Sawako - nu.it [Baskaru - 2014]Female Japanese art ambient composer Sawako Kato's 2014 album "nu.it" is a gentle, understated record. Though her first album in 3 years, it is the continuation of a long string of more than 10 albums dating back to 2000.
In typical form for music of this style, we begin with scattered piano notes, gently falling in irregular rhythms like droplets of rain falling from the leaves into a pond. These sounds place it near the territory of Eno's "Music for Airports", the root of this school of ambient, nearly 40 years old. This is anything but new territory. As such, I object to it being called 'experimental' any longer, though this is the tag I most often see applied to the output of labels such as 12k and Baskaru (who released this album). "Art ambient", by its vary nature, is the 'lite' version of ambient, eschewing abrasive and unpolished sounds, adhering strictly to a narrow palette of delicate and sophisticated soft timbres so that its contemplative calm is not interrupted.
None-the-less, as the record progresses, I find it difficult to fault. The artist's soul is fully immersed in creating the perfect mood for the album. It seems to flow naturally from moment to moment, and to contain a genuine sense of well being and conscious excitement, despite the fact that it is quiet, calm music for suitable for sleeping. This is music for feeling comfortable in one's own living space, brimming with ideas in peaceful reverie. Each piece takes a markedly different approach. Concise, with 9 songs fit into 38 total minutes, the album is over before you know it, and easy to replay.
After the pleasant but bland opener, we move into warm acqueous currents not unlike the work of Biosphere, undulating watery loops which repeat so smoothly they sound like drones. The comforting sounds of crickets, birds, a whole wetland filled with frogs are used to fill out the space.
"nostal.noz" has a haunted tone, a plaintive questioning chord, a field of obscurity around the slight foreground, a soft light in thick soupy fog. This more like Eno's "On Land", which I always preferred over "Music for Airports". It has the same sense of being alone in a forlorn misty marsh.
"f.light" has a sublime flanged shimmer somewhere between a choir and an organ, much like Iasos would use. I would guess this is using vintage gear, possibly a mellotron, with its muffled, washed out roughness. It could be playing from a cassette tape, the way it sounds. A simple piece, but a beautiful one.
The piano returns in digitally altered form for "mind.ight", an interrupted, choppy loop that William Basinski or Oval would likely employ, only the wispy tail ends of notes, the original playing fractured into scratchy granular pieces.
"in.fini", the albums closer, has a warm, bassy round wave texture with a satisfyingly humming low end. Again, we hear that Sawako prefers vintage 70's sounds, this time similar to the fat synth timbres of Berlin School ambient, but with a much more minimalist idea of composition, in which there are no melodies, only drones and chords sustained for many minutes.
Sawako's music on "nu.it" is confident, decisive and perfectly formed. It doesn't necessarily have much to distinguish itself from the ambient masters mentioned in the review, who clearly inspired the recording, but it so perfectly taps the vibrant vein that music emerged from that I say it equals its influences. The pacing is certainly more rapid than Eno typically employed, with a deeper and more subtle layering of textures, as well. I thought myself jaded to this style of music, but this album proves it's all about how the elements are used, no matter how familiar they may be.Josh Landry