Sunday, January 31, 1999



(Photo NOT by Nao Suzuki)

2005 Currently engaged in a post-grad research period (dissertation topics under consideration: 'Deleuze and the Image in Real Time Video Art' and 'Virilio - New Media Ethics Locus') at The Department of Inter Media Art, Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music.

New media artist Robert Duckworth is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in composition new media under Mark Trayle at the California Institute of the Arts. After becoming interested in pop music and drums as a teenager, he studied music theory and music composition at the University of Georgia with Lewis Nielson and electronic music with Leonard V. Ball, Jr., graduating with a BMUS in composition.

Both before and after graduation, he studied at various seminars, workshops, and symposia around the world with such figures as Pierre Boulez (Carnegie Hall), Julio Estrada, Gerard Pape, and Curtis Roads (CCMIX), Karlheinz Stockhausen (Stockhausen-Kurse Kurten), David Zicarelli, Miller Puckette (SUNY), among others.

Securing a research fellowship as a special training composer for the Japanese agency for cultural affairs led him to Tokyo. Under his mentor Takehito Shimazu, Duckworth did research into the Japanese contemporary music scene. During his stay in Japan, he co-founded the laptop duo Tog with Roddy Schrock. The duo concertized extensively in Japan, also performing at events in Europe, and America. Tog's fellow performers and collaborators are legion. Duckworth has recently completed a tour of Japan with Tog, Hypo, Brad Breeck, and others (Winter 2002) and a solo tour of Japan with Momus and Digiki (Summer 2003).

Upcoming plans include a European tour with Midori(January, 2004) in support of the duo's upcoming CD release, and a research orientation invitation to STEIM (Summer 2004). Duckworth currently resides in Tokyo in order to pursue language studies and computer music-related activities at places of higher learning. He has done freelance writing for OK FRED, VICE, and EI, among other mags. He bloggs like it's going out of style...

Thursday, January 7, 1999

32 Questions for Robert Duckworth May 23, 2002 by Roddy Schrock (while en route to Athens, GA from Oakland, CA) 

1. What do you call the kind of audio art that you make?

A kind of sonic masturbatriate whose owner’s manual I didn’t take the time to read (it was written in the wrong language anyway), whose batteries are now running low from overuse (going to grad school didn’t recharge them like I thought it would), and whose extra features (mostly just the cheapest of buzzers and flashing lights) I’m just now starting to figure out and enjoy. Who could ask for anything more?

2. What's in your CD player right now?

Well, my CD player isn’t really working anymore. I really have to pick up a new one soon in Akihabara. Of course I’ve always got something in my MD player, but the CD in my PwrBkG4 is much more interesting right now. That would be KARAKOE A CAPELLA (points for clever wordplay between Japanese and Italian) by HYPO, which rocks my socks (props to my former CalArts roommate Maddy Puckette of cutetheory), and which is selling like hot cakes over here in Japan. I’m also proud to say that there isn’t a speck of dust in there thanks to an immaculately tight-ass slot. I have Apple to thank for that. Now if they’ll just start making PowerBooks that don’t chip and flake. Oh wait, they already did . . . they were called Pizmos.

3. How, if at all, has living and working in Japan impacted your work?

I’d be getting off easy if Kenzaburo Oe and/or Roland Barthes (please do read his book "Empire of Signs") did little more more than just kick my ass for saying this, but I’ll take my chances in saying that I see “my” Japan (there seem to be as many versions of this country as there are non-Japanese in it, but naturally this “variety” of personal opinions can be boiled down to just a few archetypical ways of seeing things) as being kind of like a big "select-shop" (Is this a Japanese word? It has the ring of EngRish, but I can’t be sure . . .) where several arrays of the very “best” of the material goods that anyone could ever possibly want from the various cultures of other nations have been put on display, and are ripe for the picking, given that money is no object. For a nonmusical example: Tokyo . . . Well, here I'm in a much better position to find out about such atomy as say, the most hip place to eat a Chinese dinner in Paris (much to the surprise of Hypo) than I would be in any other part of the world (perhaps even more so than if I were in Paris itself)! So Japan has value for me in this somewhat peculiar way (and I should mention that my Japanese friends here are almost always surprised to hear me say this). Japan can tell me a lot about other countries, but not too much about itself, at least not directly. Perhaps it is just a sign that points in all directions? I'm not sure . . . I’m sure it wasn’t always like this. A long time ago, depending on the fickle attitudes of whoever was in power, Japan ONLY pointed inwardly, or perhaps ONLY pointed to say, China. Of course, this situation impacts my work in a very positive way. Because I’m living here, I'm probably more “up to date” on what’s going on in the world of the sound-art and pop-culture that I enjoy than I would be if I were living anywhere else. But to say that the impact is completely positive would be to tell a lie. This is a bit of a fine point, but I think that ultimately, the “non-Japanese” (note that this does NOT equal the “American” way) of getting info on things is more interesting, and produces more quirky results, because the individual who is interested in something (whatever it might be) has to really do more “footwork” for him/herself. So this person can’t depend on some neatly arranged, carefully presented “recommended course” and/or “if you like that one, maybe you should check these out to” kind of support. They wind up doing a lot of blind, almost random kind of searching, and this invariably makes the CD collections of my American friends (weather they are into the kind of music that I like or not), if not more complete, at least less . . . predictable. More adventurous perhaps? The other bonus is that this kind of self-directed gathering of info might cause folks to at least have to think for themselves more, since there really is no one there holding their hand every step of the way. It is a funny thing, but going back to the culture question, actually America is often touted as having homogenous cultural tendencies due to racial and cultural diversity, but this couldn't be further from the truth. In fact, America is like a big cultural centrifuge, where everything that is different actually gets further separated. We use blenders to cook. What do we use centrifuges for, anyway? I’m genuinely convinced (as Cage was, that most of the problems that we face these days aren’t “musical” ones, but social ones. I would specify further by saying socioeconomic problems. Of course, I can't tell these things to the Bunka-Cho (Japanese Cultural Foundation), or they will demand that I give all of their fellowship money back. They just want to see white guys compose (and play) music for koto and computer or something like that. It is all about control.

4. Mark Applebaum claims to have written his best music while flying in an airplane. Have you experienced this phenomenon?

I don't doubt his claim, and I do admire Mark’s work, but personally, I can’t tell the difference between airplane and non-airplane inspired compositions on his part. No, I've never experienced the same thing. But I can tell you that the last time I flew from LA to Tokyo, the balding, married, middle-aged Japanese businessman and father of three sitting next to me, after chugging down a few beers, told me first about the cheap price of hookers in Sao Paulo (including an itemized “price list” of services). Then several hours later, after I developed a headache, he performed a little Buddhistic faith-healing on me by chanting loudly in ancient Japanese while maintaining a firm grasp on some kind of mojo in one hand, and my forehead in the other one. Of course, I've dates that turned out better than this, but I can't complain. I still have the barf-bag upon which he scrawled the words of his chant.

5. Can you sleep on an airplane?

Like a baby! I even drool all over the place, just like when I’m sleeping at home. What about you, Roddy?

6. Is there anything that is not a fad?

Humans and their neologistic pre-occupations. Worse than a fad, but slightly better than a curse . . . which puts it in the ballpark with the best of American fast-food.

69858 | posted by glitchslaptko at 6:30 | 0 comments

32 Questions for Robert Duckworth May 23, 2002 by Roddy Schrock (while en route to Athens, GA from Oakland, CA) Pt. 2 [edit]

7. Do you feel there is a useful distinction to be made between acoustic and electronic music?

Only one useful one? Sure! Perhaps the most didactic one has already been made by Stockhausen in his late 50’s masterpiece KONTAKTE. Here, the distinction something like trying to prove that a possible "seamless" (or at least imperceptible) spectrum of transitions can be composed between the "opposites" of electronic and acoustic palettes, using serial thought as the increment-generator. That this kind of work might be the high-water mark for the thought of this period should go without saying, but . . . Of course, there are a host of things being demonstrated in KONTAKTE besides just the morphology of musical time, but I think the important thing to keep in mind here is that, as to your question, some very definite distinctions/approaches/methods have already been established. It might simply be the case that a large number of people working in the medium might not be aware of the precedents, or if they are, how to implement them . . . but the real truth is probably that most folks just don't care about this kind of thing anymore. There are different issues at stake now. And then there is the problem of all of this not amounting to much anyway anymore, because the importance of this problem's solution has been outstripped by the fact that the focus now is not on the content (of the information) but the quality of the container (the net, computers, and other systems of moving and storing information). And why shouldn’t it be on this? That famous saying by Fuller (you know the one) has finally been overturned, and mostly by the proponents of Cute Formalism. Yes, I'm one of them too now, thanks to Momus. By the way, I’m sure guys like Boulez (I’m not sure about someone like Karlheinz Essl) must have no small amount of contempt for what I imagine they might view as this “Dark Age” of pop-computer music, where kids (listen to me, I’m not all that old yet, but perhaps I might be a little bitter as well, because I spent a lot of time in my early 20’s studying this) do not really seem to understand the situation that lead the origin of the tools (Max/MSP) that they freely use. Of course, in the case of this program, it was first developed by European research centers (IRCAM) in order to help “solve” (of course, they never were solved, but some very interesting ideas were postulated) some of the serious compositional problems (how to extend the idea of total serialism into the electronic realm, interactivity, and so on) that were being puzzled over in the 50’s and 60’s in the acoustic and electro-acoustic compositions of the European high-modernist composers. I was reading somewhere on the Cycling ‘74 web page interviews section recently that someone was rejoicing this . . . misappropriation. I don't. My feelings are somewhat more mixed I guess. These days, I'm into kids who have read and understood old-skool books like "Die Reihe" but have choosen to ignore them anyway, and just be laptop rock stars. A kind of enlightened new-music punk aesthetic.

