Kyo Ichinose


he cover of Kyo Ichinose’s album Lontano shows an airplane flying overhead—an insignificant blotch of grey in an imposing pure blue sky. From a distance, the hard-edged technology of the aircraft appears soft and almost natural, like a bird with luminescent wings. So too do the digital techniques employed throughout Lontano sound natural. Ichinose buries his ambient production beneath beautiful, muted layers of choral voice and classical violin, so that his music sounds as if it is being sung to a listener on the mainland from some siren’s island far off in the limpid sea.

In musical terms, lontano refers to music played as if from a distance. Ichinose takes his title seriously. It implies an affinity for classical music that Ichinose affirms with several excursions into electro-classical fusion, aptly entitled “lontano#0” through “lontano#3.” Sprinkled amongst the albums ten tracks, these quasi-classical pieces form the backbone of Lontano, unifying the album despite the experimental disparity of the remaining six tracks.

The concept of distance figures heavily in Ichinose’s music. Rarely does an instrument or sound dominate a mix—usually the musical elements of a piece are shrouded in gauzy ambience, their full impact withheld from the listener. One gets the sense that the music of Lontano is thunderously powerful, but that it cannot burst through the thick wall between it and the listener. But this restraint does not diminish the emotional power of the album. In fact, with its subtlety and calm, Lontano hits harder than a full frontal assault.

The fifth track, “lontano#2,” anchors the album. At a robust 12 minutes, it occupies nearly a fourth of the total runtime of the album, and it contains all the musical preoccupations that Ichinose scatters throughout the other tracks. It opens with a school of violins swimming around each other in a pool of murky water. Occasionally, one breaks the surface and shimmers brilliantly in the light—a brief squeal of stirring music accompanied by swift, subtle piano plinks. The violins then submerge, replaced by the ghostly moaning and soft semi-syllables of human voices. Ichinose processes the choral voices so that their vocalizations sound uttered in measured, collective exhalations. After a few breaths of the collective human, the voices give way to a piercing, untreated violin. After having so much withheld, such bald instrumentation overwhelms the listener, like that first blinding step into sunshine after days of overcast skies. Luckily the violins retreat back into the clouds, and the track ends dreamily.

But Lontano doesn’t always hit. “Never/always” is marred by the monotonous repetition of those two words, and “TOKYO” shatters the continuity of the album with buzzing digital fireworks that sound like they come from a less-violent Pita track. Out of context, “TOKYO” works rather well. But Ichinose does not hint at such a turn towards the wholly digital anywhere else in the album, and the track breaks so radically from Lontano’s sound that the listener cannot quite overcome their surprise until it abruptly transitions back into the softness of “engine#5.”

Those searching for the long-sought perfect blend of classical and electronic music can do worse than Lontano. The titular pieces should satisfy them. The rest of us—content merely with good ambient music overflowing with ideas—should be overjoyed by the entire album.

Reviewed by: Bryan Berge
Reviewed on: 2005-04-25
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