Midori Takada interview


In May, I wrote a feature for the New York Times about Japanese composer/ percussionist Midori Takada, “How a Digital Rabbit Hole Gave Midori Takada’s 1983 Album a Second Life.” Like many people, I became enchanted with her wondrous album Through the Looking Glass via a YouTube algorithm and it was an honor to speak with her about her music and her outlook on the world. She spoke slowly (English is not her first language) yet with a steady pulse and as we talked, a sense of great calm and serenity overtook me. Transcribing our conversation later, that same sense of steadiness and peace returned. It’s odd to say this, but talking with Midori is meditative and one of the most affecting interviews I’ve ever conducted.

How does it feel to play in Europe and US?

This is first time for me to tour in the US. But I think same feeling. I give something to audiences. Each one individually received my sound. I always play to each person. I imagine each person to give my sound to each person. Whether in Europe, Africa, Asia or USA, it doesn’t matter, each person is important. My vision is to give individually my sound, to give my sound to each one.

It’s like church and receiving communion. When did you start playing drums?

When I was 13 years old, I was entered into the orchestra for children. There I started playing the snare drum. At the very beginning for training, I practiced on a wooden board. After one year, I played a real snare drum.

What made you continue with the drums?

For years, I continued to play just snare drum. I felt interested in it because my right side and left side were moving simultaneously or individually moving as a result of different sounds and rhythms. Making rhythms is very interesting for me so I continued playing.

Were there other drummers that you liked?

No no no. In my childhood, I didn’t have any machines for playing vinyl. So I just played by myself. I didn’t hear other drummers. Then I didn’t have other influences.

In the reissue it states that while you were with the Berlin Orchestra, you had reservations about western classical music.

There was no specific person. Before TtLG, I went to Bali. I learned gamelan music and before that, I listened to African music on vinyl. In Japan, there’s very little information about African music. I just got two vinyl records on Nonesuch Explorer: one was Tanzanian music, the other one was from Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. I went to Bali to study gamelan. In java, gamelan is court music, but in Bali, it’s farmer music.

During my study of classical music, I came to know the work of Steve Reich, Terry Riley and Philip Glass. Before that, I knew traditional African music and was interested in it because of the cross direction of the rhythms. When I had debut concert in Paris, I certainly noticed I can’t continue this situation because that type of music needs so many instruments and musicians. For playing that type of music, I needed, it was economically difficult to sustain. With world music, it was simple to get for everybody so I at that moment I encountered African music, they have very few materials. People say it’s poor, but I think it’s a very rich philosophy. From very few materials, they produce rich sounds just using their body and hands. How to make a worldly sound by your body and with simple materials is an important thing I sought. If I continued to play westernized contemporary music, it needs many more instruments like an orchestra. But in one kettle drum, it has so many sounds from only one skin on the head of the drum. How to produce them is important, I thought.

Then I gradually changed my thought for music. I played and learned minimal music and African music. after that I went to Bali and learned gamelan music and Asian music.

What does Mkwaju mean?

Mkwaju means tamarind tree.

Did you study in Africa?

Just for performance I went to Africa. It’s very hard to get information on African music in Japan, so I copied from the vinyl, writing down the rhythm structures and tried it by myself, playing and using right and left hand and learning how to control them. Because right hand plays 5 beats, left hand plays 4 beats, that’s African music, the polyrhythm, simultaneously, different time signatures. It changed my body.

In what way?

Day by day, I trained without any emotions, just like a machine, playing in one same tempo, same sound, controlling the sound to make something like the chanting of a mantra. Playing 5 and 4 simultaneously. At the same time, I learned from Korean music. Playing these cycles, sometimes 7 beats or 20 beats, I trained every day and gradually my body changed.

After two records, Mkwaju Ensemble disbanded because of money issues, and then you had financial issues making Through the Looking Glass. Was it stressful, or difficult to make it, with no money or with financial constraints?

Not stress, because playing solo I am very free to use materials, because playing solo is just you and your materials. I don’t need to buy something; don’t need to make preparations for big instruments. Economically, it was very good for me. Not stressed.

What is your memory of making Through the Looking Glass? Do you have a distinct memory of recording and the process?

I was given only two days for recording in the studio and making overdubs so I couldn’t spend time writing notes and music scores, I didn’t have time for that. I couldn’t rest, I was just memorizing what I would play. But the engineer and producer didn’t understand what I wanted to make. I felt great solitude in the studio.

