Imashige Hidekazu’s sweeping, minimal ambient work as Gallery Six has always expertly combined raw field recordings of natural environments with sparse washing synth arrangements, but on Gentle Scars these elements are uniquely mixed to create a deep musical connection. By that I mean that Imashige’s manipulation of samples has progressed to such a degree that so-called “real” sounds are being employed to synthetic ends, and likewise his masterful engineering of synthetic sounds captures something quite real. That is not to say that the real and synthetic sounds are indistinguishable or muddled together, but rather that the function of each of these sonic tools has sometimes been reversed in a very interesting way. To me, this is the central innovation that Gallery Six’s music has to offer us: ultimately one may find many artists who use these kinds of washing synth tones with field recordings to create perfunctory New Age music, but what makes Imashige’s work so compelling is its subtle subversion of the melodic expectations for this kind of sonic palette. This subversion doesn’t take place in every song, but it is thematically central to the album.
But instead of going on about this rather abstract theory I have about Gallery Six’s music let me try to provide a couple examples of this kind of musical connection in order to induce a conclusion about the effect of his method. The best proof for my observations may be found on “Kimi,” the album’s closing track, which opens with a prominent melodic sample of a bird call. (I’m no ornithologist, so someone else will have to identify the kind of bird.) Underneath this sample enter layers of droning synesthetic bliss as well the various chirpings of other birds, but throughout the track’s 9+ minutes, the main call does not diminish: it acts as the central melody in this composition. The other bird samples support it as if in counterpoint. The ambient synths never rise beyond their initial shimmer. Eight minutes in dogs begin to bark, chasing off the synthesizers, but the bird calls remain, alone, for another minute.
Upon reflection, we see that Gallery Six has assembled his field recordings in such a way so as to imagine something truly bucolic: the bucolic singing for itself. His arrangements of samples and their synthetic accompaniment prompt the listener to hear nature as music. Yet in reality this “nature” and its arrangement is the most synthetic aspect of his music. Gallery Six produces nature. And underneath that, he has made synths sound as if they are merely resting, at peace, as if they are unproduced. This is the kind of reversed expectation to which I am referring. And whereas most New Age music effectively tries to allow a natural environment to “be itself,” I feel like Gallery Six’s music essentially makes nature into something else—something particularly formal and contained.
His method has other manifestations. On “Todomaru” (Japanese for “remain” or “stay”) for example, the cawing of crows takes the front seat in the mix, but barely audible drops of water fall closer to the listener. Then a car passes. Quieter birds are heard in the distance. These sounds are drenched in the sunlight of a single texture of drones. Together these elements serve to place the listener in an imagined nature, something almost uncannily constructed, for how does such a delicate drop of water fall so close in such an expansive setting? Again nature is allowed to speak for itself, but this nature is assembled to be noticeably less real—it almost resembles a dream.
It is difficult to say whether Gallery Six makes music that expresses nature. It certainly uses nature, and the settings it suggests feel realistic, but his world has nonetheless been constructed very precisely, sometimes quite contrary to the conventions of reality. Nature is never allowed to “be,” rather, it acts—and if anything, it is the stasis of the synthesizers that indicates the mere presence of being, of a being. Perhaps they signify our presence, human presence.
By Isak McCune