Tag: DNA

Arto Lindsay: Space, Parades, and Confrontational Aesthetics

A conversation via Skype between Arto Lindsay in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and Sam Hillmer in New York, New York
April 15, 2015
Transcribed and edited by Sam Hillmer
Video presentation and photography
by Molly Sheridan

I first Met Arto Lindsay at a party I hosted at my house to preview a new set by my band Zs. Of course it was an honor and a privilege to have the man in my house—founding the band DNA alone makes him a legend!

Arto and I have a mutual friend, Arto’s manager Ryu Takahashi, and through him we had occasion to meet a number of times over the next couple of years. As I got to know Arto and his work better, I began to appreciate the breadth of his artistic vision. Not only had Arto founded arguably the most important band from New York’s early-’80s No Wave scene, he is a well-known figure in Brazilian pop, collaborator of Matthew Barney’s, leader of parades, and thrower of sounds in space.

Alexis de Tocqueville has said that Americans “cut through the form to the substance.” Punk, which is quintessentially American, does just that. Born of an urgency around reaching people through disruptive and confrontational aesthetics and social practice, punk is inherently populist at the level of essence. What interested me about getting to know Arto was that, as I learned about his work outside of the band DNA, I felt I was able to identify that spirit in his pop efforts, parades, and the sound design of his various performance works.

Curious to learn more, I invited Arto to have a lengthy chat with me some day. He graciously accepted the offer, which led to a marathon Skype call last spring. What I had thought was breadth of vision was just an opening to an artistic world of Arto’s own—bigger and broader then I had ever imagined. Big thanks to Arto for the time and for his life and work!

Sam Hillmer: Tell me about the use of space in your music.

Arto Lindsay: That is something I’ve been doing for years and years, and I’ve done it with the band, I’ve done it with myself. I came up with one piece a few years ago where I use floor monitors that cut right through the middle of the audience. I had my voice in quad around the audience, no guitar around the audience, and I release the guitar into the floor monitors so that sound races right past you if you are sitting in the audience, you know what I mean? You get it, right?

SH: Yes, totally.

AL: So I’ve worked with a few different guys on this, and we’ve gotten more and more sophisticated. Sometimes we’ll have a different event in each speaker, or have different lanes of delay, and it makes it possible to come up with these insane rhythms that I don’t know how I’d be able to come up with otherwise. By myself, anyway.

Arto Lindsay seated

SH: So what about the spatialization itself facilitates the generative rhythmic part of what you are talking about? You’re saying that this process makes it possible for you to come up with rhythms that you wouldn’t be able to come up with otherwise. How does that relate to the spatial aspect of what you are doing there?

AL: I think it’s because I am working with delays, and because of the way they’re set they are pretty unpredictable. I mean, I can layer a few delays on top of each other and make a different rhythm, you know? I’m trying to answer your question—it’s a good one—about how this process leads to complexity that a normal delay pedal wouldn’t. The other thing is that it is in motion. The distance aspect of it adds to the rhythmic possibilities somehow.

SH: To me it seems like it would introduce a degree of clarity that, if it was all just a composite coming out of one speaker—

AL: Absolutely, a degree of transparency, yes—

SH: Yeah, there is a lot of interest in work like that now, quadrophonic work and work for 16 speakers and whatnot, and I always wonder why that’s interesting to people. I’m interested in it, but there is something about that, surround sound and composing spatially, that people respond to.

AL: Also, it emphasizes some aspects of what’s already there when you are listening to music. Already, music itself, if it’s loud it seems close, if it’s quiet it seems far, and stereo has been there since people have been playing more than one instrument. And certainly the Western classical orchestra, the way it’s arrayed—

SH: Sure, there is a spatial dimension to it.

AL: It’s about stereophonic effects, and of course the big bands, they all took advantage of this. There’s the back and forth, the basic panning, the basic joy of stereo, you know—like the early Beatles records where the instruments are all separated. Spatialization, in a sense, doesn’t add anything because music is already waves moving through space. Actually what it does is it adds more points of departure, so to speak. Instead of the music starting from one point of origin, it starts from a whole bunch of different points of departure.

SH: Right, right. It interrupts the sense that the point of origin of the music is this person, and that what’s happening is this two-way feedback loop between the audience and the person on stage, and then it locates that point of origin, at least sonically, in a variety of places.

AL: Exactly. It makes the person on stage seem like they have more points of origin. It opens up the person on stage. It’s like your molecules are a little less settled or something. The illusion of something solid is less strong. It’s closer to the truth, physics wise.

So it doesn’t really change things so much between the performer and the audience as much as it does bring the truth about that situation out. When I do this with the band, I try to incorporate that spatial aspect as part of the musical phrases in what I’m doing.

SH: Okay, this leads into something else I wanted to ask you. Throughout your career you have had some kind of relationship with the art world, and the art world as a context can facilitate certain things more aptly than straight music settings. So, has your exposure to the art world facilitated things generatively for you as a musician that have affected what you’ve been able to do?

AL: Well, when I moved to New York I wasn’t sure if I was going to be a musician, an artist, a dancer, or what, you know? And I ended up becoming a musician, but I had ambitions as an artist as well, so I tried to make a band that could be understood as music, but that could also be understood as a piece of art. So I’ve always considered myself an artist as much as a musician, or along with being a musician, or whatever, but I’ve tried to make what I do come up to the standards of art as well as up to the standards of music.

Over the years I’ve done a lot of collaborating with artists because I like the way artists think, and I like the freedom they have to invent their own medium piece by piece, which is something we can’t do so easily in music. I also like the quality of discourse around art which is more serious, more philosophy-based, and the conversations are often much more interesting. This has changed in the last 10 or 15 years, but in the ’80s and in the early ’90s I really thought this was true. I just wasn’t into the critics and the way they thought about music. I didn’t think about music that way. I didn’t want to hear some evocative description of the American landscape as a way of explaining why Bob Dylan was great; I just wasn’t interested. You know, when they started to draw parallels to the Situationists and stuff, that was kind of the beginning of it getting interesting again.

SH: So, when you’re saying that’s all changed in the last 10 or 15 years, you’re saying the quality of music journalism has changed?

AL: Yeah, and I don’t want to call it journalism, I want to call it criticism, because I value this dialogue between the artist and the critics. I don’t buy this “the critic is a failed musician” and blah blah blah. I also see the value in academics. The idea that “you can’t make a living doing your art, you have to teach”—these are all kind of wrong ways of thinking about it. I think you have to kind of keep things flowing in these different areas.

