“It is going to be very fast and very loud.”
He is the master of Japanese noise music. Just the mention of Keiji Haino makes people nervous. His aura hangs over the room hours before he physically turns up. And as a vegetarian, non-drinker and with a well-known distaste for narcotics, we wait politely for him sipping Japanese tea. Fair enough.
Born on 3rd of May 1952 in post-war-Japan, in Chiba, Haino is one of the rare examples of a Japanese musician who became a fully paid up member of the Western avant-garde scene. In the West most people know him for his striking cooperations with John Zorn, Derek Bailey, Faust, Bill Alswell, Peter Brötzmann and Jim O’Rourke.
But his back-catalogue of work in Japanese bands is equally stunning, having been a multi-instrumentalist for over fifty years, working with Yamantaka Eye of the Boredoms, Yoshida Tatsuya of the Ruins and Merzbow. For Haino himself he’ll mention the influence of Marlene Dietrich, Charlie Parker and Syd Barrett as he went about developing and assembling the many facets of his noise sound. But let’s listen to the man himself.
While listening to your record „The 21st Century Hard-y Guide-y Man – Koitsukara Usetaitameno Hakaragito“ I wondered how you did produce these sounds. A question the young Keiji Haino was coming up himself when listening to John Cage back then, right? How important is it for you to constantly encounter difficult music? And is this something you try to achieve with your own music?
Yes. I want to keep things fresh and keep on keeping on surprising myself. The most important part of me making music, is me enjoying it. If I feel that the process gets to normal, that I’ve cultivated a routine – I don´t know what I would do then. But I have a credo: never to repeat myself. It is not at all about trying to come up with new stuff or to shock people – it is more like that: everybody wants to make the world a better place, either politicaly, financially or in art. When people are not giving one hundred percent, that is the reason why the world is becoming a worse place. In order to fix that you need to give it a different approach. Coming up with different ideas to those from before, to make a difference, surprise people and start new movements.
Is this a singular process, you on your own? Or is it interactive from the start?
The surprise element is, either you work alone or with others, to see if you could define something new. It is all about that surprise moment, the starting point for changes.
What have you been up to lately?
I have been involved in several projects lately, especially one with Tony Conrad in New York. And I did record a Dj-Album, „The Greatest Hits of The MUSIC“ which will be available from tonight…
How do you chose your collaborators?
I want to work with people who have not given up yet. I love their originality, their talent to surprise me. If the working process with another person is really happening in a good way, there is instantly the feeling and wish to work again soon.
I haven’t heard your DJ work before, how do you approach it as a process? Traditionally we think of DJs, in the context of electronic music, as being closely connected with their audience and the dancefloor. Are you thinking about the room when you mix?
I do not think about the audience at all. Because there is a difference in how you see DJing. Back in the days, when I was a small kid, DJs were not someone who wants to entertain the people. It was more like educating people, introducing them to new music. A DJ was a pure music fan who loved it so much, had a lot of records, and wanted to introduce the sounds to others. This is my aproach to DJing too.
Most DJs want the people to dance. What should the people do to your sets? Do you want them to dance to it too – but in a different way?
First: If you love something too much, it flows out too fast sometimes. Most DJs only use two or maximum three cd-players, but I use four of them. That’s because three is not enough. There is so much coming out of me. Sometimes in the middle of a set I maybe get confused and feel like it’s become chaos, but that’s okay as I want to keep the experience new, for me as well as for the audience.
In terms of your long career as a musician, you’re pretty new as a DJ guy. Your first mix CD came out just last year, and the new one now. Are you finding your style evolve?
When I started to DJ, I did use the mixer without any knowledge, just intuitive. But through the process of djing I released that you could mix the bass, the middle and the hights each by themselves. Especially adjusting the middle brings in a magic effect.
Are you familiar with the acid house producer DJ Pierre of the group Phuture and his significant „wild pitch“ sound / technique?
I try to avoid re-pitching too much to keep the level of change acceptable or measured. I recently spoke to a friend about this and he pointed out that I do not mess around as much as others, with the nice effect that the sounds stay original. If you pitch, you change obviously the sound of a recording to create weird sounds and chaos. It’s too easy to do that. If you bring two people from different environments together, they may not get along that well, but with songs this still should function well, either it is noise or pop. If I mix 100 tracks, I may change the pitch of just 1 or 2 of them.
