Chihei Hatakeyama
Ghostly Garden





Tokyo-based Chihei Hatakeyama is a real workaholic. He releases one or two albums every year and on various labels too, slightly adapting his sound to fit the habitat of each label while staying true to his own distinct Ambient sound. His acoustic guitar, for example, was more on the forefront on Minima Moralia, his debut album released on the Kranky label, possibly due to fellow Kranky artists like Growing, Tim Hecker and Loscil whose sounds are often interwoven with plain guitar chords. His ninth album Ghostly Garden, released on the Luxembourgian label Own Records, is a particularly bright and calm offering and though the title implies a certain kind of sinister spookiness or tense compositions, it offers nothing but beautifully tranquilizing soundscapes. The guitar is also used on this release, but it is not noticeable on most of the tracks.


Shadows is a calm track with no cognizable melody while still being melodious because of flittering synth swirls and a rising or falling one-note string of crystalline vividness. Voices is a high-pitched synth-string focused piece with multiple layers that contain short, barely perceptible bursts of deeper tones. Its counterpart Voices II, the fifth track of the release, almost seems to consist of the same setup but pitched down two octaves which reveals an electric guitar playing slowly among dominant strings. Cave is a strong revelation that captures a solemn pastoral mood by using organ-like synths at its beginning but gets diffident and calmer during its runtime. The resulting fragility is a welcome change of pace in contrast to the other mellow, synth-populated tracks of this release. Slight Trail is another interesting change of the formula presented on Ghostly Garden. It features static noises, medium wave fragments and different 40‘s and 50‘s brass and violin songs coming and going, while Hatakeyama‘s synth strings take over the song in its second half until nature takes over and field recordings of birds and floating water can be heard, thus breaking the technical, insulated concept of the album for once. Stone Wall Island is reminiscent to Chihei Hatakeyama‘s debut on Kranky by containing a darker, deeper and more voluminous setup. Tremolo strings and deep rumbles get louder and louder and in the end, the mellifluous synth is taken to the background and static noises take over, without sounding too harsh. Sacred Flowers is the guitar track on here, the string instrument is played in a distorted, prolonged way similar to Robert Fripp‘s Ambient tracks. Here, Chihei Hatakeyama moves the mellow strings more to the background than on any other track and lets his guitar shine. The final and title giving track Ghostly Garden is a 10 and a half minute journey with an echoey piano, whirring female voices and an electric guitar. Again, this song is a diversified approach as the synth flushes aren‘t the most important or dominant element on here but the fluxionary piano and guitar that keep coming back to the mix. The overarching voice sections never vanish completely. Similar to Stone Wall Island, the other instruments can shine because the diminished strings allow for an open space to be filled.


This is another one of Chihei Hatakeyama‘s encompassing melodious releases that is withdrawn into itself. The album fluctuates between gorgeously mellow, multilayered hymns and quieter synth tracks with distinctive additions like guitars, pianos, field recordings or burbling whispers which crack the thistle tube wide open and let more dynamic elements into the mix, decreasing the feeling of (welcome!) isolation and tranquility. A successful album from an artistic viewpoint and no less a coup in terms of the multiple layers that form a depth that soaks you in if you like harmonious Ambient with a meditative note.



Further reading:

Chihei Hatakeyama's Twitter handle is @chi_hatakeyama_. Oftentimes he tweets in Japanese, but the rest is easily understandable and interesting. :-)




Ambient Review 008: Chihei Hatakeyama – Ghostly Garden (2010). Originally published on Dec. 18, 2011 at