Back in 2008, legendary Japanese pianist/composer Ryuichi Sakamoto and San Fransisco electronic improviser Christopher Willits teamed up to release a droning majesty, Ocean Fire. The two seemed to enjoy working together, as Sakamoto sent some ideas to his collaborator not long later. Over the course of the following four years, the two brewed those ideas into their second album as Willits + Sakamoto, Ancient Future, a deep-listening disc that drips with cold, dark intrigue.
It’s no surprise that Willits’ involvement in a project would result in something as powerfully reverberant as Ancient Future; while at Mills College, he studied directly under the Deep Listening honcho herself, Pauline Oliveros. While the disc is chopped into six tracks when played as mp3s, left to its own devices as a whole record the piece flows like a rapid river in some glittering cave. Opener “Reticent Reminiscence” begins the descent, sub-bass drones felt more than heard, interrupted by occasional shimmers of unfocused synth and the ever-present stabs of Sakamoto’s heavy piano. The listener is drawn slowly into their well, into an awed stupor, only to be poked and prodded by the just-off note cropping up every once in a while.
This pattern of drone and broken expectation continues uninterrupted, each track flowing from the last, yet developing its own part of the world as it slowly melds. The space-y guitar squiggles of “Abandoned Silence” deliver a noir unease, while the deep, churning bass synth of “I Don’t Want to Understand” rushes forward to a perpetually unknown destination. Just as “Levitation” begins to live up to its name, lightening the mood, rumbles of speaker-blowing bass drone threaten a well-earned lull.
Ancient Future is an intensely crafted journey of an album, though it doesn’t scream that fact as so many others do. Willits + Sakamoto deftly guide the listener through their world, invisibly prodding you along the dark river to the “Completion” that closes the album. Sakamoto’s piano breaks into its highest register, plinking out escapist breaths over washes of electronic drizzle and a few last bassy breaths. The synths lose their dark, minor tenor, finding a triumphant note and holding it, fading out just as easily as the world faded in.
Essential Tracks: “Reticent Remniscence”, “I Don’t Want to Understand”