8. Do you believe in the power of the internet?

Yes I do, I do, I DO believe, brother Schrock! Hallelujah!!! Out foul demons, OUT!

9. What is the worst thing, aesthetically speaking or otherwise, that a sound artist can do?

To believe that those viscous looking fire-breathing dragons drawn on the "uncharted" corners of the spurious little map of the musical world that The Wire is trying to snooker us with (that one with the West in the center) are real, and be convinced not to venture there, or beyond, out of fear.

10. Is it important to have opinions about things?

Maybe . . . I don’t know. What do you think?

11. Is it important for laptop musicians to provide visual stimuli for the audience?

Yes. Otherwise, after a few hundred thousand years, audience members will evolve permanently shut eyes due to a complete lack of visual stimulation, and then it won't matter that guys like me aren't sexier than guys like HYPO . . . but that might not be an totally bad situation. Oh wait! On second thought, I mean no, it isn't important! By that time, our computers will be hard wired to the brain, and we won't need our physical organs to convert this kind of information into electrical signals anyway. Check out this page for more info, and be the first kid on your block to obsolete your own eyes!

12. What is your favorite film?

That one where Western Boy meets Eastern Girl and . . .

69857 | posted by glitchslaptko at 6:29 | 0 comments

32 Questions for Robert Duckworth May 23, 2002 by Roddy Schrock (while en route to Athens, GA from Oakland, CA) Pt. 3 [edit]

13. What are the advantages, if any, of being geographically and culturally positioned in Japan?

I have ringside seats for impending seismic activity that will destroy Harajuku, the coolest city in the world, dealing the crepe industry a blow from which it may never recover.

14. What is the thing that you are most afraid of?

Failing to sound sufficiently aloof while being interviewed.

15. What is your favorite airline?

JAL, because I can see the pretty stewardesses that are on my JAL calendar that I have at home in the flesh at last. But unlike my “at-home” environment, my conversations with them are not nearly as stimulating, are limited to things like beverages, in-flight movies, and duty-free shopping.

16. What does "Pop" mean to you?

Wasn't he like the third member of the Rice Crispies gang or something? (By the way, big points and triple word score for the coolest non-microsound, microsound-sounding webpage address on the net.)

17. What is the role of pop music in modern society?

The role of the protagonist.

18. Why did you decide to make computer music in light of your previous training in more, for lack of a better word, traditional forms of music composition?

Because despite my best efforts, I would never find a satisfactory way to send e-mail and download porn with a grand piano, leading my composition teacher and I to an ideological impasse out of which we simply could not navigate. Of course, I should really be talking about laying the yolk of my compositionally mandated European burdens down by the river Jordan, but because of that loafer look that I just can’t master, I can’t.

19. What is your favorite food?

Okonomiyaki cooked Hiroshima style!!! But these days, I'm making a move to monjyayaki. In fact, if you go to a place called "The Monjyayaki" within walking distance from Hino station in Tokyo, you can order a special kind of monjyayaki that the kind owner of that establishment allowed me to create by mixing my favorite fixins. It may be ordered by simply asking for the Robert special. I’m not joking.

69856 | posted by glitchslaptko at 6:29 | 0 comments

32 Questions for Robert Duckworth May 23, 2002 by Roddy Schrock (while en route to Athens, GA from Oakland, CA) Pt. 4 [edit]

20. What is your favorite color?

When I was living in Athens (Georgia), and under the influence of The Flagpole, it was brown. These days I'm making a move to purples and greys. I'm sure this is all the fault of fader by headz. My reasons for this change will be made clear in the liner notes to my upcoming album, which is slated for release in Japan before the Tog & Hypo tour begins later this year.

21. Do you enjoy the music of Philip Glass?

I like the early, lean-and-mean 70’s stuff better than the later, more bloated operatic stuff (I feel exactly the same about Elvis, minus 10 years, now that I think about it). Of course Etsuko beat me to the punch yet again when she approached Mr. Glass after the American premiere of Monsters of Grace with her 3-D specks still in hand, and told him "Way to go, Phil!" My sentiments regarding his work in general can be said to be in the spirit of this statement, except that if I would have actually had the balls to approach him in this manner, I guess I would have wished to go ahead and finish the exchange off with a big high-five there at the end.

22. What role does sound art play, globally speaking, in modern society?

The role of the antagonist.

23. What is the most exciting sonic experience you've had recently? I went to the Nicolai Carsten exhibit at the Watarium in Tokyo with Sawako the other day. That was nice.

24. What are you learning at the California Institute of the Arts?

The glaring need for immediate and serious aesthetic triage in the field of sound art studies and aesthetics in America. I paid $30,000 a year just for Band-Aids and a smile. I want my money back.

25 . What is the best thing about having grown up in the southern United States?

Sweet, peach iced-tea.

26. Who is your favorite actor or actress?

These days my favorite “gaitare” (not really and actor) is Thane Camus.

27. Does acoustic music have a future?

No, because all their base are belong to us.

28. What is attractive to you about improvised music?

I’ve had the idea recently that the demand for improvised art forms seems to function in direct proportion to the increasing amount of leisure time that humans in Western cultures enjoy. This is somewhat counterintuitive, because you’d think that with as much free time as we have (I’m a student, so I guess I have more free time than most folks), we’d spend more and more of our newly gained free time making “objects” of sound (in other words, fixed sound works). But contrary to this, it seems like the more time that we have, the less time that we want to spend “bothering” with fixed forms. Improvisational forms which permute possible outcomes of systems seem to be increasingly in demand. One might imagine that when there are more people with more free time to enjoy more kinds of arts, the need arises for a new means of production that can keep up with the increased demand for “entertainment”/sound-art (the difference is now completely blurred, with categories like “avant-pop” and such). Everything is made to order in real time, allowing the artists to produce more. But this kind of thinking is perilous, to say the least, but might be attractive to those who contemplate on music in a kind of Marxist way. Are you listening, Tadashi? In America, people use things like escalators and people-movers (those things at airports and malls in America) to save them from physical exertion (i.e. they simply stand on them, and allow themselves to be "moved"). Japanese people use them to increase their speed and power of locomotion by walking up them while they use them. This idea might be related . . . and it might not be. I’m tired, and not making any sense at the moment. Can I have another glass of wine (only 350 yen per gRass, nice price), please?

29. In your aesthetic judgment, what importance does the notion of "fad" have?

Does it carry with it a pejorative connotation? Here the “fad” is the ideal state for any object that is marketed, or consumed. In America it is not . . . or at least Americans seem to have a problem admitting that it is, especially at art schools. In my aesthetic judgment, I think fads are way cool, and I’m totally into them for sure!

30. What is the worst thing about having grown up in the southern United States?

Gnats and racism, in reverse order.

31. What, for you, is the single most interesting current trend in electronic sound art?

The japtop scene (see my upcoming articles) and technoise materialism. Whoops, I said two.

32. What do you want to be doing when you're 37 years old?

Wednesday, January 6, 1999

Questions for Robert Duckworth by Brad Breeck (Summer, 2002) 

1. Would you erase you desire for knowledge in favor of total contentment?

Are you implying that these two things are mutually exclusive? If so, proceed with caution! Although I’m no expert, I’m not sure if certain ancient Greek philos. (who shall remain nameless in order to protect the guilty) would agree with you, but not that that particularly matters in the first place. By the way, who was it that Feldman was quoting when he spoke of “the silence once broken . . .” anyway? So, for the purposes of answering this question in the spirit that it was posited . . . if this juicy contentment that you are dangling in front of my face were really, really real, obtainable and for all intents and purposes eternal (as it is said to be with hearts of children, true love, the afterlife, and all other things which in their timelessness are anti polar to those fleeting moments between orgasm and the onset of reality) then yes, I would hit the “erase” button with a smile on my face and not a care in the world . . . but I’d have everything backed up, just in case ignorance turned out to suck.

