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Kazumasa Hashimoto: Strangeness

img  Tobias Fischer

We all have our daydreams. For nothing but a brief instant, life will turn into a merry wonderland where desires are gladly fulfilled, promises duly kept and true love lasts forever. Then, the phone will ring, your coffeebreak will end or the conductor will kindly remind you that the train has reached its destination and it's time to get off. These are the moments that Kazumasa  Hashimoto dreads. Just like the nameless narrator of Fyodor Dostoevsky's „White Nights“, a heartwrenching tale of a love that can not cross the frontier separating fantasy from reality, Hashimoto wants the oneiric bliss to go on forever, the train to speed past its its destination, the coffeebreak to never end, the phone to remain silent. Composition, similar to the Aboriginal concept of the dream, is a place of refuge to him as well as a gateway to a better existence unperturbed by the nagging necessities of daily life: You don't just listen to an album like „Strangeness“, you enter into it as you would into an inviting imaginary country where voices are sweet, timbres tender and there is always music in the air.

Within the borders of this country, nothing separates a simple song from a secluded sonata, unpitched noises of nature from complex man-made instruments or sound from silence. Hashimoto once called the human voice „one of the most difficult instruments to handle“, treating Steinway pianos and emissions of a TV with the same degree of respect. You can distinctly hear this ambition for sonic equality in the sequence of nine tracks that opens „Strangeness“, on which fellow noble-labelmate Hirono Nishiyama (aka Gutevolk) contributes vocals. At least outwardly, the album here takes on the form of a collection of straight-forward songs. Pastiched together from French Chanson, 60s Pop and 70s Folk and interspersed by the influences of the American Minimalists (the pulsating Marimbas of „Slow Motion“ are essentially Steve Reich minus the groove-shifting psychedelia), marching bands („Echoes and Stars“), Ambient-leaning Sound Art (the weightlessly floating moods of „Lake“ and „Ether“) as well as romantic Post-Rock („Doppelganger“), Hashimoto weaves together dulcet flutes, delicious guitar picking and dizzily dragging drum rolls to arrive at pieces that are so utterly filled with references from the past five decades of musical history that the result is one of complete timelessness. Nishiyama's melodies are fluent and naive, her colours crystalline and ethereal and her delivery quiet yet confident, as though she were whispering the most fantastical stories into your ear. It is a sound that instantly feels intimate, while simultaneously retaining an innocent, fairytale-like quality.

And yet, as seductive as these nostalgic little fairytales may be, they're an illusion: Like an actor, Nishiyama is taking on a variety of roles over the course of these songs. Lyrics are collages culled from English, French and perhaps several more languages, their content scattered into myriads of shimmering associative crystals comparable to glistening grains of sand inside a kaleidoscope. And occasionally, her luminous lines will even be freed from the weight of the words entirely, turning into a solitary hum hovering on top of the harmonies like a spirit over water. Even though the music is clearly divided into suspenseful verses and jubilant, ear-catching choruses, texture and timbre are just as important, gradually blurring the balance between fore- and background. The meaning, as one is led to conclude, is never just in what is actually said, but how it is said and in how different tracks relate to each other without ever openly picking up on themes, rhythms or harmonic ideas.

These short stories, through their recognisable structures and charming quirkiness, are still safely framed within the four-minute Pop-song-format. In the grandly designed closing title track, however, Hashimoto wipes away the last traces of familiarity and takes the great plunge into the unknown. It is the moment, when he decides to ignore the signals for him to return into his quotidian existence and surges deeper and deeper ahead into the labyrinthine playground of his mind. For a full 22 minutes, it is just him and his Piano and the epic architecture of this minimal constellation opens up a space of infinite yearning and transcendence: Lonely melodies dance on the frail skin of fragile triads, bittersweet chords are struck repeatedly and immutably in a Feldman'ean trance, lush impressionist themes give way to the directionless dabblings of a little boy, romantic patterns slowly form and quickly decompose and the music lapses into complete silence only to be born again in a dark cycle of uncountable reincarnations. More than once, Hashimoto seems on the brink of closing the lid and surrendering to the call of physical reality. But then he touches the keyboard anew and fresh ideas are spouting forth from his fingers, reveling in the splendour of carefree happiness, prolonging the dream.

It may seem like a quixotic quest, but he knows what he's doing. In the closing sequence of „Strangeness“, the loose ends of the preceding passages are concentrated into a stringent and defiantly upbeat coda, which sounds out the journey in silent ecstasy and resolutely ringing confidence. It is a triumph against better judgement, a wilful statement of clinging on to one's own ideals. „White Nights“ ends with the protagonist caught between inexplicable joy and utter despair, consoling himself with the thought that he will always have the safe heaven of his memories: „Isn't such a moment sufficient for the whole of a man's life?" he asks, thinking back to the bliss and happiness he experienced. To  Kazumasa Hashimoto, there couldn't be a single doubt that it is.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Kazumasa Hashimoto
Homepage: Noble Label

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