Boomkat Product Review:
Kankyō Ongaku: Japanese Ambient, Environmental & New Age Music 1980-1990 is an unprecedented overview of the country’s vital minimal, ambient, avant-garde, and New Age music – what can collectively be described as kankyō ongaku, or environmental music. The collection features internationally acclaimed artists such as Haruomi Hosono, Ryuichi Sakamoto and Joe Hisaishi, as well as other pioneers like Hiroshi Yoshimura, Yoshio Ojima and Satoshi Ashikawa, who deserve a place alongside the indisputable giants of these genres.
Holding dozens of rare gems from Japan, ‘Kankyō Ongaku’ feeds the ambient zeitgeist with a sublime survey of hard-to-find works by Ryuichi Sakamoto, Haruomi Hosono, Joe Hisaishi and many others, all compiled by Visible Cloaks’ Spencer Doran and released for the first time outside Japan - including two tracks on vinyl not found on the CD.
Extending an unprecedented overview of Japan’s intersecting minimal, avant-garde, and New Age music realms, Spencer Doran expertly sequences work by titans of the Japanese scene along with beautiful pieces by artists little known beyond the country’s borders. While many of us may be acquainted with the likes of Ryuichi Sakamoto, Haruomi Hosono and Joe Hisaishi via their major label releases and work on Anime and Hollywood film soundtracks, the rest have largely remained obscure partly due to the notorious difficulty of licensing Japanese music in the west. Now, thanks to the work of YouTube algorithms in generating great interest in this area, and thru the dedication of obsessives such as Spencer Doran, this compilation is a very welcome part of the groundswell in official reissues from this unique, dreamlike time and space in the history of electronic music.
Scanning the years after digital synths began to flood the market, and the ideas of ambient music (Eno), and furniture music (Satie) had taken hold in Tokyo, the music on ‘Kankyō Ongaku’ is design-driven to inhabit personal spaces, to meld into the background and subtly frame everyday life. Oozing connotations of sophistication and luxury, the music can be heard as a result of Japan’s bubble economy in the 1980s, when it become a common currency for corporations as much as record labels, ending up on vinyl and CD as well as public installations, adverts for Sanyo air-con unit, and in-store soundtracks for the likes of Muji - all of which are contained within this collection.
It’s all so lovely that’s it’s a real struggle to pick highlights from the rest, and it would also miss the point - all the music shares the same ideal and executes its function exactingly, to linger in the air. It’s pretty much flawless stuff, awaiting the embrace of romantic sophisticates and Japan-o-philes everywhere.