2. Is emotion relevant to art. (Was it ever? Was it more or less relevant in the past?)

We don’t not need emotion, and vice versa. Our current art-making gadgets and their uses seem to be getting more and more complex since that light-year jump that occurred when everyone switched over to computers not too long ago. But that doesn’t mean that because of things like the laptopper population explosion of late that a “logic-based” sound art or “process-based” music has to follow suit despite what “Ovalites” (I wish that “Ovalteen” wasn’t already taken! Sigh . . .) might tell you about what he says is REALLY going on behind their sounds, and even if that is what is inevitable, then it isn’t a given that we as humans have the mental fortitude to get our collective heads around this kind of aesthetics of rationalism via process. Have our brains finally outstripped our brains? I don’t mean the potential of our brains, it seems here like we have a long way to go. I just mean in practice. Of course, as attentive listeners, we can isolate processes from non-processes, and know that we are in their midst, but the relative value of saying that you know that this algorithm is now unfolding versus this one is negligible, just as it was with the permutations in serialisit thought. I should say however, that recently I’ve had an experience to the contrary. I was sitting at Bullet’s having drinks with Carl Stone and a Japanese computer programmer and laptopper recently. While Carl was occupied with expounding on the merits of tasty Mexican food in LA, the Japtopper was saying the he thought the the current algorithm being used by the VJs that night (who happened to be the much en vogue p[k]) totally sucked. While I agree that at least for me, putting things like this kind of info in the visual realm help me to deal with it better, I couldn’t really ever see myself using a term as blunt as that to judge them. Anyway, I think that we’ll always “need” emotion to supply the kinds of meaning that only emotion can. It isn’t that good at moonlighting, and should probably stick to it’s original job. But that doesn’t even mean that things are getting deeper in their meaning. I’m almost certain that things are getting lighter and lighter all of the time. At least they will if Momus has his way. Perhaps a respiring, soufle-like digital sublimity is our only hope? Save us, Tsujiko!

3. Is the the computer what the piano was? will this change?

The computer will become more and more like the piano wasn’t, but not vice versa. However this situation might completely reverse itself in the near future.

4. Do you regret what traditional musical training you have? To what extent is your traditional musical training useful?

If you would have asked me that same question three years ago, I would have said something to the tune of deeply regretting my traditional (read: European and American high-modernist and experimentalist) musical training, but that was at the time probably because I was feeling bitter at the thought that I it might have all been a big waste. Recently, as of perhaps only a few weeks ago, I’ve had a sudden and refreshing change of heart. Actually, now I’m pleased as punch to have undergone the training that I have. On a personal level, I think that my training helps to give me my own kind of semi-complex, quasi-non-computer-centric way of regarding sound . . . something like my own “personality” if you will. But, if we decrease the magnification a bit, and take another look at things, it might be possible to say that on a more general level, that this is the potential acumen of our generation (I somehow sense a kind of kindred spirit that is shared between you, Roddy Schrock, myself and a few others that I’ve had the fortune to encounter.) At the same time we all take seriously (to varying degrees) both the “historical” music(s) that we’ve spent years studying (in terms of music theory, music history, and so on), and also the laptop stuff. It is just that some of us are more willing to admit it than others. I don’t know about other folks, but speaking for myself, Sylvano Bussotti gets me all hot and bothered. I mean, if (the artist formerly known as) Prince and Schoenberg had a love-child together and that kid became a composer, that composer’s “o-homodachi” would be definitely be Bussotti (and that’s why all parties involved should practice safe sex). He was a total fox (meow), had nice fashion, and had the tightest little schizoid scores of the 1960’s Italian Avant-Garde, and would make any boy looking for a homo-erotic Romantic Hero proud. (Please read Roddy Schrock’s charming little paper on Mr. Bussotti found on his webpage.) It is just that I’m not so sure if Kid 606 has the same reaction to his music . . . but I might not be giving him enough credit. In a decade or so, we might be viewed/view ourselves as “transitional figures” between the pre/post-laptop epochs. (When I say post-laptop, I mean that elusive time on the event horizon when both we and our audiences “get over” the fact that we are using what we are using to make sound. Personally, I can’t wait for the day when it sounds just as silly to say that one plays laptop music as it does to say that one plays piano music. Wait . . . does that sound silly or not? In a way, not date of birth, but degree of acclimation or lack thereof to the laptop thing is probably the deciding factor as to where and with what degree of accuracy someone can be placed on the pre/post-laptop continuum. Since I’m from a town in the South that no one has ever heard of, and since I spent most of my time running around like a savage in soybean fields shooting my friends with BB guns (perhaps not too different from the adolescence of the sons of noble chicken farmers in adjacent states . . .) instead of learning about computers and such like say, members of Cute Theory did, I’m obviously “behind” the learning curve. However, the way I see things now, that might be the best place to be, because you approach everything like it was from another planet. This sometimes leads to interesting and unique results. Foresight is imperative, but true detached perspective is vital. Of course, some of our “musical forefathers” have chosen different, less moderate paths. Take the elusive ex-patriot Carl Stone, for example. (Note that I mention his name so often only because I’ve spent no small amount of time during the past year or so trying to make him into the role model that he’d never want to be, and basically pestering him in general. We’ve even done a concert or two together.) He basically defined “early user” and has been a kind of “father” of laptop performance back in the day when computers were about as fast as my grandmother. Anyway, with Carl (although this is really a gross over generalization) it has been more or less a “Once you’ve had Mac, you’ll never go back” kind of thing, and I don’t blame him one bit. Sure, he served his time as most his generation did studying the American experimental music tradition at places like CalArts (Where they being trained in preparation for the post-Cagean American “rebuttal” of the European post-serial tendencies of non-West Coast places of higher learning which never really materialized? Perhaps, but things wound up with them just left them to their own devices), and with teachers (one who, as of Fall Semester 2002 didn’t know what a Quick Time file was! I know, I was in the room when he asked this question to a Freshman in my class.) who are as capable “high-modernist” thinkers as they are experimentalists. But he [Carl] unlike the teachers and their teachers (Cage, Mort) doesn’t really seem at all interested in any kind of long-range trajectory of composed or mediated interpolative or integrated thought between the digital and a acoustic music worlds. He seems quite pleased pleasing me by doing his amazing “It’s a Barbie World” remixes . . . but only in Amoeba records. In more “serious” venues in America, I wonder what tack he will take? Of course, I’m not sure about his reason for choosing this path, but it is all probably for the best. Anyway, I’ll be sure and ask him about this next time I see him. If I was pressed to venture an guess, however, I’d say that at the time, nothing was more necessary than “radical” (i.e. hardheaded in a beautiful way) computer using hard-liners. Carl seems to keep these partitions between his various modes of schizoid musical thinking. Kind of like Mark Applebaum. Perhaps now, thanks to Carl, we can just relax a bit and cruise on “collage” mode for a decade or so, freely mixing and matching anything and everything . . . someone like Hypo is doing this already. Sour grapes time. I think we truly have enough (and have had truly enough of) potbellied and poorly attired “serious” new media artists flailing about with PowerGloves hot-wired to their their PowerBooks, wishing that they looked half as good as even a tacky version of the bastard son of Jimi Hendrix from the planet Dune, and talking all the while about white “cerebral angst” and shit like that. Why the drama’s costume department and the new media departments at CalArts never coordinated a special exchange program to cure each other’s collective fashion woes is way beyond me, because of the relative proximity of these departments created by Disney’s “It’s a small world after all” architectural philosophy.

5. Do you interview yourself in the shower?

No, but ask me the “in the sento” version of this same question when you and I are in the Japanese sauna together with Roddy and Hypo, and you’ll get a different answer.

6. Have you ever repeatedly circled the block on which a person of your fancy lived?

Yes i have. It was in Paris last winter. her name was Kinuko (who happens to have just moved back to Japan), and she lived near Jussieu station, not too far from the gardens there. I spent about three hours in a holding pattern around her block in the freezing cold. It paid off big time. Actually, my current ex-girlfriend has accused me of having the potential to stalk her. I guess we’ll see about that.

7. Is there anything to "get" in art?

Yes, but only just one thing to get, I'm afraid. I’ve taken the liberty of including it below so that this issue can be settled once and for all. There is another world There is a better world Well, there must be Well, there must be Well, there must be Well, there must be Well ... Bye bye Bye bye Bye ...

8. Are you more or less attracted to art with "meaning" built in?

If you suspect an implied "meaning" in a piece of art do you usually attempt to extract it or bypass it in favor of your own? If that “built in” meaning is Superflat, then I don’t have a problem, and tend to warm up to such art quickly. If I suspect implied non-Superflat meaning, I usually attempt to extract it in relation to how I imagine it might be most popularly extracted, and then I usually go ahead and find my own meaning anyway.

9. Is ego necessary for creation? Is there a shortage of ego in American culture, other cultures?

No. At their worst (best?) we humans seems to be able to switch to auto-Darwin mode and knock boots. then fuck-love instinct becomes create becomes reproduce becomes copy becomes tedious genome trope. Is that creation? I’m not sure . . . but at least you can now copyright it (both in AV and DNA forms). I’m sure our DNA will get better protection on the internet than our MP3 files did. oh, i can’t wait until some clever joker comes up with a DNApster. (Can I get a copyright on that?) That will rock. But i guess i didn’t really answer the question. In music? Sure, we need ego . . . don’t late that Cage guy and his acolytes spade or neuter your ego and musical free will to the point where you become a flaccid zen-esque composer in need of “compositional Viagra” (this term either comes from Roddy Schrock or John Harvey, I can’t remember which). I say insert more of yourself (meow) into everything that you do. Give post-cage wannabes a facial shot of your compositional love, baby! Is there a shortage of ego in American culture? No, but there is a shortage of people willing to embrace this plentiful, burly American ego . . . even in the land of the free, and the home of the Brave. Strange . . .OK, basically what I'm saying is fuck microsound.

