Throughout winter in 1985-1986, the Japanese sound designer and environmental music specialist Hiroshi Yoshimura hunkered down in his home studio, and at his own, leisurely pace, recorded a record that was diametrically opposed to the hustle and bustle of inner-city life in Tokyo. That record was "Green", a suite of eight, calming and richly textural compositions that have over the last 34 years, come to be lauded as one of the most important Japanese ambient records of the '80s. If you factor in the geographic re-ordering of hierarchy which has occurred over the last five years, "Green" could be considered one of the most important ambient records ever. Given the increased interest in music from that era, the lack of a reissue was rather glaring.
A couple of days ago, I received an email informing me that Light In The Attic Records & Distribution had just made "Green" available for digital purchase and streaming, with vinyl, CDs and cassettes to follow in the Northern Hemisphere summer. It's the first of a series of Yoshimura reissues through WATER COPY, a collaboration between Light In The Attic and Yoshimura's estate. Light In The Attic described "Green" as "a timeless body of work whose calming sounds feel more relevant today than ever, especially in light of the fears and uncertainties we face during these unprecedented times." This certainly fits with the mood of recent weeks (or months, depending on where you are in the world).
I've been sitting with "Green" again the last couple of days, while I sort through the ways in which the COVID-19 outbreak is changing my life, the lives of the people around me, and beyond that, the entire world, and finding a clarifying stillness in how the album unfurls with repeated listens, a stillness that I glimpsed, but didn't fully comprehend when I was first introduced to it through Youtube. Like they say, context changes everything.
Across "Green", Yoshimura used crisply-toned Yamaha FM synthesizers like a master painter uses a brush and palette. In the process, he gifted us a with a series of audio portraits of the cycles of nature as he understood them. Listening to it again, I'm struck by Yoshimura's lucid understanding of his work and it's parameters. Yoshimura specialised in "Kankyo Ongaku" or "environmental music". This music was the product of an era when sound designers and composers created incidental music (or muzak) for corporations. As part of meeting their corporate briefs, they also snuck some incredibly beautiful and calming musical ideas into the ears of unintentional listeners in department stores across Japan, providing moments of respite throughout hectic days. In part because of those beautiful ideas, and in part because of how those compositions were designed to sit in the background, while subtly shifting the mood of a space, the way these records functioned in those spaces translates over remarkably well when you feel over-stimulated by news, events, feelings and thoughts - or to be more precise, times like now.
Yoshimura died seventeen years ago. I wonder what he would make of his critical reassessment, and I wonder what he would make of the world today. We're headed into uncharted waters, and at least for a time, we're going to have to adapt to some new ways of living. My feeling is that he would want us to stay calm, kind, and connected, but of course, from a safe distance. Things happen when they want, and we can't control that, but what we can control is how we respond and react. Look after yourselves, and if you can, please don't forget to look out for those who are less advantaged than you are.
You can purchase "Green" in digital format via Light In The Attic (here)