Iluha - Akari [12K - 2014]For the duo's 3rd album on art ambient / deep listening label 12k, titled "Akari", Iluha brings intimate, domestic soundscapes sourced primarily from piano and guitar, characteristic of the label. This is my first experience with Iluha, so I can't compare it to their previous albums.
The album certainly sets a relaxed, contemplative and meditative tone, filled with respect and reverence for one's surroundings, and for stillness and quietude. Each sound is imbued with consonant tonality and heartwarming glow. The delicate sensitivity the album comes from a mindset where all one's defenses are lowered. It resembles the thought processes created by spending long hours reading in a quiet room, or sitting in a garden watching the wind move the leaves.
Structurally, it's a loose collage of melodic fragments, each vaguely related chord or pocket of notes trailing into soft silence. This style dates back to Brian Eno's "Music for Airports". More recent examples of similar tone and use of texture can be found in the work of Ryuichi Sakamoto, particularly his collaborations with Fennesz. If you feel comforted by the round, buzzing sustain of a piano chord held with the echo pedal pressed, you will likely enjoy this album.
Because of the nebulous structure, the mind tends to 'connect the dots' differently each listen, and find new shapes. Thus, it's a deep form of music that can be listened to many times; However, this means it isn't possible to hold any piece of it in the mind. When the album ends, my recollection is mostly of an emotion.
Unlike a lot of 12k music, this release contains few electronic or artificial sounds. Nearly everything in the mix can either be traced to an acoustic instrument, or sounds like a field recording, as with the faint rustling and rattling contact sounds that begin the 2nd piece, "Vertical Staves of Line Drawings and Pointillism". Iluha are focused primarily on capturing the rich natural resonances of the piano, and filtering them into mesmerizing loops of gooey, muffled ambience. Being that this is one of the most familiar instruments to most listeners, including myself, there is a limit to how much wonderment I can still feel at these textures, though they've been precisely and expertly captured with close micing techniques.
This album is certainly beautiful, and works well for making mundane computer work pass more easily, sleeping, or just winding down after periods of too much activity. I find that for its sweetness, it is a little bland, though, and I don't feel I have much reason to return to "Akari" in the future when so many lovely Fennesz, Eno and Sakamoto albums are already in my collection. Though executed with skill and sophisication, this aesthetic is both comfortable and predictable for 12k by now. Some attempt at more solidified melodies, or the kind of slow-motion classical music structures found in the work of Stars of the Lid or Kyle Bobby Dunn, could have made this album more memorable. The amount of depth one finds here will depend a lot on attention span. I would recommend "Akari" mostly to fans of 12k and this 'freeform instrumental improv' niche of ambient music that are looking for more.Josh Landry