10. Is there a parallel to the black and white film (in 2002) in music (in 2002)?

I don’t know. Momus talks a lot about “low-res” thought on his webpage. This might be related.

11. What is you favorite brand of clothing?

A Bathing Ape, hands down.

12. The word "avant-" implies a link to modernism in my mind. Am I wrong making this connection? If I am not wrong in making this connection, isn't avant-pop some kind of contradiction?

You are not wrong, dear Brad, but be careful! Things aren’t so simple. Sometimes the word “avant” is used in music just as a clothing designer might use a splash of the latest hue or a strip of some fresh new fabric. They just want to use it for that “splash” that “sensation” that “zing” baby, and nothing more. This is a different kind of thing altogether, I think. And no, it is not a contradiction. It is more of a paradox. But just like the hokey-pokey, that’s what it is all about! Just like the word “Technoise” that everyone can’t seem to get enough of here in Japan. Ask me one day about why that beautiful paradox has me fascinated.

13. Markus Trayle-Hausen suggested to me in a recent e-mail that avant-pop and academia are no longer mutually exclusive. Do you agree with this? I suggest that the above may be true, but more importantly, sound-art is now a part of the pop world . . . do you agree with this?

Mark isn’t wrong, but he isn’t really right either. It is less inaccurate to say that they aren’t really mutually inclusive. Let’s be honest, avant-pop has it WAY over academia, and not the other way around. Avant-pop is selling albums, getting talked about in the media, selling tickets to shows, finally figuring out that it pays to have a good graphic design sense, and so on. Academia isn’t, wants to, and knows that it can’t, and has almost given up even trying. It now seems like it is trying to co-opt the Avant-pop world. Sleezy bastards. But sometimes this can all be reduced to a marketing ploy. Mr. So-and-so (in the guise of quasi-academia) can play for a $10 suggested donation in the Bay Area (and for even less in LA) and have most of his best friends show up and chip in a few bucks. Or, he can play in Tokyo (in avant-pop mode) and pack the house at 3500 yen per pop (which is admittedly a medium-priced show here). He knows that quite well. And by the way, where is he living now? No contest.

14. Are you interested in questions related to music, or do sociopolitical/cultural questions more catch your fancy?

I think you answered this one for Roddy, but perhaps i'll get another answer. I’m more interested in the latter than the former, and this is the way that is has been for about 3 years or so.

15. Is the sampler a different instrument from the computer?

Different? Well, it can be safely said that it is subsumed by the computer.

16. if you were offered a role in a big time shitty movie would you take it?

Yes of course. no contest.

17. What is your favorite magazine?

These days, I’m into reading “Espresso”. The current issue (no. 11) features articles on no frame, uplink factory, minamo, Tim Barnes, cubicmusic, off site, Tanabe Masae, salon by marbletron, gendai heights, a documentary on ton-poo and tons of other stuff. The most important part is that is has more words than pictures, and what pictures it does have are in black and white. It is very austere.

18. Is the novel dead? What a dumb question.

In our country? Sure! Why not? No one really reads anymore anyway. And the attention spans don’t fit the novel’s trajectory of drama anymore. I think people in America really read for a period of like 150 years or something. Now we do other things. (You should compare figures on consumption of printed media in America to the rest of the world, with a special focus on Japan.) Thank god that we don’t have I-mode yet. Then IQs would plummet across the boards. But that might be the best thing. Perhaps the nations of the earth are all evolving into these quasi-organ-like things. America can just be big and dumb and ironic and be the brawn of the world. Japan can be cute and tiny and smart and hyper-(un)real and let its various economic suitors protect it.

19. I suggest that on one or more level Robert Duckworth is to the history of the European musical tradition as Momus is to the history of European literary tradition.

Ahhh . . . Is this a “better to have loved and lost . . . “ kind of question? Anyway, if by your statement you mean former acolyte now turncoat, how can i disagree? Bartender! A round of aesthetic cloak & dagger for all of the good people here. That’s me in the corner trying to disinfect this nasty little brain of mine with a bottle of absinthe. I have Roddy to thank for this vice.

20. If Cornelius asked you play drums on his tour, would you?

Yes, of course! And with plenty of super-crazy twirls, stick flashes and splash cymbal choking action between every goddamn eighth note to boot!

21. Fashion? Short answer: Everything that Momus says about Tokyo and Osaka fashion is true . . . more or less, and should be fervently adhered to. Longer answer: This is a really big problem, and naturally there weren’t any classes even in the CalArts catalogue that looked like they’d be of any use in addressing this, the hubris of most new media composers (excepting Atau Tanaka and a few others). The fact that most of my peers at CalArts are going around (in a very serious way) and sticking that most weighted of words (composition) at the end of the words “new” and “media” (which have all of the gravity and depth of a freshly baked soufflé) is in and of itself somewhat suspect. There seems to be no hope for these types, let alone their fashion sense. Anyway, my own little atomy of problems is that I haven’t found a way to feel at-ease wearing the fashion that I’ve come to love wearing in Japan (ala such mags as Mens’ Egg and Fine Boys) in Los Angeles unless I’m in Little Tokyo. People (yourself included, Brad) have mistaken me for a Londoner (imagine that) or worse, and needless to say I’ll not stand for such badmouthing. Of course at this point i’m not really based in Los Angeles anymore, since I’ve more or less fled CalArts for Meguro-ku, which is regrettable because all of the cool American fashion is dirt cheap there, at least twice as cheap as Japan. So what I’ve found myself doing these days is “scouting” fashion mags in Tokyo, making a wish list, and then buying everything up when I return to the states. I mean, why pay $200 for a pair of Vans in Tokyo if you know better? Plus who has my size here? On the student budget tip, there are actually a few not-too-expensive ways of getting your hands on some cool clothing in Tokyo outside of shoplifting. Anyone can get bargin-basement quasi-minimal, Chinese neo-Socialist digs at MUJI. (Watch for the big end of the season sales, and don’t worry about the L sizes selling out. Japanese men are too waifish for that to ever happen.) And for those more flamboyant, Jeans Mate (any clothing store that quotes Walt Whitman on their adds has to be worth shopping at) and UNI-QLO (I’m trying to get Carl Stone a sponsorship deal with them, because I often see him sporting one of their orange hoodies) offer nice “street-esque fashion” I think . . . However, you have to keep in mind that in contrast to street fashion in America, Japanese street-fashion doesn’t come with bullet holes (read: danger) and other such unsavories, and the thinking that goes behind the latest look in Tokyo street fashion in no doubt affected accordingly. “Street” is successfully referenced, but they thankfully refrain from including the unkempt parts. In other words, if he were so inclined, a seemingly straight, 30 something year-old Japanese guitar-playing, laptop-weilding graduate student of French Literature now living on the West Coast, attending a famous arts college, might be inclined to wear something as splashing as a skintight, nipple and ribcage-outline revealing, pink B-52’s t-shirt, and not have anyone (non-Japanese excepted) bat an eye. If nothing else, this must be the unequivocal proof that Evil is indeed at work in the world. Oh, and on a related subject, one must keep in mind that “used” clothing stores in Japan are some of the most outrageously priced places to shop, so there will be no solace found there for the cheap bastard in you. As more of an experiment than anything else, at the beginning of the summer when I arrived in Japan, I brought with me a box full of fun t-shirts that I got at a Salvation Army in Albany, GA for about 50 cent per shirt. I set up a little stall near Yoyoji Park and sold them all in one afternoon at about 1500 yen per shirt. The profit I reaped was of course just a cheap thrill, certainly nothing more than instant gratification. I have no intention of going into the business of upscale used clothing retail, but while I was blowing all of the cash on all-you-can-drink beer in Shinjuku, I got this sinking feeling that somehow it was all a bit queer, and upon returning home, I didn’t sleep well that night. On the high fashion side of things, I’ve really been into a brand for women called I.S. Sunao Kuahara I think that the girl who dresses in I.S. can be the girl who undresses for me anytime. For men’s high fashion, I prefer A Bathing Ape, Junya Watanabe’s Comme des Garcons, Adidas by Yohji Yamamoto (only $450 for a designer pair of sneakers), Vans, Campers, white trash trinkets, Edwin jeans, watches by Hermes, Evisu jeans, t-shirts by PLEDGE, Paul Smith, X-LARGE, vintage Levi’s, bags by Porter and Harvest Label, and so on. In fashion, as with music I regret to say that I have been educated beyond my intelligence (read: programmed to want beyond my means). I’m trying to remedy this. I should mention at this point that for all interested readers, there is a fashion links section on my webpage, but it is embarrassingly out of season.

22. Songwriting?

It is all about Takeko Minekawa. Takeko, you are on my list. (Sorry for stealing that line from you, Brad.) And I just have to take the opportunity to say right here that meeting Tsujiko Noriko didn’t do that much for me, it did EVERYTHING for me.

23. Do you, Robert Duckworth, want and/or need people (whoever they are. who are they?) to appreciate and/or enjoy the things you create?

Quid pro quo, Doctor: Yes, I do. They are people just like me, only born at different times in different countries with different names and likes and dislikes and personalities and hobbies and shoe-sizes and things like that. Our ex-girlfriends are the same, though.

