takashi kokubo

Just reading about Takashi Kokubo makes one feel decidedly less accomplished. Since the early ‘80s, Edokko Takashi has been knee-deep in the environmental music world. Outside of Japan, few would know that he is responsible for perhaps some of the most terrifying sounds you’ll ever want to hear.

That “wei, wei, wei” tone you’re hearing above was a bit of environmental music Takashi created to alert every mobile phone user, in Japan, an earthquake is about to occur. A simple 3 mhz frequency tone that could easily be played on any cell phone, with little battery hit, was Takashi’s most widespread and vital bit of “sound” he’d ever make. Likewise, as Tap and Pay was introduced in Japan, it was Takashi’s light, little melody signaling a transaction went through, that would either trigger great joy (or great pain) on many a Japanese citizen, rendering that other noise it’s own bit of growing legacy.

It is with all that being said, that what strikes me more about Takashi Kokubo’s work for Sanyo is how much care he actually takes to show the other side of environmental music we’re only now discovering.

The minute bits of found sound that you hear in Tokyo’s train stations, or in the vast swaths of public places Takashi has designed sound performances for presents the very human and small version of environmental music we rarely appreciate — even if it’s the one we hear the most. Much like Hiroshi Yoshimura‘s and Yoshio Ojima‘s work, Takashi was quietly doing the rarely heralded work of adding bits of levity, focus, and emotion to what amounts to a very mundane, noisy, and, at times, quite chaotic world. Whether writing music for an underpass in the Hakata train station, laser light shows for Fuji TV, or even modern ringtones for all sorts of wireless providers — judging by Takashi’s gigantic discography, which covers music for theaters, video games, kids books, and much — Takashi wouldn’t be as in demand if he didn’t quite put a whole lot of care into what he does.

Currently, maybe as penance for jolting people nearly all his career (due to the “wei, wei, wei” tone), Takashi is deeply involved in creating healing music and going massively into binaural recording. Take one listen at 1987’s Get At The Wave and it won’t take you much time to realize why he’d eventually gravitate to these ideas.

Commissioned by Sanyo to create music that would be given away with an air conditioner line, Get At The Wave wasn’t meant to serve as mere BGM (background muzak), but to actually prepare the customer to feel that experience of freshness and relaxation they would get at some beach, far from their Sanyo air-conditioned home. Packaged in a picture book with all sorts of “tropical” imagery, in theory, customers were supposed to listen to Get At The Wave as a palette cleanser from their heated day.

Play the A-side and hear meditative mood music they can chill to. Play the B-side and hear actual environmental recordings you can cheat as evoking a seaside view and zonk out to. If you had two copies and turntables, you could actually play both sides together and push the experience even further (thanks to a Discogs member’s amazing discovery).

Takashi, thankfully, used Get At The Wave to gingerly introduce Sanyo customers to both sides of the environmental music coin. On the A-side dubbed [A Dream Sails Out To Sea], three tracks of melodic music would attempt to conjure up the wistful, saudade of a brisk summer evening. Three tracks of fascinatingly simple music — mostly electronic, sparingly acoustic with guitars lapping in and out — each track showed Takashi mimicking or impressing that washy feeling of physical, watery waves — then trying to translate them into gorgeous melodies with an ebb/flow just as delicate.

Get At The Wave never rises above a certain wavelength. Meditative and relaxing, to its benefit, Takashi’s “Symphony Of Light And Wind” launches off, no pun intended, with pseudo-electronic chants meeting quasi-tropical ambient music. Barely there congas or bongos — hard to tell the difference when they’re mixed this low! — keep the track moving at a cabana-like pace, while the gorgeous, plonky synths of Takashi make their first entrance. Part Inoyama Land, part Cluster (two sides of the same coin), the tone of Get At the Wave never goes beyond a very quavering experience.

Arguably, on Get At The Wave’s most memorable track, “Dreaming In the Deep Sea”, pillows of melody take the conceit of what could have been a horrible muzak idea into something approaching bliss. Gurgling and bubbling, rolling and washing, it’s that second track that hints at the wonderful power of music, and that actual thought of “dreaming in the deep sea” (if one had lungs that could handle it, of course!) could be. Full with lightly echoing marimba-like synths and those plonky, percolating melodies that Takashi dribbles around, “Dreaming In The Deep Sea” gets exactly at such a wave. Is it wayward? Is it loving? Is it ruminative? I think it’s all that. Searching for something that could put you there, Takashi stumbles into something that sounds like a very human “searching”. As the “musical” part of the album ends on “Breathing In The Vast Sea”, melodies that toy with bird song and sonar blips do their kind to prepare you for the in-real-life, “environmental” [Relax Sound Story] of the album.

Is there a separation between the “dream” and the “sound story”? Judging by what Takashi accomplished in Get At The Wave, music always seems to have that awesome power to actually ride both wavelengths. Now, wouldn’t you like to live in that atmosphere?