Hiroshi Yoshimura: Music for Nine Postcards Album Review

Sometime in the middle of composing the songs that would become 1982’s Music for Nine Postcards, the late Japanese ambient pioneer Hiroshi Yoshimura visited the then-new Hara Museum of Contemporary Art in the Shinagawa ward of Tokyo. He was taken with its pristine architecture, with its view of the trees in its courtyard from the interior. Yoshimura imagined his nascent work in relationship to that space, and inquired about having the finished piece played there; the museum agreed. The titular nine postcards, nodding back to that view from the Hara Museum, refer to a series of window views. In the songs’ titles, and in the few translated texts surrounding the release, he links them to broadly-drawn images of the natural world: clouds, rain, a tree’s shade.

Ambient music is often linked to a kind of psychic interiority, but Yoshimura—who overlapped with the post-Fluxus contemporary art scene of 1960s and 1970s Tokyo—made music responding to and designed to exist in physical places: for train stations, runway shows, and so on. In 1982, a version of Music for Nine Postcards was the first release in Satoshi Ashikawa’s Wave Notation series; Ashikawa and Yoshimura defined and advocated for what they termed “environmental music,” “music which by overlapping and shifting changes the character and the meaning of space, things, and people,” wrote Ashikawa. “Music,” he argues, “is not only meant to be something which exists alone.” Influenced by figures like Erik Satie and Brian Eno, this developing sound also progressed with a specificity and gentle sense of intent, responding to urban sonic overload (and, perhaps, to developing ideas about media: an awareness that culture doesn’t just reflect reality, but actively produces it).

Music for Nine Postcards, then, is an intervention conducted through near-stillness. Composed with a minimal setup including a Fender Rhodes piano, the songs collected here are built around simple melodies that Yoshimura modulates in small, affecting ways. In a 1999 text reprinted in this reissue’s liner notes, he likens his process to planting a “seed” as a means of seeking “a prime number.” There’s little texture in them beyond the keyboard’s warm finish: a phrase will move alongside a complementary droning tone, and perhaps a harmony will wander in, but Yoshimura’s pieces rarely build. Despite this lack of sonic density, however, they have a disarming presence, cutting sweetly into the…

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