One name stuck out to me when listening to Japanese label Shi Zen’s wonderful Windham Hill-like compilation Shizen Collection ’87, it was Masayuki Sakamoto’s contribution “Psy’chy”. Even with other, like-minded Japanese New Age artists like Sojiro, Kiminori Atsuta, and the parent label’s creator Kitaro, there was always a high amount of cheesy aplomb in the Shi Zen catalogue. “Psy’ Chy” seemed far more influenced by Japanese folk music and Taoist-like experimentation than much of what the rest of those artists would create. Also, as much Berlin School-indebted as moved by Steve Reichian modernism, at least in that track, Masayuki showed he had more to contribute than simply “mood music”.
1987’s Psyche would take a well laid out idea of meditative, electroacoustic New Age music into another new place where FM synths were aplenty and where they would always seem to fall on the right side of peaceful and heartfelt. Masayuki’s sole, album-length contribution — before he went into a far more lucrative career in music production — bears similarity more to the organic, minimal work of fellow Shizen Collection ‘86 contributor Motohiko Hamase.
“The Great East” this album’s opening track, begins much like any nameless Narada label production — synth fiesta piano licks meeting bombastic horn pads. Then, the song shifts to something more interesting, dropping fretless bass lines with quite interesting electronic rhythms panning left and right. “After Image”, one of the album’s highlights, comes in sounding unlike anything preceding it. Sinewy and slithery, in three short minutes, on this song Masayuki combines spiritual jazz-like horn lines with Japanese ambient and industrial sonics, like an alarm ring from deep space.
“High Tide” then enters the fold, with melodic lines that find the midway point between Durutti Column-esque minimalism, the Lagrange Point soundtrack (digging deep for this one, as you can tell…), and Masayuki’s more open-hearted, sentimental electronic maximalism. “A Forest” begins with nondescript pad noodling and finishes with totally unexpected Frippertronic-like sonics, before dissolving into a mesh of sampled found sound (as played through some high-end, for it’s time, sampler).
The album’s B-side, which I’ll leave you to discover, hold as many interesting twists on “dated” sounds. An obvious showcase for Masayuki’s gifted production style, on tracks like “Time Inclination” and the title cut, it’s a wonder why someone like him remains entirely scrubbed from our digital record.