Album of the Day: Visible Cloaks, Yoshio Ojima & Satsuki Shibano, “FRKWYS Vol. 15: serenitatem”
By Andrew Parks · April 24, 2019 Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)

If anyone (besides the artists themselves) deserves credit for the sudden obsession with Japanese ambient music, it’s Spencer Doran. The Visible Cloaks co-founder spent nearly a decade sharing his favorite songs with the world, beginning with the foundational mix Fairlights, Mallets and Bamboo and its no-less-enlightening sequel. Doran’s love of artists like Midori Takada and Hiroshi Yoshimura runs so deep, in fact, that Light in the Attic tapped him to curate last year’s Kankyō Ongaku compilation of corporate-sponsored “environmental music” (muzak, essentially) from the ’80s.

Meanwhile, Doran and Ryan Carlile have carved out Visible Cloaks’ own corner of the post-everything playground with several RVNG Intl. records that acknowledge their predecessors while striving for something new. As Doran said in a Bandcamp story, “We’re students of the history of electronic music, but we’re trying to do more than just create anachronistic recreations of these different things that we appreciate. We’re trying to take those ideas and push them further, with more modern technology and sound design.”

The latest step in that evolution couldn’t be more fitting: the aptly named serenitatem (translation: serenity), which pairs Visible Cloaks with two pioneers of Japan’s avant-garde scene, pianist Satsuki Shibano and producer Yoshio Ojima. The 15th installment of RVNG’s ongoing FRKWYS series takes its trans-generational aim to another dimension entirely, collaging the four musicians’ loose ideas together. More than a mere collaboration—the album was created by file-trading between the participants, and one week-long session in Tokyo—the final product features pure “randomized clouds” of sound that are far more active than most ambient efforts these days.

This is not a record that recedes into the background; it engulfs the entire room, from the more conventional melodies of “Canzona per sonare no. 4” and “S’Amours ne fait par sa grace adoucir (Ballade 1)” to the elusive vocals, electronics, woodwinds, and waterways of, well, just about everything else. No matter how many times you hit rewind, it’s unclear who’s playing what, or what era these pieces are meant to evoke. Who knew peace could be found in a place that doesn’t exist?

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