Yui Onodera – Substrate / The Garden

Yui Onodera - Substrate / The Garden, colourful cell-like forms in pink and green.

I rarely cover reissues, finding it impossible enough as it is to keep up with new music without throwing in a bunch of old stuff as well. Sometimes, though, I come across a reissue that’s simply too good to ignore. This was the case with Yui Onodera’s “Substrate” and “The Garden”, initially released separately on Mystery Sea and Taâlem in 2007, and now remastered and collected on a single album courtesy of Yann Novak’s Dragon’s Eye Recordings. Onodera is something of a veteran of the experimental ambient scene, his first album “Entropy” making its first appearance in 2005; all the evidence here however points to a music that doesn’t lose its potency with age.

In biology, a substrate is a surface on which an organism grows, or is attached. Onodera’s pieces ‘Substrate 1-7’ each consist of a single sustained drone from beginning to end: here made from shimmering, gleaming haze, there from low rumble, or rushing air, or warm glow. The seventh piece is the densest, and as it grows in density it softens in focus, becoming more and more ambiguous. “Substrate 8” is an exception to the rule: a crackling or scrunching, like dry wind-blown leaves, the trickling of water, and the chatter of birds create the sense of a specific place, a specific point in space and time, a very different impression compared with the apparent abstraction of the rest of the album. It’s as if all the tracks that preceded it were minute close-ups of this one, zoomed so far in that the overall picture is indiscernible until a few steps back are taken.

The four tracks of ‘The Garden’ have more complex internal structures. ‘The Garden 1’ opens with quiet clicks and crackling, followed by the gradual addition of layers of pitched material, constantly developing the harmony until it ends quite far from where it began. The second piece of the group is more ambivalent, with high-pitched whistling, intermittent hissing, and ringing tones; the third combines a bright sheen with an underlying warmth that surges in waves. The final part features a warm glow that slowly tilts between two chords — the only chord pattern of the entire combined album. In its openness and serenity, it underscores an impression tangible all along of looking towards the horizon or just beyond it, a quiet acknowledgement of shadows cast by a place just beyond the reach of perception. Dragon’s Eye has done us all a favour in bringing this wonderfully organic and subtle music back into circulation.

Yui Onodera

Dragon’s Eye Recordings

Image by Nozom Yoneda

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