You are playing tonight as part of Red Bull Music Academy. Do you keep up with contemporary electronic music? Are there things you have in common with techno?
Of course I am not able to listen to everything happening within this wild spectre of filed under ‘electronic music’. But from what I hear of current releases there is not so much I am interested in. I’ve been listening to all kinds of music for the last 45 years now, so I am able to instantly recognise influences, the roots things are coming from. I feel too much of mixing of influences in the current productions within electronic music. But if you could recommend something to me, I am always very much open to suggestions.
Sure. I’m gonna write you some down later on. You’re inspired in your work by the Japanese musical concept of “ma”, the silent spaces in music. Obviously also a big part of the idea of techno. Where rock is all about permanent penetration, techno understands the importance of a break or a space…
When we talk about empty space in the concept of ma, the main point is that it always has to usher in a new pattern. If silence is part of the same timing it is not of interest for me. It is all about unexpected, unpredictable silence. If it is predictable, it is boring – I can´t learn from that.
Regarding ma – I have the feeling it is often not translated well into Western languages. The Japanese definition doesn’t just mean silence, it is about the deepest moment for the person producing the sounds. So it is different for every person – which makes things interesting.
Take for example the Indian music concept of rāga, melody-constructions based on just five notes. There is a different rāg for different times of the day or season. There is the daytime and the nightime rāg, the performance depends very much in the feeling in a specific moment.
A DJ must love music more than a ordinairy music fan. Love for music is fundamental. I feel this is lacking in people. It is all about the moment. What is the moment? What is now? It is changing constantly. Every second is different. And every person, every insect is different. Once you’re aware of all this, it’s why it’s so important not to repeat yourself. There is music out there which is repeatedly played and performed every time. Because to sell dancefloor music you have to play it over and over again until it sticks in people’s minds. On the other hand there is the world of improvisation, a word and a genre I love.
Improvisation arrived in Japan as part of the jazz music scene around fifty/sxty years ago. At that time people translated the word incorrectly into the Japanese language, so it lost its meaning. Thats why I constantly remind people that the important part of improvisation is: do not repeat!
How do you see the relationship between sound and music?
If you put your life into sound, then it becomes music. Sound already exists out there, if you are aware of it or not. It is something most people do not realise because their minds don’t spot it maybe. They’re stuck in a place where this does not become clear to them. There is no invention or discovery, it is more like a process of adding definition to something that already exists. Consider, the Japanese word for expression is ‘to appear’. You have to bring it out into the open.
If I understand you correct, the process of making music is like putting color in the water and making people see.
What do you mean by that?
Well, making the room and the sound visible and audible for people.
(knocks on the wooden table) It is right here. You could actually see it. But if you add colour it makes it easier for people to recognise it, but it’s more about knowing it’s there without the easy access.
Your band Fushitsusha, with whom you perform tonight, started back in 1978. It was initially you on guitar and vocals, Tamio Shiraishi on synthesizer and later on, when he left Jun Hamano, Shuhei Takashima,Yasushi Ozawa and Jun Kosugi joined and left and so on. How do these personnel change the band’s sound over time? Are the older members still present in some way?
I actually would not say that I play tonight with Fushitsusha, even as it is written on the posters and flyers… Regarding the question: difficult one, and hard to answer. The members of the band and I we did inspire each other, they learned from me and I learned from them. As time goes on, we understood each other better and better in our process of making music together. Fushitsusha is, among all my projects the most heart driven, as it is my field of experiments. It is symbolic of my principles for live performance. I never use the word session for working with others. That said: I played one time before with the people I share stage tonight. Once in the studio and now live. In the beginning I tell the other musicians always: this might only be for one noght or even hour, but we are a band and not a session project. I want us to be a band. With a session you do a thing and say goodbye. Butt his is about an unit, about giving it all.
What is your expectation for „Wails to Whispers“?
It is going to be very fast and very loud.
I heard that before from the other artists. Thank you very much for an inspiring conversation.