Somei Satoh

June 25, 2016


Edition Omega Point    Obscure Tape Music Of Japan Vol. 18 : 

Somei Satoh : Echoes (JAP,2013)***°


Somei Satoh is a self-taught composer who from the start was involved in Buddhism and in the creation of music through the spiritual exercises of both Shintoism and Zen Buddhism. I have reviewed another release from him before on another page here. His first project was “Tone Field” (1969), an experimental, mixed media group based in Tokyo. In 1972 he produced “Global Vision,” a multimedia arts festival that combined visual artists and improvisational performance groups. 


“'Emerald Tablet' was recorded at the NHK electronic-music studio in 1978. It is made up of only the sonic ingredients of a tubular bell, cymbals, and 'kin,' a largish-sized bell used for Buddhist memorial services in Japan. The attack of the sound of each instrument was eliminated, and the work was taped through repeated overdubbing. This produced a variety of beautiful harmonics that otherwise could not be produced from a single instrument's sound, and the interference of harmonics created beats, generating a fantastical melody in the high tone range. Harmonics are one of the most mystic phenomena in the world. The wonder of harmonics led me to produce 'Emerald Tablet.'”


The piece shows rather slow movements and seem to exists of a drone with overtones, but is indeed nothing but changing harmonics. While at first it is like a deep drone with repeated slow waves of overtones with a few extra oscillations, reverb metallic sounds are swelling in it, towards some loud broody tension with several inner movements and vibrations and noise up to a powerful loud complex motoric activity, after that it leaves nothing but a slow drone with slow waves of overtones behind, until bells vibrations like metallic bowls resonate themselves more clearly, and for last time louder organized droning noise is added and then faded out to slower wave pulses to conclude with.


“'Echoes' was composed for the "Mist, Sound, and Light Festival," a 10-day event organized by the hot spring tourist association of Kawaji, Tochigi Prefecture, that was held on May 20-29, 1981. The venue was located at the Kawaji hot spring's Ojika river valley, which was 50 meters wide and 200 meters long with an area of 7,000 square meters. Eight large loudspeakers were set up on hills surrounding the stream, with music played through an octuple channel-tape system. The combined length of cables connected with the loudspeakers exceeded one kilometer. The audience was amidst dense artificial mists spreading upward from the bottom of the valley, laser light beams projected on the hill surface, and tape music that played in extremely low tone at full blast, echoing in the valley. 'Echoes' consists of the sonic ingredients of the three types of percussion instruments used in 'Emerald Tablet' as well as my own voice. I lost the master tapes of both 'Echoes' and 'Emerald Tablet' because of my poor storage of them. When this CD was planned to be produced using copies of the master tapes, the sound quality had deteriorated over more than 30 years of time, with sound distortions found in 'Echoes' as a result of a failure in audio mixing to turn an eight-channel into a four-channel system. But Mr. Sumihisa Arima completely removed all dirty parts of the copies, giving this CD a freshly-minted sound. I even feel as if its sound is better than the original one. Without Mr. Arima, it would be impossible to release the two pieces again. I appreciate his help."”


The last piece is rather minimal but makes beautiful use of stereo. We hear a basic vibrating droning with minimal changes in vibrating inner rhythm and different speeds of zooming sounds of which some tones show resonating overtones. It is a bit like a huge vibrating singing bowl. After 9 minutes, some extra activity of peeps are added, and then also deep singing voices, like we know from Tibetan singing or Buddhist ritual singing. Several voices are combining ooohs and aahhs, changing it’s musical flesh over time. After a while the body of voices that drones in sound also reveals a huge wind like a breathing body. Near the end this wind adapts a more mechanical droning noise (taken from the previous recording?), adding power and a different, more aggressive sound conclusion.


-Somei Satoh has collaborated twice since 1985 with theatre designer Manuel Luetgenhorst in dramatic stagings of his music at The Arts at St. Ann’s in Brooklyn, New York-. I also heard a few classical works which didn’t sound as successful as these tonal-based excursions and Buddhist works.


Edition of 500 copies.


Audio & info:



New Albion Rec.  Somei Satoh : Mandara Trilogy (JAP,rec.1982,1986,1990,pub.1998)****'


Somei Satoh wondered if the Tibertan mandalas who were supposed to lead viewers into the state of Satori when concentrating on them, he wondered if this was about seeing them. Listening seemed like a cognitive variable of this. When he looked at them it reminded him of Lao Tse’s saying “The sound, which is so loud to a point that it goes beyond one’s imagination cannot be heard by a human being”, it seemed that these mandalas had such a loud voice, something beyond our time and space perspective. Thus he could only imagine a voice stretched by his imagination, that goes beyond the point of beauty or ugliness, or in a more primitive sense positive or negative tension. With a desire to use all audible frequencies, he used multi-tracking to add overtones to the voice, up to 250 times. This resulted to the first piece, Mandara, recorded in 1982. For the piece Mantra, recorded in Japan in 1986 he also used the same technique but added electronic filters for adding emphasis and frequency range. The last piece “Tantra” was produced in another electronic music studio, in the Victoria University of New Zealand, a piece commissioned for a dance company. Here a soprano voice, Jane Kara was combined with his own voice.


The earliest piece gives very much the impression as intended, of a voice coming from the paintings, vibrating deeply, between a voice of vividness and death, movement and silence, breathing a certain inner pulse, with a deep wind of an inner meditative breath, mixed with the “Aum” mantra stretched in time, reaching towards a timeless vision with deep voices and middle toned voices.


“Mantra” starts more ethereal, with high pitched noise, voices that form drones and that come and go and are mixed in, deepening the general sound within a structure of slow waves, but ending again in the high notes noise registers. 


The last piece, “Tantra” uses more breathing sounds and we hear the soprano voice participating with a few Gregorian harmony moments. There’s more participation of electronic effects too.


These three well fitting pieces of a more or less equal length could be used as sound meditations.


Label info :

Homepage :


Check also a comparable inspiration by Sainkho Namchylak & Jarrod Cagwin : In Trance



Please reload

Featured Posts

I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!

Please reload

Recent Posts

June 11, 2020

Please reload

Please reload

Search By Tags