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Animal instincts [2006-04-05]

Merzbow (Masami Akita) is one of the most prolific artists around, with a discography stretching into the hundreds. He's always pushing the limits of noise and music, so the line between the two blurs. His first release of this year was the 6 cd box set Houjoue, it's one of the most consistent larger releases in terms of quality and sound variation I've come across. Masami was kind enough to give me the email interview you find below.

m[m] Mostly, you record in bedroom in Tokyo, what's your set-up at home? Is the studio in the city of Tokyo?
Masami Yes, I make music in the bedroom of my house in the city of Tokyo. The set-up occasionally changes, but it's always computers, some instruments and audio equipment.

m[m] Houjoue must have been a massif undertaking to plan, record and let alone work out the track order, all in all how long did it take to make the set from start to finish?
Masami I got the offer to release the 6 CD set in early 2005 from Dirter Promotions and then I started to build up the whole plan and details. I had already decided to use recordings from works which I made for 'Acousmatic Live' in Tokyo on February 2005.

These works are material for a sound projection performance that used 24 speakers, plus a 24 channel, mixingdesk system which is called 'Acousmonium'. It was constructed by the French electro-acoustic music research institute MOTUS. I think these works are the harshest recordings of Merzbow that only uses laptop computer, these days. Otherwise, I was working simultaneously with recording of Merzbuta CD for important records. In this recording session, I made lots of work with new software and the EMS Synthi 'A' Synthesiser. Finally, I decided to use beat oriented tracks for Merzbuta and other more abstract tracks for Houjoue. These works appeared on the CD1, CD2 & CD3 of Houjoue. The other 2 disks are introduction to Merzbow live, works from around 2004-2005. I'm always played variation of Frog and Animal Magnetism in live sets.
So, I have lots of recordings of different version of both Tracks. The Versions on Houjoue are where I used new OS and software. But they are not live recordings; they are pre-live studio recordings in my studio. The Last disk is actual a live recording; it's a special live set for Jazz Festival in Västerås, Sweden in late 2004 and it was totally improvised. Additionally, I recreated this live set for the studio version and put it on Sphere CD on Tzadik. The track was called track Västerås.

m[m] Where did the concept for Houjoue come about? It really seems to be mixing all sides of your audio sound.
Masami On the music side, I explained in last answer. Also I'm really satisfied with the mastering of the sound on all of the disks. Thanks lots to Dirter Promotions!. Otherwise, Theme of Houjoue is related to the Vegetarian history of the early Japanese. Houjoue means 'ceremony of Freeing captured Animals'. In 7th century, the Japanese emperor proclaimed an ordinance prohibiting the eating of animal meat, fish, shellfish, and fowl. In this period, there are many case of Houjoue taking place there. I was writing a book called Cruelty Free Life, while I was making Houjoue. So, both concepts are synchronized. I write details of this subject on last chapter of the book.

m[m] You use manipulated animal sounds on Houjoue, in particular on disk 4, where you revisit both using frogs (Frog variation 0505) and chickens (Animal Magnetism variations 0305)- how did the idea come about in the first place to use animal sounds? How easy have you found it to record them effectively?
Masami I have lots of sampled sounds of animals on my computer. Mostly sounds of my pet animals: bantams (Smaller house chickens), fantail pigeon, duck, and silky chickens. And also some sound of other animals which taken from different sources. I've used these samples occasionally to improvise in live sets. So, it's not decided in advance to use which sample on which and when live set.

m[m] How many chickens, animals do you have now? Do you ever see yourself moving out into the country to start up a small holding or animal sanctuary?
Masami Totally 13 birds. Yes, it would be fantastic if I could move to larger lands and live with more animals.

m[m] You have another long release coming out shortly on Blossoming Noise, the 4cd Turmeric, are you planning anymore larger works?
Masami Turmeric is next new work after Houjoue, with some of differences. I used MAX/MSP with contact mic and there are lots more feedback, noise sound on them. I also used lots of small metal percussion noise. Some of them are pecking sound of chickens, they are always pecking some object, for the care of their beaks. On one of the disks (Deaf Composition) I operated two Reaktor patches, random without monitoring, so it's totally on chance; but the operation works. I already finished next double CD called F.I.D for Forth Dimensions. It's more analogue feedback sound. Because I used analogue pedals instead of MAX/MSP patch. Also I made new CD and analogue LP for next Important Records release. They are series of tribute for Minazo-the gigantic male elephant seal that died recently in Japan. Sounds of these albums are more based on improvisation. And finally I worked for a next split LP with Band of Pain.

m[m] You recently released a book in a Japanese about animal welfare, how has this gone down in Japan? And how did you come to write it?
Masami I've got offered to write on this theme from a publisher who saw my interview with Boris in a magazine. I spoke about my vegan life style in it and that got the publisher interested. Cruelty Free Life contains an article about my daily life with animals and introduction of Animal Rights ideology and Veganism. Unfortunately, it's only in Japanese.

m[m] Are there any plans to publish Cruelty Free Life in English?
Masami I hope if someone will translate it in the future.

m[m] What are your top ten favourite albums?
Masami I have too many favourite albums and difficult to select only ten. So, here is a list of music, which I'm listening to these days.
The Frost - Frost Music
The Fraternity of Man - s/t
Savoy Brown - Lion's Share
Man - Do You Like It Here Now
Roky Erickson - Don't Slander Me
Cromagnon - Elliot/Grasmere Connecticut Tribe
Godz - 2
Ten Years After - Live at Fillmore East
Butterfield Blues Band - East West
The Seeds - s/t

m[m]Any more plans to tour?
Masami Probably I will start to tour abroad from end of this year.

m[m] Have you any plans to tour Europe, like the UK?
Masami Not decided yet. But there are some offers later this year and early next year.

m[m] Will you be using analogue equipment when you tour?
Masami I have planned to use laptops and Synthi 'A' on next Japanese gig. I'm not sure that how my live set up will be change. But if Iwill use any equipment needed.

Thanks to Masami for the interview and Steve Pittis for arranging the interview. All photos (c) by Jenny Akita.
Merzbow site is Here, Houjoue can be bought directly here. You can listen here to samples of Turmeric and of course buy direct.

Roger Batty
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