Vernacular is a compilation of ambient, drone and experimental music curated by Japanese musician and sound artist Yui Onodera. Inviting contributions from artists based in numerous countries around the world, Onodera asked each of them to consider the specific characteristics of their local area, the cultural and geographic ‘vernacular’ that distinguished it from other locations. However, in listening to the album I was generally unable to discern any connection between the music and the local region in which it was made, except in cases where an artist I was familiar with had already established a site-responsive musical ‘vernacular’ in their previous work (I’m thinking particularly here of Simon Scott, whose track “Adventurer’s Fen” builds directly upon his responses to the fens of his home region in his album “Below Sea Level”). Perhaps the 16-page booklet that accompanies the CD edition of “Vernacular”, to which I did not have access, contains information that would have helped make the links between the artist’s contributions and their home locations more easily discernible.
However unclear the concept, there’s no doubt that Onodera has brought together some fantastic music across this two-disc, 15-track collection. The pieces assembled here are stylistically very diverse, covering deep and expansive ambient (Hior Chronik, Troum, TU M’), various approaches to field recording (John Grzinich, Kim Cascone, Onodera himself), contemporary experimental piano (Kenneth Kirschner) and guitar (Federico Durand), and other less easily classifiable works (Simon Scott’s afore-mentioned post-ambience, Janek Schaefer’s radio static hum, Steve Roden’s blend of drone and field recordings). Despite the album’s broad range, the quality of the music remains very high throughout, and I felt that somehow the pieces all sat well together despite their many differences — there were no jarring transitions or tracks that seemed to not fit in. As with any compilation, there were one or two pieces that were less to my personal taste than others, but overall my feeling is that Onodera has done a solid job of putting together a compilation that is enjoyable to listen to as an album, without being tempted to just skipping through to the stand-out tracks — in my view a rare achievement.
An interesting mix, then, even if the stated curatorial concept doesn’t come across as clearly as it might; open-minded listeners curious to explore contrasting ambient and experimental ‘vernaculars’ will find this release well worth their time.