Hiroki Okano

1987-1990

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Hiroki Okano is a Buddhist monk who also happens to be one of Japan's prominent composers, writing extensively for film, dance and theater productions. 1987-1990 is an anthology of his recent work, a meeting of traditional instrumentation with contemporary electronics in a timeless fusion of austere yet alluring beauty. The nine pieces, most of which overlap each other, build slowly, the sound seemingly arising from and sinking back into a formless space that is both subtle and tremendously potent, like the classic Buddhist meditation on form and emptiness. Almost subliminal synthesizer drones hover like low-lying mist, while rippling bell tones, acoustic and electric guitar, muted drums, woodblocks, chimes, snatches of chants and traditional Japanese string and wind instruments create mysterious soundscapes. The use of echo, minor keys, stereo separation and an equivocating relationship between a relatively simple foreground and a rich background of half-heard sounds creates an intriguing aura, as if something undefined is groping toward definition. Like a leafless tree silhouetted against a strangely bright winter sky, 1987-1990 is an unsentimental expression of the beauty to be found in impermanence and the paradoxical power of stillness. Note: for those who are squeamish about nudity, the cover has front and back photos of a naked Japanese woman tastefully adorned with ink-brush calligraphy.

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