I recently had the chance and pleasure to listen to two releases by Japanese composer Chihei Hatakeyma: his solo album “Moon Light Reflecting Over Mountains” (Room40) and “Falling Sun”, a collaborative release he made together with Tom Honey aka Good Weather, released by Rural Colours. I recommend listening to both releases and digging deep into Chihei’s sonic output, but in the meantime I wish to introduce him, his outlook on music and the interesting interconnection between him and Japanese culture.
Chain D.L.K.: Good morning Mr.Hatakeyama! How are you?
Chihei Hatakeyama: Hello, I’m fine.
Chain D.L.K.: Your native country has given a number of very good ambient music makers in recent years, but I don’t express my admiration enough if I say your sound has something more, as it points straight at listener’s emotions, even when it seems to describe an environment. Would you say so?
Chihei Hatakeyama: I would say so. I try not to have a particular awareness or ambition to “make ambient music”.
Chain D.L.K.: Before speaking about your recent releases, could you describe your very first steps on the rich sonic scene?
Chihei Hatakeyama: For “Ghostly Garden”, I already had a clear concept in my mind, so I made the album to meet that concept. I tried to make a drone sound that utilizes the taste of sound files, without using melodies in “Ghostly Garden”.
Chain D.L.K.: Are there any features that distinguish ambient music makers or followers from other sound artists, listeners or musicians?
Chihei Hatakeyama: Modern ambient music has absorbed many different musical styles, such as modern classical, contemporary music or rock influenced Grouper. Compared to other music genres, I think one of the peculiarities of ambient music is that it has not been influenced by traditional communities, countries or regional gatherings. I feel that it is a very personal musical expression within this modern globalized world.
Chain D.L.K.: I remember a quote on ambient music – I think I heard it in a track by Pete Namlook – who described ambient as a music “that angels meditate to”. What do you think about this description? Do you have one for you music?
Chihei Hatakeyama: I think that the phrase is poetic and expanding. It’s a good description. I do not have any description for my music, but I’m always conscious about the sense of time passing by. When I make music, I release the tracks that make the listener feel like he/she is going into the sound.
Chain D.L.K.: You used to play guitar in rock bands when you were younger, but have you ever had any interest in “youngster” genres since then?
Chihei Hatakeyama: I don’t listen often to rock music. I used to listen to rock bands such as Metallica, Megadeth or Pantera. I often listen to old recordings of traditional folk music. The songs of mine workers in Nepal, music from Southeast Asia, India, Africa and so on.
Chain D.L.K.: Japan is often considered as an emblem of the balance between progress and tradition. Do you agree with such a description? How does Japan influence your sound?
Chihei Hatakeyama: I grew up in Japan, so, in some sense, I think you can say that everything of me is influenced by Japan. Sometimes the natural environment or history of Japan directly influences the concept of my albums. I’m inspired by those topics. When we consider the fact that John Cage was influenced by a Japanese Zen Philosopher and Brian Eno by John Cage when he founded ambient music, we could say that ambient music matches Japanese culture. There is also the pioneering role of the Zen influenced tea ceremony, Sen no Rikyu, who made tea utensils very simple and modern. It might be interesting to think about the relationship between the tea ceremony and ambient music.
Chain D.L.K.: Your music sounds ethereal and concrete, at the same time. Do you think that such a coexistence between “tangible” and “intangible” could be better represented than by sound or music?
Chihei Hatakeyama: I like the fluctuations between “tangible” and “intangible”. I like things that are in between things, for example what is in between modern and postmodern.
Sometimes I get lost when I compose music: I sometimes cannot decide if I should use representational sounds or abstract sounds; sometimes, I get confused about how I want to make a track elapse. I find it interesting that these confusions come straight out of the compositions, so, recently, I tried to reproduce those confusions in my tracks.
Chain D.L.K.: Let’s speak about your lovely new album. First of all, how did you enter room40?
Chihei Hatakeyama: I have known room40 since the early two thousands. In 2007, Lawrence English contacted me. After that, I released an album, “saunter”, in 2009, with the room40 label.
