Music in Japanese Kotatsutop Computer Music

Yuko Nexus6

The Alternative Scene or Japanese Kotatsutop Computer Music


If you really want to experience the thrills of the art scene in real time, it isn't enough to read up on it. Before you even have a chance to complain, so many things have already been filed under the historical category of "art."What is interesting now is what isn't now known to be interesting. Active as a writer as well as a personal computer performer, and also at Xebec as the instructor of the "Work on MAX" workshop on computer music, Yuko Nexus6 introduces the Japanese alternative computer music scene.

 

Three summers ago, while idling away my time in San Francisco, I was fortunate enough to have the chance to give a solo performance using the Macintosh computer. By chance, the place was a basement below the house of a friend I had met there, and the PA was a single guitar amp. This I connected to the Mac sound output, and played loops with a cheap, self-produced program I made with 8-bit sounds I had sampled around town, and some simple software. It was an extremely sloppy affair. Even so the audience that had assembled there through word of mouth seemed interested, and after I had finished one woman, who looked like an artist, approached me. I think she asked me something like, "How did you start your music?" Well, I haven't really been to art school, I haven't had any music education, and I can't read music, I mumbled, and then added, "I just start" (because that's as good as my English gets). "Just start? That's great! That's the best," she said, and seemed to be satisfied with my answer.

Just start...just start...I ruminated about those words over and over again. And after a while, I really came to like that phrase. In this article, I would like to say something about Japanese computer music that has some of that has the air of "just start" about it.

Just Start

 

 

Yuko Nexus 6

 

By now, (personal) computers have permeated almost everyone's daily life, and using them to make music has come close to being as easy as it used to be for a young rock fan to borrow the electric guitar her or his older brother had gotten tired of and tossed aside to start a band. As in Europe and America, a multitude of research is now being carried out by Japanese institutions such as radio stations and universities on the continuing history of discovery and creation in electronic music. But there is probably no left who is thinking, "I want to play the synthesizer, so I've got to go that school!" Those days when synthesizers and computers were the prized possessions of a limited number of universities and other institutions are over, and instead, these items can be found cluttering the tops of kotatsu (a low table with a heat source underneath) in small boarding houses in these same areas. I myself first came into contact with computers when the company I worked at bought a Macintosh. During my breaks, I would play with the freeware I had been given, and I began to get caught up in the fun of making sounds with the Mac. Eventually, I went ahead and installed some music applications of my own to "privatize" the machine, and with the desktop printing (DTP) software made concert fliers and 'zines. But when they found out, I was shown the door. There's always one unethical person (laughter) in every situation. So it seemed to follow that contemporary computer music can be composed, performed, or a CD recorded in any room with a kotatsu (actually, it doesn't even have to be a kotatsu).

CDRs (CD recorders) and hard disc recorders have also become affordable. And if you don't quite have enough money to buy your own, all you have to do is get to be friendly with someone who has one. You can start off by providing the entertainment at a party, or at a small nightclub, or even someone's basement or garage. While you're waiting for someone to discover you, you can make cassettes of your work and send them anywhere in the world. Before you know it, you might have your own fans. You can find plenty of people to send them to just by doing a search on the Internet. Yes, just by using the Internet or exchanging e-mail with people, it is surprisingly easy to find people who you think might take an interest in your music. Especially since I published my book, Cyber Kitchen Music, my exchanges with these sorts of "home tapers" have increased markedly. Of course, this is because my e-mail address is included in the colophon.

I get mail from people I've neither met nor seen who offer their impressions of the book. If the sender is also involved in making music, we exchange addresses and send each other our tapes. The ease with which this is carried out is no doubt the result of the Net culture. Using e-mail, which allows you to make contact with strangers in a comparatively relaxed manner, gives you the chance to get to know a larger number of musicians, regardless of where they are in the world, than you could in the past.

