15. Window music
July 5th, 2020
Four years after Brian Eno made Music for Airports, Hiroshi Yoshimura made music for a museum. More specifically, he made Music for Nine Post Cards, a collection of ambient music created to be played at the Hara Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo.
Yoshimura characterised his work as kankyō ongaku, or ‘environmental music’—music not intended to exist by itself, but to augment a physical space. It’s neither active nor passive, not background music but also not the focus. Satoshi Ashikawa, another pioneer of early Japanese ambient music, described it as “music which by overlapping and shifting changes the character and the meaning of space, things, and people.” In Yoshimura’s case, this meant sound design for train stations, soundtracks for pre-fabricated houses, or soft drones and simple melodies for a curved window in a modernist art gallery looking out on a garden courtyard.
I’ve been staring out of the same windows for the past four months, but Music for Nine Post Cards has given me a renewed appreciation for views I thought I had already exhausted. I sit in front of them as if I’m looking at a TV screen and notice what’s growing and what’s dying, what’s in light and what’s in shadow. I have a whole new appreciation for the word dappled. The window behind me looks out onto the shady path between this house and the next. Around mid-afternoon on particularly sunny days, the light that makes it through the trees falls through my neighbour’s window and perfectly spotlights a scale model of a cathedral.
Eno once described his ambient works as music “as ignorable as it is interesting,” which could be a good description of the views you might be getting tired of—as long as you have the right accompaniment.
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