Chain D.L.K.: How did you make the textural mantle of each track? Have you manipulated “real” objects or inoculated frequencies around them?
Chihei Hatakeyama: I often record the electric guitar, and later process those materials using a computer or outboard processors. However, for “Moon Light Reflecting Over Mountains”, I think I just recorded the sounds of my guitar without processing them on most of the tracks. I also used an analogue synthesizer on some tracks.
Chain D.L.K.: A title like “Moon Light Reflecting Over Mountains” sounds really poetic. Does it have any connection with the compositional aspects or the way you shaped the sounds?
Chihei Hatakeyama: The title “Moon Light Reflecting Over Mountains” certainly depicts a scenery with the moon shining over a mountain. This album started out with my visit in the Nara prefecture in 2009. Nara has an older history than Kyoto, and is not too refined, having still the atmosphere of early Japan, and it is also the place where many historical events and myths took place. I walked mainly around central Nara, which is the birthplace of the Yamato government. I also did some field recordings. Nara is a basin surrounded by mountains. The title comes from a scene where those mountains are gazed with moonlight. The ancestor god of the current Japanese emperor’s family is a sun goddess named Amaterasu, and Amaterasu has a brother named Tsukiyomi who is a moon god. There is a hypothesis that Tsukiyomi was an important ritual subject, and that is why I chose the moon.
Chain D.L.K.: Where did you take the field recordings of “A Bronze Pike”?
Chihei Hatakeyama: The field recordings used in “A Bronze Pike” were not recorded in one location. I collaged several field recordings from scenes such as a street corner in Nara at night, the front of the Hashihaka tomb in south Nara and also singing workers in Paris.
Chain D.L.K.: In spite of titles like “Mausoleum” or “Phantom Voice”, there is nothing really menacing or horrific in your tracks. Is such a discordance intentional?
Chihei Hatakeyama: I named the tracks on this album following the theme, which is the history of Nara and Japan. “Mausoleum” depicts my impression, actually the shock I had when I visited the Hashihaka tomb. This Hashihaka tomb is one of the oldest tombs in Japan – a very beautiful Keyhole shaped tomb. Onryo worshiping (Revengeful ghost worshiping) has had an important role in Japanese history, and the title “Phantom Voice” comes from an impression, or maybe a delusion that evoked from a spiritual experience I had when I was walking around Nara late at night.
Chain D.L.K.: “Journey To The Imaginary Paradise” is one of my favourite moments of the whole album. Why THE imaginary Paradise and not AN Imaginary Paradise?
Chihei Hatakeyama: This track was inspired from a god named Okuninushi Mikoto, who appears in Japanese myths. He was the king of earth, but he eventually gave away his position and went to another world. I wanted to express the place that he went to by using the word THE.
Chain D.L.K.: What can you say about the cover artwork?
Chihei Hatakeyama: The artwork is a photograph of a Torii built in front of a shrine. This Torii is made out of stones. Although it is difficult to tell from this picture, this Torii faces the sea. Japanese shrines currently have buildings on their grounds, but I think that their early form was simple, just placing a Torii that is made out of ropes, in front of a natural scenery, such as mountains, sea, stones and trees. There was a shrine that had only a Torii in Nara, so I decided to use a Torii for the cover art.
Chain D.L.K.: One of your recent releases that reached my headphones was the collaborative piece with Tom Honey, better known as Good Weather For An Airstrike, on Rural Colours. Can you tell us something about “Falling Sun”?
Chihei Hatakeyama: On this album, we exchanged each sound file using email. “Falling Sun” uses many instruments: electric guitar, vibraphone and field recordings. It creates scenes that people might visit during “Falling Sun” .
Chain D.L.K.: Any forthcoming collaborations or releases?
Chihei Hatakeyama: I have several solo projects in progress now and I am working in collaboration with Dirk Serries, Ken Ikeda and Eraldo Bernocchi.
Visit Chihei Hatakeyama online at: