Eisuke Yanagisawa - Path of the Wind [Gruenrekorder - 2018]The Aeolian harp is a stringed instrument - usually hand crafted - which produces a range of harmonic tones when wind passes across it. It has a long history - imbued with romanticism and mysticism - stretching back to antiquity, from where it derives its name from Aeolus, the Greek God of the wind. For Path of the Wind - Eisuke Yanagisawa's third record for Gruenrekorder - the Japanese film maker and field recordist constructed his own Aeolian harp, mounting two microphones into its sounding board. He then recorded the tones produced at a variety of locations across Japan.
Mirroring the investigatory style of his work as an ethnographer, Yanagisawa has given these seven pieces simple descriptive titles denoting either the location of the recording - Hegurajima, In a Park - or some element particular to the sounds, for example Seagull and Ferry Passing. The latter piece opens the record and we are immediately confronted by the strange otherworldly harmonics of the harp, which are a world away from the familiar plucked sound of a traditional harp. the sound is something like a combination of feedback harmonics and pure sine tones which vary in intensity and frequency depending on what the wind is doing. On Ferry Passing the microphones mounted on the harp also pick up sounds of waves breaking against the shore of the uninhabited Narugashima island where the harp was placed.
Seagull, titled after the bird which makes a cameo appearance continues the shoreline theme, this time at a busy beach. The harp is more muted here, emitting a range of lower frequency metallic sounds which leave space for the sounds of passersby, the waves and the aforementioned seagull, which the harp almost seems to respond to; raising its pitch and volume as it passes overhead. Being entirely dependent upon natural wind power for its sounds lends the Aeolian harp a romantic, even spiritual quality that has inspired many literary works. Coleridge dedicated two poems to the instrument during a period when the harp was a common household instrument in more affluent circles. The idea of an ancient natural or mystical music coming through the instrument has inspired many an interpretation upon the harp. There are several monumental versions of the instrument located at sites across the world.
Yanagisawa may be tapping into some of this antiquity on Old Camellia Tree which locates the harp near a 1200 year old tree, deep in the Yosano-cho valley. The wind speed down into the valley must have been steady as the harp intones consistently, wavering and hovering around the mid range with minimal variation, mimicking the tree's eons of slow growth.
Ridge Line, in contrast, displays more variation as the harp is given almost exclusive pride of place in the recording. There are sharp peaks and troughs in the volume and tone of the harp as gusts of wind pass across its strings. There is little background sound of the environment halfway up Mt.Oeyama, which sounds like quite a remote windy place. Yanagisawa says it took a lot of trial and error to get the harp to produce any sound at all. Varying the string materials, as well as finding the optimum angles to place the instrument, eventually yielded the results we now hear.
The last two pieces are the longest, each at over seven minutes. The extended length affords the listener more time to appreciate the extraordinary range in harmonic texture produced by the harp. On Hegurajima the progression of the sound and the way it artfully shifts across different tonal registers suggests some alien composer at work. It's hypnotic, not owing to any rhythmic element or sustained meditation on a single frequency, but rather the effect is like watching flames, or the way water flows around rocks in a stream. The harp is a mediator of natural processes, rendering them into a language we might better understand. It seems appropriate then that on Hegurajima the artist located the harp next to shrine of a God, in this case the God of epidemic prevention. The final piece Kinshozan leave us with thoughts about nature and the passing of time. The harp was placed at the watch tower on the mountain of Kinshozan, around which many fossils are located and mining for limestone takes place. Limestone of course is made from the millions of years old remains of marine organisms. We can hear the faint sounds of machinery at work below as the harp tones glide, from one harmonic texture to another. Music of the eternal wind bears witness to the harvest of time's bounty.