SH: Right. I think in the best cases criticism or journalism becomes a form of generative cultural practice that functions as an extension of the work, kind of the same way a remix functions. You know, you don’t make a remix, but the remix is there because you made this thing (the original) and you formed a relationship with someone who made the remix. In the best case, an interview or a review or an article, it’s almost an extension of your work—it’s not about your work, it is part of the work, in a sense.

AL: I see what you’re saying. And there’s another aspect to that which is that, in different times and in different places, the criticism is more creative, or poetic, or whatever word you want to use—it’s better art than the art, at times. Especially the French critics in the ’60s, they blew everyone away to the point that everybody wanted to figure out what kind of sense they [themselves] made in that world view, that way of understanding things. And that was very interesting, too. The art was getting really conceptual, and then you had these great conceptualists who stretched philosophy to the point where it was pretty close to poetry at times. You know, things got confusing, and lots of people went down the wrong path. It was an excuse for a lot of badness, but at the same time it was a really important engine for stuff, you know what I mean?

SH: Certainly that work was very exciting, but I feel you about people going down the wrong path. [laughs]

AL: Right, people went down the wrong path, but certainly you can’t deny that it was super important work.

Arto Lindsay set-up

SH: Hell yeah, super important to me for sure! Before moving on past this art world bit, could you give an overview of your more art world-based projects?

AL: I’ve done these two kinds of things that are more strictly in the art world so far. I’m going to do more. One is, I’ve done a sound installation that is pretty narrative. It’s text, and either different people read it or I read it, and each piece of the text is in a different speaker. Speakers are spread out throughout the room and the text plays back in sequence. So I could write a story and the beginning would be in your kitchen, and then it would move to your living room, and it’d be out back, and it’d end up by your front door or whatever, and this would be a little story of some kind.

And then I’ve done these parades. The first parade I did in collaboration with Matthew Barney in Bahia, and it was on a really grand scale, in Carnivale there. They have this wild-ass, ever-changing, ever-mutating street Carnivale, where the ecstatic and the tragic bump up against each other all the time. You have this confrontation across this huge income gap, you have almost religious ecstasy, you have the cheapest pop music, you have absolute social separation and absolute social mixing— it’s just an incredible event. And so we were able to do this really crazy parade as part of that, and people were like, “Wow, that’s pretty crazy.” But it wasn’t like they weren’t used to seeing crazy stuff. I kind of put that backwards, but it’s like we were able to do such crazy stuff just because people see crazy stuff every year at Carnivale there.

SH: So describe what’s going on in your parade.

AL: In this parade here, Matthew bought this giant earthmoving vehicle—it looks like a tractor with these big claws on the front—and he found a tree that was condemned, bought that, and had that in the claws. This thing was rolling down the avenue holding a tree. And the tree was supposed to represent Julia Butterfly [Hill]. She was supposed to be in the parade, but she couldn’t at the last minute. She was a big ecological activist, really beautiful person, who lived in a redwood tree in California for a couple years. [The vehicle] was pulling a shipping container that was covered with dirt, so it looked like a big block of earth, but on top of that was my band, and I also had 30 Brazilian percussionists from two groups there.

I actually pulled off something technically that nobody has managed to do before or since, which was to have the people on the truck play with the people on the ground in sync. It’s very difficult, but we put a lot of time into this. We rehearsed with the leaders of the percussion groups, we found the tempos that were natural for them to play certain rhythms at—they were based on all kinds of things, tradition but also just the size of the drums, how long it takes for the beats to decay and what not. We just felt it out and found tempos that felt good for them and good for us. We blasted them with just a rhythm machine, almost like a click track, and my voice, because traditional percussion groups in Bahia don’t have harmony instruments, and they have conductors, but the real conductor is the singer who gives them the time, and that’s what keeps one of these big groups together.

So then I also designed a sound system for this, because usually these trucks that parade in Bahia are unbelievably loud—a huge sound system and a generator, and it just blasts out. So I tried to work it out so I could have four sound cars, two in the front and two in the back, connected to my band and my percussion by Wi-Fi. So we’d be driving down the street, but preceding the floats and the musicians, there’d be two sound cars, one on either side of the street, and there’d be two behind the whole parade. So the participants inside the parade could circulate inside there. But I couldn’t pull this off because the street was not wide enough. I ended up stringing the whole thing out. I had a sound car out in front, and I had some speakers on the band car, and I had a sound car in back. And I used a lot of up and down the line delay stuff, which I do a lot at these parades.

So, that was the first parade, and it included some pretty hairy imagery. I mean, Matthew had a guy under the truck who took about 30 Viagras and was trying to have sex with the truck while the thing was rolling down the avenue. And we took a lot of imagery from Candomblé [the traditional religion from the area]. Matthew used two of these deities—one was a forest and plant deity and one was a blacksmith deity.

Anyhow, that was that parade, and Matthew was able to invest a lot in that parade, and then make it all back by selling that main vehicle as a huge sculpture.

That is a very interesting beginning. So after that I’ve been getting asked to do parades on my own, and I’ve done them on different scales. Sometimes I work with local artists in a particular place. In each of these parades, they’re kind of based on Brazilian parades in the sense that they have a theme and it’s worked out in different ways by different people. I usually try to put a different sound system together for each one, and one thing I deal with a lot is triggering—just basic triggering. In the Berlin parade, I hired a gypsy band, and they were mic’d, but their mics were all triggered by a Brazilian percussionist. So if you were right next to them in the street you’d hear gypsy music, but if you were down the street you’d hear flashes of gypsy music in, you know, samba, or whatever.

I did one in 2009, and I wanted to work with noise. Super loud white noise, pink noise, brown noise, and I made a group of those, so that it sounded like an airplane idling, you know? And then I had a band, and when the band would play we would shut off the noise. I had two basic ways for it to work: one was, every time you hit a bass note you’d turn off the white noise for an instant, so you’d actually create silence for a second, which sounds pretty cool in description, but in real life just sounds like [imitates white noise in jagged rhythm]. And then sometimes you’d hear the notes in the band, so there was never a silence. White noise was blasting between every note. It was actually cool.

SH: A number of things strike me about what you’ve been describing. Firstly, a parade is a relatively ordinary thing to happen in one’s life. But a noise music, new music, outsider music practitioner applying their work to leading a parade is radically exceptional.

