Oddly therapeutic, ambient club sounds from the mysterious Noriko aka Dream Dolphin.
Definitely one of the best artist names we’ve ever heard, Dream Dolphin is the ambient and electronic project by the enigmatic Japanese artist referred to simply as Noriko. We first heard Noriko’s music a few years ago on Music from Memory’s brilliant Heisei No Oto: Japanese Left-field Pop From The CD Age, 1989-1996 which was co-compiled by Record Shop Rare Groove’s Norio Sato and Revelation Time’s Eiji Taniguchi. The oddly therapeutic, ambient four-to-the-floor “Take No Michi” was immediately one of our favorites from the compilation and we were excited to hear that a full retrospective dedicated to Dream Dolphin’s ethereal club sounds was in the works.
Something of a musical prodigy and genius type character, Noriko released twenty albums in just eight years starting from the age of sixteen! She studied classic Italian songs as a child and was later inspired by electronic artists including Yellow Magic Orchestra, The KLF, and PIL along with Japan’s “Kankyō Ongaku” environmental music. She also believed that in her past life she was a dolphin (hence the name)… Not much else is known about Noriko, though she seemed to have been in the media’s eye since a young age working as a model and appearing on radio and TV.
We highly recommend checking out Fond Sound’s excellent writeup on Dream Dolphin’s 1996 album Atmospheric Healing which dives deep into Noriko’s journey towards creating her own singular approach to “healing music.”
In Sheep’s Clothing’s Phil Cho spoke with Revelation Time‘s Eiji Taniguchi over email to attempt to learn more about the mysterious character behind Dream Dolphin, selecting tracks for the compilation, Noriko’s lyrics, and more!
Hello Eiji, congrats on this release! How did this project first come about?
Thank you! I’m so happy it’s going to be out finally. I remember the project started about 2 years ago just after Heisei No Oto was released. I selected a track by Dream Dolphin for Heisei No Oto, but there are many more tracks I liked. I shared my favorite tracks from her vast discography with Jamie [Tiller]. I was sure he would like them.
There seems to be quite a cult following in Japan around Noriko’s music, when did you first come across Dream Dolphin and what was your first impression of her music? Any other memorable listening experiences you’d like to share?
The first CD I bought was her first single, Dolphins Talk To You, about 5 years ago. I bought it because it was released from FOA Records, the label from which Haruomi Hosono released his ambient work. It was a Rave/House 3-track single, and to be honest, it didn’t impress me much. However, the next album I listened to, Atmospheric Healing, it totally blew my mind. It was a surprising discovery, a one-of-a-kind fusion of ambient and pop music. I recommended a track, “Take No Michi” from the album for Heisei No Oto straight away.
Not much information about Noriko is available online in English outside of the bit of liner notes provided on the Music from Memory page. What do you know about her story, upbringing, musical history, etc.?
When she was 11 years old, she started taking vocal lessons. Then her teacher introduced her to Erik Satie. This led her to listen to Brian Eno, The Orb, Penguin Cafe Orchestra and she got into ambient music. She is also heavily influenced by novels such as Haruki Murakami and films such as Stanley Kubrick.
Noriko began releasing music when she was just 16 years old. It seems almost like a Kate Bush type of situation where she was a genius discovered by the label. Do you know how Noriko’s music first reached FOA (Folk Oriented Art) Records?
I am not sure about that in detail. She was already working very close to the media, including television, so reaching the label may not have been too difficult.
I’ve read on this blog post, that at one point she appeared on radio and TV as “the unlikely icon of Japanese ambient pop music.” Is this true and, if so, can you speak about that time? Is there any documentation (photos, videos, etc.) online? I noticed there’s a list of her TV appearances on her website. Did she ever perform live?
She started modeling when she was in the first grade of elementary school and was already appearing on TV and other media. It might be obvious in her album Cosmic Blue, which was released with a photo book.
She said the similarity between modeling and ambient music was the immersive feeling of losing oneself.
She actively introduced ambient music in magazines and on TV to get people of her generation interested. There’s a picture of her playing synthesizers on her CD insert, but I don’t know how much she played live.
There are over twenty Dream Dolphin albums with a huge range of styles. How did you approach selecting the tracks for this compilation?
Dream Dolphin creates music in a wide variety of genres from ambient to techno, house, and even drum’n’bass.
We thought it would be impossible to include them all, so we selected mainly ambient side tracks. We hope you will consider this release as an introduction to her music, not the best.
Most of Dream Dolphin’s releases are on Haruomi Hosono’s FOA (Folk Oriented Art) Records label. Did the label provide any input at all when compiling this release? What was it like working with them?
I think Haruomi Hosono was involved with FOA Records only in the very beginning, and probably not his own label. (He started his own label Daisyworld Discs in 1996.) FOA Records has been inactive for a long time.
As a non-Japanese speaking listener, I’m very curious about Noriko’s lyrics. On her website, there’s a line that says “words that speak to the heart and the universe.” Can you share some memorable or impactful lyrics from her tracks? (Particularly curious about the spoken word type tracks like “Gaia,” “The Genesis,” and “Island Humming”)
It is very difficult to explain her lyrics. They are about the sea, nature, the earth; they are mythical, spiritual, allegorical, abstract…
This is maybe falling too deep into the rabbit hole… But there is a Twitter page for Dream Dolphin. Do you know anything about this page? Some of the early tweets almost seem like journal entries, but maybe they are lyrics from tracks? See here, here, and here.
It’s probably an automated tweeting bot created by her fans. Some of the tweets don’t seem to have much to do with Dream Dolphin though…
On some of the releases, the Dream Dolphin credits include: Noriko, WATER M.5., and FIRE T-1. Who are the other two names? Maybe they are fake names… Either way, I would love to share any connected artists for our readers to dive into. (Yoshiaki Ochi seems to be one?)
There are a few exceptions where different credits are used, but I don’t know the details.
However, the credit she requested for this work is “All tracks written and performed by DREAM DOLPHIN”.
Are there any tracks that didn’t make it or didn’t fit on the compilation that you think we should listen to?
Of course, there are many tracks I love that did not make it onto this compilation. In a mix I did for Ben UFO’s Hessle Audio, I played a Dream Dolphin track, “Replicants (Calm, Warm Bay Of Tokyo)” (around 93 min). It’s a dreamy tribal deep techno and one of my favorite dance side tracks.