One of the natural wonders of the 1980s, Hiroshi Yoshimura.
One of the natural wonders of the 1980s, Hiroshi Yoshimura. Courtesy of Light in the Attic

There are several things to think about today. One, we are still in a pandemic. Two, that pandemic has radically changed the world of our social relationships. Three, capitalism is in a crisis that has confounded it utterly.

In the normal run of things, capitalism finds some way to subsume (aufhebung) a real challenge. This subsumption renews the system, which then moves forward into the homogeneous empty time of its own making. We call this movement progress. With COVID-19, capitalism has faced maybe for the first time something it could not make a part of itself.

On March 20, around the time the force of the pandemic reached the US and began crashing its markets and locking down its citizens, Seattle's Light In The Attic Records, a label in the mode of a hiphop DJ whose temple is a vinyl store, reissued what I consider to be the nineteenth-greatest album of the 1980s, Green. It's by Hiroshi Yoshimura, who also released (in the same year as Green) Soundscape 1: Surround, which is the tenth-greatest album of the '80s. (Yoshimura was undone in 2003 by skin cancer.)

Green is a key contribution to a movement in Japanese music that has the 1980s as its decade and was not appreciated in the West until a few years ago. Some call the movement ambient music, but in Japan its called “kankyō ongaku” (“environmental music”).

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Ambient music in the West is not the same as the Japanese approach to meditative minimalism. For the West, technology has always been a "bid for freedom" from nature. This is the essence of a spaceship. The rocket, the blasting fire, the rise, the velocity of escape, the exit from gravity, the freedom from the grounded heaviness and incessant liveliness of the biosphere. This is Brian Eno's masterpiece Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks. It floats outside of nature and even has a cathedral devoted to the godliness of zero-gravity, "An Ending (Ascent)."

This is not the way of “kankyō ongaku,” and one of its defining works, Green. We do flee nature, but we do so by going deeper and deeper into it. What is not left behind is technology. It is both one with us and one with nature. The sound of green leaves capturing pulses of light and making them work in the production of bio-batteries is there with the electrically generated sonic effects of synthesizers. This is not a new age paradise. It's a place where a robot dreams like a human, and a human dreams like a robot. The organic and the digital, the birds and the frequency mixer, the babbling stream and the processed loop.

The message of Green is as beautiful as it is simple: there is nothing outside of nature. The nature of the smartphone is that of vinegar, vinyl, a bee, a condom, a tree, a virus floating in the spaceship of a micro droplet.