AL: I think a parade is an incredible form because you can have so many different narratives and so many levels of abstraction in there. One reason I was attracted to these is that I was really involved with the parades in Bahia for a long time, and I performed in them, which is kind of like confronting people with my music in the context of a parade. You know, like saying, “Hey, this is alternative hedonism. I’m not trying to inflict pain on you. This is another kind of pleasure.” I was involved there in Carnivale for years doing many kinds of things: delivering costumes, interviewing security companies, helping dream up themes for Carnivale groups, providing support and performing in different ways.

SH: So you’ve been involved in Carnivale just as a local Brazilian participant, not only as an outsider interloping artist.

AL: Yeah, more than just a voyeur, as someone who helped make the carnival. And I really admire these people that do this. In different states there are different ways this works. In Bahia, it’s normally one person or two or three people who decide on a theme, someone writes a song about that, and the costumes and the floats are an expression of that whole idea. And a lot of these groups are black consciousness groups, so a lot of themes are historical themes about something in Africa, or they might be honoring American Civil Rights activists, etc. In Rio, you have a guy or a woman who is hired to work out a whole theme, and then they go through the process of writing a song, but then that person is in charge of the design of all the costumes and the big floats. The people that do this, they’re kind of like opera directors; they’re artists. It’s really interesting, and I’ve been trying to encourage people to do a museum show on them for a long time. I’m still working on it. [laughs]

SH: There are two main takeaways that I have. One, getting back to this idea that a parade is a relatively ordinary occurrence. They happen all over the world at different times for different reasons, but at the same time it is aberrant for a practioner of official culture, outsider music, or what have you, to enact one.

AL: People know how to relate to a parade. It gives you a chance, because they’re expecting something crazy. They expect clowns, or cheerleaders, something out of the ordinary. Of course, they expect something ordinary out of the ordinary, but they give you a chance. And everyone knows how to take part in it. It’s not some kind of forced thing like, you know, “breaking down the fourth wall, you are part of the artwork about the social relation and not about the work on the wall,” and so on. I mean, here’s a chance to actually determine some of the social relations, or at least offer options as to social relations, and not just propose them as a category or as a way of behaving.

Arto Lindsay looking off

SH: That’s what I’m trying to find out about. Is the medium interesting to you because it’s this moment in the body of quotidian cultural life that is kind of ripe for the introduction of something surprising and fresh, but in a relatable way? And one that’s not, like what you were saying, this forced thing—like “my alienating theater piece is about breaking down the fourth wall and making everybody participate—but actually just organically is that way, and so it’s a meaningful medium for you because it allows you to connect aspects of your work to a broader audience.

AL: Not even a broader audience; just to connect to an audience in a different way. You know, some things that annoy me in a concert appeal to me in a parade. Like, the fact of exhaustion and repetition, you know, just as a listener, I can get bored if it’s kind of forced repetition. I mean, if it’s really fine grain repetition and I feel that within the repetition there’s all this variation and I can hear things in different ways, that’s one thing. But in general, I find it hard to reach that kind of altered consciousness thing in concert situations. I don’t know what it is. I’m just too far back from it. I’m just too close to the traditions of South and North America. I mean, I don’t want to come down on anyone in particular, but I can get somewhere in a Youssou N’Dour concert, but I can’t get into it in a concert of minimalist concert music. I just don’t feel that it’s elastic enough, that it’s reactive enough, because, you know, there is nothing in repetitive music that prevents you from responding to changes.

SH: I understand what you’re saying.

AL: Um, I’m not being too articulate here.

I’m interested in trance music and, since I heard it, I’m interested in Candomblé music because it’s very specific. As far back as DNA we were talking about this. Each deity has its own rhythm, and when you play that rhythm, the people who are consecrated to that deity get possessed. You play this rhythm and this deity comes down and inhabits these initiates, you know what I’m saying? But it’s specific! In Moroccan music you go to a house and you drive out the devils, but it’s specific; you can’t play just any music, you have to play the music that drives the devils out! A very practical one-on-one relationship between the music and the listener, which I find fascinating, like everybody else.

I don’t know how I slid into that.

SH: Well, we were talking about the parades, and we were talking about—

AL: Yeah, altered states of consciousness or something like that.

SH: Right.

AL: Yeah, I’ve been interested in that in other ways, so I went off on this tangent. But let’s forget about that!

When you’re in a parade, you just march and march and march and you inevitably feel quite a bit different when it’s over because you’ve kind of been to exhaustion and back a few times. And I love that about it. I love being able to go in and out of things, to alternate, including concentration, or a concentrated state. Like at a club, I don’t watch the entire concert. I get up and make snarky comments, and talk to my friends in the back, and then I’m interested again, you know. It’s a really rare show that commands my attention all the way through. At a sit-down concert of some kind or other, I start to daydream after a while, and then I come back. I mean, maybe it’s a failure on my part not to be able to follow, but I’m also bored, as I’m sure most people are, with the way that most music gets worked out. You know with the chords, the keys, the this, the that, you know what I mean? So much of it, structurally, is simply not interesting. Emotionally this music is supposed to knock you over, but if you’re not knocked over, it’s just kind of boring. Similarly, if you go to a disco, it’s just really loud, and for a little while, that’s enough. It’s just loud and it feels good. It’s like a shower of light; you’re soaking this up. It’s like a thousand cats are licking you, like a thousand slices from the razor blade. So for a little while you’re in ecstasy. It’s just loud, and then, after a while, you need more. And with the orchestra, it’s the same thing. You walk in and there’s just this sumptuousness. There’s this kind of implied perspective which is like—back to the spatial thing—a lot of the joy of the orchestra is that it’s as wide as the landscape. It just implies depth in so many ways—the depth outside, the depth inside, something about that is really selective. But it wears off, the first thrill wears off. I think that’s just part of it, and you need to be able to go in and out of things. The point being, it’s not about maintaining interest all the way through, because it’s impossible.

SH: And you’re saying the parade as a medium helps to facilitate that relationship?

AL: Absolutely.

Arto Lindsay standing

SH: You said something to me once about DNA, that the band was formed with the specific intention of doing this arcane difficult stuff, but being able to do it for a room of people, and win that room of people over, and that that room of people would be people who weren’t necessarily predisposed to like DNA.

