Light in the Attic's Kankyō Ongaku compilation documents ambient, new age, and minimal music produced in Japan between 1980 and 1990, specifically focusing on "environmental music," created to soundtrack daily living, shopping, relaxation, and even the usage of specific products. The acutely detailed liner notes trace the roots of this musical phenomenon, mentioning Japanese traditions such as toki no kane (temple bells) as well as Erik Satie's furniture music and of course Brian Eno's ambient music. Taking the concept literally, the release includes pieces composed for specific environments, such as Yoshio Ojima's "Glass Chattering" (from a collection of works designed to be played inside a building in Tokyo called the Spiral) or Haruomi Hosono's "Original BGM" (commissioned by the Muji department store as background music). Additionally, Takashi Kokubo's supremely tranquil "A Dream Sails Out to Sea - Scene 3" comes from a promotional LP that was included with the purchase of a Sanyo air conditioning unit, designed to help convey a beach-like atmosphere. A few pieces utilize rushing water and other natural sounds, while others incorporate traditional Japanese instruments, particularly Toshi Tsuchitori's "Ishiura," made from the bell-like tones of sanukaito stones. Masashi Kitamura & Phonogenix's "Variation - III" mixes gently lapping waves with sporadic percussive hits and softly murmuring ambient synths. Fusion keyboard legend Jun Fukamachi's "Breathing New Life" perfectly mixes traditional percussive rhythms with contemporary electronics, producing a mood fit for a domestic environment (surprisingly, it was actually composed for a fashion show). Of the more purely electronic pieces, Inoyama Land's sparkling, joyful "Apple Star" is perhaps the most effortlessly pleasing, while Takashi Toyoda's unbelievable "Snow" is much spacier and more haunting. Yellow Magic Orchestra is represented by BGM deep cut "Loom," a surreal experimental soundscape that begins by sounding like a spaceship lifting off, then seemingly having a revelation while drifting out in space doing absolutely nothing -- all with a strange electronic dripping sound in the background. Both as a listening and reading experience, the entire collection is fascinating and eye-opening, and far more than just pleasant, unassuming musical wallpaper. It's also somewhat overwhelming in a sense, simply because there's far more music from this era to discover, and this release barely scratches the surface.
AllMusic Review by Paul Simpson
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2