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Various Artists Kankyo Ongaku

Kankyo Ongaku
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This compendium of Japanese 1980s 'environmental' music is a curious and beguilingly beautiful listen. Meticulously curated by Visible Cloaks' Spencer Doran, a champion of bringing this niche area of sonic history to western attention, it's a delicate and meditative mix from some of the most famous pioneers you've never heard of.

Kankyō Ongaku - 'environmental music' - took inspiration from Brian Eno's newly-coined ambient music, as well as Erik Satie's earlier exploration of furniture music, designed both to be there and not there. Coinciding with a real estate boom, it was used to craft a new style of urban living, a kind of soundscaping for public spaces.

Many of the tracks in this collection were originally composed for a specific place or purpose: music for a Muji department store, a Seiko watch advert, a promotional LP to accompany an air conditioner. There's even a sleep aid (we are given the karaoke version so we can count our own sheep).

But of course this is Japan, where every advert is a haiku. Background music this is not and every piece offers a miniature epiphany. There are Moog synthesisers mixed with field recordings, an intricate fascination with nature and new technology intertwined.

The accompanying book, a thing of beauty in its own right, offers a short essay on each artist, revealing an encyclopaedia of synth experimentalists on the cusp of a new wave. This record is the gateway to a rabbit warren from which you may never emerge. Here is a new world to be explored.

Sarah Sharp

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