AL: Well, when we started out, we had kind of lofty goals. Yeah, we wanted to provide really intense experiences, we wanted to satisfy ourselves, and we wanted to do something new—we had these radical aspirations. At the same time, we wanted that to work to thrill a room full of people. A rock audience, an audience that was there… You know, you don’t give them what they want, you give them what they need, or you give them something that they can’t deny, you know what I mean? What’s the point of just giving them what they want? And even my onstage behavior—I saw so many people pretending to be rock stars on the stage at CBGBs, and I just didn’t find that persuasive or charming at all. I wanted to be able to move in and out of this kind of stance and to be able to use the power of being on stage, but not to be stuck with that. I mean, Lydia Lunch was such a great performer. And she kind of stumbled on this, in that her own aggression and her own way of being turned into this style. I mean, we’re talking about confrontational aesthetics, and as far as confrontational aesthetics are concerned, there were three people that I drew from—Lydia, Vito Acconci, and Karen Finley. And I saw these incredibly confrontational performances, and they were just so perfect in terms of how long they lasted. I mean, I was at the Palladium, which was a night club, but it was full of all these cool art people, and Karen Finley took canned yams and shoved them up her own ass, and the feeling in that room was just unbelievable.

SH: That’s definitely taking it somewhere.

AL: It’s different then, like, hurting yourself, you know? It avoids a kind of romanticism that gets in the way, or a kind of late-Christian thing that gets in the way. I’m kind of rambling.

SH: Well, I want to get back to some things, but talk about that late-Christian thing for a second.

AL: Well, you know, hurting yourself as art. I can understand hurting yourself in some particular situation you might end up in, where that was the thing to do. But people who just routinely hurt themselves in front of an audience, and it just doesn’t go anywhere. It seems to be a reflection of spending your life staring at this naked bleeding guy. Like, the height of something. It’s like an erotic thing, but it’s different from your S&M roles. I don’t know; I’ve never been down this conversational path before. But control and submission, that seems to me to be a different mechanism than just hurting yourself, which is like a way to communicate the intensity of your desire to communicate. I’m also thinking about James Chance now, like, this little guy, pushing people around and stuff, but now I’m just talking about the whole context.

SH: Well, I wanted to cover this, and I am glad to hear you talk about this. There are a lot of threads forming here that I am going to tie back in. But, the thing you said to me about DNA, and the thing about the parades—in my mind, there is a degree of symmetry between the intention you described with DNA to do this kind of lofty arcane thing but in this kind of populist way. So there is a thread of populism between what you described to me about DNA and the parades.

AL: I agree.

SH: There is a thread of populism that makes sense out of the two projects as a progression. But I’m not saying that’s there. I’m asking you if you think that’s there.

AL: Well, the reason we did what we did the way we did in DNA is because we thought about how it worked in a room, not about how it worked in the music business. I didn’t try to make a pop song with some kind of subversive message or something, that just wasn’t my way of doing it. But there is definitely a populist thing. Also the way I write lyrics, I like lyrics to go down easy. It’s like conversational language most of the time, and then if you pay attention, things are a little murkier than they seemed at first. But I have kind of a bad reaction to pretentious-sounding lyrics. I don’t know if you read the Grammy speech that Bob Dylan did?

SH: Whoa! No, I didn’t.

AL: Well, I’ll try and run it down for you. Bob Dylan says, if I hadn’t heard Woody Guthrie, I couldn’t have written, so and so forth, and he just shows you how all of his lines are variations on folk and blues adapted to his situation. I really appreciate that kind of vernacular aspect of playing and lyric writing. But, on the other hand, certain pretensions in lyric writing drive me nuts.

SH: Right. Well, this aspect of vernacular that you bring up gets into another territory that I wanted to explore. I hear something in your recent solo work that I wanted to ask you about. A harsh, austere, at times severe noise vocabulary or wall of sound effect, and at the same time the rhythmic or lyrical vocabulary of honkytonk, rhythm and blues, or Brazilian musical forms, yet not in a way that I’d describe as pastiche. This is interesting to me because the few other attempts I’ve heard at integrating similar content (John Zorn’s Naked City most notably and most successfully) do come across as pastiche, or collage, and are often a bit contrived. Your work evokes these things without setting them against one another and achieves a greater organic quality in the doing, so I’d be interested in hearing whether this is something you’d given any thought.

Arto Lindsay with Zs

Lindsay preparing to record with Zs.

AL: I guess I’m more interested in the thread between these things, or how to get between these extremely different sounds if you want to look at it that way. One thing is to look at them as not being so different. Another one is to go between them, accepting that people hear them as very different, and get back and forth smoothly. And while I can’t speak for Zorn, I think what he is interested in is the shock of the jump from one to the other, whereas I am interested in the continuity between them. Maybe that’s an over simplification. But obviously I’m super aware that I’m using these two seeming opposites, and that I’m playing with them in differing proportions and going back and forth. But yeah, I only wish that the beautiful stuff could be more beautiful, and that the ugly stuff could be more ugly.

I think there is a passive aggression in the beautiful stuff anyway, and there is a kind of rhythmic aggression even in the ballad stuff. Obviously my model is a lot of the Brazilian stuff, but also someone like Miles Davis, who says white people have it all wrong when it comes to ballads—when you play it slow, you have to goose the tempo. To keep it awake when it’s slow, it has to feel like it doesn’t want to be slow. You have to feel some energy that’s like a caged energy or something. You guys [Zs] are prime examples of this. Within that wall of sound of undifferentiated clusters or whatever, there’s so much information; there’s tons of lyricism that you can hear in there, too, if you just don’t back away. If you just stay where you are, stand your ground, you can hear all kinds of beauty in that stuff. And I actually think this is something that we were aware of in DNA and talked about, but it’s become kind of common knowledge. If you think about how popular drone music is, how popular Keiji Haino is, Merzbow, that crew—and there are other crews that I am not aware of—but people use that. You hear all kinds of stuff in that noise. I wish I was a good enough musician to extract some of that stuff into the lyrical territory, make that stuff music. Let’s work on that!

SH: That would be a good project!

AL: It’s interesting to talk about these harmonic and rhythmic strategies in the context of DNA because so much of what passes for punk rock now I feel provides this kind of false or shallow catharsis for people. It doesn’t really make you think, and it doesn’t really pull you up close to that spot where pleasure and pain can be close to each other, and that’s sort of what these strategies are about. But you know, it’s not an intense experience now.

SH: Right, it’s like scratching an itch. There are these people who do this thing, which is supposed to be punk, and there are the people who want the thing, so the people who do the thing do it for the people who want it. It’s just consumption; there’s nothing challenging about it.

AL: Right.

