Hisato Higuchi

It is often said that music is a universal language – an audible vehicle that allows people to express themselves, be provoked by it, and capture the emotions and experiences of people in a non-verbal manner. It is the music of Hisato Higuchi that embraces such a complex, theoretical idea to great capacity.

The Tokyo-based guitarist crafts his music from bare minimum resources: his guitar, amp and that haunting, fragile voice that carefully bores through the sonic environment. On the front cover, one gets the impression that Higuchi’s music is just simply improvised guitar material laced with eerie vocal utterances. While this may be true to an extent, one should not judge ‘a book by its cover’, and must appreciate the intricate designs that he has produced to create effects of beauty, and melancholy at times.

The role of ‘silence’ plays a thought-provoking role in Higuchi’s musical drawings. His 2010 album Henzai is a journey into a reticent, lo-fi terrain, where blues-y melodic and harmonic phrases from the gleaming guitar permeates the scene. The most effective thing that comes out of songs like ‘Atatakai Tsuchi’ (‘warm dirt’) is that because of the discreet nature of each song, the smallest change in the sonic palette (like a sudden amplification or a slight pitch bend) makes a greater impact in rousing turbulence to the whole soundscape.

To add to this, the ironic thing about his music is that there is no single moment that is absolutely ‘silent’. Perhaps this could be a subtle message from Higuchi, that there is no such thing as ‘silence’ in the world.

After hearing tracks like ‘Sister. Girl’ (from the 2003 album She), it is possible to draw similarities to the ambient music pioneer Brian Eno or the musical aesthetics of French composer Erik Satie. It ebbs and flows with gentle, cradle-rocking guitar chords (just like Satie’s Gymnopedies) and breathy vocal swells that impose a sense of arctic solitude, only to surprise the listener with sudden piercing noise and glitch outbursts and overtones.

The relationship between music and semiotics is a complicated matter that Higuchi unpicks in songs like ‘A Hundred Signs of Light’, the opening number to his album Butterfly Horse Street from 2007. The lethargic but bittersweet vocal ripples and groans, the rattling guitar melodies and the overriding murky, unforeseeable path that the song is destined to reach gives a sonic and tactile effect of being in a narcotised state of trance.

Higuchi manages to create introspective, but lucid musical descriptions of his private, intimate experiences. Letting your soul meander through the deep, nocturnal, yet powerful atmospheres of his music will be an illuminating experience.

Other Listening:

  • Manazashi No Saki E
  • Hikari
  • Guitar #3
  • Watashi Wa Asa O Matteita

© Isaku Takahashi