Album Review: Chihei Hatakeyama - Mirage

For a while there, at the end of last year and beginning of this year, I tried occasionally contributing pieces to an entertainment website called Spectrum Culture. After a few months, and a handful of submitted reviews I had struggled to write, I realized it wasn’t going to work out, so after contributing one final piece, I parted ways with the site.

During my short tenure writing for them, I put together a review of an album released via the legendary Kranky label, and in receiving my promotional download of the album, the editor-in-chief of Spectrum Culture put me in touch directly with the promotions guy for Kranky (and other imprints too, as it turns out,) and without realizing it, I was added to their email list.

This means that now, roughly every week, I get an email about a forthcoming new release that I am able to download and listen to, all with the hopes that I will write some kind of review.

I’ve usually skimmed the description in each message that I’ve received, and one from the beginning of June caught my attention—a new release from Japanese ambient performer Chihei Hatakeyma, who I was introduced to thanks to his collaborations with Federico Durand.

Released through the Australian label Room40, Hatakeyma’s Mirage is a long gestating project that, according to the press release, explores the relationship between music and architecture—specifically, the way sound emerges and decays from between structures.

As one may suspect, like any good and thought provoking ambient/experimental album, Mirage is a meditative and evocative listening experience. Never really dipping into unnerving or unsettling territory with the atmospheres it works to create, Hatakeyma has crafted an album that refuses to allow itself to become “background music”—it, instead, demands your attention, and over the course of nine pieces, envelops you almost completely.

Opening with the amazingly titled “Sad Ocean,” Hatakeyma succeeds in both his exploration of the way architecture impacts sounds (this idea was inspired by the labyrinthian bazaars in Turkey), as well as composing something that resonates on an emotional level—through layering warm synthesizer tones, on “Sad Ocean,” he manages to conjure that bittersweet feeling of nostalgia that hits you when you look through old photos, or when you try to sort through childhood memories.

He plays with those feelings again on “Starlight and Black Echo,” and “Bus Terminal in Konya,” only adding distant sounding waves of mournful, pensive electric guitar in each that cascade at a glacial pace.

As Mirage continues to unfold, piece by piece, Hatakeyma effortlessly walks the lines between melancholy, reflection, and longing—creating gorgeous moments that can serve as the soundtrack to both poignant and banal events in your daily life—as e-bowed and effected electric guitars glisten and ripple, synthesizers swirl, and the occasional field recording of ethereal voices wafts in.

Recorded over the span of five years, in listening to Mirage, you can tell that it was a labor of love for Hatakeyma, and that each piece was meticulously and patiently crafted to deliver the cathartic and contemplative reactions one has when listening to it.

Mirage is out now via Room40, as a digital download or vinyl LP.