Recently I stumbled upon an album called, ‘Kankyo Ongaku’, a curated collection of Japanese Ambient, Environmental music which arose during the Japanese bubble economy in the 1980s-1990s. Listening to compositions by the likes of Hiroshi Yoshimura, the calm, spacious, crisp rhythms and led me to pause on the thought of Minimalism.
Minimalism has been prying the corners of my mind for a while and I’ve realised that through my heady information adventures I’ve actually amassed quite some Minimalist philosphy. So this blog post is going to be a condensation of ideas that have been flurrying around in my mind, to provide a sketch of the beginning of my personal iteration of Minimalist thought.
‘Kankyoko Ongaku’ , inspired by the likes of Erik Satie’s furniture music and Brian Eno’s ‘Music for airports’, is the Japanese translation of ambient music ( in which the Japanese word translates to environment – take from that nugget of info what you may) . This is sound that keeps us company, ‘functional music’, which fixates on the ideas of a background, and the functioning of modes of attention within it. Japan’s ongoing relationship with physical space and close listening is returned to in pieces of this genre developed by artists who were living in hyper capitalist urban Japan, where this culture had been dislodged for that of consumerism. These pieces offer ways to exist in everyday life of capitalist systems whilst still being able to design one’s own experiences and peace of mind.
Music as a ‘purposeless play’ which is ‘an affirmation of life not an attempt to bring order out of chaos nor to suggest improvements in creation but simply a way of waking up to the very life we are living’Johnny Cage
Bringing me to my next inspiration, Basho, a 17th Century Japanese poet famed for his haikus based on the concept of Zen. I read (and wondered at) his collection of poetry ‘On Love and Barley’ last summer, and it unknowingly left a mark on me. His poems explore the concept of Wabi Sabi :
Wabi: Satisfaction with simplicity and austerity
Sabi: Appreciation of the imperfect
The haiku form is itself the epitome of minimalism, where this roaming exploration of Wabi Sabi encapsulates what Basho termed as ‘Karumi’ an aesthetic of lightness and leaness. The relaxed rhythm and seemingly artless expression leaves infinite room for interpretation allowing one’s being to abound freely unlike ‘heavy’ poetic postulation which enforce interpretation and politically loaded imagery. The deceptively simple focus on the commoner and everyday experience allows one to derive pleasure from simplicity and the alleviation of the burden of being oneself- reaching a state of ‘muga’ (loss-of-awareness-of-oneself). In a time where formation of identity and individuality is often pitched as an ideal, Basho’s minimalist poetry in the 21st Century allows us to be liberated from the incessant drum of feelings of desire and incompleteness.
‘In my view a good poem is one in which the form of the verse and the joining of two parts seem as light as a shallow river flowing over its sandy bed’Basho
I intend to end this post where my journey began, with Marie Kondo. Her brain child the Konomari method works on the principle that to pursue an ideal life you should only keep items in your home which spark joy- the more stuff you own, the more you become owned by your stuff. Her famed decluttering methods work ( I can personally testify to this). They also inspire a decluttering of one’s mind. As an INFJ things get quite busy up there, and I apply this decluttering not only to my personal physical ( and tech) space but my mental headspace as well. For me it is about a disciplined approach to emotion, which I aspire to achieve by being selective with forming relationships and using social media. Both of which, in my view, if used in the wrong manner obscure the beauty of being present in oneself.
So at this point in time Minimalism for me is a liberating movement away from the gluttonous nature of modern capitalist society. It’s a way to slow down one’s thoughts and interactions with the world, which passes so far beyond cutting down material possessions. It’s a way of looking at the world in all it’s natural complexity, a nexus in your own perspective, with a level of order which allows the liberation of thought and expression.