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Pawn: Above The Winter Oaks

img  Tobias Fischer

From the twinkling glockenspiel that opens Above The Winter Oaks, it’s clear that Japanese sound-artist Hideki Umezawa has set out to construct a shimmering world of floating textures. Sounds of breathing sift delicately around sustained reverb-y tones; metallic sounds crackle between the speakers as isolated vibraphone sketches outline ambiguous chords. There’s little sense of harmonic gravity: the music exists as suspended drones, creating a meditative “OM” of sound that empties your head.

Pawn’s greatest strength is its sense of restraint—an ability to create a space that unfolds just barely fast enough to keep you intrigued without revealing too much too quickly. As slow and seemingly minimal as the music is, every note sounds deliberate, every ambient texture purposefully manipulated. Acoustic guitar chords sound pointilistically around held keyboard notes and subtle electronics. Crunching leaves, birds, and voices emerge imperceptibly through the textures before sinking back into quiet washes of sound. Glass-harp, handbells, and harmonica bring to mind the sounds of dusty toy instruments discovered in an attic and lend a sense of antiquity to the music.

As the album’s title implies, the music conjures images of a quiet winter forest. The mallet percussion sound like delicate wind chimes; the bowed glass-harp like icy air moving between trees. The volume never rises above the hush of a quiet evening. Delicate sounds fade in and out of the textures seamlessly and imperceptibly. “Grund (Bottom Of Bottle)” floats largely on a single held note for over 7 minutes, with constantly changing (but barely noticeable) textural densities. In “Wild Owls,” a sea of static gradually overwhelms ghostly reversed tones and wind sounds until only white noise remains. As a result, the few abrupt changes that do occur over the course of the music—dissonant bell-like hits that begin ¾ through “Winter Came Again,” the crunching metallics that break the opening lull of “Snow Piles”—are particularly powerful.

Above The Winter Oaks can be a bit trying at times—particularly when taking in the album as a whole—but the longer you listen, the more nuances you discover. When you abandom preconceptions and absorb it as ambient textures/sound art, the album’s colors take you to a sedate and really beautiful corner of your head.

By Hannis Brown

Homepage: Pawn
Homepage: Thelandof Records

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