SH: But back to this notion of juxtaposition, or establishing connections between disparate sounds, or what have you. Does this become a strategy in terms of the populist agenda we have been discussing? Here is what I mean by that. I always feel that with things that are represented as being polarized sonically, there is this kind of endowing a musical or sonic artifact with properties that ostensibly make them into polarities, but in fact that constitutes a kind of grafting of the social onto the sonic. So, actually, what is different there are the people who got to hear these sounds—at least more so than the sounds themselves are, inherently. Does that make sense?

AL: Sure. Right, there is that. But I think that there are more essential differences, just if you think about physics, music, sound, consonance, dissonance, clusters, structural properties! The way we hear music, a lot of it is that we recognize in music structures that are similar to our structures. We hear polyrhythm, and we think, “Hey, I’m a polyrhythmic being. I have a pulse here and a pulse here. I have a pulse in my crotch!” So yes, there is a social piece, but there is another component, and I don’t know if it determines the social thing or if it is concurrent with it, but I think the differences are real. And if they weren’t, there couldn’t be such a pleasure in going back and forth. Does that make sense?

SH: I know what you’re saying. I also think that the attitude of establishing continuity between supposedly disparate elements is involved with drawing a bigger circle around the whole thing and looking at the basic unit as something heterogeneous that contains all of these things, rather than looking at the basic units of the situation as these disparate nodes that you bang against one another.

AL: Sure. I definitely can go with that, and that doesn’t take away from the pleasure of the coexistence of the different elements inside of something larger. Coexistence is a difference thing, as well as just a similarity thing. I think that both are there.

SH: Definitely. Okay, last question: is the attitude of play something that you think about in your music?

AL: Absolutely! Like when I was talking before about not being stuck in one role. Definitely there is something to keeping it light, and being able to switch between lightness and something that’s dead serious, life and death, like pointing your finger at the void. “Over there is nothing, and you, my dear audience, you are prime examples of nothing! You may think you are having an opinion. No! I am! I’m inventing you and your opinion wholesale. Ahhhhh!” [growls]

Ikue Mori: At Home in Strange Lands

Ikue Mori in conversation with Frank J. Oteri
July 16, 2009—3:00 p.m.
Video presentation filmed and edited by Molly Sheridan

Thirty-two years ago, a young woman from Tokyo decided to visit New York City to hear live some of the punk bands she knew only from recordings. It was the first time she’d ever left Japan. Visiting the fabled CBGB decked out in punk regalia, Ikue Mori stood out. As she points out, “Asian punks were very rare.” She quickly caught the attention of Lydia Lunch and James Chance, who would soon emerge as the leaders of the No Wave scene in downtown Manhattan. Only months later, despite a limited grasp of the English language and having never performed music before in her life, Mori found herself playing drums in the Arto Lindsay-fronted band DNA, whose music was compared to Webern as well as free jazz. DNA quickly became a major No Wave act, getting recorded alongside Lunch and Chance on Brian Eno’s seminal compilation No New York, and Mori never went back home. In fact, Lunch and Chance helped land her an apartment in the East Village where she lives to this day.

In four years DNA ran its course and Mori found herself in another scene-the burgeoning world of Downtown improv. Soon she was playing drums for groups led by some of the most intrepid improvisers—Bill Frisell, Fred Frith, Anthony Coleman, Tom Cora, Wayne Horvitz, Jim Staley, and perhaps most importantly John Zorn with whom she continues to collaborate to this day. Mori grew tired of lugging a drum kit up and down the stairs of her sixth-floor walk-up and decided to explore the sound world of drum machines instead. But regular beats held little interest for this iconoclast who found a way to make drum machines “sound broken.” According to Mori, “If you take off the quantization, then it just makes sound.”

About ten years ago, Mori switched instruments yet again, to her laptop, a device even more portable than her three drum machines plus various effects units. And the laptop is also capable of myriad more possibilities. Mori’s sensitivity to sound and pacing, from intuitively exploring rhythms first behind a drum set and then with an array of drum machines, have made her one of the most in demand performers on this 21st century musical instrument. The laptop has also allowed her to expand her artistic imagination beyond sound into the realms of graphic design and animation. Armed with a laptop, Mori continues to perform in a variety of contexts including the improvisational trio Mephista (with pianist Sylvie Courvoisier and percussionist Susie Ibarra), with Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth, in John Zorn’s Electric Masada, and numerous projects of her own.

A couple of weeks ago we visited Ikue Mori in her apartment. She had just returned from gigging in Poland with Zorn. That trip was on the heels of a concert tour of Japan, where she now returns twice a year but still feels culture shock upon arriving on either side of the Pacific. Sipping cold green tea and surrounded by walls of LPs, CDs, VHS tapes of classic Hollywood films, and a small drawing of her made by Jean-Michel Basquiat, we had a delightful afternoon conversation which was part reminiscence and part lecture/demonstration.


Transcribed by Daniel J. Kushner and Frank J. Oteri

Frank J. Oteri: One of the things I’ve always found fascinating about your career in music is that you grew up in Japan and were not really involved in performing music there at all. But then you came to New York, not even knowing how long you’d stay here, and you found yourself playing—the very first time you were playing music—in one of the most significant rock bands of the late ’70s/early ’80s, DNA. How did that happen?

Ikue Mori: I think it had a lot to do with what was happening in New York in the late ’70s. I had good timing and was in a good place. It had a lot to do with chance also, because I really didn’t plan to be a musician in New York. I just came to see what was going on in New York. That was my first time outside of Japan; I was just out of school. But I was with my friend; he played guitar—he was already a musician.

I was familiar with the music scene in Japan, but there was no motivation for me to play music there. It was a very male-oriented world; not many girls were playing music. It had a lot to do with discipline and show business. But then I came to New York and it was all much closer. It was the time when people who weren’t really musicians just started making music. Arto Lindsay was a poet, and another colleague—a keyboard player—was actually a visual artist. And all those people just started picking up instruments and then tried to do something with it. So it was easier for me to get into, because the idea wasn’t really about playing and technique. It was more about the idea and to have something for yourself, not just to be in the audience. I think it’d be different if it had been ten years later or ten years before. I think I just came to the right place at the right time.

FJO: When you were growing up in Japan and as a young adult, when you were still living in Tokyo, what was your exposure to music? What were you listening to? What was interesting to you?

