Yumiko Morioka, "Komorebi" (Métron)
Japanese pianist Yumiko Morioka's only album, 1987's Resonance, is a confluence of New Age, chamber orchestra, and minimalist Erik Satie-esque and Harold Budd-like beatitudes. It has glided under the radar of most people for decades; I'd never heard of her, let alone heard her music, till this week. In Morioka's native country, pieces from Resonance snaked their way into the soundtracks of Japanese TV documentaries, and were piped into maternity clinics and healing shops, but the record didn't really gain commercial traction.
With her music career stalled, Morioka moved to California in 1994 to focus on raising a family. Gradually, though, Resonance caught the attention of bloggers and people started uploading tracks from it to YouTube. When Métron Records contacted her in 2017 to reissue the album, she had recently lost her home and possessions to a wildfire. Following this tragedy, Morioka returned to Japan seeking to rebuild her life. She eventually picked up gigs writing music for commercial projects and pop artists before opening a chocolate shop in Tokyo. This turn of events surprised her, but we're fortunate to live in an age when even the most obscure oddities—including many ambient and environmental-music releases from Japan—are likely to get re-released. (Resonance comes out April 15.)
Born in 1956, Morioka studied piano at San Francisco Conservatory of Music during John Adams's tenure there. Her music carries a similar spare beauty, as exemplified by "Komorebi." Morioka tickles the ivories with a delicacy that would make Brian Eno circa Thursday Afternoon shiver in appreciation. She lets the icy, crystal-clear notes sustain and decay for extra long times to heighten their pathos. The main motif conjures the effect of a saint gently rubbing ice over every vertebra in your back and neck. "Komorebi" is some kind of zenith of ASMR-inducing ambient music.