24. Is the single-medium artist useless, irrelevant, boring, etc.?...dying?

I’m not sure what you mean by “single-medium artist” actually. I’m sure they are exactly all of these things at the same time. No, I know a better word: quaint.

25. Ask yourself a question here:

[BLANK] is the [BLANK] of [BLANK]? And when asked such a question, I’d have to reply with the utmost care, of course.

26. In the story "Alice in Wonderland" what character would you be?

If my personality and the personalities of the various characters of that movie were compared for best possible matches, then I would probably be cast as Dinah, the stupid cat that doesn’t follow Alice down the rabbit hole.

27. If you didn't have access to a computer, how would you make music?

I know that by being a drummer and also from studying Cage’s thinking on my own and with James Tenney that with a pair of drumsticks, a bit of aleatoric-shenanagins, and a cheerful upper-lip, I can just hit shit with sticks, make deep and interesting sounds, and become one with the universe. (Don’t get me wrong, I really do have the deepest and most humble of dis/respect for Cage.) Anyway, I’m sure that there will be musical/sound-art life (for me at least) after the “impending world energy crisis” renders our future PwrBk G11s expensive and useless little boxes with cheap ass, flakey paint jobs in 100 years. Oh wait, by that time, Apple might have finally gotten things right in the design department . . . oh never mind.

28. Does the success of big time pop stars piss you off?

Of course that depends on who the particular star is, but generally speaking . . . in America it does piss me off (because the situation is simple), but in Japan it doesn’t (because the situation is complex, and I’ll always take a complex situation hands-down over a simple one). Let me explain . . . read this article and just humor me by doing a little conceptual Judo by substituting “over-the-hill but big in Japan American pop star” for “gaijin geeks” and I think it will fully articulate my reasoning. (Special thanks to Metropolis for playing the host to my parasitic thoughts.)

29 Do you think that any of these questions are relevant to what you do?

Yes, some of them are. Way to go Brad! A more interesting question would be to ask what is the ratio of questions that were relevant to what I do compared to the answers that were relevant to these questions. But now my brain hurts . . .

Tuesday, January 5, 1999

Kazuya Ishigami interviewed by Robert Duckworth 

Robert Duckworth: Please give brief profiles of the members of Billy?

Kazuya Ishigami: In Billy?, Yukinori Kikuchi plays both the sampler and raw noise. I believe he started his solo activities around 1986 or so. Originally, Billy? was his solo unit. His other activities besides Billy? are: GuyUnit, which is a very large free-improvisation unit, consisting of 10-20 people, and Sandmachine, which is a duo with Mr. Okazaki from the digital harsh-noise unit Disclosion. Tadashi Usami plays guitar and various stringed instruments in his role as a member of Billy?. He joined Disclosion around 1990, and he joined Billy? in 1995. Billy? feels that Usami's sharp and jagged guitar style is necessary to balance the sound, since Billy? focuses mostly on digital sound. His other activities besides Billy? include attending Hitotsubashi Daigaku as a Musicology major, and this other project called Kaiten Mind, a Tokyo-based group comprised of 3 saxophones, guitar, sampler, and ambient noise. Usami also does a lot of solo work these days. Our audio/visual person is Hirao, whose solo activities started around 1980. Hirao's other projects include a solo unit called EAO that uses homemade instruments exclusively. Hirokazu Takagi is currently on inactive status. As for myself, I use my Macintosh Powerbook G3 to handle sampling, noise, and other digitalsounds for Billy? I started my solo activities in 1990 under the name Daruin, and then I joined the group Iguana Bop. From there, I formed a techno hard-core band called Dai Myo Gyou Retsu, and as of this year (1999), I've been doing a lot of collaborative work with Takeshi Kojima, mostly as a sampling duo.

R.D.: How did Billy? form?

K.I.: At the time when Billy? formed, each future member was deeply immersed in their own respective solo activities. By chance, we all met one night at an event held in Nagoya, at the free-jazz cafe called KuKu At that time, someone suggested that it might be fun to makesounds together, and so we just started! It was as simple as that.

R.D.: How has the band evolved?

K.I.: Well, since each member basically plays with complete freedom, it has not always been the case that the sound of Billy? has undergone a smooth evolution. As with any group, some nights performances go well, and other times, well, not so well! However, playing together for such a long time has made us all extremely aware of each other's various musical directions. You might say that this has been crucial to our self-evolution.

R.D.: How does your solo music differ from your involvement with Billy?

K.I.: Since Billy? is a free improvisation unit, my work with the group differs markedly from my solo work, which contains elements of composition. Of course, I do not compose everything completely, but I more or less create the general movements that I desire. Oh, another difference would be that while Billy? uses many "cut-up" techniques in it's music, I frequently employ drones.

R.D.: Could you give some information about who does the CD jacket design and layout?

K.I.: An acquaintance of Mr. Tanaka has done all of Billy?'s jackets. I do almost all of Daruin's jackets myself.

R.D.: What program do you use the most these days?

K.I.: These days, I'm using Max & MSP all the time.

R.D.: Please recount how you met you former composition teacher, Mr. Uehara.

K.I.: I met Professor Uehara during my senior year at Osaka University. During my time as an underclassman, I was not interested in computer music at all. In those days, I was making only musique concrete with tape and splicing block, and so on. After graduation, I became Professor Uehara's pupil.

R.D.: Why?

K.I.: Well, frankly, I was at that time quite surprised to find out that he was a good friend of Mr. Akita (a.k.a. Merzbow), and Keiji Haino. I thought that this was very interesting, and so I wanted to become his pupil.

R.D.: What did he teach you?

K.I.: Under his tutelage, noise and modern music became one inseparable thing in my mind for the first time. From Professor Uehara, I honestly learned about various aspects of life itself rather music. He did not teach me how to compose per se, but he did teach me how to live and thrive as a musician. I think that this was a very important lesson!

R.D.: How does he feel about Billy?'s music?

K.I.: That's a tough one. Honestly, I often find myself wondering the exact same thing, and I frankly have no idea. Sorry! If I had to guess, he probably likes the music of Billy?, but maybe I shouldn't worry about such a question too much.

R.D.: Does your live sound differ from your studio sound? If so, how? Describe your recording process, if you would.

K.I.: So, like I said earlier, these days, I'm performing only with Max & MSP, doing what is more or less a kind of free improvisation. For recording purposes, I use 8-track, hard-disk recording. I make the lot of my materials by computer, and the mix and edit the results afterwards.

R.D.: Give some history and current information about your label, NEUS.

K.I.: NEUS was established not too long ago. It really got off the ground in 1997. Simply put, it's a JapaNoise compilation label, with such artists as GasolineMan (from Sendai), Guilty Connector (from Kyoto), Robochanman (from parts unknown), and many others. The full catalogue will be available as of January 2000. Oh, I'll be adding Moz/Daruin, and Amessanglants/Daruin splits too. Of course, I'd like to do more with the label, but honestly now I'm up to my neck in Y2K issues at work, so I can't really devote as much time as I'd like to to the label.

R.D.: What is in your CD player right now?

K.I.: Nothing really all that exciting, because I'm at the office right now! So, in my computer at the moment is the MS-Office 97 Y2K pack.

R.D.: Have you or Billy? played outside of Japan? When and where? If not, where would you most like to play?

K.I.: Billy? has not played outside of Japan. As part of a duo with Takeshi Kojima, I performed in Marseilles, France in January 1999. Next march, we are planning to perform again in Marseilles, and perhaps in Bern, Switzerland.

R.D.: What are your favorite noise clubs in Japan?

K.I.: In Tokyo, Studio 80 takes the cake. In Osaka, it would have to be Bears.

R.D.: Do you feel that there is a generation gap between the younger noisicians and the older ones?

K.I.: So, I don't think there is any sort of generation gap in terms of sound and sensibility, but it is really difficult here for younger musicians to talk to their seniors without being completely nervous. In Japan, I think that the younger musicians are super-reserved toward the older ones. Perhaps this is more a characteristic of Japanese society itself, rather than anything having to do with the noise "scene".

R.D.: Who most influenced your music?

K.I.: Wow, now that is a hard question! Ready? The Beatles, Pink Floyd, King Crimson, The Velvet Underground, Doors, and too many others to list here. As you can see, I especially liked 60’s and 70's rock in my younger days. Oh, and then there's John Cage. How could I leave him out?

R.D.: How has your training in computers affected your ideas about music in general?

K.I.: The computer is simply a tool with which I can express ideas about sound with great ease.

R.D.: What are your thoughts about the harsh noise style?

K.I.: In my opinion, the harsh noise style is not about likes and dislikes. What is important for me it is whether or not I can relax when I'm listening to something. As you might expect, I simply can't relax with loud harsh noise. Low or moderately loudsounds are OK.

Monday, January 4, 1999

Takehito Shimazu interviewed by Robert Duckworth 

Robert Duckworth: When and how did you first become a student of Prof. Isang Yun?

