A Japanese ambient album made for prefab housing is reissued.
Yutaka Hirose’s Soundscape 2: Nova was a 1986 LP commissioned by Misawa Homes, a company specializing in prefabricated houses. The economy was booming in Japan, and the prefab industry was expanding to keep up with the demand for new homes for the urban white-collar class. Commissioning musicians to create music to accompany your product, and granting them significant creative freedom, wasn’t an uncommon corporate practice in Japan. If you bought a Sanyo air conditioner in 1987, you might have received an album by Takashi Kokubo. Muji commissioned Haruomi Hosono for an in-store playlist. Hiroshi Yoshimura created the first album in Misawa Homes’ Soundscape series.
The renewed attention these asset-bubble ambient works have garnered has been accelerated by a spattering of reissues, a phenomenon which the Switzerland label We Release Whatever the Fuck We Want Records (WRWTFWW) has had a significant hand in, most notably with the reissues of once-rare albums like Midori Takada’s Through The Looking Glass and Yasuaki Shimizu’s Kakashi. Now WRWTFWW has released Soundscape 2: Nova + 4, which compiles the original masters alongside four new recordings.
Gentle birdsong and the plink of water droplets form the delicate introduction to “Nova,” the album’s opening song. Synths join in with a deference to these environmental samples. Bird songs echo throughout the album. Later on, “Taiko” provides a welcome contrast to the sunny skies evoked in the album’s first half—the birds are still there, but there’s a growl behind the synth melodies that suggests storm clouds. “Humming The Sea” offers gull cries and lapping waves. For the white-collar professionals of ’80s Japan, who spent long hours between office walls and for whom Misawa’s prefabricated environments were built, these tracks conjured a palliative proximity to the natural world.
“Old Dream Spell,” the first of the newly released tracks, does away with explicit sampling from the natural world—as far as I can hear—and is light on long tones, opting for bursts of synths and bells that sparkle and fade like fairydust. “Shadow Of A Water Droplet,” which Hirose created to accompany an ikebana exhibition, shares “Old Dream Spell”‘s effervescence but remains earthbound, almost traditional, with deep woodwind sounds. Far-off voices converse and laugh along with a spacious melody in “One Day In Summer,” giving the impression that being surrounded by people is comforting instead of claustrophobic.
Hirose’s environmental music is intimately tied to the space it was composed for, another design element on par with lighting or furniture choices. He saw some pieces on this expanded edition as “not music per se but rather sound sculptures.” Prefab houses have a short lifespan in Japan, due to changing building codes and tastes, resulting in a “scrap and rebuild culture.” The sounds of Soundscape 2: Nova + 4 outlasted the environment they were crafted for but still contribute a sense of place when they are heard today.
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