IM: A lot of music was available in Japan, and I was definitely growing up with rock music, like ’60s American rock music, like [the] Doors to Jimi Hendrix. Rock music has really influenced me, and I was really listening to them. Also I had grown up with all the traditional music, which was always part of my life. My grandmother was singing. I was surrounded by all that music, but I really start listening to music as a teenager. I was listening to music from outside of Japan; I wasn’t really into anything Japanese. There was a lot of rock influence, and also hippie culture influence.

FJO: Did you listen to any sort of experimental music or free jazz when you were in Japan?

IM: During high school we started going to this jazz café. There were a lot of jazz cafés. A lot of places would just play the music all day long and all night long; you could have a long cup of coffee and sit for hours just listening to all those records. But I wasn’t really living in the jazz world, and nothing made me want to be a musician.

FJO: The music of DNA was compared to free jazz and even to Anton Webern. So I’ve always wondered if any of you had even heard any of this music, or if you all independently created a similar sounding musical vocabulary.

IM: I think we created it, because of the different backgrounds of the three of us. Arto Lindsay really has an influence from Brazilian music, and I think he really taught me a lot. In my background, I was [hearing] taiko [drumming] and different kinds of beat counting, and this keyboard player from the art world was more into conceptual art. I think those mixed together and then made something unique. It’s not just based on the rock beat—it was in the beginning, but it was so limited. Our technique was so limited, and then [we] somehow created something else to communicate and express; and it also was the end of the punk era, which was all anger and attitude and powerful music, too.

FJO: There’s this revolutionary aspect to punk, and you were very much interested in that, leaving Japan and leaving those traditions behind. But you’ve just said now that taiko drumming was an influence on you; that’s certainly a very traditional thing.

IM: I did not really study rock beats or jazz beats, so that’s what I had naturally and it made me play drums like a taiko drummer. I think that I cannot help it; those things influenced me without my really noticing it.

FJO: Lots of people tell stories about the late ’70s in New York, CBGB and that whole cultural milieu. Clearly something happened that transformed you. You were not a musician; you didn’t play drums— now all of the sudden you’re in this band as the drummer. Where did you get the drums?

IM: In the beginning, because I came here with this rock guitar player, we were hanging in [clubs like] Max’s Kansas City and CBGB to see all those bands that I was always interested to see in Japan, like Patti Smith and Television, and all those successful bands in New York. The main reason I came was to see these bands because my friend was really interested in the music. I was too, but as a fan, and he as a musician. Then we met Lydia Lunch and James Chance—in CBGB maybe. Back then both me and my friend had short hair and were really punk-looking, and Asian punks were very rare. So they came up to us and said, “What do you do? What are you doing here? You play instruments?” So my friend was scouted to be the bass player of Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, Lydia’s band; then they are always in the rehearsal room with a bunch of young artists there looking for the next band. The people from Mars, Connie Burg or Mark Cunningham, were there. They were always jamming. And then one day Arto asks me, “What are you doing? Why don’t you just play drums?” And then I pick up the drums and that’s it. And Arto goes, “OK, you are the drummer of my band.” And I became a drummer. And then we put together a cheap set of drums and then three months later, we had a gig in Max’s Kansas City. That was the beginning.

FJO: You mentioned Lydia Lunch and James Chance and Mars. Did you all remain friends with each other or was there a sense of rivalry at some point?

IM: Not at all. I mean, Lydia and James were really nice in helping to get me this apartment actually. Not everybody had the same history and background in music. James Chance was already playing music in the jazz scene, but me and Lydia and Arto hadn’t really played in a band before. So we brought in different ideas, but these bands were pretty close. We’d been hanging, playing the same double bills together, and were associated as friends.

Ikue Mori as drawn by Jean-Michel Basquiat

FJO: It was a very tightly knit scene, and it was something that was known by a select group of people. But then I think the thing that made it become legendary was the fact that Brian Eno heard it and then recorded all of you and put out that record, No New York, which was a landmark. How did Eno find out about you?

IM: I’m not really sure what the beginning was, but we heard he was looking for some band to produce; but there were a lot of bands, not just us. In SoHo, there was Glenn Branca and Rhys Chatham. I don’t know why he picked these four groups—DNA, Contortions, Mars, and Teenage Jesus.

FJO: What was it like working with Eno? Did he have much of an input in the studio?

IM: This was my first recording. I don’t really remember if we had a meeting or a discussion about music or anything. He’d come to the studio and just make little suggestions and tuning on the drums for me or just on the overall sound. But it wasn’t so much tight communication.

FJO: Now one of the things so many of these bands had in common was that most of them didn’t last very long. Within a three-year period, Lydia Lunch had formed and dissolved Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, 8-Eyed Spy, and 13.13. There were so many different groups that fell apart after maybe two or three months. You know, Glenn Branca and the Theoretical Girls lasted for a very short amount of time. But amazingly, DNA survived four years—that’s an eternity in terms of what these groups did.

IM: Sonic Youth has been together for more than 25 years.

FJO: True, they’re really the last surviving manifestation of that No Wave scene, and it’s unbelievable that they’ve kept going for so long. And it’s really atypical.

IM: It’s amazing, but four years with the same band is already a miracle, I know.

FJO: Yet even though you were together for that long a period of time, you never made a full studio recording. There are the four tracks that Brian Eno recorded for the No New York compilation and one EP, A Taste of DNA, and then some live things.

IM: Yeah. That’s it.

FJO: Was that because you thought of yourselves more as a live band?

IM: Definitely, I think it became more exciting live than in the studio. But towards the end, when the CBGB recording came out, it was already kind of past the peak.

FJO: What’s interesting is that once DNA broke up, the worlds that you floated in became very different. Suddenly you went from being part of this experimental rock scene to more sort of the Downtown improv scene, the fringes of jazz, the fringes of experimental music, new music— people like John Zorn, Wayne Horvitz, Bill Frisell, Anthony Coleman, Jim Staley. Some of these people had connections to the rock scene, but it was a very different crowd.

IM: Things kind of overlapped at that time. At the end of my DNA time, James Chance was already crossing over and playing with John Zorn in the experimental jazz scene. After DNA I was really searching for what to do next. I tried rock bands, people from that scene. But then I met John Zorn through Arto Lindsay, because Arto and John and David Moss were playing together. And then I met a lot of interesting, great musicians like Fred Frith and Tom Cora, and like you said, Wayne Horvitz, and a lot of different kinds of players. It was really a different way of relating from this attitude I started out from, playing in DNA. I could go more in depth and I was really searching my own vocabulary to play some kind of language. And then also I was changing instruments, cross-fading electronics with acoustic drums.