Personal Computers are the Rock 'n' Roller's Electric Guitar

 

By taking a look at the Net, you are constantly reminded of the fact that there are tons of people around that are doing stuff as interesting as you are." This comment comes by way of Pirami, another one of the "kotatsutop" musicians. There are no big fish in small ponds on the Net. This is part of the trade-off that comes with making what was once an elite activity (music) accessible to everyone. In effect, this means that almost everything is being done by someone besides you. And though it might be called experimental, there are lots of sounds that you've heard before somewhere, and since synthesizers and computers are mass-produced, the sounds that people make are bound to show some similarities. Pirami is a musician with a good command of the computer, but she isn't a stickler for machine-generated sounds. She primarily uses computers as a playful activity to "get rid of the melodies that have been building up inside me." The clusters of attractive sound consist of fragments of her playing cello. I remember when I interviewed MAKIGAMI Koichi, he said, "The inconvenience of the computer and trying to imitate its strange behaviors with your own flesh and blood is more interesting than the computer itself." There are also quite a few cases of record-spinning, club DJs who have used computers to discover new methods of sampling and cutting-up sound. This kind of "computerized music" without any visible computer will undoubtedly be increasing in the future. The world has genially (or perhaps it was the result of some bungle) accepted the work of machines that spew out "0"s and "1"s!

Another interesting thing about Pirami, who refers to her musical genre as "happy experimental," is the way that she works. Not one of the so-called "compositionists," she records the sounds she makes as if they were a kind of commemorative photograph of the event (Hiromix-style?). After forming her own label, Kuwagata Records, she released a compilation CD called Mimikaki, with "pieces provided by people I have met at concerts or on the Net." Once a month, she invites sound creators to a Kuwareco Night party at her house, which among other things has led to the discovery of a group of high school girl home tapers. What Pirami does is light-hearted and positive. Although she loves contemporary music, she confesses, "I've never had an enjoyable time at any of the contemporary music concerts I've been to." For one reason or another, they all felt too much like "concerts," and although there were always lots of "different" people, there were never any young women the same age who looked like they'd be interesting to talk to. It was always a lot more interesting for her to go to a rave and sell cassettes. All the kids were interested there. As she told me all this, I nodded my head in agreement each step of the way. There is no question that the number of young people enjoying sound without any preconceived notions is increasing. New and interesting sound isn't coming from concert halls, it's coming from the small apartments of young women like Pirami, and the possibilities are endless.

Kuwagata Records: Pirami

 

 

It has become a trend in recent years to speak of computer music in the same breath as computer networks. Not only as a means of exchanging information and meeting people, but, although the examples are still quite few, to use pieces of the network itself as music. Even the attempts to put already existent "packaged media" and media broadcasts on the Net have only just begun (although technological innovations are being made at blinding speed when it comes to things such as live remote concerts on the Internet). One extremely rare example is the landmark attempt that has received quite a bit of attention is a "sensorium" designed to let people hear the unadulterated sound of network protocols (http://park.org/Japan/Theme/japanese/index.html). The Internet, and in particular the Web, is still centered on pictures to look at and words to read.

This is why it is such a pleasant surprise to discover a homepage that provides sound. In this regard, I would like to introduce Alien Foods Records' chief, SUZUKI Takeo's (TKO) homepage. By making loops out of several tracks of a sound movie on the Netscape, visitors to this homepage can freely perform and compose their own music. From this explanation, you will have imagined something very simple, but by altering the speed and direction of the sampled loops, and fiddling with the levels of the mix, there are an infinite number of variations, which you don't easily tire of. It is possible to do the same thing in an independent machine environment, but the charm of this system is the existance of telephone lines." People who have taken a quick look around the Web often say, "So this is all there is to the Internet, huh?" This should be treated as an honest response, and in comparison, I suppose you could say that television is much more entertaining. But what is so amazing is that the sound fragments that you are hearing are reaching you through some mysterious data exchange processes from another computer that is located in some far-off place. I know some people are probably laughing at me, but it is interesting in the same way that sleight of hand can be. The Internet is still in a developmental stage. And we are now at the point where the computer, a tool that is still incomplete, and a thin telephone line are being used to imitate the technical level that is needed to enjoy the sound of CDs and media broadcasts. However, there are examples such as TKO's, in which with a little perseverance and passion, a simple idea can reach the entire world at a cheap cost. And with all the popularity that the Internet is enjoying, someone will probably discover some outrageously interesting method of using it in the future. Beyond being a means of watching, listening, and speaking, the Internet may turn into a tool for performing or having jam sessions. And this is how sound will be able to travel from the kotatsutop of a small tatami room into the vast space outside.

 

Yuko Nexus6 can be reached by email as JAB00245@niftyserve.or.jp

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