Chihei Hatakeyama’s evocative choice of title for his latest album via Lawrence English’s Room 40 does well to foreshadow the music that lies beyond the monochrome print on the cover. Moon Light Reflecting Over Mountains is the next instalment in a bulging discography for the Japanese artist that spans almost ten years today and is characterised by Hatakeyama’s signature sound, strumming chords processed on the virtual computer plain to create visceral atmospheres that recall particular memories for the artist. Unfamiliar to anybody but the artist, these memories allow the listener to fall into his/her own reminiscent reverie through the layers of droning textures that make up the compositions. Moon Light Reflecting over Mountains relies on these same methods with succinct adventures through harmony creating movable atmospheres outside of the stationary idiom of ambience, as Prince of the sea impresses on us on the opening of the album. Strummed guitars, cloaked in the meandering textures of their own design, encumber time’s progression, slowing everything down to a resting pulse rate, where we can fall into our dream state. There’s definite sense of floating, but whereas some listeners might be encouraged to recall the ocean, it is an ocean in a parallel universe where time just moves almost unnoticeably slower.
It’s very difficult not to conjure such visceral images through Hatakeyama’s music, and it’s something he encourages in his work, through songs like a bronze pike relaying the idea of an urban jungle though guitars that move along busily through abrupt chords and drives the point home with sounds that form a semiotic relationship with the city for any listener that’s ever lived in one. The sound of a siren is quite obvious at one point, but what is surprising is the tender touch it adds to the music, and its something that happens often on Moon light reflecting over mountains frequently. Hatkeyama has an ability to take what are distinctly bold sounds and soften them through the music. A narrow path of the sacred forest features distant echoes of sharp metallic sounds drifting in and out of view as it meanders along to some unknown destination, perhaps reflecting the idea of an echo of some urban life left behind. What is unique in the composition however is that these sounds don’t pierce through the thin textures, but rather make it bulge, and it shows a serene quality to these harsh sounds that would be left unnoticed in their natural state. It works together with the other parts to create a solemn atmosphere for the listener to relax in to, but Moon light reflecting over mountains is not all about the serenity of the moment and does at times present a underlying tension in the music.
Hatakeyama achieves this tension through discordant guitars that pick or strum against the drone in the foreground just before you slip into the hypnotic state it induces, but there’s never any notable suggestion as to why. It’s obvious on Journey to the imaginary paradise where the tremolo infected guitar wobbles out of shape around the rest of the composition, but for the most part it is hard to pin point the anonymous cause for this concern. End of night holds some of these uncomfortable anomalies and on this occasion its hard to tell if its a guitar part moving into dissonant spaces or that bit of noise that is just too apparent because they last just long enough to infect the serene moment without disturbing it completely and you tend to question if they are ever there. These elements lie under the surface just pulling at the general flow of the composition without affecting it in any real sense. The title is very suggestive here however and might offer up clues. End of night could easily have been beginning of the day, which would have carried a more positive connotation, and it suggests that Hatakeyama is trying to relay something more than just the idea of a natural or urban environment, before the first morning light begin to wake the day.
These are subtle inflictions that add a new dimension to the serenity of Hatakeyama’s compositions on Moon light reflecting over mountains, away from the idea of just capturing a beautiful scene through music. There is much more of a story to tell in the songs than a setting. There are definite moments of tension and resolve in all these compositions that suggest it isn’t just about seeing moon light reflecting over mountains. It’s about the viewer and perhaps some emotive state he is wrestling with at the time. There is a definitive narrative outside the obvious themes in nature and urban life Hatakeyama relays to us here and you get the sense that you are on a speedy train to some unknown destination with an unchanging view of the country side ahead.