With a melodic cluster dripping into a pool of dark water, UkabazUmorezU’s arrival ripples as an apex in Sugai Ken’s continued construction of a deeply resonant, enveloping sound world. Upon contact, UkabazUmorezU gently and generously unfurls across aural alleys and streets mundanely but mystically detailed with recontextualized Japanese rituals and tradition.
Sugai’s compositional language took its most cohesive form in the producer’s almost decade long career with the 2016 album On The Quakefish. Evolving the sound design intuited on 2010’s ToKiShiNe and 2014’s Tada, Quakefish utilized an all-seeing, all-knowing edit for wider screens and wilder properties. The sable stage set for UkabazUmorezU is both bottomless and forgiving, a rich soil for new experiments to grow in Ken’s self-described “style that conjures [the] subtle and profound ambience of night in Japan.”
A lived experience of traditional Japanese music’s conversation with environment, and vice versa, forms the melodic make-up and metaphysical philosophy conditioning UkabazUmorezU. Upon imagining a landscape, Sugai decomposes the image (and the images within the image) and replaces it with a sound representation – an artifactual terrain, tethered to but abstracted from the natural world.
The eleven pieces which form UkabazUmorezU dovetail meaningfully with the invented album title, roughly translating to “slow and steady wins the race.” Made up of recordings sourced and simulated from scenic locations in Japan, folk performances from various local regions, and Sugai’s tool kit of electronic synthesis, UkabazUmorezU evokes tranquil patience while never settling into a single style or still of sound for too long.
Sugai Ken’s upbringing among a generation of Japanese artists exposed to Western culture becomes the basis for another part of UkabazUmorezU’s ritualistic experimentation. On “Sawariyanagi,” for example, an atmosphere inspired by the yokai monster Yanagi Onna finds itself speaking through a Western electroacoustic motif. Elsewhere on “Ganoubyoshi” a processed “hoarsely voice of the elderly” is treated with a reverence reserved for the realm of symphonic music – the micro and the macro receive equal amounts of mindful care in the cerebral ceremony of Sugai Ken.
The profundity of UkabazUmorezU’s nighttime arrives, in part, upon the idea that what remains hidden is limitless. While one might be horrified by the concept of negative space, Sugai views this obscured horizon as an invitation for a tempered type of spontaneity. A heartfelt connection to his personal trajectory and the folk history of his country allows Sugai Ken’s UkabazUmorezU to calmly throw itself headlong into a jumbled sound experience sometimes beyond our conscious comprehension.
Side A (33 RPM)
A1. Wakihi (湧き祕) (2:19)
A2. Wochikaeri to Uzume (をちかえりと渦女) (2:49)
A3. Shinobine (時鳥) (2:59)
A4. Okera (桶楽) (4:28)
A5. Mei (冥) (1:00)
A6. Ganoubyoshi (贋扇拍子) (2:26)
Side B (33 RPM)
B1. Doujiri (堂尻) (2:59)
B2. Katsura (桂) (2:46)
B3. Kugutsu Biwa (傀儡びわ) (1:23)
B4. Sawariyanagi (障り柳) (6:07)
B5. Suzunarikibushi (鈴生り木節) (3:52)
Format: 12-inch Vinyl LP
Label: RVNG Intl.
Released: November 2017
Genre: Japanese Avant-garde