Only I knew how the album would end. So in my brain, just in my sight, I knew the ending for the album, but it was incremental, one song I recorded or sometimes one phrase recorded. But at the moment, the staff didn’t understand what was happening. During those two days, it required great concentration to make all the sounds. It was a very hard time for me. Four pieces recorded in two days. It’s so, so hard time; but on the other side, I felt happiness, because that’s the first solo recording I had made.

But then you didn’t record your own music for the rest of the decade. Do you even wish that you had the chance to record more?

After Through the Looking Glass, I knew that my music was not popular, so there was no offer to make a new one. It doesn’t matter if the musical industry is like that. I don’t care, so I continued to make music and composition, but I didn’t have time to record.

Is the album named after the Lewis Carroll book?

Yes. Lewis Carroll’s rhetoric of Through the Looking Glass is like the reversal of time, or the turnover of time. From that, I had this idea of space. Through the Looking Glass is meaning of the world of looking through a different perspective.

There’s a YouTube video of your album that many, many people saw, and it had two million views. Did you ever see that?

I have not really. I didn’t know that, because I don’t do social media. Even a PC, I didn’t have one. (laughs) And no way to play music in my home. I just work in studio, and I don’t hear any music in home. I didn’t know that, but … But I knew later, many young people think that the TTLG sounds made by computer. I noticed that nobody thinks that someone played this by hand, all acoustic, because it’s not very economical. Nowadays it’s easy to play it by electronics, but I played it myself, of course, by acoustic. I made the album as a perspective of sounds so when this new generation listened, they felt something different, recognizing the space.

What do you think it is that made young people, I guess, understand it in a way that maybe in 1983 it wasn’t understood?

Even the staff at the studio couldn’t understand it. I was misunderstood. On the difference of culture and history, I was in touch with many cultures that have possibility to share the music.

Do you think that now you have the chance to share this music with new audience?

Yeah. My sound is very close to the nature of … Nature, then it’s a result, that people could get the … my sound, and … I believe in its sensibility. I believe in the sensibility of human, and the possibility of the human. The individual has the possibility to share.

Jacob (who co-released the album) says it’s not as popular in Japan as it is in Europe and America.

It’s difficult playing in Japan. When people have their own concert, it needs much more money. For that, no sponsors, no help, especially for an obscure artist like me. It’s very contemporary, experimental, it’s … nobody paid money for that. People like very classical music or Japanese pop music or … so … Then, I working just in studio.

Are you excited to play in New York City?

Yes, yes, yes, very, very, very much. People in New York is very busy. If they have the chance to hear my music, maybe I could give different time.

Music for game, listening to music for games; but earphones, still, it … it’s not good for brain. It comes, it make weakness for the sensibility, for outside. To outside people, doesn’t matter what’s happened outside. What’s happened is, other, other people … For instance, in train, and street, people doesn’t notice what’s happened outside. Doesn’t pay full attention that … so it makes human weak. Then … Electric mix is … Now it’s important for life, but at the same moment, I think it’s important to get natural sound. Because ear of … Sense of ear, sensibility of ear, is very important for the … Now, it’s open for the environment, and to the world.

Failed Ethnomusicology in SE Asia

Recently, The Believer digitized their archives. Which means you can now read about a three-month trek through Thailand, Laos and Cambodia I took back in 2008. Under the influence of the Sublime Frequencies label at the time, I was in part preparing for an interview with Sun City Girls’ Alan Bishop, one of the label’s co-founders. That interview is here and has been anthologized quite a few times. At the same time, I also went in search of molam myself, to slightly disastrous results. Follow along on the map.

Dennis Wilson: Holy Man

Dennis Wilson

“If Wilson’s a holy man, then he’s of the Mr. Natural variant, with a prodigious sexual appetite that conquered such lays as President Regan’s daughter, Christine McVie of Fleetwood Mac, fellow Beach Boy Mike Love’s illegitimate teenage love child, and the clap-bearing ‘daughters’ of the Manson Family.”

Holy Man originally appeared at The Fanzine.

The Raincoats

the raincoats

“It made me happier than playing in front of thousands of people each night, rock-god idolization from fans, music industry plankton kissing my ass, and the million dollars I made last year. It was one of the few really important things that I’ve been blessed with since becoming an untouchable boy genius.” About the delectably off-center joy that is The Lasting Influence of the Raincoats for Vulture.

