Cultural Bulletin
Cultural Bulletin is a quarterly magazine that provides an international view of creative work. We look to film, music, design and art as signifiers of our cultural moment.

Revisiting: 7FO - Water Falls Into A Blank

 Label: RVNG Intl. 


The label RVNG Intl. describe their 2016 release Water Falls Into A Blank as ‘a bubble of dub and anecdotal pop’, which balances energetic bursts with ‘extended moments of meditation’. If this is dub, then it is certainly not a kind of dub that you have ever heard played out on a sound system before. The album is a work composed and produced by 7FO, a Japanese producer from Osaka, who turned to making his unique style of music as a form of ‘self-healing’ after living an intense clubbing lifestyle in his hometown. There are plenty of dub sirens and a few drum samples you may recognise from the conventional dub sound bank, but these are incorporated into ambient compositions that float above an electronic drum machine, which sounds like it has come straight from an 80s synth-pop track. Mixed with uneven time signatures and sonic experimentation, the resulting sound is singular and creates a curious aesthetic that is special and strange, which 7FO mirrors through both his visual artwork and elusiveness as a producer. 

Many descriptions of 7FO's music make use of metaphors involving water; RVNG Intl., for example, refers to this album as an ‘aquatic theater’. This is both because of the literal aural imagery of water that some of the electronic effects suggest to the ear and the general sense of calm and tranquillity that flows from start to finish. The liberal use of modulation, tremolo and delay in various tracks does evoke the idea of rippling water to the listener, which undoubtedly forms a core part of this album's identity. This is particularly notable in 'Forest of Old Cloth', where the shimmering guitar that glistens on top of the track helps to smooth over the uneven number of beats in each bar, as well as to balance out the more free and explorative breakdowns dispersed throughout. 

The compositional style of these pieces, based around loops that gradually layer texturally and instrumentally, is reflected through the assertion in the album description that from simplicity grows complexity. The core musical cell that opens 'Rice Field of the Diorama' is one of the most interesting loops on the album, as it maintains a glitchy, electronic quality despite also being strangely melodic and pleasing. When the drums enter, the production of the soft, distant snare and distorted bass drum almost makes the listener wonder if they are in fact listening to a kind of experimental lo-fi. Gradually the piece transitions towards a distorted guitar solo, which is softened with so much ambient reverb that it adds a quite ethereal quality to the track it sits over, and the looped overdriven guitar duet that follows begins to sound like an eerie siren after its many repetitions. Other tracks develop into very quirky pieces in very unexpected ways. 'Evaporation' starts with a swing groove on a ride cymbal with lots of dub FX over the top, and gradually unfolds into a lilting bass line with a shrill melody that quite awkwardly pierces its way through the piece. However, after a short breakdown, a fleeting timbale roll brings us into what feels like a slightly unhinged march in 5/4, with a wah synth that wails over the top and rippling electronic sounds to complement the unusual parade. After a while, a warm, overdriven guitar chord growls over the lilting march and the layers start to float away until we are left with one pulsing rhythmic synth that draws the piece to a close. Although filled with unusual musical parts, the repetitiveness of this track makes the unsettled eventually feel familiar, which is something that occurs at several points on the album in a decidedly minimalist fashion. 

There is a concrete consistency between the pieces on Water Falls Into A Blank, a distinct and recognisable style. The danger is whether this tips the tracks over into the realm of sounding samey. The compositional structure of starting with a quiet loop and then playing with building up and stripping away layers stays rigid throughout most pieces. Some musical ideas even appear to be recycled in other tracks, such as the 5/4 rhythmic clave (or key) which is played by the bass in both 'Forest of Old Cloth' and 'Evaporation'. However, although some more contrast might have been effective, the uniformity between its tracks does make Water Falls Into A Blank feel like a coherent work as a whole, and the formula of gradual development around each piece's loop does have a quite mesmerising effect on the listener. 

The music on this album is bound to leave the listener reflective in some sense. Whether it takes you into a meditative trance or leaves you trying to understand what you have just heard will depend on the person. You may choose to label this music as either dub, ambient, pop or perhaps even experimental electronic, but Water Falls Into A Blank does not quite fit into one of those genres alone. 7FO's sound feels informed by, yet not tied down to, the ambient works of other contemporary ambient producers, and combines the organic with the inorganic in a unique way to produce something really quite original. PM