Takehito Shimazu: It was 1977. Simply, I sent two of my works and I asked him if he could receive me as a student. He answered me in a week. You can come., he said. It was very simple! [both laugh]

R. D.: Do you recall which works?

T. S.: The works which I sent were . . . I think one was for string orchestra and the other one was for woodwind quintet.

R. D.: During your studies with Prof. Yun, was there one point in particular that he emphasized? If so, would you explain?

T. S.: This is very difficult to explain to you. It is not so simple, because he had many students. Probably he would not like to define the way . . . how we must compose. Therefore, I can tell you he taught me nothing. [Duckworth laughs] Yes! Or, he did not tell me only one particular thing. But, when I brought my works, he asked me the details. I had to explain exactly. If I could not explain it to him, he would say, You must consider this more carefully.

R. D.: I see, I see.

T. S.: One good thing . . . one time, when he was before the students, he told us, For a five minute work, the explanation time takes more than one hour . . . sometimes two!

R. D.: It's true! [both laugh] With your own students, do you tend to emphasize a certain point?

T. S.: I can tell you that I also have nothing, only that I would like to correct some of the misunderstood points, some of the difficult points. I want to help them understand some of their errors. I believe they must grow by themselves...So! My first teacher, Sesshu Kai, told me one time, The teacher cannot teach composition, [laughter from Shimazu, then Duckworth] only theory or so. There is no theory for composition itself. [pause]

R. D.: When and how were you first exposed to the idea of serialism?

T. S.: Serialism came during the later half of my period of study, which was from 1970 to 1977. I studied serialism, but at that time by myself or only with my teacher. Mainly, I read a book in Japanese, [here Shimazu refers to the Joseph Rufer book, Composition with 12-tones] and I think after that, I began to adapt the idea of serialism to my pieces.

R. D.: Do you feel the effects of this exposure (to serialism) are directly apparent in your most recent works, or are they in a state of recession?

T. S.: I used the idea of serialism often, up until the 1980s or so, but not now. Yes, I think it is slowly going away all the time. Yet, we can learn many things from this system . . . this theoretical system, keeping in mind that serialism has many strong limitations, borders to the field. To the theoretical field namely! But I, as a composer, must also have one exact field, or exact
limitation when I compose more than one work. They must have their own theoretical source. The idea of serialism is alive now, in that way.

R. D.: Would you care to say a few words about any of your current compositional ideas?

T. S.: I have now a strong interest in the idea that I can create . . . It's a very heavy word, but . . . I can create a world which I could not otherwise externalize. After this idea came to me, I found that I must be no longer a normal person, but a kind of madman. Then I thought that I was a madman. From my eyes and ears, the world itself now looks and sounds very mad. My compositions, until now, sounded for me with the other sounds. Now, I can imagine a completely isolated sound-feeling. This is a very current idea for me. I have a dream to make a new world.

R. D.: Do you agree or disagree with the following statement? One of the most important aesthetical elements of Prof.
Shimazu's electro-acoustic music (in such works as From Origin Point) is found where the concepts of the modern and ancient meet. Also, rather than simply juxtapose these extremes, Prof. Shimazu chooses to have them interact.

T. S.: The first part is not correct, I think, but the latter part is accurate. In my works, interaction is very important! Interaction between the composer and the performer. Interaction between the tape and the performer. Interaction between the audience and the performer. Why so much interaction? Because interaction carries with it meaning . It is also a very important thing to
literally give movement to my works. Example: The performer must move during the performance. The performer must present not only instrumental sounds, but also his own sounds. Breath sounds . . . the sounds of humanity!

R. D.: As in your saxophone work? [Duckworth refers here to Shimazu's Requiem II]

T. S.: Yes! In my newest work also. [for cymbal player and Pro-Tools] First, he must appear from the corner of the stage, playing as he walks. But going back a bit . . . I must now explain why I cannot agree with the first point. For me, it makes no difference whether an instrument is traditional or not. This is not so important. For me, they are raw material. Of course, they have some elements by themselves . . . namely, some traditional meaning or some pre-conditioning circumstances surrounding them. These are also important, but for me, they are primarily important only as sounds! Of course in my works, I not only compose for sounds, but also for thoughts. I define the meaning of an instrument with the following question: From where did it come? The name of one of my works, From Origin Point refers to this.

R. D.: Does your music function, in some aspects, as a metaphor for any personal philosophy you might have regarding the theme of occident meets orient?

T. S.: I think that there is a complete difference between the way Japanese and European ways of thinking about the question of occident meets orient. The Japanese are, if anything, taking advantage of the situation well . . . cunningly well in fact. Yet, there are many composers who have tried and still try to show that they have their own music, independent of, and superseding this question. I count myself, among these composers. Therefore, I especially do not want to make this question
a part of my philosophy. Please keep in mind that strangely, one's philosophy may be often misconstrued as one's belief . . . an altogether different matter! I have never overlapped Japanese and Western music for the sheer sake of finding the process as a means to an end or as an answer in itself! It is one answer . . . and not a very good one at that! Rather, I think that this is
much to personal a matter to make the subject of one's music. And yes, although I think that this has been a theme in some circles for quite some time now, it is wrong to take as one's own impetus issues dealing with the crux of traditions. From this point of view, from an aesthetic point of view, or as a source of material to judge objectively, it is acceptable comment on occident meets orient, but from the standpoint of composers who seriously compose, I think that we do not have to think
about those things much. These things, so to say, should come naturally.

R. D.: Do you feel that your music underwent a change after the birth of your daughter? [At the time of this interview, Shimazu's daughter was three years old.] If so, would you describe this change?

T. S.: I did not change my music after the birth of my daughter, probably I was changed. [laughter from both] I can tell you how I changed. It is probably difficult for me to explain this, considering my perspective! Other people can observe such things more exactly. For me, I was changed in that when I consider the idea of music . . . or rather when I wished to play music . . . I began to have more real ideas, more practical ones. Before her birth, perhaps my thoughts were of the abstract, in my mind only . . . inside of me. But now, I compose from a more realistic standpoint, because before I had a child, I did not understand such real problems. Suddenly, I had to wake up from a deep sleep, in the middle of the night . . . so I came to concentrate more on my works again, but now from a more well-tempered perspective, one might say. [Shimazu pauses and smiles] All right, I admit it. What I am really saying is that now I calculate the money very exactly! [both burst into laughter]

R. D.: What relationship, if any do you visualize between your music and the internet?

T. S.: I am now expanding my homepage where I can display my ideas and my theories. Sometimes I post specific theory problems for my students [at Fukushima University], but of course other people can refer to, or open this page. In so doing they may study with me in a manner of speaking. By means of computer, we can of course now study in this way . . . mono e mono . Yet, since it is a machine, or a kind of machine, it carries with it many limitations. Nevertheless, I must try to use this means of communication when and as possible. It is my responsibility, as a composer and as a teacher both!

R. D.: I see, I see.

T. S.: It this a good answer for this question? I don't know. Please edit all of this! [laughter from Shimazu, then Duckworth]

R. D.: Now a simple question . . . perhaps a difficult one. Who is your favorite composer?

T. S.: Difficult.

R. D.: Difficult?

T. S.: I can tell you that now . . . my two teachers. Sesshu Kai and Isang Yun. These are most important. Favorite? Well . . . ah,
probably favorite also! [laughter from both] A kind of favorite, although I change all the time. Therefore I would not like to fix even this!

R. D.: In your opinion, what European composer has had the most profound affect on the modern music scene in Japan, and why?

T. S.: I don't think there is only one . Some Europeans show strong tendencies towards Japanese music, but some Japanese music seems to remain just that . . . mostly traditional, ancient, Japanese music. Japan has not assimilated European modern music to the same degree that Europeans have assimilated Japanese traditional music. I suppose that many European modern composers, at first, found their own ancient instruments in conflict with the music that they were writing. But on the other hand, I myself find many interesting things in the way that the European composers have traditionally operated. Namely, they have composed for the Church. This is my typical example: In Japan, it is very difficult (nonsense in fact) to compose music for a Buddhist ceremony! In Europe, the church has a very important meaning for composers, and this is reflected in the music! There has been a strong, and sometimes even an efficient relationship between European composers and the Church. Such things are very difficult for Japanese composers! At my university, I emphasize and insist the importance of understanding such comparisons, such meanings. Perhaps some young Japanese student-composers cannot understand such a thing as the relationship of the Arts (painting in particular) to the Church in Europe. Some people in Europe have at least an interest in Japanese traditional music, and they at least can use this music in their own way, but still I think that this is only part of the idea.

R. D.: What American composers, if any, have had an affect on your music?

T. S.: I myself would like to ask this question to the audiences, and also the composers. Perhaps in that way, I might gain a concrete meaning . . . a concrete idea of that I had intended. My works . . . are they free from such a sort of influence?

R. D.: In the future, do you intend to promote your music in America?

T. S.: Unfortunately, no. Nothing . . . but . . . I will try. I will try. [long pause]

R. D.: In support of your work, have you received any funding from the Japanese government?

T. S.: I know of several few extant organizations of support from the Japanese government. The Japan Foundation is one. Also, I can receive support from the Office of Japanese Cultural Affairs. This is an especially important and effective means. With funding from these systems, composers, dancers, and artists are supported and encouraged . . . their concerts made possible. I myself received funding from this organization on three occasions.

