Hans Ulrich Obrist on Sun, 22 Aug 1999 15:58:26 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Interview with Merzbow

Interview with Akita Masami (Merzbow)
Questions by Hans Ulrich Obrist and Ute Meta Bauer
TOKYO december 1998

AM is Akita Masami
UMB is Ute Meta Bauer
HUO is Hans Ulrich Obrist
translation: Akiko Miyake
transcription: Carrie Pilto

HUO My first question is about your name, Merzbow, referring to
Schwitters, Why did you chose this name for your music acticities.

AM In my work, I use materials which I find everywhere and assemble. It
seems to me a process similar to Schwitters' work, so I just took the

HUO Do you mean you assemble disparate things in your sound pieces or do
you also work with found objects or sculptural installations?

AM No, I just work with found sounds, not materials, just noise; I just
made very cheap cassette tapes.

HUO When I interviewed Eye Yamatuka recently in Osaka he was referring to
your work, to Pan Sonic, to Mika Vainio, to his own work as well - he said
this sort of noise music would have origins in Japan from the tradition of
Gagaku music. How far do you see your work related to that , and could you
talk about traditions of noise music in Japan?

M I don't think my music is related to any tradition of music in Japan
like Gagaku.  It is much more related to western influences.

HUO what are your western influences?

M The seventies, like Frank ZapaŠ Captain Beefheart, King Crimson.

HUO Another question concerns the Japanese context . I wonder from your
own position who are the people in Japan you are connected to, you are in
a dialogue with, what would be the sort of music context you would work

AM Nobody, I think, but I work with people from the west like Masonna,
Incapacitants but everybody here is completely differentŠ

HUO from your own work?

AM Yes

HUO How far is Merzbow a group, because you somehow see Merzbow as your
own personal project but at the same time you perform with other people.  
How would you define the boundaries of the group? Where does it begin and
end? Is it a one-person kind of enterprise?

AM Basically Merzbow is a solo project , we come together with people only
in live performances. I make my music completely alone.

HUO under another name than Merzbow, or also under that name?

AM Sometimes using my single (solo) name.

HUO When you do performances, your name has to be Masami Hakita?

AM No, it's Merzbow.  Sometimes I play alone, things that are a bit
different from my Merzbow work. In that case I use my own name.

HUO And what is the relation between recording and playing live?  What is
the importance of live in your work?

AM In my performances I just find fun, pleasure in doing music in public.
In the 1980's I did only very few live shows.

HUO When did you start by the way?

AM I started around 1980.  My original idea was to only record music in
the studio. I was against live performance, because I didn't like the
charisma of it.  Therefore, I had no idea about live performance for a
long time.  It is only when I did a long tour in America that I found
pleasure in live performance.

HUO When was the first time you went to the United States?

AM In 1989-1990. It is more physical pleasure, with my body and sound.
After that, I continued to make live performances more often. Basically,
to people with whom I work in live performance, I just give the task of
supporting my sound.  I play with some people, but it is just a part of my

HUO Is there also a visual presence when you make live performances? Are
there visual elements? do you make videos from your performances?

AM In the early times, I used a lot films .  Sometimes I have video but to
me it is not too important.  I am more interested in strong, simple
effects like lighting installations, smoke, stroboscopic light, not

HUO What about your distribution? How prints your records and CDs, who
buys them?

AM 4 or 5 records came out with Alchemy records, ca 2000 copies each.
(It's not collect.I made over 200 records&CDs already.each copies are
20-5000.I don't know how many copies each label sold.

HUO Who buys them? Is it very young people, people interested in
electronic music or in techno?  Who is your audience?

AM Yes, it is young people, people interested in techno, and noise

HUO In a European context, what would be your links?  Mika Vainio told me
he likes what you are doing, so there is a dialogue. Are there other
people beside Pan Sonic in Europe with whom you have a dialogue, and could
you tell me about Pan Sonic? what do you think about Mika Vainio?

AM I know Pan Sonic through Russell Haswell who told me there were strange
Finnish guys who don't speak English and use very big electronics and make
simple sounds. I was very interested and when I listened to their CD, it
was great.

HUO Do you like any other European experimental music?

AM I am interested in any new extreme stuff,I think "mego people" is one
of the most extreme computer music being doing now.

UMB Is your audience different in Europe than here in Japan or is it in
both context people who share the same interests?

AM There is more opportunity to get different audiences in Europe because
in Europe there are many more different categories of art and music which
are linked, whereas in Japan, it is much more difficult to get across in
the same way. In Europe I can play with techno people, more contemporary‹
people.  There aren't the same opportunities in Japan...

UMB How did you get in touch with the people from Blast.  Are you produced
also in England?

AM When I played in London, Blast was organized by Sho I knew Russell and
they were interested in my music and so they contacted me.

HUO I want to return to something we evoked earlier, concerning the record
labels. When we interviewed Eye Yamatuka , he is really in this
intermediary position: that on the one hand, he would do things which are
completely mainstream, he would be on a record with Ken Ishi something
like this, and on the other, he would do really experimental stuff.  Are
you interested in this kind of double situation or are you on the contrary
taking the position that you do radical stuff and push it to the limits?
How do you see this sort of positioning within a music context and the
music industry. Is it on the fringes, or are you interested in it getting
a bigger diffusion?

AM I hate Japanese music business, I would never do that.

HUO So you refuse to participate in that kind of thing?

AM They have no interest and I dont care about it. I am interested in new
and creative ideas, I dont care if its major or minor.

HUO beside your records, Russell also told me about your books. what kind
of books are they?

AM I have published 13 books. Some are about noise music and sound work
and counterculture, including SM bondage. I still work with some magazines

HUO which kind of magazines are you involved in?

AM I am writing for some S-M magazines and, I am writing about modern
architecture in Tokyo. My main intereste is in the 1920 till 30s Of
Japanese architecture, especially unknown Nameless architecture.

HUO Earlier today we visited Kazuyo Shinohara in his centennial hall and
he showed Us early modern buildings in Japan.

AM You saw much modern architecture in Tokyo today? In 1918, we had a huge
earthquake in Tokyo. After the earthquake, the city was completely
destroyed and it was necessary to rebuild. The city authority organized
the rebuilding of the city and especially the official area of Marunouchi
with official buildings.  In the old downtown area which dated from Edo
period, they had no architects, so they redid the Western idea. The
buildings in that area are not by architects but just by ordinary
carpenters who interpreted western references. They introduced western
influences. but it is interesting because sometimes they used cheap
materials, not real stone although it looks like it.

HUO Have you published any book on this issue?

AM I hope to publish something

HUO this will be my last question. I have heard rumors which say that you
are doing a project of 4ŕ or 50 CDs, could you tell me about this mega CD

AM Yes,it's called 'Merzbox'.Releasing on Australian label called
Extreme. 50 CDs which including almost all delated LPs and some very old &
new unreleased materials. Also,special package and lots of Merzbow goods
as T-shirts, Medallion, book, stecker, CD Rom etc.I hope it will ready in

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