Hinako Omori

Territory: DE | AT | CH

For Hinako Omori, synthesizers are a portal to the subconscious. Far from being sterile or austere, “synths really do respond to how you’re feeling,” says the London-based artist, producer and composer. “There have been times where I’ve felt stressed and my synth would go out of tune. I took it to a repair place once, thinking that something was wrong with it, but it was fine; I think it was to do with my energy levels. So when I sit down and write something, whatever comes out is relevant to how I feel in that moment because the synthesizer is responding to it. The music really becomes a map of my emotions.”

Since she started mapping them out with 2022’s critically acclaimed debut album, a journey…, Omori has fast become one of the UK’s most compelling breakthrough musicians, blurring the lines between classical, electronic and ambient. A concept album inspired by the ancient Japanese ritual of forest bathing, a journey…’s lush textures, rooted in nature, were called “remarkable” by Pitchfork and received heavy rotation on BBC 6Music. Omori’s potent blend of therapeutic frequencies, drones and her ethereal falsetto connected: she has since supported Beth Orton, Anna Meredith and Ichiko Aoba, played with a 60-piece orchestra for BBC Radio 3’s Unclassified and, later this year, will join Floating Points’ esteemed ensemble at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles to perform Promises, his collaborative album with the late Pharoah Sanders.

If a journey… was about healing others with its soothing sounds, Omori’s next album unexpectedly became one of healing herself. Looking back at the lyrics to stillness, softness…, “it was very much an inner journey of uncovering stuck points within myself and coming to a sense of peace with them,” she says. Omori was particularly taken by the idea of our shadow selves – the dark parts of ourselves that we keep hidden – and the need to reconcile with them in order to break free. “The relationship with ourselves is consistent, and when it’s healed, wonderful things can come from that,” she adds.

Wonderful things, indeed: stillness, softness… explores a new sonic range within Omori’s world of analogue synths – namely, her Prophet ’08, the Moog Voyager and UDO Super 6, an analogue hybrid synthesizer that creates binaural, 3D-simulating sound. The album is darker, more expansive and more noirishly theatrical than her previous work, signalled by ominous warped overture and album opener ‘both directions?’, or the affirmation monologue of ‘a structure’, in which Omori intones over a celestial symphony of electronics. Then there’s ‘in bloom’, a song of reflection in which Omori reminds us to love, heal and have compassion towards ourselves. Whereas Omori’s debut was largely instrumental, here the vocals are front and centre – “it’s more vulnerable,” she nods – as she opens up on themes of dreams versus reality, solitude, reconnecting with who you are and, ultimately, finding strength in yourself.

Omori calls stillness, softness… “a collage of experiments” which she then pieced together “like a puzzle”, each song representing a memory room. The end result is seamless, a continuous cycle of 13 vignettes that flow in and out of each other (see the gorgeous ASMR-firing ripple of ‘stalactites’), recorded and written between her bedroom in London and her grandmother’s house in Yokohama, Japan. “It was very DIY,” she laughs. “I was whispering into the microphone because I didn’t want to wake anyone up.” You’d never know it from the epic, propulsive ‘cyanotype memories’: it’s the closest Omori has come to writing what you might call a traditional song, as the intricate synth strands coalesce into a yearning chorus, driven along by the energetic force of a drum machine. Another single, ‘foundation’, is just as monumental: a cinematic slice of cosmic synth-pop with Omori’s stunning vocals atop the cornucopia, contrasting with the whirl of mechanical, interlocking arpeggiators beneath.

Omori was born in Japan but grew up in south London and studied sound engineering at the University of Surrey. Her interest in machine music began before that, in college, thanks to a teacher who introduced his class to analogue synthesizers. “It sparked a curiosity in me,” says Omori. “I grew up learning classical piano, and the minute I came across synthesizers for the first time it completely drew me in. With a synth, you get to truly sculpt the sound: it opened up all these endless possibilities for expression that I had never even thought about before.”

After university, she joined the touring bands for both indie musicians and arena acts including EOB, James Bay, KT Tunstall, Georgia and Kae Tempest, the latter of whom Omori still plays with regularly. “I’ve learned so much from those experiences,” says Omori. “If it wasn’t for working with these wonderful artists, I don’t think I would have had the confidence to do what I’m doing now.” Her confidence, she says, is still a work in progress, which is partly what the album speaks to. Its title might be stillness, softness… but the album is actually about making yourself uncomfortable in order to grow. “It’s about embracing the things that we want to hide away from, and that we feel ashamed of,” she says.

On stillness, softness…, there is plenty that is hidden and revealed, the layers peeled back slowly, like the slivers of layered distant conversation that start ‘cyanotype memories’. It’s an idea echoed by the Man Ray-inspired, cyanotype-printed album portrait of Omori, glowing supernaturally from the solarization technique (taken and solarized by photographer Luca Bailey and printed by Emi Takahashi). Omori was equally drawn to surrealist artists’ penchant for assigning new meanings to everyday objects; each of her songs has an object on the album artwork. “It’s questioning whether appearance reflects reality – what is real and isn’t real – and challenging your perception of things,” Omori says. With ‘foundation’, for example, the object is a trick lock. “I found it at a Japanese antique store – it’s an old padlock for a kura, which is a traditional storehouse where you would keep your most valuable possessions.” She saw it as a fitting metaphor for the song, where the ‘kura’ represents our mind. “The only things that block us from working through our stuck points are the tricks and barriers we place on ourselves, and our own inhibitions.”

The album on the whole is Omori’s most accessible yet, and one that evidences her true range as a composer, artist, arranger, vocalist and synth virtuoso. It closes with the title track, completing the cycle. “I wanted it to evoke a state of peace that you reach within yourself,” says Omori. “I think of it as a blanket of sorts, very gentle, very calming.” That softness, she says, is the ultimate strength – and one that will guide us through life with love and compassion for ourselves and others.