Panda Bear interview

Panda-Bear 1

Panda Bear interview

Some ten years ago, I had a few chats with Noah Lennox (Panda Bear) for the now vanished website Paper Thin Walls about Person Pitch. Ten years on, I dug them out of an old hard drive. And so…

Noah Lennox is known best as the tom-throbbing drummer of the Animal Collective with the boyish voice. He also records as Panda Bear, and that voice was cast in stark relief on the tremulous solo album Young Prayer in 2004, which was recorded as an homage to his dearly departed father. Since that time, his band has become one of the most profound of the 21st century. That is but one of his life changes though, as he relocated to Lisbon, Portugal, got married, and sired a daughter a few years back. Reflecting such change, Person Pitch eschews the acoustic roots of Prayer, as well as the rock base of Animal Collective, instead offering something closer to his Jane project with DJ Scott Mou. Woozy snippets of sound are cycled and thickened.

Album opener “Comfy in Nautica” was originally a double A-side single, and it exemplifies the album’s sound. Lennox layers his voice into a round, all of it buoyed by thwacks and handclaps that might blend into old Chain Reaction dub beats. The means are simple, but the result is hard to pin. At times, it sounds like something the Beach Boys’ Carl Wilson would’ve rendered, had he been obsessed with the joyous sound of the Missa Luba, that Latin mass rendered by a choir of Congolese children. We caught up with Lennox while he was down in Arizona, where he and the Animal Collective are recording their follow-up to 2005’s masterpiece, Feels.

So how are the Animal Collective desert sessions going?

It’s going good. The desert rips. We’ve rented a house out in the middle of nowhere and there are mountains all around. We’re in a pretty steady routine of work and we don’t do much else. The environment definitely creeps in here and I feel like the music is better for it. I really like the way we’re doing this one more so than the last couple so I’m excited about it for sure.

I can’t wait. Of course, you also have your third solo disc coming out. How dependent is Person Pitch on place versus your first, Young Prayer? Is the music connected to the geography?

I’d say they’re pretty equal as far as the influence of environment goes. With Young Prayer, I really went to the most intense place (the room where my father died) with regards to what I was singing about and playing and it really affected the sound of it. I had a hard time doing it. I couldn’t get through the first song for a while. Not that I would start crying or anything, but I think I was kind of overwhelmed by whatever was in there and it was difficult to focus. It’s similar with Person Pitch but a lot harder to quantify and I spent a lot longer doing the whole thing. A lot has happened to me in the past two years and some of it has been no joke, but the backdrop to all of it has been very pleasant and not so serious. I’ve felt happy recently for a bunch of reasons. I imagine both albums would have sounded different had they not been recorded in their respective locations but I think saying they were wholly dependent on those locations is untrue.

Being in Portugal now, do you feel disconnected from friends/family or are you acclimating to the new culture?

I’ve had to work a bit at keeping the relationships I really care about as I’ve never been very good at keeping in touch. Wherever I am is where my mind is at, if you know what I mean. I’ve been talking a lot with my brother and sister and I’m really psyched about that. I suppose I’ve acclimated more or less to Lisbon life and I should say I really like it. It’s slowed down and that suits me.

What was the biggest internal shift for you between the two records?

Having a baby was the big one over the past year or so and it’s safe to say it’s the most intense thing I’ve ever experienced. And the experience keeps going and gets different all the time. When I think I’ve got her figured out, she does something new and different and looks at me like “Nice try.”

How do roles as husband and now father affect your music-making?

Caring for Nadji I feel was totally crucial to keeping to my plans for the releases (the singles and all that over 2 years). I don’t think I would have been so diligent if it hadn’t been for her. Also just being totally freaked out about providing for my family has changed me a lot. I don’t mean to say that all the sudden now I really just want to make music that will sell a lot but I do mean that all of the sudden I felt like I couldn’t fuck up or be lax about anything. It’s terrifying for a second when you realize your perspective has been forced upside down and now its you who’s got to make things happen for the people you care about. But then you get on with it and it’s no big deal, but you can’t go back.

Do you play your music for your daughter? What’s her reaction like?

Nadji is psyched on the jams I think. It seems like she’s really into rhythmic music so it’s the most rhythmic parts of the album that she gets most into. I’ve seen her dance around to it a little and that’s awesome.

Any chance you’ll be singing in Portuguese next time around?

I don’t think so at least right now it’s not something I’m really into. I’m psyched about singing in English. I think I’d feel kind of phony singing in Portuguese but I shouldn’t say I’d never do it. I can understand a lot of the Brazilian jams although sometimes they say things in ways I don’t really understand quite yet. The languages in Portugal and Brazil are generally the same at least the vocabulary and grammar is more or less identical but certain phrases and slang differ.

