Although he has performed in and around his native city for years, Minima Moralia is Tokyo-based electronic artist Chihei Hatakeyama’s debut recording. It’s difficult to glean information from his predominantly Japanese-language website, so I don’t have much more to go on than what the Kranky PR staff has to offer: he’s also a member of the electro-acoustic trio opitope and an improvisational ensemble called Copa del Papa. This dearth of background information is perhaps for the best, however, as it forces the listener to approach the music without the cloudy lens of biographical baggage. Well, at least he doesn’t insist on having his own name rendered in all lower-case letters.
Unfortunately, any sense of mystery resulting from the absence of personal details is rendered useless once one makes the connection between Hatakeyama’s song titles and the music to which they’re attached. In its entirety, Minima Moralia is drenched in a pastoral onomatopoeia—“Bonfire on the Field”, “Starlight Reflecting on the Surface of the River”, and “Granular Haze” are just three examples—that leaves little to the imagination. In fact, it’s almost a detriment in that it superimposes too clear an image in the listener’s mind, like synthetic field recordings of some sterile, prefabricated landscape.
Hatakeyama limits his sound sources to guitars and vibraphone, except for the violin featured on two tracks, recorded and reprocessed electronically into a shimmering haze of sound. Less disembodied passages occasionally reveal themselves, as on pieces like “Swaying Curtain in the Window”, which opens up near its midpoint to allow some chiming multi-tracked guitar tones to peek through the ambient drone, or “Towards a Tranquil Marsh”, where acoustic guitar textures float fully to the surface in one of the disc’s more distinguished moments.
But while it might represent the bulk of the disc’s running time, Minima Moralia does have more to offer than ambient meditational fare. Worth noting for its departure from the reigning symmetrical calm, “Inside of the Pocket” is easily the disc’s anomaly by introducing faint glimpses of melody and harmonic structure; it’s also the shortest piece at four and a half minutes and sounds more akin more akin to Tortoise, albeit at that band’s most introspective. Conversely, at more than 11 minutes, “Beside a Well” shows what Hatakeyama can do with a more extended palette, moving from light drone to looped acoustic guitar before concluding with a slowly accreting distortion that makes the disc’s final two minutes its noisiest overall.
Despite Hatakeyama’s very slow pacing and sense of development on all seven of the disc’s pieces, the majority does offer the feeling of a deliberate course—and the music greatly benefits from its meticulous construction. That said, appreciation for Minima Moralia as a whole will exist in a direct relationship with individual listeners’ levels of patience: this is most definitely not music for short attention spans. And even though the slightest hint of sharp edges and dissonance lurking beneath those billowing clouds saves it from strictly new age purposes, like the majority of so-called ambient music it veers dangerously close.