Home Musical score Ichiko Aoba imagines a musical journey between the islands on Windswept Adan

Ichiko Aoba imagines a musical journey between the islands on Windswept Adan

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The Ryukyu archipelago that stretches across southwestern Japan, from Kyushu to Taiwan, serves as the backdrop for Ichiko Aoba’s first international release, a record that places her fragile guitar melodies in the context of chamber and sometimes ‘orchestra. Aoba, who has previously contributed video game soundtracks including the 2019 iteration of THE Legend of Zelda, designs Adan windswept like the score of an imaginary film. The otherworldly tale sees a girl traveling from the isolated (and fictional) island of Kirinaki to the titular Adan, to trade seashells with local wildlife.

The opening “Prologue” sets the scene: a lazy and lingering stream of waves, tiny bells, a voiceless voice that could be the voice of a breeze. The sound universe of the album blossoms on “Pilgrimage”, with repetitive harp motifs, melodies and counter-melodies and arpeggio flutes. Aoba worked on the album with Milk (the working name of pianist and arranger Taro Umebayashi) and the production showcases his melodies amid a soundscape of lush coral, tiny tinkles that reflect the made up language of the song.

If these set up the story, it goes to “Porcelain”. “The waves dance in a moonlit waltz,” she sings, “up and down. So wonderful. There are dolphins and bougainvillea. An orchestra dances around sound, a refracted version of Ravel’s fin-de-siècle Orientalism. The sound offers other hints: the harmonium drone on “Horo” could be the Penguin Café Orchestra (whose own harmonium was discovered abandoned in a Kyoto street) heating up; Umebayashi’s moody and unresolved piano melodies on “Parfum D’Étoiles” might be Satie; the interlocking marimba patterns and abrupt changes of “Ohayashi” owe more than a nod to Steve Reich. These Western musicians drew on what they heard in Eastern music; it is reappropriation rather than pastiche.

The album comes closest to “Easter Lily”, where two sung melodies nestle in each other. “A long time ago”, says the top line, “we gave ourselves fragments of seashells and the timbre of our song and our dance”; underneath, like a whispered minimalist haiku, “that girl shining / singing flowers / and wind”.

For an unruly precursor of this album, try Akiko Yano’s Ai Ga Nakucha Ne, from 1982, recently reissued by Wewantsounds. For this recording, Yano uses three quarters of the British group Japan (also fascinated by the constructions of the Orient), to which she was introduced by her new husband Ryuichi Sakamoto. The record is an insane dream-pop masterpiece at the height of Japan Pewter drum.

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Adan windswept‘is published by Badabing