You know, it’s funny: DNA was often mistaken as improvising all the music, but there was actually really a set of music that we were practicing, and then it was always the same songs. We would jam first and create certain form of song from it, but once it was made as song, there was no improvisation. Everything was all set. In the end, DNA was becoming like music theater, even though we were playing rock music. It was more like ritual music than free jazz, I think: really short and really intense, and then that primitive drumming. And for three years we were playing the same set: 30 minutes, and every song was like one minute long. So when I was first asked to improvise, I really didn’t know what improvisation was and how it was different from jamming. But it was really fun to play the concepts live in front of an audience, to play something that I just made up. It was a different way of interacting with another musician.

FJO: Over the years, you have also gone back to more rock-oriented things. You eventually made an album with Kim Gordon from Sonic Youth.

IM: Much later, yeah.

FJO: But you did not completely leave that world.

IM: No, no. I still like playing clubs full of audience members, concerts with young people. I think I need both.

FJO: What led to giving up playing drums?

IM: A lot of reasons. Even when I was playing drums, I thought like a drum machine; the way I played was a lot like playing the programmed drum parts. And when I started programming drum machines, I noticed that I really loved programming rather than practicing. And with those drum machines I could recombine the beats and manipulate their sounds. I wasn’t really interested in playing a beat, the same beat continuously. The drum machine became more like a composition tool. It’s easier to think song structure than when playing drums. But at first I was playing half drum set, and one drum machine. Then it became two drum machines and less drum set, and then it kind of crossed over in the course of ten years. In the end, the drum machine became more like a synthesizer, like the way I would play three drum machines with big effects on them and a mixer, until I encountered the computer. Then I realized I could do everything in the computer and I changed to computer.

FJO: Before we talk about what you do with laptops, I wanted to talk some more about what you’ve done with drum machines. It’s fascinating to me that you were able to do so much with them. When drum machines started proliferating in the 1980s, those machines were very limited at first in terms of what they could do. The manufacturers of these machines created them for people to do various sorts of normal 4/4-type beats who maybe didn’t have a drummer to work with: press a few buttons and the machine is doing the drums, but very rudimentary. But I’m sure if the folks who made these things had heard what you were doing with them, they would have been surprised that their machines could do that.

IM: It sounded defective. [laughs]

FJO: It was also kind of like what Colin Nancarrow did with piano rolls, creating music that a human being could not do. You just described it as a compositional tool. Were there ideas in your head that were different from what you or anybody else could do physically in real time? Was the only way to get those ideas across through using machines?

IM: Well, in the beginning, all the drum machines, of course, were very limited. Later on you could program more. But then if you don’t think about drums, and just make a tune with all triangles or cymbals and treat it with processors and effects, they are not at all sounds like drum samples. I was more into sound than beats or rhythm. I just didn’t really like the continuous, same beat at that time. I wanted to make it sound broken.

FJO: So how would you get a “broken” sound on it?

IM: If you take off the quantization, then it just makes sound. And then this naturally repeats in loops, but it could also get really kind of broken, just bits of pattern with two repeats. Even though now I’m playing a computer, it’s still really based on these kind of interwoven lines and patterns and combinations—layering them. That’s really still my basic playing idea.

FJO: You made a CD, Garden, which consists only of drum machines. In jazz there have been recordings that were just drums. Max Roach recorded unaccompanied drum solos. And Sunny Murray, whom Lester Bangs once compared to you, made an all-percussion record. And in rock, Ginger Baker did really extended drum solos. But before Garden, I don’t think anyone ever made a recording that was just drum machines. And what you did is extraordinary, because you’ve taken drum machines and taken them beyond the role of time-keeper to reveal an extraordinary array of not only rhythms, but also timbres and even melodies. And it’s you and nobody else. I’m curious about how that particular project happened.

IM: I really wanted to make compositions from drum machines that eliminated continuous beats. I made this one continuous beat with drum machine in a band recording, but that’s the only one I have—Painted Desert. That was really loops and then Marc Ribot and Bob Quine played over it. That was my first record with drum machines. And then one year later I made Garden, which sometimes eliminates continuous beats and is just melody and sound and sometimes layers of beat which make polyrhythms with three different beats going on.

FJO: Eventually you decided to stop using drum machines and just use computers for everything. And that’s been about ten years now.

IM: I started [doing that] in 2000.

FJO: It’s obviously way more portable to bring one laptop than it is to lug several drum machines.

IM: That’s really the main reason. I started realizing that what I was doing with all the equipment and cables that I was carrying, I could just program it on a computer. That was my liberation.

FJO: So, in a way, it’s been a progression towards more and more portability. First you had the drum kit, and then the drum machines which took up considerably less room. And finally, the laptop.

IM: Living in this city on the sixth floor with no elevator, you have to think about equipment. But also I’ve always liked to take small compact things and make something maximum out of it.

FJO: Since you’re working on a computer, how much of what you perform is worked out before a concert and how much is happening during the concert in real time?

IM: It’s half and half. I always have a preset of something to be a starting point. And then spontaneously, I react with people—I’ll change the set of sounds, so instantly I’ll have to prepare some sounds. And then the processing happens live. But I always use something that’s been prepared.

FJO: So, basically what exists in advance are the timbres.

IM: Yes. The diversity of the sound library I have. But in order to layer them, or for it to be just one strong sound, I have a set-up like a sampler so I can bring out different sounds with the key pad.

FJO: So where do the sounds in your library come from?

IM: In the beginning I wanted to play drum machines on the computer, so it’s a lot of sounds that I was using with drum machines. Then later on, I added sounds that were more processed: like processed, processed, processed sound—a third generation of sound—is now in the library. So I create from these sounds to make new sounds. Also by mixing sounds, like factory sounds or sampled string sounds, and layering them to make melodies.

FJO: So when you use your keypad to trigger specific sounds, are you triggering single sounds or a whole sequence of sounds.

Inside this laptop is Ikue’s entire musical and graphic universe

IM: I’ll show you. This is one of the patches I use, and this particular one I use with Zeena Parkins in our Phantom Orchard Project. We use visuals in this, so this screen [points to window with visual imagery on computer] goes out from the back [of the stage]. This project plays a lot of compositions, and I have to be right on, so there are a lot of presets— everything, including sounds and visuals. I have four players here, so there are four different sound layers I can make. There are about 40 sounds altogether that I create from, from beats to just sounds. And I can also change things with filters and reverb. So from all this, the different sounds and visuals come together.

