Imported from Japan
Over the last months, a plethora of drone-related albums have piled up on our desk. Several of them have been of exceptional quality: Imaginative, personal, pristinely realised, daring even. And yet few artists have been able to sustain their ambitions over a prolonged series of releases like Yui Onodera. The three albums he churned out in 2007 alone would have fueled the career of other artists for at least a decade: "Substrate" on Mystery Sea revealed a pure and hypnotic world of overtones, "Suisei" (AND/OAR) constituted an epic journey into the heart of Tokyo, while "Rhizome" (Gears of Sand) was a colourful, multistylistic effort with a strong melodic underpinning. Onodera, it seemed, had discovered a foolproof creative formula and the way he was lavishly applying its ardent arithmetics to a string of continuously immaculate albums implied there were more and possibly even greater things to come.
This, of course, is the main trait of all leading artists: Never holding anything back from their audiences in fear of having nothing left to say one day. And yet, for a second there, it seemed as though the well had indeed dried up. After being administered the accolade of the genre by releasing a 7inch on seminal label Drone Records, Onodera lapsed into silence. "Radiance", a collaboration with The Beautiful Schizophonic and officially published only a couple of days ago, is his first new full-length in almost one and a half years and its shimmering harmonies and glowing production are sure to again raise attention. "Entropy", meanwhile, is an older work, Onodera's first in fact, and it takes listeners back all the way to 2005, when he was just setting up his Critical Path imprint and assembling a circle of like-minded young Japanese Sound Artists. His relative fame was restricted to his homeland back then, withholding the music from most of the world's ears. Re-released on nascent record company Trumn, it however sounds as fresh as ever today and demonstrates just how mature he had already been when debuting on the scene.
It also underlines that a combination of solid craftsmanship and good-old inspiration can still yield impressive results which are "characterized by values and concepts that are different from everything so far" (as he himself put it): Onodera uses a typical setup of Guitar, field recordings and electronics here and most pieces on "Entropy" consist of a recognisable amalgamation of various layers of harmonics, noises and micro-sounds. Still, the record is capable of evoking insistent images of burning intensity. Each track is like a psychedelic still-life, like gazing through a cosmic caleidoscope with shardes of stardust gracefully creating shifting patterns at the pace of planetational rotation. The music reveals its constituents early on simple two-chord loops, melodic movements, frequential pulsation and timbral friction and then allows the audience to observe them from various angles and in slightly different constellations over the course of their brief four- to five-minute duration. Effectively, listening to this album feels a little bit like walking through an exposition of holographic sculptures electrically flickering in serene darkness to the beat of random fluctuations in power supply.
On the one hand, the accuracy of his vision is astounding: Each scene is carved out with utmost precision and a great sensitivity for mood: In the best of Japanese traditions, his compositions are the most immediate realisation of a single idea imaginable. They should not be seen as symbols but as strikingly vivid expressions of life. On the other, Onodera is constructing a greater picture from these small-scale miracles as well. Juxtaposition is the main creative tool on "Entropy", with dense ambiances taking turns with minimalistic microtonal sketches and light-filled amniotic soundscapes seaguing into the foreboding waters of a dark sonic river. With each new piece, the immersive character of the album grows, culminating in a sensation of immense tranquility when tension finally dissolves into the calm final movement.
Despite constant claims that it no longer had anything new to say, the Drone genre has only grown more prolific and seminal labels like Drone Records and Mystery Sea are planning their release schedules years rather than months ahead. As similar as some of its techniques and approaches have necessarily been by default, the allure of this kind of music has always been its unique ability of voicing a vast and indiscribable mystery in an immediate and emotionally direct vocabulary. As the market becomes saturated, artists like Yui Onodera are thus becoming ever-more important: Even the sound of small stones and subtle tones rubbed against each other sounds spooky and enigmatic with him and there seem to be lightyears of whispering dark matter separating tonal layers in his tracks. His work always goes that one decisive step deeper, his sounds touching the very chakral points of your synapses. As imaginative and daring as many of his colleagues may be, only few can match that.
By Tobias Fischer for Tokafi
Homepage: Yui Onodera at MySpace
Homepage: Critical Path Records
Homepage: Trumn Records