serenitatem means serenity, an on-the-nose yet accurate description of the ambient music within. The album was co-created by Yoshio Ojima and Satsuki Shibano, two Tokyo musicians at the centre of the 1980s Japanese ambient scene, recently the subject of the Light In The Attic compilation Kankyō Ongaku: Japanese Ambient, Environmental & New Age Music 1980-1990. Visible Cloaks’s Spencer Doran, who curated that retrospective, worked alongside the Japanese artists on serenitatem. The LP strikes a balance between the elemental tones of ’80s Japanese ambient and Visible Cloaks’s sparkling neo-ambience heard on 2017’s Reassemblage, which twisted the nature-leaning sounds of the era into digitised shapes.
Ojima and Shibano were both key players during the first wave of Japanese ambient music. Ojima is perhaps best known for the environmental music he composed for Tokyo’s Spiral building, a multipurpose arts centre funded by the lingerie company Wacoal. Une Collection Des Chainons I: Music For Spiral and its sequel were typical of the corporate backing that drove some of Japan’s ambient music of the time. Shibano is a pianist whose album Erik Satie (France 1866-1925) was the third and final release in Satoshi Ashikawa’s Wave Notation series, which also featured Ashikawa’s own Still Life and Hiroshi Yoshimura’s Music For Nine Post Cards, two records at the centre of resurgent interest in the era.
serenitatem, the latest volume in RVNG Intl.’s FRKWYS series, harks back to Ojima’s environmental music of the period. (It was also inspired by St.GIGA, an experimental satellite radio station Ojima and Shibano were both involved in.) The delicate synthwork across the LP is uncluttered and unobtrusive. “You,” in particular, is filled with chiming bells and delicate percussion that sounds engineered to float calmly between the walls of a pristine, 21st-century city space. But the record also feels in tune with a modern, more personal consumption of ambient music—say, at home on YouTube. The last track on the record, “Canzona Per Sonare No.4,” makes Shibano’s piano the focal point, which conveys a domestic intimacy. Her playing sits heavily on top of feather-light synth tones, the piano’s melancholy refrain all the more lovely for how human it sounds amid vibrating electronics.
The natural world is never far away on serenitatem. Faint animal noises are heard in the background of “Atelier.” Something like a gurgling stream appears in “Lapis Lazuli.” But it’s the digital textures that dominate. Visible Cloaks’ trademark MIDI-esque vocals are scattered throughout, albeit sung by Shibano herself. The melodies were created by feeding text written by Ojima and Shibano into the generative music program Wotja. Despite the use of such technology to create serenitatem’s immaculate soundscapes, the album’s most affecting piece is its most traditional, a rework of the French medieval song “S’Amours Ne Fait Par Sa Grace Adoucir (Ballade 1).” The collaborators embellish the original’s lilting organ-like melody with watery sounds and gleaming synths, transforming it into a beautiful, winding electroacoustic lullaby.
– Resident Advisor