It’s 9:30pm on a Thursday evening and Hinako Omori has just completed a day of rehearsals with Kae Tempest when we begin speaking over the phone. The London-based musician and sound engineer is incredibly bright and generous with her time as she talks me through the inspirations for her upcoming debut album, a journey…, set for release via Houndstooth on 18th March.
With a hectic schedule as a session musician and a solo artist, it’s unsurprising that Omori has crafted a beautiful, tranquil soundscape on her debut record, underscored by patience, empathy and kindness. a journey… is a gift to listeners who need respite from the overwhelming stresses of daily life – whether that was during the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic when it was created, or for the present state of “new normal” that often still sends us spiralling.
Differing from her 2019 EP, Auraelia – which was inspired by her experience of intense migraines that were accompanied by auras and other visual distortions – on a journey…, Omori seeks to further understand the physiological effects that music and sound frequencies have on the body. This exploration includes field recordings with binaural heads, tampering with mood-altering frequencies and inspiration from the Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku aka “forest-bathing.” Her music seeks to connect with and understand the human condition in intricate and invigorating ways.
We spoke about the many influences that helped to shape Omori’s debut record, the joy of collaborating with other musicians and artists, and her anticipations for her performance on 19th March in the Purcell Room at Southbank Centre, accompanied by the London Contemporary Orchestra. (you can buy tickets here)
Let’s start from the beginning…can you tell us who or what first inspired you to start making your own music?
I feel really lucky, because lots of friends who I admire and I spend a lot of time with have their own musical projects, which has been hugely inspiring.
I think one person that I can definitely can pin point is my friend Hannah Peel. She’s wonderful and I’m such a huge fan of hers. We actually met three or four years ago through a mutual friend and we had these lovely coffee meet ups where we would get together and chat about music. At that point, I was mainly session playing and I hadn’t really made any music of my own. Hannah and I were just getting to know each other when she very kindly asked if I would be interested in doing a remix for her Mary Casio album. My heart was saying “yes!” but I wasn’t entirely sure how, or what I could do at that point. But I jumped at the chance and the remix ended up getting played on 6Music and that was the first instance where I thought “this could really be something.” I really enjoyed the process and there were such kind words from from the output of that, which was a big catalyst for me having the confidence to do more of my own thing.
I remember last year you remixed a track for friend of Get In Her Ears BISHI too. I imagine approaching a remix is completely different to creating your own songs, so what’s the process like each time someone asks you to remix a track for them?
That’s a really good question, I guess it’s a different thought process each time as it’s so specific to the artist’s original music. It’s just an honour to be considered to rework someone’s beautiful music. I always want to make sure I can do it justice in some way. I love spending time with stems to dive into specific sound worlds, because they’re all so beautifully different. So I guess it’s taking those things and trying to craft them into something or shine a light on them that is a little different, that’s the main part of the process. It’s a joy to take something that already exists and is beautiful and make something else from that. It’s a challenge, but in a really fun way. Anything with music is never is never anything other than fun.
I’ve been listening to your debut album, a journey…this, and it really resonated with me and helped me to de-stress after a long day. It’s such a gentle, soothing collection of songs, rooted in a deep sense of calm and peace. I know that you’re inspired by the physiological effects of music and sound frequencies, so can you elaborate on these influences and how you incorporated them into your album?
Thank you so much, I think that’s all I can ever ask for when I make a record really.
It was kind of a patchy process. The album came about from some demos and short synthesiser loops that I’d recorded whenever I was learning a new piece of equipment for a show, or if I’d acquired a new synthesiser. The way that I love getting to know a new piece of equipment is to experiment with it. When I’m experimenting, I hit record and save everything, not necessarily knowing what’s going to be used for something in the future, but so I can always refer back to it. It’s like an audio diary in a way, I squirrel them away on a hard drive.
I had an opportunity last year during the pandemic to take part in an online festival called WOMAD At Home, which is an immersive audio experience. A lovely friend of mine Oli Jacobs who I went to University with, who works as a sound engineer, very kindly sent me an email asking if I’d like to be involved, and I was like, “absolutely!” Firstly, because binaural audio is something I’ve been really interested in for a long time. Although I didn’t do a huge amount of binaural recording at University, I was always really fascinated by it. We had a binaural head there and we’d learned the fundamentals of using it, but I hadn’t really been able to put it into practice much. So I was really excited about that.
When I was given the opportunity to make 40 minutes of music for the festival, I initially thought, “what do I do?” I thought maybe I’d go up there and see what came from an improvisation, being inspired by the surroundings, but then I thought maybe it would be nice to see what material I already had, to take something up there and mix both things together.
So I re-discovered all of these synthesiser loops and I tried to piece them together into a full 40 minute piece of work. Really strangely, when I was assembling all the songs together, I realised that a lot of them just seemed to fit quite naturally in terms of the key that one song finished in and the key that another song started in. It just seemed to somehow magically fit together like a puzzle. I took that and then thought about re-recording some of the parts. That’s kind of where the healing frequencies came in.
