Sound Impression: Earth Awhile by Michael Grigoni, Chihei Hatakeyama, and Stephen Vitiello

Collaborating across geographical, temporal, and musical boundaries, Japanese sound artist Chihei Hatakeyama and American musicians Michael Grigoni & Stephen Vitiello have conjured up a fascinating new album thematically centered around the poem “Birches” by Robert Frost. While Grigoni and Vitiello recently teamed up for the widely praised Slow Machines (12k, 2020) Earth Awhile marks the first time all three of these distinguished artists have worked together on the same project. The title of the album and the six tracks that it comprises are lifted from words & phrases that appear in Frost’s poem which Grigoni has said he turned to frequently during the pandemic for “a sense of groundedness during this strange and difficult season”.

As is the case with so many of Frost’s works, there are intriguing complexities behind the elegant simplicity of the words. Listen to Earth Awhile with a close ear and you will find this echoed in the music. In the foreground, Grigoni’s dobro and lap & pedal steel guitars are organically intertwined with intricate patterns of piano, samples, acoustic guitar and loops from Vitiello which Hatakeyama beds in verdant layers of modular synth and electric guitar.

I’d like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.

Robert Frost, “Birches”

Links: Bandcamp | Michael Grigoni | Chihei Hatakeyama | Stephen Vitiello

The result can be a gossamer web of sound or a lush pastoral scene as on “Breeze Rises” or “And Begin Over” or it can be surprisingly kinetic and percussive as on “Dry in the Sun”, a track which also features additional Ebow guitar textures Australian guitarist Cameron Webb, aka Seaworthy. These are prismatic soundscapes in perpetual motion, constantly revealing new patterns and perspectives. The closer you listen to Earth Awhile, the more there is to hear, but step back and experience it holistically and no doubt you will find yourself refreshed and renewed.

Earth Awhile is available on CD and digital/streaming from White Paddy Mountain, a label run by Hatakeyama who also mastered the record. The cover photo by Paul Thulin-Jimenez. The album was recorded and mixed by the artists in their homes in Durham, North Carolina (Michael Grigoni), Tokyo, Japan (Chihei Hatakeyama), and Richmond, Virginia (Stephen Vitiello).

Michael Grigoni (top), Chihei Hatakeyama (bottom right), Stephen Vitiello (bottom left)