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A Magazine for Sheffield

Tomo-Nakaguchi Smile

After fifteen years of sonic cultivation, Tomo-Nakaguchi finally shows us his Smile.

Released: 6 January 2021

As the reflective tones of Tomo-Nakaguchi’s new record Smile bounce around the room, the spectral presence of a sawtooth arpeggio begins to haunt the soundscape from somewhere otherworldly. After a few seconds of investigation, I find the culprit to be my father’s synthesiser humming a modulating mantra downstairs. Smile’s greatest attribute revealed itself in this sonic exchange. Tomo’s absorbing ambience welcomes the influx of external acoustics, allowing foreign noise into its musical bubble without losing a drop of its own artistic identity.

This concept seems to inform a larger artistic doctrine behind Tomo’s work. Through synthetic sound sculptures evoking the aural frigidity of Yoshio Ojima’s ‘Glass Chattering’, all frozen notes and falling drones, the sounds of organic life spring forth. These decorous uses of found sound complement his electronic explorations: water trickles, children play, printers whirr and smartphones buzz throughout. There’s a technological juxtaposition at the heart of Tomo’s music, a reinvigoration of Japan’s distinctive environmental music of the 1980s refocused for today’s digitised climate.

While his derivative song titles may initially suggest the possibility of a new age tinge, yoga mats and bottled kombucha are not required here. Tomo forgoes meditative protraction for succinct structural progressions, using linear compositional forms to gradually build textural complexity. With “chaos and beauty” as his main artistic anchors, Tomo swims through undulating dynamics and tempestuous harmonies, charting his way with brief passages from a melodic guitar. The resulting sound is one of continual nuance, not demanding of active involvement nor begging for the amenable inattentiveness of trance-like listening.

Smile attempts to combat the confusion of modern living by pitting it against itself, distilling the discordance of contemporary civilisation into a 37-minute-long sonic stress ball. It might not stop your neighbours from arguing but it’ll make the profanities sound a lot more serene.

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