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Willits + Sakamoto - Ocean Fire

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Artist: Willits + Sakamoto

Album: Ocean Fire

Label: 12k

Review date: Feb. 12, 2008


Willits + Sakamoto - "Toward Water" (Ocean Fire)


Over the course of his career, Ryuichi Sakamoto has collaborated with a pretty celebrated list of musicians and artists, from Iggy Pop to Youssou N'Dour, Naim June Paik to David Sylvian. On Ocean Fire, Sakamoto is paired with processed-guitar whiz Christopher Willits on an ambient venture "dedicated to the healing and restoration of our fragile oceans." The album's inspiration is rendered clearly; one can hear the ocean in much of the music, with placid undulations rippled by subtle undercurrents and gentle waves.

Perhaps in response to Willits' usual instrumentation (computer-processed guitar), Sakamoto makes use of processed piano, with little evidence of either instrument's traditional sound surviving the wash. Tones mingle in a multi-layered melange of active sound; the foreground, middleground and background of the music are compressed, creating a palette of near-constant movement in which individual sounds writhe and slither amongst one another like a swarm of eels, with singular entities distinguishable, but largely obscured. Happenstance harmonic instances appear fleetingly, and the ribbons of sound sizzle with clicks, pops and buzzes. The music's digital nature is consistently a force, with telltale stutters, glitches and gurgles marking the album's ethereal streams with welcome idiosyncrasies and imperfections. Like the seismic shifts that alter the ocean floor, deep tones shudder forth, ominous monoliths underneath the music's layered filament. Ocean Fire retains its dreamy quality, however, amidst any minor turbulence or low end rumble.

Ocean Fire's reflection of the world's largest habitat takes an almost impressionistic tone, with Willits and Sakamoto avoiding starkly realistic sounds or ill-placed (and ill-conceived) oceanic samples. One can imagine the album as a soundtrack to the ocean, though not with the viewer standing barefoot on the beach. Instead, Ocean Fire is the sound of the ocean as it surrounds a diver: the sun glinting through the surface and refracted into colorful shards, currents gently determining a lazy course, and below, a deep, dark void. The cynic can question just what this disc will do to further an environmental cause, but a listener can't deny its intoxicating beauty.

By Adam Strohm

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