R. D.: Would you say that your situation is typical?

T. S.: This is an open situation . . . very open. For the Japan Foundation composers (or other artists) have an opportunity to go to other Asian and even non-European countries (such as Africa) in order to further their development. Most of us welcome such assistance. I enjoy traveling to other Asian countries and lecturing on my works. I feel that this sort of behavior should be among any composers definitive characteristics.

R. D.: Suppose that from now on, you were limited to composing in the musical environment of only one country of your choice, which would you choose, and why?

T. S.: I lived for a long time in France, in Germany, and of course in Japan. When I compare these three nations . . . I wish to live as a composer, in terms of musical environment somewhere between Germany and France. [laughter from both] I cannot choose. Please do not ask me to choose! France has several very large advantages in terms of living. It is a very . . . clear, fine
country. It can be a happy place to live. On the contrary, Germany, in my image, is not so convenient. Yet, as a composer and musician, I have more opportunities there to show my works. Every city and town there is receptive in the extreme to music and composers of music. In France, even though it is such a beautiful place to live, I mainly can only show my works in Paris and in the neighboring cities. In Germany, however, my music had a forum in many places . . . more than twenty cities or so!

R. D.: Very interesting!

T. S.: And now I have a question for you! Why did you ask me this question? [laughs]

R. D.: [laughing] You have had many experiences in countries foreign to Japan, such as France, Germany, Mexico, Hong Kong, and so on. Sakamoto-san and I were actually talking about this idea earlier: perspective. This idea can come in many forms. Granted, travel is only one manifestation, but when it is combined with one's musical travels . . . Do you know that old saying about the difference between the tourist and the traveler? The tourist simply wants to see new things. The traveler, upon returning home, cannot help but view the old things in new ways. What has changed? The eyes! I feel it is the same with music. The significance of the old information, it's quality, always changes in respect to where you are, and where you have been. In the future, I plan to make similar travels. It is therefore very important for me to ask and know how you feel about this subject.

T. S.: Then you have asked a good question.

R. D.: Based on your experience, would you say that the language of composition is, in general terms, currently in a period of expansion, contraction, or stasis?

T. S.: From my small experience, I can probably only give you an inexact explanation of today's situation. I feel that now we are in a situation of stasis. But remember, it is very difficult to find the important things in this infinitely varied world of sound! We have to much information. We have too many selections to find just one of these things. Yet it is our hope! As my dream music must be extended more and more. As composers, we must find the possibility to show ourselves new things, even if they may be small new things. If, as composers, we give up such pursuits, the finding of the new way, then we also thereby relinquish our right to be a composer, to continue with composition. If I wish, as a composer, to reap new sounds, then I have a duty to sew such new possibilities.

R. D.: What is the last music-related book that you read?

T. S.: I have now an interest in the field of psycho-acoustics. Of course, with a concern primarily towards applying this knowledge to my compositions, my sounds. Therefore I have here many books . . . [Shimazu reaches to his bookshelf, producing several books] Here is a book by one of my teachers. Not by my composition teacher, but by my teacher of music aesthetics. This is written on music and creativity, and their place in culture.

R. D.: What is the name of this teacher?

T. S.: Yoshihiko Adachi. Yes . . . [browsing his collection] I have two new books by him, and I am just now reading them. A very philosophical book! He is a music aesthetician, so he has written in this particular style . . .

R. D.: When I was here in your home previously, I noticed that you were reading a book by Pierre Schaeffer. Are you still interested in this book as well?

T. S.: Which of his books? I have several. The title is . . .

R. D.: A la recherche d'une musique concrete, I believe.

T. S.: You have this book?

R. D.: Yes, I have read a translation, but I see now that you are reading it in the French! His charts dealing with the psychological effects of sounds are very interesting.

T. S.: The important ideas in my compositions are those stemming from psychology. When and how events must start, how long we must wait . . . there is a certain tension to be found in even this area. The concern with experiential times!

R. D.: Which languages are essential for a composer to know?

T. S.: From my experience? German, French, and English. The most important of these is German. There are many important composers whose writings can only be found in German.

R. D.: At what age did you begin to seriously compose, and is there any advice you would like to offer young composers
regardless of what age they might be?

T. S.: I believe the study of composition must not come too early. Before this time, we must study many other things. Physics, Mathematics, History, Philosophy, and so forth. The composers must be shaped by knowledge...education. Then, in the later years, as a human being pursuing the art of composition, the composer can grow unassisted. Or rather, the composer knows now how to teach himself. Please keep in mind that I am not speaking from anything other than personal experience!

R. D.: And what age were you when . . .

T. S.: I began to study composition from the age of twenty-one. Probably it is a world-record for the latest! [laughter from both]

NOTE: Mr. Duckworth would like to kindly thank Mrs. E. Sakamoto for her skillful translation of certain passages of this interview.

Sunday, January 3, 1999

George Crumb as interviewed by Robert Duckworth, John Harvey, and Julie Powell 

Robert Duckworth: Hi, and welcome back to the Unclassical Show. Right now we have in the studio George Crumb Mr. Crumb, welcome to the University of Georgia.

George Crumb: Thank you Robert.

R.D.: We also have in the studio Julie Powell who is the President of the Student Composers Association, and John Harvey who is the Secretary. I'm Robert Duckworth, and we will be conducting a brief interview with Mr. Crumb. We've prepared a few questions, and hopefully things will proceed smoothly. I appreciate your patience. Julie will be asking the first question for Mr. Crumb.

Julie Powell: Mr. Crumb, my first question deals with your use of Lorca's texts. In many of your works for chamber ensemble and solo vocalists, you set the texts of Frederico Garcia Lorca, and I was wondering what was the inspiration you find in Lorca.

G.C.: Well, it was during my student days, actually, that I got onto his poetry. A fellow student had used one of his poems for a voice-orchestral setting, and I located a bilingual edition of the Lorca poems. I must confess, my Spanish is not so good--except I read a little, so I started with the English but then determined that it would have to be in Spanish. I fell in love with the poetry and felt that these words, for me, you know, kind of inspired musical images.

J.P.: There is one quote in particular, and since I don't speak Spanish, I won't read it in Spanish, but it's in Night Music I, and the translation would be something like “and the broken arches of time where time
suffers” It's somewhat of an enigmatic quote, and I was wondering what that meant to you.

G.C.: Yes, I think of kind of fallen monuments, you know, ancient monuments in a state of decay? It was an image that I guess I associated in my mind with the musical materials of that piece. It actually was in Eleven Echoes of Autumn, and I just used it as a kind of motto phrase in the work, and the performers intone the words. [Crumb laughs]

John Harvey: Mr. Crumb, would you mind telling us a little bit about the current activities of you son David? He's teaching at Oregon now, I believe. Could you comment on his compositional direction as compared to yours?

G.C.: Yes. Well, thank God his music doesn't sound like mine! You know, that would be tragic if [all laugh] we were too much alike. David is beginning now to get some recognition in the field. His music probably I could describe as a little bit Stravinsky-based. It seems to be more of a model for him, Stravinsky, than it ever was in my own music. He is now teaching. He has his first real job, so to speak, at the University of Oregon. I understand he has a commission now for a new work that is related to the University here. One of your faculty was involved in the
commissioning of this work.

R.D.: Mr. Crumb, I have a rather lengthy question for you.

G.C.: Yes?

R.D.: All right, it specifically deals with Quest. Your most recent work occupies a unique position in your catalogue. I think, on the one hand, it addresses and sustains certain issues that have always been present in
your music since your mature period began. It also, I believe, calls up a few new concerns. The example that I am speaking of is in the final section the piece Quest which is Nocturne. Recently there was a lecture given on this piece to the SCA. Some of the ideas presented in this lecture [are what] I have questions about. Your thesis is again . . . I guess you could say you're returning to your old theme of light and dark, which seems to me to be a concern.

G.C.: Umm-humm.

R.D.: In the final measures of Quest, you present the Amazing Grace theme, and then I believe that you then juxtapose it with the Dark Paths theme with the quarter tones again in the soprano [saxophone] which first appeared there [in that instrument]. So my question is this: Given that you juxtapose these two themes, are you suggesting that there is no way to mediate between these two concepts, these two areas that these themes perhaps represent? Dow you feel that there can be no reconciliation between these two vastly contrasting ideas?

G.C.: Yes, that's a good question, I think. I guess my music always has this kind of dual sense about it. Maybe it comes from some of the models I've followed. I hear this quality in Mahler's music. There is sometimes kind of a folk-like quality, and yet underneath there is an underlying irony that is implied in his music. I find most music, the music I love most, always seems to have both sides to it. I hear, for example in Mozart, the same underlying dark implications. Even with some of those kind of piano sonatas that begin in such an innocuous way, you know, and would seem like almost a kind of light salon music, there is kind of a underpinning always, which I think makes Mozart such an interesting composer.

J.P.: Following on that, I was curious about your use of quotations. You quote Mahler in the end of Night of the Four Moons. Bach, I believe, in Ancient Voices. You generally set them, as you say, with some kind of ironic setting, something dark underneath the quote. I was wondering [in terms of] when you quoted, how did you think about the setting, and why do you choose what you choose to quote?

