Crate-Digging: Portopia ’81 – Stardust Memory


(Field Hymns, 2014)

The first RPG I played was Final Fantasy VII on the original PlayStation back in college, and it freaking blew my mind. The length of it was sheer madness – dozens of hours are needed to satisfactorily complete the game – but the story was worth the wait. An emotionally charged epic from the get-go, FFVII made you care about the patchwork collection of misfit characters and their heroic struggle to overcome evil in an alternate-reality near-future dystopia. A major factor to the resonance was the score by Japanese composer and Final Fantasy soundtrack vet Nobuo Uematsu.

Uematsu crafted the most deeply affecting synthesizer music, effectively orchestral chiptune, for his work on the Final Fantasy series and other titles for Square, the design company that produced the games. Portopia ’81, aka fellow Japanese synth artist Mizuhiro, takes a page from Uematsu on his Stardust Memory cassette for Field Hymns, working within the same technological and stylistic confines, and achieving similar emotional results. This shouldn’t be surprising – Mizuhiro runs the cassette label Ginjoha, which specializes in the exotically ambient. Its catalog is worth a moment of your attention.

As with much stargazing synthesizer music indebted to krautrock vets like Popol Vuh, Faust, and Cluster, Portopia ’81 is like a time machine to “the world of tomorrow – today!” type futuristic nostalgia. The delicate synth runs that populate tracks like “Balcony on the Outer Space” bubble with gentle visions of utopias beyond the bounds of Earth, where geodesic domes dot unfamiliar planetary landscapes, and physical characteristics are unlike anything you’re used to. Heck, calling your album something like Stardust Memory pretty much nails down its sound before you’ve even heard a note – it’s clearly designed to invoke longing for that perfect future where everything ugly and hard here on this planet dissolves into wide-open possibility. And it’s working, on me at least!

Even the song titles leave little to confusion, as “Super Cosmic” and “Stardust Memory” waft along on chords of vapor dotted with pristine pastel color. They invade the pleasure zones of the brain and infuse the bloodstream with endorphins, and the listener drifts on these vibes as if partially submerged in water while looking at the aurora borealis, or if encased in a sensory-deprivation tank, with nothing but the music and gradually intensifying brain activity for company. Or if you want to stay in space, you can do that too – imagine floating in that vast expanse between galaxies, empty but with the promise of eventual destination, somewhere you’ve never been before. That destination is sort of teased in the two parts titled “Recuerdos de la Alhambra” (“Memories of the Alhambra,” presumably the palace in Spain), where you can envision yourself on an alien beachside cabana, overlooking pink waves, blue mountains, yellow sky, and orange clouds.

Half of you just thought I described a really great acid trip, while the other half booted up whatever version of Zelda you had on hand. You can’t lose, really – Portopia ’81 resonates in just as poignant a fashion as Uematsu’s FFVII score does, except using your own imagination instead of PlayStation images. So, even though there’s no video game to accompany Stardust Memory, Portopia ’81 can synth up my stargazing excursions anytime. I’ve got the visuals covered.

[Note: You stupid idiots! The tape is sold out! You missed it!]

RIYL: Disasterpeace, Nobuo Uematsu, Demonstration Synthesis


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