Nature is a strong influence. All around us, regardless of the specific environment, we are experiencing our surroundings; life creates its own music in genres that the industry would call ambient, or naturalist. Field recordings, also occasionally affectionately called “found sounds,” offer a sense of hyper-reality that, paired with the music itself, paints a vivid story of the listener’s choosing. Motohiro Nakashima achieves all this and more on his 2021 album, Gathering the Light, a slight departure from his usual style.
The artist is famed for his finger-picking, yet last year’s record relies on far more instruments and more collaborators than ever. Nakashima played nine distinct instruments and collected field recordings, and the credit on Bandcamp ends with “and others”—what other instruments could possibly not be accounted for?! The result is a walk through a forest as the sun twinkles through the branches. The music feels like a warm memory, boasting surprising clarity. Each song is a vignette of the journey, taking us from our responsibilities and into utopia.
I listened to Gathering the Light in a lot of unique situations last year and I do quite literally have fond memories associated with it. I put it on while my roommate and I observed one of our many Scrabble nights—I like to think it gave me an advantage but I did lose most of our matches. It was in my ears a lot during the winter, and I can feel my Topshelf beanie keeping my ears warm. More recently, I listened on my first hike at Redwood National Park, and it very well may have created an indelible link between the music and mother nature.
In many ways, this record reminded me of Sufjan Stevens. I connect emotionally to Sufjan’s work, and he was also known for doing some left-field adjacent things with a million instruments on his records. At the same time, his folk stylings may be his most well-known trait. If I had to abide by stricter standards, I’d classify Gathering the Light as folk—it’s just as rich and dense as any from the 50 states project. Unlike that farce, however, Nakashima transports me to exactly where I am.
Life’s soundtrack is ambient music. Even for the Deaf and hard of hearing, our bodies feel rhythm, and it doesn’t always require sound—just emotion. That said, Nakashima’s representation of life, as I see it, is a musical phenomenon. While the record does contain many melodies, especially in the opening and closing tracks, a spirit flows through each track with no tether. Gathering the Light provides a score that we can overlay onto our life, or, at the very least, this moment in it.