G.C.: Well, the Mahler is not an actual quote, it's kind of in the style of Mahler. My quotations can range from more literal quotations to just evocations of the composer's style. Usually, even when the notes are recognizable as coming from another composer, usually something happens to the music: the timbre is different, it's rescored, the damper pedal of the piano (if it involves piano) is depressed so the music kind of runs together [Crumb laughs] and goes out of focus. Where there are overlays, usually it involves truncated segments that kind of lead nowhere. Psychologically, it's awfully hard to explain why I quote. I just do it instinctively, I guess, to make a reference to some earlier music that maybe has something to do with the music in that context. My own music, it suggests the other music. Sometimes it's nostalgia. Sometimes it's a commentary or of a quality, like a Hammerklavier quote from Beethoven suggests to me a metaphysical music. It always did have that quality, so does Bach. That particular Bach fugue is metaphysical and that was why I choose those passages.

J.H.: Mr. Crumb, you've traveled very extensively in your career, and as we'll hear later in the broadcast, your works certainly reflect a melding of the musics of the world in a certain degree. In your article “Music: Does it have a future?, I believe you posit the idea that all the musics of the world are progressing towards a unity of one music. I'm wondering to what degree have your travels influenced the sounds in your music? Did the unity of sound across the world of timbre occur before your travels or sometime afterwards?

G.C.: Yes, well I think there has definitely been some influence there. I think this is part of a larger thing that has been happening in music, of course, since the turn of the century. There is an upbeat to the turn of a century. John Cage was early into the liberation of percussion instruments and the use of borrowed instruments from ethnic cultures (mainly percussion), and I followed this and added maybe some that he didn't use, even in his own music. There are other composers. I think it's just a part of a sense of the world as one music in a way, and all these are potential sources for composers in the West.

J.H.: Sort of an enlarged musica humana?

G.C.: Yes, really enlarged! And not only the instruments, in some cases the quality of time, suspended time. Again, one thinks of Cage in that sense or Debussy who did a little bit of the borrowing from at least Arabic culture, Arabic music and Spanish. Of course the Indonesian-- Bartok touched on that. The quality of time is beginning to change already. I said Bartok; I meant Debussy. [laughter from all] That continues in Charles Ives and in Cage and into Bartok occasionally.

R.D.: My question is actually along those same lines Mr. Crumb.

G.C.: Yes?

R.D.: As far as the way you treat instruments, your instrumentation, it seems to me that you are finding ways to realize sounds which exist, one might want to say naturally, in the ethnic world of music. You take the sounds, and you find ways to realize them in our Western tradition. It seems to me that although this is at first the most fascinating element of your music, I find that the most deep and penetrating element of your music is the way that you compose the relationships between and among the various sounds. I grant that the sounds themselves are fascinating, and they are, but to me it seems the most subtle elements of your music are the relationships that you compose, and I was wondering if you could comment on your transition from these sounds to their relationships.

G.C.: I hope my music would sound organically unified and not sound like a gratuitous collection of sound effects. Otherwise if fails, you know? It couldn't be successful. I think sound is just one dimension, an important
dimension, but harmony, rhythm, of course, and form are other elements that are just as important to me. The right notes [laughter from all] are something I think music should have. The sound then should be integrated and should always support the emotional or the expressive
sense of the music. That at least is the intention, that it be integrated. It can be from any source, as you say. I sometimes borrow instruments, you know. I've used sitar in one of my pieces, but not like it would occur in Indian music at all, you know. I'm bent in my own way [laughter from all], a more Western way of using sitar, but the sound I loved, and I wanted that connotation in that work called Lux Aeterna.

R.D.: Did you ever find a way . . . I recall that you had a desire to incorporate the diggeridoo in . . .

G.C.: Well, I own a diggeridoo and I thought about the problem, but several of the Australian composers have used it very well already. [Crumb laughs] They've pre-empted the “digg as they call it. [laughter from all] Really, many of them have used it. It is almost a symbol of the native Australian music. But you know, even the tiny little instruments can have a very special voice and might be effective if they fit into the music--like the prayer stones or a tiny little voice like that. I love instruments though, and I am delighted that the percussion world is an explosion of possibilities. It is ongoing. [Crumb laughs] Oh, and electronic music has been such a large effect on our hearing, and I think it's enlarged our sense of what sound is. So even though I don't use those things directly, it has changed my hearing and effected the way I write for instruments, I think.

J.P.: Moving from your writing for instruments to your writing for the voice, I think you have a very unique and successful style of solo vocal writing. I believe you mentioned in your article “Music: Does it have a future?” that the choral idiom was one that had not been fully explored in the 20th Century. I was wondering, with your penchant for vocal writhing, why hadn't you ventured into choral writing?

G.C.: Well, I think it has been more used with the European composers; there are several interesting works. It's hard to think of American composers [as having] really successful works. Say, you know, earlier pieces maybe. In post 1950's pieces it's gone all in the solo voice and
especially the soprano voice. Psychologically, I don't know whether the chorus it too large a voice. It is more like the people's voice, or something, and the music had become more introspective. You know, like one voice? Still, there are beautiful possibilities there, and that may come back even for American composers too.

J.H.: Now, with the technology that we have, interactive performance is a real and distinct possibility with the audience members themselves either consciously or unconsciously determining the shape of the music. Where do you see things like that going?

G.C.: Those are all interesting experiments. A lot of that was done in the sixties already. You know, some things kind of showed up there for the first time maybe, and are resurfacing a little as kind of an evocation of that time. But one can't discount any possibilities. Normally, I do think of
composing as not so much a committee project. You know
the Yellow River Concerto and other such works? Even the Russians, you know, the Russian Five composers collaborated on a couple of string quartets, one movement by each composer. It didn't represent collectively the best that those composers had done, you know. So, I think that music can be experimental. Maybe something can be learned. It would be a form of improvisation. It guess it would be a form of chaos-theory, you know? [laughter from all] If [Crumb laughs] too many people are involved . . . but that could be fun too I suppose. [Crumb laughs]

J.H.: The one differing element that we have today is that with computers, you're able to set up intelligent programs that can take what material that audience may submit and then emulate the composer's mind in the treatment of that material.

G.C.: Umm-humm.

J.H.: So, it is just a very neat time to be working . . .

G.C.: Yeah, it is something out of my experience. You know, that application of the computer? I would never really use the computer in any sense. I see its value as a copying device. All my students use it habitually now. [laughter from all] They don't use erasers, and they
don't get ink on their fingers any more. [Crumb laughs] You know, like in the old days? And then, of course, [there is] synthesized sound; there are impressive pieces that involve that. As far as the computer as a
composer, one wonders, you know? I can be convinced. If the next Eroica Symphony comes from a computer . . . so be it [laughter from all], you know? One has doubts but . . .

R.D.: Well, my final question . . . and I think we'll give Julie the final question. [Crumb laughs] My final question: It seems to me in the early part of your mature period you were very much an alternative voice in the field of composition. I wonder if you felt a weight or a pressure that what you were doing wasn't like [Duckworth laughs] what the other composers were doing. If you did feel that weight, how did you handle it? How were you able to maintain your [musical] convictions? You were certainly able to. You've always had a consistency,...and I would like to know how
you were able, after finding your voice, to sustain it?

G.C.: Well, you know in writing music I never felt like it was a process of protest against prevailing styles. I guess [that is] because the influences on my music tended to be more turn-of-the-century rather than influences from exact contemporaries. Oh, there are some small things maybe, some vocal writing influence of Boulez and Berio. The larger things, I think, tend to, for composers, straddle the century: Bartok, whose early work crossed the century, Debussy, Mahler, and Charles Ives maybe; and those composers interested me because their music contains...it's an anti-purist approach. Their music pulls in all kinds of things that didn't seem to belong in the same piece, you know? And yet they were masters of style, and their style seems elegant and organic and compressed, you know? And entirely convincing despite the plurality of the things that went into their music. As we're approaching now another turn-of-the-century, I think there is going to be even more interest directed to the
last turn-of-the-century, you know, because we are facing the same problems.

J.P.: As a very successful composer, looking back, what advice do you have to give the young composers who still may not have found our unique voice or may not have mastered all the techniques but are at that stage where we probably need advice from the people who have done it?

G.C.: Well, most advice is not very valuable, I think, because all the young composers are in the process of finding their own voice. Nobody can tell them, you know, “Write that, that's your voice! You know? That is a process of self-discovery. I've always thought originality was an important element, maybe a very important element in music, but since there is so much music to process, composers today, including myself we are apt not to even find our own voice until we're into our thirties, say.
Sometimes, I've even known cases when even later it develops. The problem is that there is too much music; we know too much, you know, which is good and bad. [Crumb laughs] It delays us. Of course maybe we live longer too . . . so we have a chance to...once we find our style.
Any advice would be not so important as that recognition that it's just a process of being yourself, I guess; learning what “yourself is, you know? Your own DNA patterns? [laughter from all] All that.

R.D.: Well, thank you very much for coming into the studio today, Mr. Crumb. We certainly appreciate your presence here at the University and on the Unclassical Show.

G.C.: I've enjoyed chatting with all of you.

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