Kyoka interview – Improvisation provide me with the unexpected – a thrill


The underground electronic music scene have many faces and the choice of software, hardware, vocals and tools vary a lot. One person who have almost made this into her life quest is KYOKA. Her exploration of not only unconventional sounds and rhythms is quite unique. Her utilization of vocals, which often is reduced to non-existing words, and her frequent use of field-recordings is another. Vocals and recordings that are shopped up, sliced and meshed into pulsating rhythms, blended with machines that generates bleeps and glitches. KYOKA, born in Osaka, now living in a split between Berlin and Japan, is a true cosmopolitan artist making intriguing DJ and solo performances around the globe. Attached to Raster-Noton she has released a couple of highly appreciated releases in the past 2-3 years, including SH and IS (Is Superpowered). Kyoka says that she is inspired by “the way food changes color when you cook it. The smells and colors of each city. Tangled electrical cables, strings, hair and the shadows they cast” and it’s probably a good explanation why her music has so many different listening angles and interpretations at the same time. There is always something unnoticed and hidden behind her kaleidoscopic and creative compositions. Significant festivals such as CTM, Sonar and Volt are only a few places where Kyoka has performed live.

Despite, or perhaps because of, having a classical trained background KYOKA is an artist who like to break boundaries, the conformity of classical music tended to restrain her and it was important for her to explore the alternative. On the other hand it is quite apparent that, at least her Japanese background, has made an imprint in her music endeavors. Often the beats and rhythms get a very Japanese touch to them and at some points it easy to imagine Japanese taiko drums being used, perhaps we will also identify the shamisen in any of her upcoming releases, that we know she also practiced in her classical upbringing.

Improvisation seem to be important and natural for you as a performer and composer. Considering the Japanese tradition of zen and martial art masters – is there any connection to that tradition in your attitude. Like e.g. to let go of your mind you need to practice and prepare? How do you prepare for an improvisation? “Improvisation provide me the “unexpected”, a “thrill”, and “row miracle (small revolution!)”. When I can catch and manage these in a good way while performing, they bring me/mentality to the other world. I am not sure if it is related with zen – but exist/live with mental might be a kind of zen.”

What fascinates you with field recording? You’ve mentioned “the microscopic level of sound” – what do you really mean by this? “It helps to discover the attractive neglected sound. And I put them in a flame.”

In addition to field recording you are also adding voice. Even if there is no proper lyrics it’s still words – made up words, how come? Why not just ‘oohs and aahs’ for instance? “It is just oohs and aahs but sounds like dry without any temporal statement / emotion / ego. I don’t write lyrics, instead I do a kind of Dada singing; whatever words and syllables come to me in the moment. This way I can improvise more freely and come up with new musical ideas for the track. I don’t like pathos and I want my music to be as pure and unemotional as possible. That’s why I never leave the vocals untouched but instead cut them up into segments, move them around, reorder and loop them.

In what way has Ableton Live changed your way of working? You have mentioned that you now start off every track inside Ableton. Can you let us know your way of working inside Live; where do you start, how do you build up your tracks, at what point do you incorporate external hardware and field recordings etc? “Ableton changed my speed. In 2006, I got to know Ableton Live and started using it more and more. Now, Live has long since become my creative tool; I start every track there because I just find it inspiring. Up until about a year ago I used to often mix in Apple Logic, but now my productions are made completely in Live, including the final mix.”

Kyoka is a keen user of more unconventional machines as well. The hand-soldered pulse wave oscillators that can be interconnected is one such example – built by Akitoshi Honda. Kyoka has previously stated: “They’re better for my adrenalin levels. When something is too straightforward, too predictable, I get bored very quickly and lose my concentration. “Proper” synthesizers are therefore not really my thing. I need more raw, unprocessed tools. I use the small pulse wave circuit boards on stage, they have no presets but instead they produce new, unpredictable sounds every time. In performance, I’m forced to react to the sounds they make and I really like this challenge.”

What influence does your training in shamisen and piano in your early years have on you now as musician? “Shamisen trained my skin to catch the sharp frequencies. And also a sporty relationship between music and body. Piano told me how to read score and also the difficulty to touch the springs behind keyboard. It was similar feeling as tennis for me. We should not use max power all the time even if we touch something far.”

The shamisen is a plucked stringed instrument. Its construction follows a model similar to that of a guitar or a banjo, with a neck and strings stretched across a resonating body. The neck of the shamisen is fretless and slimmer than that of a guitar or banjo. The body, called the dō, resembles a drum, having a hollow body that is covered front and back with skin, in the manner of a banjo. The shamisen of professional players are often covered in cat skin, as it is more delicate and expensive.

Listening to SH we get a strong sense of space in your music, how important is the absence of sound and the creation of a void/room in your music? “Void/room in my music let sound exist as their volume. They can shit on sofa relaxing or dancing/rolling around the big room.”

In IS (Is Superpowered) you worked with Frank Bretschneider and Robert Lippok. How did they contribute to the album? How did you collaborate?

“They are the very big people for me. All of the simple words, eye movement of them while listen to my music, plus supports and advices scared me in a good way, gave a pressure for me as I was and also pleasure to make music with them such a great mentors. My heart was stormy sometimes to catch them up. But I thought I needed it. Actually, they are very serious and kind to me and opened up my objective eyes.”

Kyoka was invited to contribute to the Secret thirteen mix side and we belive these words from Kyoka nicely sums up her relation to sounds, music and performance: “Wind cause waves on the surface of the water. Stronger winds can cause larger waves. Waves of water are only move up and down, never move horizontally. Tides are periodic rises and falls of large bodies of water. They are caused by the gravitational interaction of powers. I feel “wind is sound itself”, “wave is music”, “tide is our feeling for music, beat or groove”. 

 

Is there a clear connection between you as a performer and you as a composer, or are these two different persons? Where are the touch points? “I am more composer than performer, originally. Performing is more for exploring the other point of view.”

You are a frequent traveler and we guess in a sense a cosmopolitan, although rooted in Berlin and Japan you appear to have some strong links to Sweden as well. With Stereoklang being based out of Sweden can you describe your relation with the Swedish music scene and with EMS (Elektronmusikstudion) in particular? “I feel people in Sweden (around me) are having the serious and charming consideration and logic. Also their brain seems having a enough fun space for mind as playground.”

Elektronmusikstudion (EMS), formerly known as Electroacoustic Music in Sweden, is the Swedish national centre for electronic music and sound art. The research organisation started in 1964 and is based in Stockholm. EMS was raised in 1964 by the Swedish composer Karl Birger Blomdahl, when he started working for the Swedish Radio. In addition to this job he requested for a special studio to allow him to produce electronic music. The Norwegian composer Knut Wiggen became the director of this studio called klangverkstan (sound workshop) at first.

Kyoka also made the following statement in conjunction with EMS: “For example, artists who start making music using hardware have a better understanding of how the whole system of synthesizers works. So for them, it’s all clear when they make music in software later on. But I’ve started with making computer music using software, so sometimes I’m not sure whether what I’m doing would actually work in real life. Because even when you make a wrong connection in software, it still does create a sound, whereas when you’d do the same thing with real synthesizers, they wouldn’t make a sound anymore, so I would have to figure out the reason why. I used to carry many misunderstandings in my head, but after spending time at EMS, many things about electricity or sine waves are much clearer now.”

Can you let us know a little of your upcoming plans for 2017; any new material in the pipe or other types of appearances/performances? What will influence Kyoka in the coming year? “I have some residency program in Zalagoza and Gothenburg on 2017. I expect these will take me to the deeper and fun world as I have experienced. Also, I want to release some more music.”