Sampler from the forwind release.
'North Palace' is the third release and first physical by Tokyo composer and producer Tomonari Nozaki.
'Tomo's' hugely immersive sound feels like opening an old dusty wooden box and hearing a frayed melancholy soundtrack to somewhere standing outside of time and the concerns of the world. It manages to be remote and indefinable in parts but has such spirit, sincerity and indeed warmth it's hard not to let yourself become completely absorbed.
Anyone who has been following the forwind story so far will know we don't go for bluster. Hand on heart this is genuinely sublime stuff.
Written and Produced by Tomonari Nozaki
Mastered by Conor Curran
Additional mixing on Track I by Shane Lawlor
Artwork and Graphic Design by Hannes Jensch
There are occasions when music is not the best, but the only viable form of communication. The latest release on the forwind label is from their furthest flung producer – the emerging Tokyo based composer and produced Tomonari Nozaki. North Palace is his debut physical release, after a series of digital only pieces on the Slovak label Soun Records, under the alias of UNKNOWKNjp.
But what is the North Palace? I contacted forwind to ask for more information on the work, but apparently the language barrier ensured that Nozaki couldn’t describe the influences adequately. He sent pictures to best convey his influences and answer the label’s questions. This all adds to the rather mysterious and cloaked nature of the release; a distant artist, producing music that can’t be described by words, only through sound and images.
In which case, we’re only left with the music to represent the North Palace, for which Nozaki uses a hazy collage of dark drones and barely audible static. It unfurls and grows in a very organic manner, like a flower in the first fits of spring, breaking through the rough harsh ground and expanding into the light. Split into five parts, each feels like a separate theme, a hymn to a different part of the “North Palace”, whatever that may be. The rather mystical background to the album would suggest that the Palace is something unique, perhaps created from Nozaki’s memory and the music thus reflects a patchwork of remembered ideas combining to create a fictionalised locale. The slowness of these pieces could be said to reflect the process of recalling memory, of thinking back to specific details that are now clouded and have become too difficult to remember fully. There’s a religious feel to ‘Part II’ and ‘Part III’, as if you’re working through a cathedral or gothic palace, the high stone ceilings allowing the undulating tones to take on a rather church organ sound.
What I’ve found most striking about North Palace is its way of isolating the listener from the real world. As the music plays I find myself drifting away, shutting my eyes and letting Nozaki’s Palace surround me and pervert my senses. This is driven by the uplifting tones – the rolling and swelling of the music actively encouraging you to get lost, to submit to it. Regardless of whether this palace is fabricated or not, you’ll still want to be locked within.
Right from the very beginning there is a palpable sense of inward bleakness that shrouds North Palace. Echoes of musical shapes swirl behind clouds of white noise, stark and slippery, forever sinking away into the formless chasm that surrounds them.
It took me a few listens to get into this record. The use of noise to put distance between the music and its listener is one we’ve become accustomed to in recent years, but rarely do we find this technique pushed to the extremes found on North Palace. What starts as a gentle hiss obscuring the submerged harmonies later becomes so thick as to engulf them completely; the melancholy is so cold that to try and sit down to listen to it purposefully seems woefully pointless. Better instead to wait until accident catches you in just the right mood, and in just the right circumstance. In short, I get the sense that the depths of North Palace are the kind you need to sink into, rather than plunge into.
In the middle of the album – Track III – the smooth top end static of the earlier tracks is replaced by the warmer sound of crackling vinyl. What didn’t occur to me the first few times I listened to it is that all this lo-fi treatment serves a conceptual purpose in addition to its textural one. We hear the click of a record run to the end of its groove but still revolving: the sound that’s left when all other sounds have finished, without anyone there to tell it to stop. This slight recontextualisation of the source sound is what opened the album up for me; the sudden giving way of the formless white to a lonely image – of the abstract to the concrete – making visible what should have been obvious all along: that North Palace is all about pathos. Forgetting for a moment the near motionless minimalism at work here, each track maps out with smudged drones and piano a song of its own, always somewhere on the line between tragedy and optimism.
