Masashi Hamauzu Piano Works δ・ε・T_Comp 1
Masashi Hamauzu Piano Works δ・ε・T_Comp 1
October 9, 2013
Buy at CDJapan
Right away, composer Masashi Hamauzu’s latest album makes two interesting offers: it’s his first piano album that stands outside of the videogame industry; and it lets one hear what contemporary pianistic music written to portray places might sound like. Although the tracks have cryptically generic, machine-like titles, they are in fact re-recordings of select pieces from Hamauzu’s ongoing collaboration with Sony’s “α” Clock project, which sees him writing pieces for UNESCO sites. Sony’s part has been to “attempt to photograph these World Heritage locations with Sony’s own ‘α’ camera and to share these recorded treasures with the world.” In a way, then, this album carries over one of the major emphases of Hamauzu’s career as a composer of videogame music: the writing of environmental themes. Of course, that’s just one way of engaging the music here. It’s possible that the faceless track names are a gentle push by Hamauzu to ask us to hear these as compositions on terms separate from the “α” Clock. It’s also possible that Hamauzu sees δ・ε・T_Comp 1 as a continuation of his 1999 album, Piano Pieces “SF2”, whose tracks were given similar titles (and also existed elsewhere for another purpose beforehand — for the videogame SaGa Frontier 2).
It’s not particularly important to know Hamauzu’s purpose behind the renaming. That’s a concern best left to the obsessives on their own time. Even so, divorced as many listeners may be from the tracks’ original thematic context, it’s not difficult, and quite appealing, to interpret δ・ε・T_Comp 1 as constituting a world or landscape of its own — one that is consistent, and more fully revealed track by track. Hamauzu’s pieces carry on a tone of steady, patient quietude — occasionally excited, yet never to a high degree. You won’t find anything here resembling the half-crazed massiveness of “Nascent Reqiuem” from Piano Collections Final Fantasy XIII (performed by Aki Kuroda) or the brilliant, tumbling energy of “Kaki” from Hamauzu’s Vielen Dank.
If the album were a season, it would be winter. Certainly, every season carries a bundle of associations, some contrary, some interrelating, but there is an underlying quietness in these pieces that is evocative of winter’s unique, absorbing hush. Besides its text, the cover is simply a zone of light gray. Were we to become more abstract in our visualizations, perhaps that is what δ・ε・T_Comp 1 constitutes: a place of grays, its rolling and also angular surfaces highlighted by fading whites, and its undersides carved out by things verging on black. Is this boring? Not necessarily. One need only to, for example, look at Ansel Adams’ photographs to know that there is a universe of variety in grays, rich in its own tonal implications. Hamauzu’s music here may be utilizing a gray palette, but it is not porridge, nor is it disaffected. It has geography and definition.
Moving through pieces individually and the album as a whole, one discovers a theme of accumulation that prizes a type of softness and order: the falling and layering of snow, or the confident, step-by-step stacking of storeys on a minorly yet lovingly and particularly decorated building’s ivory facade. A wonderful adjoining instance of these qualities is the pair of “δ – 15” and “δ-16“. In the former, staccato marches of blocky chord couples compound by virtue of repetition, and then let their rigid sides soften as they slip into warmer, watery stasis and fine compromise. The latter is content to let the majority of its body be a brief, irregular, exact pattern of bright upper notes dotting the sonic sky, developing simply by a change in key and the addition of lower accompaniment that provides a sober grounding, and closing with a simple, chordal form of that accompaniment.
There is a very noticeable strain of repetition in δ・ε・T_Comp 1‘s tracks; and so one of the triumphs here is the absence of repetition’s bad side, monotony. The compositions inhabit a place that almost seems illusory somehow plain and reiterative, but so inspirited by an under-rainbow of harmonic vividness. Although Hamauzu’s music has happily held this place (among others) ever since he started composing, even with the limitations of synthetic instruments on the Sony Playstation, his selections for δ・ε・T_Comp 1 illustrate a creative development that is successful exactly because it’s become harder talk about, but personally apparent if only because none of Hamauzu’s prior music prompted tears, or the stirring of a sob. Here, there is such a wonderful mixture of grace, darkness, and transience in pieces like “δ – 4” or “δ – 9” beauties that suddenly overwhelm despite how dulcet and observable their approach is that is new to Hamauzu’s name.
On the more demonstrable side of things, the tracklist has a delightful variety of rhythms lending themselves to the process of shaping that aforementioned geography and definition: “δ – 12” has a dance-like flow that ventures into moments of quiet, free reverie; “δ – 5” contrasts charmingly irritated ramblings against sturdier washes of notes in 4/4; and “δ – 17” gestates between no less than four time signatures (and is, in a good way, maybe the closest Hamauzu has ever come to sounding like Beethoven). Yet this is not “virtuosic” pianistic music, at least not in the typical sense. Hamauzu has formed a style full of gorgeous melodic crests and rhythmic curiosities, and also holding a kind of neatness that is not interested in occupying the whole of a keyboard’s real estate in a passage or two; instead, he locally builds, notes small and dear points of interest nearby, and deems that to be enough. And, yes, it is enough.
Two more items should be mentioned. The first is the excellence of Benyamin Nuss’ performance and the recording quality. One has to strain to think of any negatives; perhaps a couple of performances could be a touch slower, but at this point, after dozens of listens, Nuss’ tempos have taken on a legitimacy of their own, and are appreciably separate from those of Hamauzu. Against the trend of modern audio releases, δ・ε・T_Comp 1‘s master volume is sympathetic to the existence of human ears, and the chosen studio, Loft, has served the music well: the sound is close yet resonant, allowing a balanced mixture of warmth and coolness. The other thing to note is the general shortness of the tracks, the shortest of which, “δ – 6“, is forty-nine seconds. Aside from the intimacy this invites, there’s something so pleasing about as smart, capable, and proven a musician as Hamauzu being apparently comfortable enough to let these compositions be as they were.
δ・ε・T_Comp 1 is, all in all, the best kind of album: one that gives no sign of losing its luster over time, and substantiates the continued creative growth of its author. Published by Hamauzu’s own label Monomusik, it is available from CDJapan now.
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Posted on April 25, 2014 by Ario Barzan. Last modified on May 19, 2014.