 180gr black vinyl 12” in engraved sleeve made from Fabriano paper (Rosaspina 250gr), handprinted full-colour poster and photographs, and with hand-printed labels and hand-numbered. The poster is also available separately. All can be ordered on the link below:

Psymon Marshall 2019. 

No comments: