Shizuku, the debut album from Illuha (a play on the word “island” in Portugese), reads like a “state of the union”-styled portrait of 12k in its current form, with the label’s music having grown increasingly organic and electro-acoustic over time. Artists like Illuha (made up of Tokyo residents Corey Fuller and Tomoyoshi Date) have formed seamless harmonious unions between the electronic and natural realms, and the two inhabit the shared spaces of the recording in such a way that whatever differences there might be between them collapse altogether. A physician and musician, the San Paulo, Brazil-born Tomoyoshi Date is also a natural partner for the US-born and Japan-raised Corey Fuller, who issued his first solo album, Seas Between, on Dragon’s Eye Recordings in late 2009. Both are currently based in Tokyo and evidence a sensitivity to delicately shaped and detailed sound worlds of acoustic and organic design. On the fifty-minute recording, six meditations assembled from pipe organ, vibraphone, dulcimer, accordion, piano, synthesizer, field recordings, and processed sounds transport the listener to warm, tropical locales, even if the recording was created in a 100-year old church in Bellingham, Washington.
The album’s longest track at thirteen minutes, “Rokuu” encapsulates the album’s tone and style in a single albeit epic instance. Field recordings of the natural world (ocean sounds) and wavering tones establish a becalmed foundation for the ample flickerings of other instruments that the duo overlays to enhance the material’s textural flow. Acoustic guitars gradually appear to broaden the music’s timbral scope before John Friesen’s lyrical cello playing deepens its emotional impact. Adding the supplicating cry of his instrument to their material was a masterstroke on the group’s part, and lovely too are the moments that follow, with delicate electric guitar picking and high-pitched strings used as a sparing counterpoint to the cello.
Acoustic and electronic elements merge naturally within Illuha’s sound-world. On “Aikou,” for example, piano chords, thumb piano plucks, and winsome cello flourishes intone placidly amidst a wealth of softly shimmering textures and hand percussion (bell tinkles et al.), the elements breathing in tandem and conjuring a peaceful and humid oasis. Even though a wealth of hyperactive sound courses through “Guuzai,” the immersive mass of bell tinklings, organ tones, and plucked strings nevertheless exudes a becalmed ambiance when all of its constituent sounds form a texturally luscious dreamscape. “Kie” seems, if anything, even more rooted in the natural world, with traces of bird chirps and people’s voices and movements audible alongside the slivers of piano playing and ambient tones. The middle piece, “Seiya,” adds an unusual wrinkle to the prototypical 12k recording in adding a spoken word contribution by Japanese Tanka poet Tadahito Ichinoseki to Illuha’s gentle backdrop, the poem apparently about Christmas, birth, death, and other weighty matters. While Illuha’s music makes a powerful impression, the clarity of the recording is a marvel unto itself, with each of the group’s many instruments inhabiting its own clearly defined space within the mix.
In this latest 12K release Corey Fuller and Tomoyoshi Date, both currently residents of Tokyo, come together as Illuha for this study in space. In this case the space within a 100-year old church in Bellingham, Washington (US). Using “ambient and quad-microphone techniques” the pair were able to capture the natural acoustics of the building. Combine this with a large selection of mainly acoustic instruments and selected field recordings and the pallet is essentially complete for the 6 tracks that follow.
The opener “rokuu”, starts with a micro-soundscape that gradually builds with the introduction of a luminescent chord and the sounds of the sea. I was actually surprised when this was interrupted by a more traditional guitar chord sequence setting both tempo and the harmony for the ‘cello parts that follow, atypical of the album as a whole.
“Aikou” begins with a beautifully ambiguous chord and swiftly adds piano and distant percussion. This piece works best towards the end where the more chaotic elements are allowed to flourish and the harmony becomes more intense. Sonically there’s a lot going on here but the duo manage to control the space in such a way that very little is obscured for long. You’ll need to listen to this a number of times to stand a chance of following everything that is going on.
“Seiya” stands out on the album as having the strongest connection to Japan both sonically and musically and that’s before the element of poetry, read by the “renowned Japanese Tanka poet Tadahito Ichinoseki” is added. Simply put, many will find this the strongest track on the album.
Having said that, this is an album that does tend to keep on getting better with each track. In “Saika”, the use of solo instrument, in this case piano, works best here compared to other tracks on the album. The piece builds significantly with a range of plucked sounds and shimmering backgrounds. Again repeated listening will reveal the true depth of the arrangement.
The fifth track, “Guuzai”, in some ways has perhaps the least promising start, being somewhat melancholic, nothing wrong with that in itself but what a hidden beauty it turns out to be. A number of alternating high pitch drones are gradually joined by piano, guitar and percussion. There is a sense of anticipation but it’s only at around 4 minuets that the true beauty of the piece is revealed. Alternating between the two chords, gives it just enough movement to help it stand out beyond those pieces rooted in just the one. The result is a superb expression of love and compassion, at least, that was my interpretation. To an extent, the climb down at the end, works even better. Being more subdued, the piano, as well as other percussive elements, really shine through.
As would seem fitting for such a work, the final track instantly feels like a coda. Sonically it starts where the previous track ends, with the emphasis very much on the piano’s higher registers. As the piano gradually introduces more notes, almost reaching a collection of fractured pentatonic arpeggios, the whole piece is flooded by the final shifting chord. At the same time the sounds of the hall are heard in the form of foot steps and creaky floor boards.
Overall Shizuku works at every level. If the aim was to capture the building acoustic then this has largely been successful, although it would be interesting to see if this element could have been taken further. For me the stand out tracks are 3 and 5, although it’s all extremely good! It’s not the sort of album that is going to surprise you by a series of stealth shock moves but I guess that’s largely true of the genre and is probably just as well. It’s very hard to find anything to criticise but it is worth noting there is very little dissonance in the work and while there is nothing wrong with that, a few subtle discordant additions could have really helped to enhance this already beautiful work.
- Joe Evans for Fluid Radio
Continuing 12k’s journey into the world of subtle yet extremely beautiful instrumental music, ‘Shizuku’ comes from two musicians based in Tokyo; Corey Fuller and Tomoyashi Date. The album was recorded in a one hundred year old church, and while the sounds might be extremely low-key, their impact is amplified many times by the sheer reverberating grandeur of the space in which it was recorded. Haunted analog synthesizer tones sit like pillows beneath pipe organ, accordion, Rhodes piano, dulcimer and piano to create music that is so understated it is almost poetic. Indeed mid-way through the record we are treated to a haunting piece of spoken word, and even though it is in Japanese, it’s hard not to be moved by the words and distinct sound of the voice. While it would be easy to lump ‘Shizuku’ in with a great deal of other understated Japanese electronic records around at the moment, there is something very unusual about it that sets Illuha head and shoulders above their peers. There is a darkness and sense of melancholy that eschews the trend for prettiness and creates a lasting impression on the listener, and that alone is worth the asking price. A truly gorgeous and haunting album. http://boomkat.com/downloads/452775-illuha-shizuku
ILLUHA – SHIZUKU (CD by 12K)
A voice reciting a text: that’s something rather unheard of in the world of 12K. I can’t recall something like that happening before. What’s next, somebody singing? Illuha is a Portuguese word, meaning ‘Island’ and is a duo of Corey Fuller and Tomoyoshi Date, who had a bunch of pieces on the Fat Cat and Mille Plateaux websites and formed with Opitope with Chihei Hatakeyama and has released two solo albums; oddly enough he is also a physician. Fuller also lives in Tokyo these days and is known for his various releases on Dragon’s Eye and besides Illuha, he also has been collaborating with Mathieu Ruhlmann and Tyler Wilcox and Chihei Hatakeyama, and with the latter and Date also a trio called Kuukoka. That poem piece, recited by Tadahito Ichoneseki, is the only odd ball on this CD, the other pieces, six in total, have the ‘usual’ 12K touch, the 12K touch of these days that is. Lots of acoustic instruments, like dulcimer, accordion, piano vibraphone, cello, but also analog synth
rhodes and bits of field recordings, all played in a 100 year old church, picked up by quad-microphone techniques and apparently with a little bit of computer processing. The natural ambience of the space works quite well for this music, which is very melodic and rich. No doubt this is due to the use of acoustic instruments and sees 12K once again moving out of the strict realms of computer music, into a finely woven world of acoustic ambient music. Beautiful, rich and at times sad music. Emotional music and simply great. Excellent. (FdW)