Last month New York’s Japan Society held a very special performance with experimental Turntable pioneers Christian Marclay and Otomo Yoshihide. The turntable duo is known for their unique use of the turntable as an instrument with Otomo taking the idea to extremes. His use of the turntable as an instrument is quite literal as he very rarely uses records in his performances and focuses on the machine itself to create sounds. Their performance was interesting, very noisy, and made the older people in the audience leave.
I was fortunate enough to get a small interview with Otomo thanks to Japan Society.
Otomo Yoshihide Interview
When did the turntable start to become a standard in your performance? I know you initially were using record albums for performance, but how did the evolution come to you with using the actual turntable to create sounds instead of pre-recorded record albums?
Very beginning was mid 70′s for using my tape collage when I was teen and I started using turntables for performance was early 80′s turntable was just one of my noise junk instrument like as tapes hand made electronics. After I knew Christian Marclay that was 83 or 84 I got strong inference from his work. Beginning was just photo from jazz magazine then I found John Zorn’s LP that he join Locus Solos most influenceal album was “records without cover” that made me real hit!!!!!!!! Then I deeply going to turntable world. I got to much influence from Christian in 80s’ early 90s. I slowly move to deferent space with Japanese improvisers like as Sachiko M, Take Sugimoto, Toshimaru Nakamura, Ami Yoshida, Akiyama Tetuzi….more. Also I often worked with Martin Tetrault and probably that made me a lot of change anyway I found my most focusing is turntables or cartridge itself , not records.
One of the largest DJs to take scratching into a more musical realm was San Francisco’s DJ Q-bert. He also references a lot of Jazz in his styling.
With one of your biggest influences being Free Jazz, did you ever pay attention to the Turntablist movement from the late 90s to early 2000s? Though it was more structured than an experimental performance might be, I wonder if the sounds they were producing ever interested you.
My Free Jazz roots is Japanese 70′s Free Jazz mostly especially Masayuki Takayanagi, Kaoru Abe, Yosuke Yamashita…..more and some European improvised music like Derek Baily or some American Free Jazz from 60′s like Eric Dolphy. I did not listen to resent Jazz stuff. My Free Jazz side is more connection with my guitar history, not with turntable history.
Your guitar work and turntable work both share similarities in that they are both feedback heavy with a lot of distortion. Do you feel their sound is completely different from each other or they share a greater bond than we might think?
The sound, it is almost same. Just inside my history is different so for me, it is very separate.
Two of my personal favorite Experimental/Electronic musicians are Hisato Higuchi and Chihei Hatakeyama. Using them as an example, their music as well as many other Japanese musicians seem to follow a strong improvisational mentality. Why do you think there is a large following for such music coming out of Japan?
I really do not know why. We know ourself more than others, but sometimes we can not know ourself more than others. So you know why more than me.
I also personally love bands like Sadistic Mika Band, はっぴいえんど (Happy End), Far East Family Band, and フ ラワー・トラベリン・バンド (Flower Travelin’ Band). I know the sound was a little different, but did older Japanese bands play any influence on your music for your band Ground Zero?
My influence was coming from more like Japanese Underground music and free music from 70′s and also 60′s Japanese film and TV sound tracks. Of course I listen to like はっぴいえんど, Sadistic Mika Band realtime in 70′s, but I do not get much influence at the real time. For me they are all Japan’s pop stars and I feel little bit far for me.
I know you have played with some of the best avante musicians including Fred Firth, BIll Laswell, John Zorn, and of course Christian Marclay. They all have respected careers and catalogs that stem far back. Are there any younger musicians that interest you for either listening or potential projects?
I am very much interested in between music and installation but without any art academy… more like underground Japanese new sound artist like Tesuya Umeda, Yuko Mori, Kanta Horio, Sachiko M. Also I am interested in new Japanese pop scene like as Tavito Nanao, Tenniscoats ,Ikuko Harada. Of course still I love Seiichi Yamamoto, Jojo Jirosege, Incapasitans and Phew like same age musicas. Also I am so so interested in East and South Asian new music scene like as Zai Kuuning, Singapore’s Yuen Cheewai, Beijing’s Yanjun, Ryu Hankil, Choi Joonyong, Hong Chulki,and Seoul’s Jin Sangtae.
I made band call FEN (Far East Network with Yanjun Hankie and Cheewai). Mostly I am working with these young people so far also i start project Fuksuhima! (I was coming from Fukushima)
Please check this.
Thanks to Japan Society for allowing me to photograph their performance as well as interview Otomo.