Odd, this. I’ve had Toshiyuki Sasagawa’s AQUA=MIZU in my daily playlists for almost two years now without ever eking out a coherent statement about it. I suspect that’s because it’s become such a familiar presence that it’s a little like describing the air. I also suspect talking about it will seem strange because it is so radically out of phase with the other music I tend to write about. What’s a guy who likes Merzbow and Fushitsusha doing writing about an album of soft solo piano that might easily have come from the Windham Hill label?
Well, I have my reasons — and if they seem more like excuses, then excuses they are. It was through folks like the noise-mongers described above that I backtracked into folks like John Cage, and then from Cage into Erik Satie. And from Satie into Harold Budd and Brian Eno, whose The Pearl I managed to listen to for hours on end without ever feeling like I knew where any one song really began or ended, or knowing where the whole record itself was meant to begin or end. It somehow in time became a part of the very environment of the room I was in, as did AQUA=MIZU when I played it. That said, I have to accept the possibility that what I hear in the record is only what I’ve chosen to hear, and that other people are going to simply compare it to all the other piano albums they’ve heard with a picture on the cover of some curtains blowing in the breeze.
I would wager there are Satie fans out there likely to find this stuff trite and unstimulating, and so I hope the comparisons to Satie don’t seem gauche. But to my mind some of the same things are being tried here, and somehow — through some careful combination of progressions and choices in song construction — the whole thing manages to avoid being trite, and instead carries a … well, I was going to say undercurrent, but the word does fit. The effects are cumulative, and you find yourself noticing them that much more on repeat listenings — such as the way he sometimes chooses to end a song in what sounds like the middle of a still-developing phrase. You hear this, and because you’re compelled to continue listening, that carries right over into the next song — a way to give the whole album a kind of continuity that I didn’t expect to find the first time through. Small wonder it ends up on repeat play, since it never seems to completely stop, just pause for a little bit.
I suspect a big part of my fondness for the record is pure luck. I found it during a crawl of a record store’s $3 discount bin, knowing nothing about the artist or album itself, and decided a gamble like that was worth taking. And once I got back home and online, I found not much information was available in English about Sasagawa himself anyway. He’s got several solo piano albums out, of which this is the first; composed scores for a number of video games; credits himself as a reiki master and psychic healer; and even has a Twitter account.
The new-age goop, I can live without. The music speaks for itself. The same goes for folks like Kitaro or Vangelis, artists who draw on some deeper wellspring of contemplative emotion and spiritual resources for their work and become that much more palatable for that reason. So, yeah, curse me for having a softer side if you like, although if I ever post about Yanni you are fully justified in leaving a flaming ARP 2600 on my front lawn.