After moving house (and countries) Home Normal release their third album for the year with this Japanese and Belgium collaboration. Most defining musical styles are referenced in capital and with a punctuation mark, such as Metal! But the music that encompasses this album would be best defined as minimalism – all lowercase with no need for any punctuation mark. This is as suitably minimal a release that Home Normal have ever done.
‘hochu-ekki-tou’ marks the beginning in a series of releases with the Belgian artist Stijn Hüwels, as well as the welcome return of Tomoyoshi Date. Tomoyoshi is established as one of the great ambient artists around today. Beyond his solo releases, he is of course well-known for his collaborations as Opitope (Chihei Hatakeyama), Illuha (Corey Fuller), and Melodía (Federico Durand). When we use the term ‘organic minimalism’, no other artist really embodies what we mean by this more than Tomoyoshi. Stijn Hüwels is a truly wonderful artist who quietly releases with our friends over at Dauw. He is personally one of my favourite artists working today with his incredibly melodic yet ethereally patient guitar pieces. We also share a great love for all things Japan, and this has led to a number of collaborations when he has visited the country so often, as well as when Japanese artists come over to perform in Belgium.
‘hochu-ekki-tou’ is made up of three long-form pieces that were recorded in both Tokyo and Leuven in 2015 and 2017 respectively. In both its artwork and sound, this is an album of minimalism in the most beautiful and serene of ways. As each piece slowly transforms within itself, the various melodies and the sources of these melodies fluctuate in such subtle and gentle ways. Nothing is out-of-place, no space is unnecessarily taken up, and instead everything is allowed to breathe and flow in its natural state.
Traditionally when I do my reviews I tend to work on looking at the pieces, what constituents them, their instrumentation, what the music conjures up – be it thematically or emotionally and the overall feel I have for the pieces. This sort of review style is made redundant with the pieces contained on this album. What you are faced with here tends to transcend traditional review structures as the music is so minimal that I am not sure if you can fit into that framework of a review template.
What I can say is that this album is suited to late nights or those quiet times where outside distractions won’t affect the listening process. This is not a background soundtrack, it is an album that requires engagement and what works in the practice of meditation, mindfulness. Date and Hüwels over the course of three long tracks, ranging from 11:23 to 23:15 in length, slowly play with tones, shade, light and natural ambience to create pieces that have a rawness and innocence within them. These are pieces that will not be for those that rely soley on consistent movements or arches, but suit those who are more about ‘sound’ than repetition. The recordings of these pieces have such a quality that you every creak and movement which makes you feel like you are both in the room as a silent audience, but also you are in a way hearing the decisions that they are making.
There is an open slate as to which of the artist is contributing what to or what with the release which opens up the possibilities. The album opens with “Hochu” which mixes muted and whispy tones that vary their intensity throughout the piece. The sounds feel submerged with a blurry lens placed on them. This approach tends to suit the tones as it gives then some sort of uniformity and also makes them somewhat playful and almost glitch like. You can feel the ambient influence within this piece. Because of this feel you can’t help but think about nostalgia as an influence.
The second piece “Ekki” uses somewhat loop like techniques, it relies mainly on creating tones that interact and balance each other out between sound style and also the feel of them. With the minimalist approach they are allowed to exist before moving onto the next sound.
The album is rounded out with “Tou” which ventures into a decidedly pure soundscape. Field recordings, melodic blurred tones, bird song and Date’s guitar pieces that border on alt country, combine together to create a naturalist sound that feels warm and inviting. It is the kind of piece that makes you feel like the two artists have somewhat telepathically communicated and are on the sane page and that they are comfortable with each other. As the piece moves forward it becomes dominated by the tones as the guitar and field recordings have retreated and loses some of its minimalism. The tones become more urgent, flowing over each other creating a kaleidoscope of sound. With the last few minutes of the piece the field recordings once more return bring us back to a more relaxed mood.
Normally with releases that have non-English words I tend to seek out the definition to see how that reflects the music. The closest I good get was “Hochu Ekki To” which is a Kampō herbal medicine comprised of ten medicinal plants that is used to help the general well-being of patients with malignant diseases like cancer. You could suggest that possibly the intention of Date + Hüwels is to create pieces that generate a feeling of well being of those that listen to them and in looking back to my earlier meditation reference, you can generally feel that.
“hochu-ekki-tou” is available on limited CD.