Our relationship with nature is complicated. We’ve spent thousands of years bending it to our will while consigning it to the periphery. It’s out of our immediate vision, yet there when we need it to power our phones and computers and lifestyles. This is the world we live in, and the world that ‘Faraway Vicinity’, the new EP by ambient artists Kin Leonn and Hiroshi Ebina, addresses.
This theme of urban alienation is nothing new. But what is foreign for most of us is the extra pressure we’ve had to face in the form of a pandemic, and the isolation and detachment – from one another and from nature – that has characterised our experience of it.
The duo – Leonn is from Singapore and Ebina from Japan – recorded ‘Faraway Vicinity’ at the height of the pandemic, and it shows. The EP was written on the inside looking out, as observers of the natural world from an enforced distance. It offers 16 minutes of subtle ambience that’s defined by a central, almost Biblical, paradox: a yearning to return to nature while acknowledging the impossibility of that notion.
Field recordings, acoustic instruments and found objects are processed through Leonn’s software effects and Ebina’s Eurorack modules. Yet at the same time, their synthesisers attempt to emulate sounds of the natural world: synthetic foliage rustles in the wind, chimes stutter and glitch, and pads swell like waves lapping on the beach.
None of this treads new ground. But what the EP lacks in originality the artists make up for in execution: the pair have a delicate touch, and their processed recordings and synthetic re-creations never jump the shark into new-age kitsch.
Understated charm is the order of the day here. Be it the rainforest field recordings and ominous synth of opener ‘Forest Future’ or the sun-drenched fields, birdsong and melancholia of closer ‘Leaving Home For The Fields’, Leonn and Ebina deftly manipulate and create sounds, then weave them into beautiful tapestries. The aural mise-en-scène impresses, and the duo place each element precisely where it needs to be. They get their point across in delicate but effective ways, building sonic worlds without ever calling attention to the process itself.
Third track ‘A Secluded Channel’ is the best of the four on the EP. Chimes and percussion flitter in the upper midrange, a synth pad rises and falls like the wind, and the sound of the ocean floats in from across some unknown distance. You can almost feel the wind in your hair and the salt in your nostrils – it’s a soothing, bucolic scene, like the sonic equivalent of sci-fi manga Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou’s verdant post-apocalypse. It ends with a naked, emotional synth lead that’s perhaps slightly too much in the context of such reserved music. That said, it’s also spine-tinglingly beautiful.
‘Faraway Vicinity’ is an intentionally self-effacing EP, happy for the listener to put it on as background music for moments of contemplation. But pay attention, and these short sketches open up to reveal entire miniature worlds of their own, constructed by two musicians with a fine ear for detail and a keen reverence for the subject matter. While it may not be quite substantial or memorable enough to be hailed as a classic, ‘Faraway Vicinity’ has a lot to offer for both fans of ambient music and anyone that simply needs a bit of a break – which, right now, is probably all of us.
- Release date: July 3 (digital), August (cassette)
- Record label: KITCHEN. LABEL