What happens when a Japanese minimalist band gets signed to the American New Age juggernaut that is Windham Hill? Led by Daisuke Hinata, Interior remains an interesting piece of this label’s history. Few examples exist of William Ackerman’s roster ever attempting to tap into the decidedly more electronic, ambient New Age that Japanese labels like Music Interior or Haruomi Hosono and Yukihiro Takahashi’s Yen Records were exploring, but what we have in Interior Design is something special because it did show that they were aware of its potential. What you find here is that one time when those two dissimilar styles struck some common music ground in an attempt to introduce to an American market perhaps something they were entirely unaware existed.
This is what I discovered. Around age 17, Daisuke had grown tired of Japan’s lack of musical opportunities. Itching to make a living out of making music, Daisuke left Japan, moved to London, and wound up fixing motorcycles by day then soaking up its English Rock scene at night. Realizing he wanted to actually learn the craft, Daisuke made his way to America, enrolled at the Berklee School of Music in Boston, MA and wound up majoring in electronic music. It’s that education he’d put to good use by forming the band Interior with fellow musicians Eiki Nonaka, Mitsuru Sawamura, and Tsukasa Betto.
Under Yen Records, Interior’s debut album was their first attempt to find a middle ground between cutting edge New Wave/Post-Punk and this decidedly more experimental Japanese-influenced ambient music they wanted to tap into. Co-produced by Hosono and Daisuke, and released in 1982, their self-titled debut – which the brilliant Listentothis /CLICK TO VISIT/ beat me to the punch in sharing – depicts an astonishing middle ground of dramatically concise “interior” music. Nothing here extends beyond five minutes, Interior remains fascinating for its quick bursts of electronic-induced nostalgia. If this was furniture music, it was for those craving a different, more authentic, modernist type of mood music.
Somehow, Eisuke Sato, managed to introduce Will Ackerman to Daisuke and in turn convince Harry Hosono to let Windham to re-release Interior – and sign Interior to – his own label. This was done at a time when German labels like Narada’s were starting to whittle away into his own New Age market share with decidedly European-flavored electronic ambient music under the guise of their Sona Gaia imprint. Three years after its original Japanese release, Interior was released under Windham Hill in typical Windham Hill house style. Gone was the geometric original cover, replaced by Anne Robinson’s minimalist Americana design, and also jettisoned from the album were its two most un-Windham Hill-like songs “N.F.G.” and “Cold Beach”, replaced by a new track order and one true New Age electronic masterpiece (a true original) “Hot Beach” which shifted the album’s whole tone entirely.
Forget the open-tuned guitar fantasia’s of Michael Hedges, or the Satie-on-speed piano runs by George Winston, even forget the affected Americana of Malcolm Dalglish, this was unapologetic electronically-sequenced “me time” music without roots in any existing tradition. Those hearing “Hot Beach” stuck on a few Windham Hill samplers were left surprised that this was allowable on Windham. Forget that those original Japanese listeners found that un-Windham Hill-like album being reintroduced as Interiors by Interiors to them in 1985. If all of this was so confusing, the album itself was as I said before, the total oppossite – surprisingly accessible.
1987, though, would solidify a turn Windham Hill was attempting to take, away from their bread and butter sound. Recorded mostly in Tokyo, but sometimes in Marin County, CA, Interior’s Design was their first true record produced under its house brand. Joined by fellow Windham Hill artist Michael Manring on bass, Daisuke Hinata and Eiki Nonaka aimed to reconcile both worlds, as best they could. Stretching out much further than they had in Interior, everything from song lengths, instrumentation, and ideas seem to burst with ambition. Of the roughly 35 minutes, or so, runtime, three of the tracks broke the six minute barrier, opening itself up to a more propulsive sound that happily took just a bit longer to hit you with its rich musicality.
Now, where do I split the difference? My favorite tracks are these two: “Gaia” and “River”. The first one, “Gaia” is a fantastic slice of electronic joy, that shows the full breadth of warmth that 80’s technology was possible to conjure at the height of MIDI-sequenced technology. You really can’t escape its roots in that shiny 80’s techno-bubble, but its echoes are what give it its bit of timelessness. “River” though, is a languid track that really has no roots in our side of the world, and is a gorgeous snapshot into the wonderful sonically stretched-out music that could only be created by accepting modern technology. Better to reimagine, than to rethink the existing, I’d say.
Anyway, enough of my yapping. Just another final tidbit for your thoughts. It was Daisuke who helped produced Toshifumi Hinata’s Sarah’s Crime. Doesn’t that make you wonder if a bit of its influence spilled onto Design? It wouldn’t be the first time a bit of America melted into the “other”.