I‘m still struck by this release. It’s hard to realize, but Seigén Ono was only 26 years old when he created his debut album, Seigén. Just months removed from assisting others like Yasuaki Shimizu’s Mariah, David Sylvian, Ryuichi Sakamoto, and Takumi as their mixing engineer or producer, Seigén had just an inkling of all the arrangements he had to get out of his head. Luckily for us, Music Interior provided him with an outlet to take his maximalist vision of Japanese minimalism into fruition. Listening to his debut, it’s not hard to see why in the near future he’d be the leading Japanese musical visionary helping craft iconic releases by Mariah, Dip in the Pool, Hiroshi Yoshimura, and Masahide Sakuma that are only now being rediscovered.
Deeply influenced by Brian Eno, Seigén’s debut showed his preference of using the studio as instrument. Improvising solo piano or guitar on tape, he’d give session musicians a key chord to vamp on and then let their intuition to guide them as they wish. Afterwards, he’d piece together a full composition exactly as he envisioned it. Knowingly, not much of a learned player himself, Seigén entrusted his more trained cohorts to fill out what he lacked. And truly, what help he received.
Nearly all the members from Mariah and some from Moonriders were along to sculpt what amounted to an ambient album that acknowledged some roots in Western music but then transmorgafied them into places those musical spheres hadn’t – or couldn’t – take them to. Informed by their own history and aspirations, with Seigén’s guidance, it was their sound to create.
Whether it was sequencers, drum machines, synths, or real life human beings manning the cues, Seigén conciously avoided the tropes New Age music was wading through. Knowingly, he tried to present a competing vision of modern sensibility and communion with the world. Spacious when necessary, disorderly when necessary, it was true interior music of all purposes.
If Seigén had a philosophy, it was that a minimal sound, with a clear message, had a way to complement and sooth our modern way of living. Music can provide spaces for all sorts of intricate emotion. His debut presented a promise of decidedly Eastern music that could be as timeless as anything in the West. It’s this seminal album – for some reason and season lost to time – that presented a fully realized vision of what Japanese minimalist music could be.
Living in Fukishima, Japan, only 26 years old and Seigén Ono has already worked with musicians like David Sylvian (ex-Japan) and Ryuichi Sakamoto (ex-Yellow Magic Orchestra).
Seigén started to work at the famous Onkio Haus studios and is meanwhile one of the most sought after recording engineers and producers in Japan.
This debut album was recorded with some of the best Japanese studio musicians who we are able to transform Seigen’s musical ideas and arrangements into a perfect production of beauty.
This is music which interweaves very individually and with a strong sense for harmony, western sound structures, classic elements, experimental and jazz, imbedded in first class production technique.
This involves not only top recording/engineering skills but also a display of superb musicianship combined with feeling and fitting arrangements: melodies in motion and emotion. Avant-garde sounds have also found a place on this album, showcasing Seigén’s multi-talented ability to combine harmony with experiment.
Seigén Ono is under contract with the Japanese label Music Interior (MIS/JVC) which picked as its motto Eric Satie’s idea that music – just as a beautiful painting or piece of furniture – is expression and part of ones individual and personal lifestyle.
When listening to this album, we feel sure that your musical interiors and rooms will be filled with life in a pleasant way.
Musicians – Asuka Kaneko, Hajime Mizoguchi, Hideo Yamaki, Kazuko Terasaki, Masanori Sasaji, Masatoshi Maeda, Morio Watanabe, Ryomei Shirai, Seigén Ono, Takako Seike, Takayuki Hijikata, Tamio Suzuki, Toshihiro Nakanishi, Yasuaki Shimizu, Yukihiro Matsubara
- From Liner Notes to Seigén
“I need space. I need slow music, but I also need loud, heavy music. People say that ‘New Age’ music is calm and quiet, but for me it also has to involve straight-ahead rock plus the avant-garde. There are many studio musicians in Japan who play beautifully with no mistakes. But they have no personality. A good computer sequencer can give you that, but I require personality.”
- Seigén on Japanese Minimalism
“I started when I was twenty. When I finished high school I played music with my friends – straight-ahead rock, jazz, African and all other kinds. We tried to get a record deal but I was not a good player. Still, recording techniques in Japan were always improving. I knocked on studio doors and tried to get a job even though I was not a trained technical engineer. I worked at Onkio Haus Studio as a tape operator cum sound engineer cum tea boy. It was quite a good place – 6 studios all synchronized, computers, video, 35mm film synchronization facilities and all the professional requirements. I had a very hard time for two years but it made me. I was certain from this that I had a career in music. I spent a lot of time tuning instruments and practicing on them. From there I went freelance as engineer/producer, and this has been my work for the last six years. Since childhood I have always been interested in the quality and sound of music.”
“When I made Seigen, I wanted an unusual sound. After working for many years as a studio engineer I started talking to my friends about music, and then suddenly I began to play with them. I wrote memos for the scores of ideas I had and used a tape recorder. Some parts were composed together, and they formed a map for the others. I would set a key chord for my fellow musicians and they would build upon it. I provided some of the ideas and structures as well as playing some guitar and piano. I’m not a very good player so my friends helped out a lot. I did a lot of work on synths and sampling machines plus, of course, the studio console. I’m not just interested in so-called ‘New Age’ music, but in all music. I would like to perform my album live, but it would require an orchestra. The album is made around piano, guitar, and keyboards textured by synthesizers. I also used a tape-loop delay system and sequencer.”
“Japan has been developing its music a lot over the last twenty years. When the Beatles started, a lot of Japanese groups copied them. Japanese contemporary music, records and video are just like Western forms. My generation is not interested in copying or being Western. After World War Two, Japan spent 40 years copying from the West. The music business has just developed recently. Japanese record companies have not been in business long, they have little experience, but they are getting better. I grew up under the influence of the Western music scene. I was Asian when I started out, but then became heavily influenced by the West. Now I’ve found myself again through the current music.”
“Very important. For two or three years now many new instruments and recording devices have appeared each week. I never use manuals, I just push a button and play around. I learned to use the studio and its equipment by accident. For me the only way to learn was to make mistakes. For example, take a simple tape machine; if I read the manual I can use it for, say, 90% of its ability. If I find out by trial and error, I can use it for, say, 120% of its potential! I just use samplers, Emulators and Fairlights, to see what they can do as instruments. Yet you need a lot of instruments and electronic equipment to produce real, high quality music. You need to know how both work – the recording console has become another instrument. The more you know, the better it is. Every piece of equipment is an instrument. Over the last ten years, musical equipment has veered towards the electronic. The typical engineer in the past only knew how to be an engineer. Now, being a musician and an engineer are very closely linked. Compression and EQ are very delicate parts of recording, which one must know. Twenty years ago recording was like a band rehearsal, but now it is multitrack. One has to know.”
“I need space. I need slow music, but I also need loud, heavy music. People say that ‘New Age’ music is calm and quiet, but for me it also has to involve straight ahead rock plus the avant-garde. There are many studio musicians in Japan who play beautifully with no mistakes. But they have no personality. A good computer sequencer can give you that, but I require personality.”
“I’m not interested in labelling music Western or Eastern. Life in New York, Paris, London and Tokyo is basically the same. I was born in Kakogawa, a small city in Western Japan, which is a seven hour train journey from Tokyo. For me New York is closer! I would like to stay in Tokyo for six months of the year and spend the other six months away. My plans are to go to as many places as possible and work with as many different people as I can in a friendly and trusting way.”
- Seigén on Seigén
EXCERPTS FROM SEIGÉN.