I’m reminded of the techniques of anamorphosis used by medieval painters: the distortion or stretching of images so that they could only be seen from certain angles or perspectives. The aim was to delay revelation, to force the onlooker to spend time looking for the deeper pictures among the more obvious surface features. This release from Tomonari Nozaki does something I think is similar. Getting inside it is a process of stripping away levels of clutter in the mind, approaching a realisation that this is quite simply a collection of sad, elegant tracks, that they need not be any more than that, and moreover that they are left all the more beautiful by the work required in uncovering them.
North Palace (Forwind) is the sound of ambient drift and temporal collapse, carried through the white noise of a light-weighted needle tracking a phonograph groove at slow speed. We hardly need to be told that Tokyo-based producer Tomonari Nozaki produced this music on “old reel to reel tape units and analogue equipment”.
North Palace is a suite of five pieces. “Part I” is aeolian siren sound drifting through audio-mnemonic mist, soft detonations punctuating the lulling ambient scurf. Gradually, through ten minutes of elemental accretion, it builds and breaks as a rolling wave.
A nostalgia-evoking shimmer of pianistic harmonics ripples through the sound-mote static of “Part II”. The effect is muzzy and narcotic. On “Part III”, the riffle of a locked groove mixes with a melancholic whorl of reverberant organ in cavernous headspace. Traces of spectral choristry merge with the sense impression of an orchestra on “Part IV”. There’s an unusual point of dislocation before the end, where sound-clouds part to reveal dry, rodent-on-cardboard scratching sounds. It’s only a fleeting event; a nice touch.
You may have encountered similar soundscapes before: venturing into Thomas Koner’s liminal arctic zones; accompanying Gavin Bryar’s Titanic into a cold, crepuscular aquatic void; meditating within the cathedrals of Philip Jeck’s stacked Dansette installations; losing yourself in the entropy of William Basinski’s Disintegration Loops. But North Palace doesn’t sound derivative; it’s nicely realised, thoughtfully structured, concise and richly detailed.
“Part V” could be the noise of a music-free acetate played on an entropic, time-slowed loop; except there are lacunae in the playback, like the temporal glitches produced by slack tape. That’s probably, albeit deliberate, what they are.
Given the loaded, romantic appeal of pre-aged audio, and the audibility of process that’s so integral to any such acid-washed music, it’s ironic that North Palace could (perhaps) only be mediated effectively on CD/in cold digital. The vinyl edition of Basinski’s Disintegration Loops proposes the continuation of a process of creation through attrition, but we need the pink noise of a CD to reveal the assiduous detail in the weave of these multiple-analogue soundscapes.
Hear for yourself: there’s a five minute sampler mix for the album on Soundcloud.
North Palace is Nozaki’s first release in any hard format. It follows an EP and an album of ambient tape loops, issued on the Slovakian Soun Records label in digital-only format under the alias UNKNOWNjp.
The Art of memory
about these places especially, dark, almost dirty, shadows gathered. come to discover beauty in shadows. the light from the garden; fragile, dying rays, avoid the failure to comprehend the mystery of shadows, and especially not to disturb the glow. listening to the murmur that penetrates, what lies within the darkness one cannot distinguish. the spell disappears from the dream world built by that strange light, what feeble light there was i could imagine. a part picked up by a faint light. water lines harmonize with and bury the wires. the beauty of the grain begins to emerge, left obscure, shrouded in a dusky haze. softness and warmth of the still dimmer light, the aura of depth and mystery. set out in the night, and recede into darkness. dreamlike glow that suffuses it.
(tanizaki - manipulated in praise of shadows)
[Boomkat product review]
Forwind's 2013 trajectory starts with a wonderfully noisy ambient piece by emergent Japanese producer, Tomonori Nozaki. With previous experiments conducted in the minimal techno field, Nozaki arrives at a lush and widescreen sound on 'North Palace'. He uses analog equipment to organic, evocative appeal, eschewing any computer processing to embrace the infidelities of tape-loop splicing and dusty synth sounds beside other, unnamed outboard sources. The most direct precedents for this sound clearly lie in William Basinski's decaying spools and the romantic isolation of The Boats or certain Untitled releases, yet his analog ghosts take their own form with canny spectral spatialisation subtly drawing our perceptions between its finely layered dimensions of hiss and squinted melody. It's quite lovely.