Anything you want to mention about “Comfy in Nautica” itself?

It was the second track I worked on but the first track I really worked on in the way I worked for the rest of the album. “Searches for Delicious” was the first thing I did (for a magazine called Comes With a Smile) but that was based off of a manipulated live recording. I had the “Comfy” title for a long time and I always really liked it. I remember I did it really fast, like in a couple of hours, then mixed it a couple of days later and that took a while.

Rusty (Santos, his producer) came this past October and we mixed it (and everything else) over again and basically diluted the song down into three or four principal parts. Then we took each of those isolated parts and made them sound as good as we could and then put the parts back together again. I wanted Rusty to help me not only because he’s really good at producing and getting really good sounds but also because I knew I was mixing the things in kind of a funky way. I figured he would give me a more natural perspective on the stuff and he definitely made everything sound way way better. It was good to see him. I think we spent six or seven days working on it and we finished only an hour or so before he had to go to the airport.

What else you digging these days?

Scott Colburn (producer for Strawberry Jam) brought a lot of DVDs to watch in the off hours while recording. He’s got lots of awesome jams, but one thing I was really psyched on was called Forbidden Transmissions. They were like video mixtapes kind of and had some totally sweet things on it and some funny stuff, too. We watched Jackass 2 and that was good but I didn’t like it as much as the first one but it was good and I don’t mean to take away from it. I’ve been watching a lot of freaks and geeks (josh from ac hooked me up there) and reading some lone wolf and cub. As I was saying up above too I’ve been really stoked about talking with my brother and sister. We’re all pretty different kinds of people and even though I know we care about each other a lot we don’t have too many thoughts in common if you know what I mean. But it’s been awesome just saying what’s up every week.


Part Two

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Okay, we may be riding Panda Bear’s jock like Tian Tian at this point, but we’ve been starving for some clicky-post-dub-rocksteady-sunshine-pop-Zulu-chant-indie goodness like you wouldn’t believe. Hitting that spot like so many bamboo shoots, the weightless expanse of “Bros” continues to stay with us. If Sung Tongs’s effervescent centerpiece “Visiting Friends” was the Animal Collective’s homage to Kompakt’s Pop Ambient series, then “Bros” turns the bend, tightens up, and brings it all back to winsome sunshine pop. Tucked into the dubby harmonies and jangle of guitars are tucked pigeon coos, fussy babies, and…Cat Stevens?

What is “Bros” about?

“Bros” is about trying to keep relationships with good friends. I’m the kind of person who likes a lot of space and solo time and the song is about that. I had gotten married a while before I started writing the song and yet the complexities of that relationship really came out in the song. I do believe friends and family are just about the most valuable thing a person has.

I’ve had to work a bit at keeping up the relationships I really care about, as I’ve never been very good at keeping in touch. Wherever I am is where my mind is at, if you know what I mean, but I’ve been talking a lot with my brother and sister lately and I’m really psyched about that. I suppose I’ve acclimated more or less to Lisbon life and I should say I really like it. It’s slower and that suits me.

How does the thought process change using a sampler to craft songs rather than acoustic instruments this go-round? And what are you sampling on “Bros”? I feel like I can hear a bit of the Millennium, but I swear I can even Michael Jackson’s coo, too, deep in the mix.

The samples and the loops I set up really dictate the melodies of the songs. Usually, I’d listen over and over to the repetitions as I would be putting the different pieces together and gradually the melody would kind of just come out (of that). I was pretty instinctual about it the entire process. I tried hard with all the samples I used to work them to a point where I felt I was doing something original and my own and for the most part I think I did pretty well. On “Bros,” the samples I kind of started with as the foundation of the song were from the Tornadoes, Moodymann, the Equals, and Cat Stevens. The guitars for the most part are lines that I played and effected and sampled and then played again.

Being ensconced in Lisbon now and learning the native tongue, any chance you’ll be singing in Portuguese next time around? Perhaps as the inverse of Caetano Veloso’s English album, Transa?

I don’t think so, at least right now it’s not something I’m really into. I’m psyched about singing in English. I think I’d feel kind of phony singing in Portuguese but I shouldn’t say I’d never do it. I can understand a lot of the Brazilian jams now, although sometimes they say things in ways I don’t really understand quite yet.