Experimental, Japanese, Reviews

Era-Spanning Imagination: After 4406274 Days... (Review)

Era-Spanning Imagination: After 4406274 Days… (Review)

May 29, 2012 | | 1 Comment Share thison Facebook Era-Spanning Imagination: After 4406274 Days… (Review)on Twitter

Basiscape member Kimihiro Abe (alias “emanon”) is one of the few Japanese composers to embrace the music distribution service that English-speaking composers (especially of the indie variety) use almost universally. Yes, I’m talking about Bandcamp.

Abe’s Bandcamp page currently features one free track he released on New Year’s Eve called “21seiki Techno Shonen 2011,” and a new original concept album called “After 4406274 Days…” — which is what we’re going to talk about today. After the jump, you can follow along with the bandcamp embed while reading my thoughts on Abe-san’s strange and wonderful new concept album!

In the album’s liner notes, we get a description of what inspired Abe for this album. It helps explain the strange title and the beautiful artwork. It’s a Japanese-only set of notes, but a rough translation suggests that the title’s length of time could refer to a past age (it’s about 12,000 years, so the end of the last ice age), or to some time in the far future. Much of this album is also inspired by time spent looking at the ocean. So here are our themes: the sky, the sea, and time. They seem to stretch on forever, and yet they can be measured. These are the thoughts, motifs, and impressions that inspire Abe for this album.

The album is fully synthesized. On the bandcamp page, he notes what instruments you’ll find on each track. Every track has piano, though only one is a piano solo track (track 2, “Afternoon Sun and Sea,” the transcipted sheet music for it also appears in PDF format if you buy the album). Outside that, you get some intentionally synthy synths, some small-sized percussion (conga / tabla drums, splash cymbals, wind chimes), and some string/wind ensembles.

Beyond that? This is a very beautiful and evocative album using 20th century composition techniques. The opening track has minimalist repetition, atonal / intentionally dissonant harmonies, and generally a big messy wall of sound coming your way. To me, it feels like the sea at its most chaotic, tidal waves and all. Strangely, despite the chaos of the sound, the track title suggests stillness and permanence of life (translated: “The Same Time, The Same Place”). After this, we get the very soothing piano solo track I’d spoken of earlier.

In track 3, “Tidal Ecosystem,” awesome polyrhythmic minimalist patterns abound across a lydian modal scale. The layers of music wax and wane, but the pulsing rhythm continues unabated. It’s a song you could dance to. Then things slow down with the effect-laden track “The Stars Wandering the Night Sky.” The bandcamp page lists the instruments as “Faded tone color piano + synth.” I think this may be my favorite track to listen to. It’s ambient, and weird, and wonderful. It would fit perfectly in a good visual novel.

In a sudden change of pace, the only song listed with “large ensemble” as its instrumentation (i.e., orchestral), “Confrontation” paints the narrative of the forces of nature clashing together. There’s this beautiful rise about a minute into the track, where the violin leads the way, and it’s just awesome. Truly, truly awe-inspiring.

The final two tracks are perhaps the hardest to grasp. Some of the themes and concepts before this point were simple, both in terms of the music and the metaphysical ideas behind them. At the end, though, Kimihiro Abe chooses to really bring about complex, ineffable concepts. Even the track titles are a challenge to translate. Track 6, “An Illusion Rising on the Horizon,” has a lot of the dissonance of the opening track, but without the rhythm. It’s all just … floating, bobbing, creeping, and it gives me the willies. Finally, track 7, which is the hardest to translate (“Characters (words/letters) that could not be read”) makes me think of that famous passage from the Tao te Ching: “the name that can be named is not the eternal name.” The music is sufficiently tonal, and certainly beautiful. But in its simplicity, there is the underlying complexity of the occasional out-of-place tone. Zen. Tranquility. Am I there yet? I’ve waited 12,000 years, do I get it yet?

Yes, I’m keeping that last bit of stream-of-consciousness writing in the review. It’s the best part. And if I deleted it, it’d be the words you could not read, and those words certainly don’t deserve that high standing.

If you want to pick up the album, and I suggest you do as a way of supporting this particular individual (it’s like saying “hey! I like you even when you’re not doing VGM with basiscape!”), buy this album for 500 yen (about $7 in current yen/dollar conversion). It’s right here, and it’s waiting for you. Also, big props-in-advance to whomever does a decent translation of the liner notes PDF file that comes with this album. Whoever you are, I love you!

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