FRKWYS Vol. 15: serenitatem

The most influential modern proponents of the Japanese avant-garde ambient music of the 80s, Visible Cloaks, team up with the scene's forebears, Yoshio Ojima and Satsuki Shibano, for a collaborative work contrasting the natural with the synthetic

Album Review by Tony Inglis | 06 Apr 2019
  • FRKWYS Vol. 15: serenitatem
Album title: FRKWYS Vol. 15: serenitatem
Artist: Visible Cloaks, Yoshio Ojima & Satsuki Shibano
Label: RVNG Intl.
Release date: 5 Apr

The Japanese ambient avant-garde from the 80s (so-called “environmental music”) continues to gain ascendancy. Its influence can now be seen in everything from the outré computer experiments of Oneohtrix Point Never, to the almost new age, and inspired, When I Get Home by Solange, so it seems only right that the gap is bridged between those who were integral to its development and its most influential current proponents.

Enter the next instalment of FRKWYS, a collaborative series put together by the experimental label RVNG Intl., carefully bringing together like-minded artists of different generations. With previous incarnations matching up the likes of Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith and Suzanne Ciani, and Julianna Barwick and Ikue Mori, the series provides good company. Volume 15 sees forebears Yoshio Ojima and Satsuki Shibano, composers, pianists and polymaths, paired up with Visible Cloaks. The step between them is the recently released, and acclaimed, Kankyō Ongaku, expertly curated by Visible Cloaks’ Spencer Doran and on which Ojima makes an appearance.

These pieces of music were crafted over the course of around 15 months. Individuals passed compositions between each other digitally, bookended by two meetings in Toyko: first their initial introduction, and then an exploratory week of "echoing sound together", as Ojima describes it.

The results stretch the idea of serenity expressed by the title. But, following the sound, the concept of balance between the synthetic and the natural is what is explored throughout. We are eased into the project with Toi, which sees water drips and technological blips echo each other.

You and Atelier move from brooding to peaceful to ominous, and back through the whole gambit again. Perhaps like the workshop-referencing name, moods and atmospheres are being played with, and chucked out, at will. Childlike strings and woodwind rub up against what seems to be the ringing of an aircraft’s seatbelt warning light. The noise, divorced from its source, is almost benevolent, but what it suggests is something looming ahead.

The collaboration’s defining piece is Lapis Lazuli. Harking back to when Ojima and Shibano worked on the satellite radio experiment St. Giga at a small Tokyo studio in the early 90s, where the latter was a reader. So here, she intones across bell-like synths, her voice soothing, only for it to later become distorted, disturbing and alien. It’s a perfect juxtaposition, that encapsulates this artfully collected set of recordings, one that never ceases to make you shift your weight, either into comfort or something more unsettled.

Listen to: Atelier, S’Amours ne fait par sa grace adoucir (Ballade 1), Lapis Lazuli