Much like probably everyone, my interest in Kiyoshi Mizutani's solo works was originally sparked by a voyeuristic sort of curiosity. Mizutani, of course, was originally part of Merzbow from the early 80s, a noise outfit that needs little - if any - introduction. Yet the first Mizutani album I stumbled over (in a now unfortunately defunct Dutch experimental music store called V2) was Yokosawa-iri - a collection of (mixed) field recordings. I picked it up then, if not simply to have it, to spin it maybe once just for the sake of it (at the time, I hadn't come to love field recordings yet) - but even upon first hearing, Yokosawa-iri revealed itself to be a work of immense beauty. And so, I fell in love with field recordings.
While Yokosawa-iri was (and is still) a beautiful record, a wonderful achievement, the absolute highlight in Mizutani's output (field recordings or no), and my absolute favourite field recordings album ever, is 2005's Scenery of the Border: Environment and Folklore of the Tanzawa Mountains. Released through the absolutely brilliant and/OAR (who also released beautiful works from the likes of Sawako, Francisco López and Dale Lloyd, among others), this double album attempts to capture the beauty and essence of the Tanzawa Mountains (a mountain range in the Kanto region) in 24 choice cuts - and it succeeds wonderfully.
Capturing beauty or any essential quality is as much the goal as the ultimate challenge in recording environments. Managing to record not only what is symbolic and evocative but also quintessential and true requires skill; taking any given environment as it exists, a virtual infinity of sound in space and time, and framing it, cropping, cutting it down to a captivating and essential still image. This is exactly what Scenery does; in those two dozen scenes, it paints a startling and insightful picture of the Tanzawa Mountains. Ranging, as per the title, from purely natural sounds to sounds more human, the recordings conjure up visions of striking, unseen beauty.
What Mizutani achieves in sound is perhaps most interesting of all; while the album also features cuts filled with more familiar sounds (such as the fairly straightforward bird song on Birds at Yozuku Path), elsewhere we hear stranger, unheard things. Among the highlights are, for instance, the recording of the Ohdana waterfall, which is almost - but not quite - an endless stream of white noise, so arriving at what loud sounds Mizutani originally arrived at artificially in Merzbow, naturally. Similarly beautiful are the tracks on which we hear human interference, both directly (like on Yabusame of Murou Shrine in Rain) or indirectly (Kurokura Power Plant). Most strikingly, there, is how these sounds, even if familiar, still come across as sounds wholly natural; Mizutani never emphasizes human aspects, or communicative aspects of human elements, instead choosing to lay them down objectively, as parts of the natural world rather than anything apart from it.
Scenery of the Border came in a little cardboard foldout in a plastic sleeve, the artwork featuring some photos of the Tanzawa Mountains made by Mizutani himself. An enhanced portion of CD2 also included a map of the area and reference points for where all the tracks were recorded, and an additional batch of similarly beautiful photos. Unfortunately the album is sold out from and/OAR, but if you're lucky you can still find a copy from Discogs or the like. Well worth it!
Lo! (274 megs)
A huge thanks to Nanoko for letting me host this file on MF; thanks!