FJO: How many different programs are you using to make this all happen simultaneously? I see you have Max/MSP open.

IM: For the music, this is all Max/MSP; the controller is Max/MSP and Jitter. And this is another effect. And I use GRM [plug-ins], and in that way I relate to physical musicians, but otherwise I’m not really physical at all. For the visuals, it’s a whole bunch of things made using FinalCut and then Flash to put together the animation.

FJO: So is the video component improvised in real time as well?

IM: Yes.

FJO: How long were you working with laptops before you began incorporating a video component into your music?

IM: I think I always wanted to work with visuals, but I started to develop this system three years after [I began performing on laptops] and somebody helped me to organize this system here so it would be easy to put together these separate programs. And then when Jitter came around, it gave me much more speed; the computer became faster and much more powerful and then I could really use visuals with the sounds.

FJO: And on your latest CD, Class Insecta, which was just released a couple of months ago, there’s one track with video animation. But seeing it made me wonder how much I’ve been missing as a listener on the earlier laptop recordings, not being able to experience the video component.

IM: Music can be music independently. It would only be missing when I’m playing live for an audience. When I play a live performance, I feel there’s something lacking if I’m only playing sound. Somehow we have a wall, so I started using visuals with it. CDs or recordings could be just music. But I do like to also make DVDs that could have a visual story as another element.

FJO: With laptop performers there frequently isn’t much to look at. You’re often just watching somebody occasionally making a few key strokes. The joke is that they set off a series of algorithms and then they’re just surfing the web.

IM: I’ve been playing in lots of live bands with “real” instruments and always somebody in the club says, “So what are you doing?” and I always say, “I’m checking e-mail.”

FJO: In all these different groups you are a part of, I wonder how much input you have. When someone brings you on board to play laptop in a group, do they necessarily know what they’re going to be getting? How free are you to do whatever you want? And if they have a specific idea in mind, what kind of guidelines do they give you?

IM: Basically I get to do my own thing, because you can’t really write a classically notated score for me. Sometimes there are graphic scores which specify very basic requests, like a really low sound at one point or a “monster coming” kind of sound. But most mainly just say when I should come in and out. So as long as the exact in and out [points] are set, I can do whatever I want, whatever I feel [during the performance].

FJO: So in something like Zorn’s Electric Masada, with which you just toured to Warsaw a couple of weeks ago, what kind of instructions would you be given in advance?

IM: Electric Masada is much looser. When you’re pointed at, you just have to play. But there’s a John Zorn’s score, Orphée, that has a lot of graphic things, showing high-pitched sound, sparkling sound, etc., when I come in and out and what instruments I’m playing with.

FJO: Still, there’s quite a bit of interpretive leeway in how you’d respond to such a score.

IM: The rest of the score is quite precise, except for me.

When you need someone to read a score like this, contact Ikue Mori

FJO: So you’ll interpret the score your own way. But as a result, could it ever come to a situation where he would say, “That’s not what I wrote”?

IM: No. But of course we talk about it and go through the sounds. And I’ll say, “How about this sound?” And he’ll say, “Maybe add something more.” So we do have to talk about it beforehand.

FJO: So given the kind of flexibility that others have working with you, how precise are you in keeping notated records of your own work? Is this even something that matters to you?

IM: For my pieces, my system is all numbers and I remember it all with these numbers. It’s only me that understands these. I don’t know how to explain it for anybody else to play using my system. But I use it to remember songs and structures.

FJO: In your ensemble pieces, like 100 Aspects of the Moon or the tracks on B-Side and Hex Kitchen, how much do you predetermine what others play?

IM: 100 Aspects of the Moon was the first time I wrote something for other instruments, and there are just very basic melody lines that I gave them. There are different kinds of things going on in there, like game play or structured improvisation, as well as scored things. I like to make up a score to give people, but it’s all mixed.

FJO: So individual players have a lot of freedom within that framework?

IM: Yeah. I have to have this place with improvisation in it for my pieces.

FJO: So if other people than the ones who recorded it were to play it, it could potentially sound like a completely different piece.

IM: It depends on the musicians, but I think so, especially in the improvisational parts. 100 Aspects of the Moon is very basic, but it’s more set things. But unfortunately it wasn’t something that we could play live so much; we only played it once.

FJO: You said that nobody else really understands the number notations you’ve made for yourself. Might you ever be interested in a situation where someone else would be playing a laptop in one of your pieces? Maybe you’d want to do something involving multiple laptops?

IM: Not right now. I would rather play with other instruments.

FJO: One group you’re involved with that I really love is Mephista. And part of what I find so interesting about it is that here you’ve put yourself in a situation where someone else is playing the drums—Susie Ibarra—which frees you up to do less rhythmic things, but given your rhythmic inclinations, it also frees her up to drum more melodically. And then with Sylvie Courvoisier on piano—her playing can be very rhythmic at times and at times can also be very atmospheric, like the things you do on the laptop. So in a way, you all share multiple roles here.

IM: Another drummer I like to play with is Joey Barron. A couple of times we’ve done a duo project. I can be a percussionist and I can also be a sound maker. But Mephista is a special band for improvisation. Piano and drums are great to play with.

FJO: Would it be fair to call the music that Mephista performs jazz?

IM: No. It doesn’t feel like jazz so much. With Phantom Orchard also, we’re not classical, we’re not rock or pop, and definitely not jazz. There’s really no place to put it. And Mephista also is not really jazz. Sylvie is more influenced by classical music and Susie is now really more into her own music, and then with me, my world is a very peculiar place, I think.

FJO: It’s been several years since the last recording; is Mephista still active as a group?

IM: Right now it’s very rare that we have a performance, but Sylvie and I have a lot of different projects together. We just did a tour in Japan with a Japanese vocalist, Makigami Koichi—we have this band, Agra Dharma. It was the band’s first tour there, and it was really great.

FJO: I wonder what it’s like for you to go back to Japan as a musician, which is something you did not explore until you came here. The scene is certainly totally different there now than when you left thirty years ago.

IM: My music developed here in America, so my connection is still much closer to America as a musician, but I still have a lot of friends in Japan and I like to play with musicians there. I’ve actually been going back to Japan twice a year. There are a lot of great improvising musicians. But the public is very small; it’s not like in Europe. It’s very hard to book a tour and find places to play. Every time I go back to Japan I get a big culture shock. And then I come back to New York and also get a big culture shock. I feel at home here, but some things are easier in Japan. I’m still Japanese, but I’m happy to be in America and live in New York.