I’ve been really interested in binaural beats and how we can train our brains to be in a more relaxed state – alpha, beta, theta, delta. For example, delta waves are said to contribute to deep restorative sleep and healing, and theta waves are supposed to help with creativity, intuition and emotional processing. I wanted to create something for the stressful pandemic situation that we were in at the time, to have something that you can just pop on some headphones and just fully relax.
Mainly, the inspiration for this came from a gong bath I went to just before the pandemic when I was on tour in February 2020 in New York. I just really fully lost myself for the whole time. It was such a beautiful experience. Researching into it and how it works with the frequencies and how that takes our bodies into a more relaxed state, I was really keen to try and incorporate that into the music as well. I recorded some synths and de-tuned some of them to create these binaural beats, so when you’re listening to the record with headphones on, hopefully it will create this relaxing state. I guess the idea of it was to make something that would really promote peace.
I definitely think your records promotes peace. I know you were also inspired by the idea of “forest bathing” as well, can you elaborate on the concepts behind this too?
There’s a term “shinrin yoku” in Japanese, which is kind of a study into nature and the forest and how spending time in a forest environment has been scientifically proven to lower stress levels and is really good for our well-being. So with that in mind, I was really keen to capture some field recordings using a binaural dummy head. I took one out and recorded the nature around me and incorporated that into the music. I was mindful of the fact that not everyone might be able to access nature in the same way – as it was kind of hardcore pandemic time when I was creating it – so I was trying to create an environment where you could just pop on headphones and just immerse yourself in nature for a little bit. I think having the binaural head was such a lovely thing as well, because you really do you feel like there’s a 360 audio experience there too.
Listening to the record feels like a natural form of escapism, I think you’ve captured that beautifully. What would you say you are most proud of about your debut record?
I’ve not really been asked that before! Can I change it to what am I most grateful for? I’m really grateful for the experiences that I’ve had in connecting with with the wonderful team that I’ve worked on the album with. So that’s everyone at Real World studios and everyone at Houndstooth I’ve worked with. I think for my own project, it’s the first time I’ve been able to collaborate with so many creatives who I admire so much. It’s been a huge inspiration and a big learning experience for me as well.
It’s also been fascinating to experience what other people take from the music. I think that’s something that I’m really, really grateful and appreciative of. I’ve worked very closely with a wonderful visual artist called Emi Takahashi whose work I connected with online on a website called itsnicethat.com. I reached out to her not really knowing whether or not she would be interested in working together, but she very kindly was up for collaborating. I think from that, just seeing how she interpreted my music without me explaining much about it and how it naturally connected with her, that was really inspiring for me.
I’m just honoured to able to do this and to be able to call it a job, because it doesn’t really feel like a job!
That’s the dream job!
Do you have a favourite track on the album? If so, why?
I have a track that’s very special to me. It’s a collaboration with a friend called Emily R Grosholz. Emily is an amazing poet, philosopher and a lecturer at Pennsylvania University. We were sat next to each other on a plane about four years ago now, and we had such a lovely chat and a really nice connection. I feel really grateful that we’ve kept in touch and been emailing each other ever since we met.
Emily very kindly sent me a book of her poetry and I was floored by her beautiful words. I immediately felt this pull towards one particular poem in her book Great Circles: The Transits of Mathematics and Poetry. It’s called ‘The Richest Garden in your Memory’ and that screamed out at me, I felt this real urge to put music to it. I asked her if she would be happy for me to do that and she very kindly agreed, so I recorded some piano and synths. I didn’t really want to put too much on it, because I think the words are so powerful and I didn’t want to detract from that. I sent her a demo and it just came about quite quickly and very naturally. Emily was really happy with what I sent over.
That sounds like another very organic collaborative process, which is something that really underscores your album.
How would you say your knowledge and skills as a sound engineer have filtered through into your music?
I studied sound engineering at University, but technically I haven’t worked as an engineer since I left. It’s been so helpful for various projects I’ve worked on though. In terms of working in studios as a session musician, or as a session musician when you’re preparing for a set, it’s really useful to have what I learned at university to guide that. In terms of needing to record something from home to send to other people, especially during the pandemic, it’s been really useful to have a remote recording set up. It’s helped me immensely in creating my own album too. Whatever role you work in in music there are so many things or skills that are interchangeable. So what I learned at University has been a huge help for what I do now.
Finally, you’re playing a show at Southbank Centre with the London Contemporary Orchestra on March 19th to celebrate the release of a journey… What are your anticipations for this performance?
My friend Penelope Trappes played a show there a few weeks ago and it was really magical to hear her music in that setting. I’m just really excited to work with the London Contemporary Orchestra, I’ve been such a big fan of theirs for quite a long time. They have such a unique sound and they can transform something completely. It’s quite a unique format, we rehearse on the day of the show, which is where the collaboration comes about, then we perform it that evening. Being able to perform my music with other such esteemed musicians is an honour.
Pre-order Hinako Omori’s debut album a journey…here
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Photo Credit: Annie Lai