Today, I am spending some time with a small label based in Osaka, Japan, called Muzan Editions, which started in Nara about seven years ago as a platform for local artists. Besides the (unknown to me) domestic composers, whom I’m eager to discover on Muzan, the imprint also released works by some recognizable names, such as Anthéne, Amulets, Sean Curtis Patrick, Aidan Baker, Nadja, David Cordero & Pepo Galán, and even Hainbach. Always eager to pop out of my self-created bubble, I am excited to reach across the world and diversify my listening habits. I think you should as well! In this label special, I intend to cover a couple of the latest releases from the label and uncover a few hidden gems.
We begin with the latest album by Joshua Stefane, who releases under his moniker Endurance. I don’t know how I have never covered Stefane on Headphone Commute, as his discography goes back to 2016, with albums on Polar Seas, Pyramid Blood, Shimmering Moods, and Constellation Tatsu. OK, I see there was a track of his on one of the HC mixes by Laima Lisauskienė back in 2018, sandwiched in between Arovane + Porya Hatami and r beny, so yes, I should have paid attention. Fair enough. But, let’s say “better late than never“, eh? His latest release, Further, is immediately in line with my personal aesthetics and research into a synth-driven ambience, with vast-sprawling pads, soft-glowing keys, harmonic arpeggios and space. Recorded using [the newly released?] ARP 2600 plus an array of synth modules and a lush Eventide Space reverb, the long-playing pieces of Further carry me deep into the frequency-rich universe, forever expanding beyond its cosmic bounds. This is where I would like to spend the rest of my eternity when this particular configuration of my energies decides to transform and progress. An inspiring selection of modular synth atmospherics which truly brightened up my day. And yes, I do appreciate the photography and design here, provided by Stefane himself. Pick this up on a cassette tape, will ya? Okay, I’m off to brush up on his previous releases.
We move on to a 4-piece release by Yuri Urano, an Osaka-based interdisciplinary artist who shared the stage with Ryoji Ikeda and Richie Hawtin at Mutek Japan. This is some very deep listening music, full of ambient evolving drones, rich textural elements, and lovely field recordings – I hear a crackling fire, a running forest stream, crickets, and an empty silence of a deep, dark, cavernous cave. I really love the 12-minute “shinkai” as I slowly descend into the underground, exploring the hidden depths of the Xibalba. This acoustic environment is not just the amalgamation of encountered recordings but a carefully designed, curated space where the mind is tricked into experiencing trepidation. Multiple layers and delicately orchestrated frequencies make this a wonderful seance into the world of lost souls. While listening to “yuki”, I begin to shudder slightly as a deep and sighing voice begins to moan behind the veil. I would love to make this the soundtrack to the horror manga works by Junji Ito (if you know, you know). “Looking to exorcise the ghosts in the machine, all of her productions harbour an emotional intensity that is felt deeply in the listener; within their psyche, their bones and floating through the air we breathe in the club.” I would also absolutely love to experience some of Urano’s audio-visual works and experiments in augmented reality. For a more rhythmic-inspired output (dare I say “techno”), check out her 2018 release on Central Processing Unit, titled Autline.
I conclude my tour of this Osaka imprint with a modular synth album by Mountain Hawk (I think her real name is Takako Yamauchi). As is the usual case when I cover “modular” music on this site, I never pick an album full of squiggles, bleeps and boops. Just because a particular tool is used in a production (like a single voice arpeggiated mono synth), it doesn’t mean that the experience has to immediately reflect the instrument’s most known force. And this is where I think this work by Mountain Hawk prevails. Yes, there is the Subharmonium in here, as well as the Syntakt, the Waldorf Blofeld and even the Roland TB-03. And yet, the six pieces on the album paint a deeper musical story. “As each track unfolds, the listener is transported to uncharted territories with lush forests, sun-kissed mountaintops and deep blue oceans. Delicate piano notes float like blossoms on a breeze, while ethereal analog synthesizers shimmer like sunlight filtering through a canopy of leaves.” So when that 303 line finally comes in (on “Sacred Island”), I greet it like an old lost friend. It all just seems to suddenly make sense, showcasing once again that “modular” is here to stay. Finally, I want to give a quick nod to all of the beautiful album cover art created by Endurance (for all entries in this column), whom I covered above, and urge you to pick up this music from Japan, preferably on limited edition dubbed cassettes.