Balances warmth and intimacy with a kind of spacious melancholy, much like the dreamscapes the tracks themselves invoke.
Kazuya Nagaya’s 11th album Dream Interpretation is, at its most obvious, a skillful and delicate ambient exploration that sits neatly alongside similar explorations. Thankfully, it’s also an album that manages to balance warmth and intimacy with a kind of spacious melancholy, much like the dreamscapes the tracks themselves invoke.
Nagaya’s recurring use of bells, gongs and other traditional instruments throughout his career locates his practice within a specific series of folk traditions and it’s clear from this album, alongside the rest of his practice, that bells play a vital role in Nagaya’s compositions. As he has explained elsewhere, their function here, as in the Japanese religious practices that have inspired him previously, is as much for the sound they make when struck as for the absence they illustrate as their sound fades. The space left by the decay of their sound is, for Nagaya, a way of sonically illustrating the silent richness that we all carry within us, a way of exploring the individual nature of self. In Dream Interpretation they’re joined and offset by a number of other, more familiar sounds, giving the album a feeling of in-betweenness, less audibly non-Western in its structure than his previous albums but still not fully located in either Eastern or Western ambient practices.
The album’s opening track “Thanatos” illustrates this by sitting neatly alongside William Basinski’s work in the ways it utilises sustained organ notes and strings to circle slowly developing themes, modulating the focus softly between instruments and washing the sonic field with a kind of misty affect. These washes are punctuated by the bells and singing bowls Nagaya’s work is recognised for and which represent the more specifically local conditions of composition. Originally composed for Richie Hawtin’s wedding, “Thanatos” sets the album’s compositional frame with Nagaya centring each piece around a limited tonal palette, providing a soft architecture of sustained notes and then using circular motifs as a way of exploring space and possibility within each framework.
‘Mother Wading in the River’ utilises a chant from the Japanese festival Hinamatsuri that, as sung by a woman, fades in and out, punctuated by ringing bells and supported throughout by heavily reverberated strings. The female voice that briefly appears and vanishes, occurring at the start and end of the track, is tonally at odds with the spacious orchestration and it’s this which offers an unsettling air or kind of distant malice to the composition. “Dream Interpretation I” returns to the familiar rise-and-fall, ebb-and-flow of tones and sound sources, most noticeably Nagaya’s use of the orin, a Japanese singing bowl. Here, as with “Thanatos” before it, these retreat to leave space for a more dominant sound source, in this instance a violin which mournfully suggests the kind of difficult events Nagaya reports were the inspiration for these tracks.
“Dream Interpretation II” removes the violin and replaces it with a wooden flute which, when paired with the sombre cellos that modulate throughout, adds a meditative stillness that is cinematic in its frozen attention to detail, a lingering over a same small collection of notes that, instead of becoming dulled through their repetition, become richer and more granular. “Wolfman’s Dream,” the most obvious nod to Freud amongst the pieces, utilises a recording of a male voice speaking in German, reciting one of the Wolfman’s own dreams exactly as Freud recorded them while darker drones growl beneath the spoken lines. In comparison to the delicacy of these compositions which depends, in no small part, on their use of largely analogue and culturally specific sound sources, it’s a surprise that the track “Heathen” breaks this practice to utilize a digital rhythm, placing a delicate and repetitive pulse neatly alongside the struck singing bowls and sustained drones.
As Nagaya has noted, “There is one thing I have known all along. Someday I will have to face the messages from my unconscious.” In an album that mixes the Nagaya’s deeply personal experiences, which he alludes to in interviews but will not detail, alongside his meditative interpretations of Jung, Freud and Lacan, the overall feeling is of both melancholy and mystery, the feeling one might have later in the day when still haunted by a dream one can’t quite recall but which continues to sit at the edge of hearing long after the original experience has faded, bell-like, from view.