Yoshio Ojima began his career as a composer of environmental and ambient music, with a particular interest, and optimism, in the possibilities of generative software. His compositional pursuit of human synthesis with computerized forms was realized in its fullest potential alongside Satsuki Shibano, a pianist renowned for her interpretations of Erik Satie and Claude Debussy. Together, they were among a handful of influential Japanese artists whose innovations still resonate, if not more vibrantly than ever, well beyond the tightly-knit scene’s original core. In the early 90s, Ojima was among the programmers of the influential satellite radio experiment St. Giga, a constantly-evolving sonic landscape that combined field recordings and sound collage with occasional readings of Japanese poetry. Satsuki was a regular reader for the station. This musical terrarium bloomed out of sight in a small Tokyo studio, a greenhouse of sound with no set start or finish time that audiences could tune into, absorb, and immerse.
The perpetual flow state of St. Giga — recordings of which Ojima shared with Visible Cloaks — would be highly influential to serenitatem’s constitution. As Visible Cloaks, the Portland, Oregon duo of Spencer Doran and Ryan Carlile have developed their own set of creative strategies that form an aesthetic fuse point between human intention, aleatoric composition, and improvisation.
These are notions most recently reflected in 2017’s Reassemblage and Lex, a respective album and EP in which the duo combined generative software and virtual representations of global instruments into lacy, interlocking patterns. Long time admirers of Ojima’s work on albums like 1988’s Une Collection Des Chainons, Doran and Carlile discovered after an online introduction that they shared with Yoshio and Satsuki an abiding interest in pre-classical composers, the Lovely Music, Ltd. label, and the British avant-garde, as well as a mutual respect for one another’s techniques and processes.
The four musicians met in Tokyo, Japan at Sounduno Studios in December 2017, at the tail end of Visible Cloaks’ first Japanese tour, to commence work on serenitatem. Leading up to the studio sessions, Doran and Carlile sent Ojima processed sound sketches recorded while on a European tour, which Yoshio would add to and return. Visible Cloaks would then fold Yoshio’s edits back into the original compositions, which Doran and Carlile brought to the exploratory recording session. During that week together in Tokyo, the quartet made use of a number of creative strategies — “echoing sound together,” as Yoshio puts it. Among the strategies, MIDI randomization gave the quartet melodic lines and what Doran calls “randomized clouds,” or “tightly grouped notes that become smeared tonal clusters functioning more like chords in themselves.” Carlile would also feed Ojima and Satsuki’s text into Wotja, a generative music software which produced a MIDI language around which the quartet expanded their compositions