Towadako Spring

June 14, 2024

“There is a real cultural celebration of seasons in Japan. People go to pay respect to the seasons, they go out and look at the change of leaves, and how the colours change, they eat food in a seasonal celebration, and in my way I wanted to pay tribute to that, to be inspired by these five seasons.” - Nick Wood

Spring is universally understood as a time for new beginnings. For cultures around the globe, when Winter thaws and gives way to Spring, a general sense of optimism - and perhaps a sense of reflection - is marked by festivals, age-old traditions and seasonal celebration. In Japan, this is particularly pronounced, with spring-time being a significant moment in the calendar year. Not only does April see cherry-blossoms bloom across Japan, but it also marks the beginning of a new financial and school year, and a time of personal and spiritual importance.

With a latitude extending from 20-degress North in Okinawa to 45-degrees North in Hokkaido, Japan is a very long country and, as such, Spring’s arrival differs from region to region. Sakura (Cherry Blossom) creeps northwards from late-March to early-May, as Spring makes its way towards Japan’s Northernmost Island, Hokkaido. One of its final stops along the way is Lake Towada in Akita Prefecture, Northern Japan.

Lake Towada is a caldera lake located in the Towada-Hachimantai National Forest, formed around 200,000 years ago. Surrounded by Beech, Oak, Maple, Chestnut and Cedar Trees  (some older than the state of New York), the lake is home to Nick Wood’s lakeside studio and the creative genesis of the Towadako seasonal collection. As a striking comparison with Syn Tokyo’s studio in the heart of the city’s Harajuku district, Lake Towada is the perfect setting for Wood to find stillness and creative introspection, something he shares with us as he reflects on this collection and the inspiration behind it, “This collection stems from me spending time at Lake Towada, and experiencing the beautiful nature of the Hachimentai National Forest. I’ve been going for quite a few years, but I’ve now experienced all the seasons and they are all incredibly different, and diverse, and I thought it would be a beautiful project to write a piece of music, or five pieces of music, inspired by the seasons. The seasons bring change; the food changes, people look forward to seasonal dishes, things that you can’t get in the summer become available in autumn and again in winter, “Oh you can only have this fruit in this season”. ‘Towadako Spring’ embraces a sense of rebirth and new beginnings, with a distinct spirit of place tied to the environment of Northern Japan. With Wood’s Lake Towada studio only accessible in winter on-foot (or by snowmobile!), Spring is especially meaningful to the residents of this extreme environment, “You’ve got a really long winter - very brutal and cold, and it’s all white. You don’t see much green, expect for Cedar Trees, but for the most part it’s white, snowy and very cold, and it lasts until April. So Spring comes quite late, compared to the rest of Japan, but when it comes - it comes with force, with energy and vitality. Spring is a big relief for people in Northern Japan; winter is finally over. It’s a happy and joyous occasion everywhere in the world, but it’s more pronounced here because the winter is brutal and long.”

How does a composer go about the creative process of capturing Spring? Towadako embraces nature, and engages with the natural environment, similar to how one might engage with a musical instrument. To achieve this, Wood included environmental sounds recorded at Lake Towada, as well recordings of plants (using PlantWave technology), truly embracing the land in the composition. The use of PlantWave technology is particularly compelling; PlantWave is a pocket-size device which converts tiny electrical signals from organic matter into MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface), with those sounds then being used as a bed within a musical score to astonishing results. Unlike the process of composing a song, or writing a film score, Nick Wood’s approach to Towadako challenged him in a profound way, leading him to ask himself how to interpret Spring musically, “I grew up on pop music and writing songs, and of course I’ve been involved into writing scores and composing music for picture, but this idea was about not writing for picture, but writing to bring some pleasure and positive thinking to people and myself. I thought Lake Towada and a collection of music inspired by this beautiful place, and inspired by the sounds of nature felt like a really new challenge for me as a writer and composer. It felt like something I wanted to do and I needed to do. I want people to ask the question ‘Where is Lake Towada’ - both Japanese people and Foreigners.

As The Towadako collection continues throughout the year, listeners will notice the inclusion of a fifth season, ‘Rain’, which is an important distinction from the traditional concept of four seasons. Japan’s rainy season is pronounced, sprinkling (and sometimes soaking) Japan’s islands with daily rain from mid-June to mid-July. The inclusion of this season felt significant to Wood, repurposing the seasonal concept of ‘The Four Seasons’ - most famously interpreted by Antonio Vivaldi - and making it uniquely Japanese, "I’ve no idea why Japan says they have four seasons, because the weather announces every year that rainy season will start on this day. There is definitely a fifth season called ‘Rainy Season’ and I really love the sound of rain. Japan does have very accurate seasons, it’s different to England where summer can feel like winter, but Japan has very reliable and distinct seasons and culturally they love their seasons, and I’ve always really admired that.”

Syn has been mixing in Dolby Atmos for many years, always looking for opportunities to mix audio in this immersive format. For ‘Towadako Spring’, Syn worked with L.A. based mix engineer David Levin who has been mixing in Dolby Atmos for the last 2-years, working in a 9.1.6 ATC Atmos Room for this latest project. David vividly describes Atmos as “being the difference between watching people at a party and actually being in a party, you are able to feel like the music is so much more engaging when you’re able to hear it not just on a wall, but actually be inside of it and be inside the music.” David goes on to explain how this incredible format is particularly powerful for projects inspired by wellness and relaxation, “One of the main goals is to not distract the listener, and to create a space that the listener can be in, that feels relaxed, rather than trying to grab their attention with fast motion or sounds zooming past them”.

As Nick and I speak, he is returning to Lake Towada from Tokyo to continue work on the next iteration of the Towadako collection, ‘Rain’. I ask him how listeners should enjoy the listening experience of Towadako Spring, and his response invites listeners to embrace it in a spirit of self-care, “It’s definitely designed for your personal time dedicated to you - it’s a time for you to reflect and to be aware of your sense of being, it’s something to reflect on in a positive way - hopefully it gives people some sense of nature and how important nature is, and a sense of celebration for how incredibly lucky we are - certainly in Japan - to have such incredible seasonal celebration. Equally, someone might want to escape the craziness of their surrounding and listen to it on the train, escaping their city surrounding as a barrier to the noise pollution. It’s a sonic bubble.”

It’s a Sonic Bubble and we invite you to step inside.

Towadako Spring is available in Dolby Atmos on Apple Music, as well as for licensing opportunities through Syn.