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Interview with Ironomi

img  Tobias Fischer

What are Japanese summers like?
There's a dazzling sound of insects and greenery - I can feel their energy more strongly than in any other season. Amidst the heat, however, there are also cool breezes, making the summer season very agreeable.

If I understood correctly, the album was recorded in just such a summer at an old wooden house in the town of Mashiko ...

A unique fragrance of wood filled the house and it was surrounded by a forest. We could focus on our recording and the sound was very good, too. We were able to relax, yet concentrate at the same time … we almost felt as though there was a magnetic field. We stayed at this place for three days but only began recording on the second. That's because on the first day, we still had a sense of the city. We took a stroll and had our meals, and slowly attuned ourselves to the surroundings. Then we began recording during the daytime. If we got tired, we would take a break and go for a walk. This way, we let ourselves slowly but steadily progress with the recording. We also observed things like the beauty of nature or delicious food and mainly that's how the music was inspired.

So nature was as a very direct influence on the music on the album?
We established that "insects" were the main theme of this album. At that time, nature taught us that with a breeze of air. Based on this concept, we decided on the strength and weakness of sound, the feel of tempo, tonal quality and all other elements. In the very moment that the voices of the insects chanted, we would collect them. It was a joy to create music in sync with their collective chorus.

Even the title of the album comes from a very particular scene, correct?
One lovely summer's day, there was an artist sketching this chorus of insects. He was sketching them by using his sense of hearing, adding various colors to a white canvas. Because one important theme for the album as a whole was "to sketch an image", we decided to use it as the title. This was also why we used different colors as titles of the tracks. To us, colors hold various touches.

How did the creative process work in detail?

We don't always consider elements of electronics as necessary. But when the potential of the piano has been stretched to a maximum, we will use them as a tool to draw out hidden expressions in the piano. While using electronic elements, we are aware that their purpose is to heighten the beauty of the piano's performance.
We will sample piano phrases on the spot and re-play them through a speaker a couple of seconds later. Accordingly, we will then use and repeat the result as a basis for the next phrase. This form of spontaneous and improvised sampling implies that the exact same sound can not be repeated again. Thus, the piece takes on a form of its own. The next step of editing will then merely consist of minor adjustments in terms of the length of a particular piece.
There are also field recordings to be found on the album, but we actually didn't select or add any of them after the sessions. The field recordings that you hear were all recorded on the spot while performing the music.

Conceptually, there are some literary and historical references which play into Sketch. How important is a sense of history to you, both as artists and privately?
We did use the name of a color from The Pillow Book and created sound from the meaning and image of that. However, this is at the same time the only relation between Sketch and The Pillow Book. We also referenced names of different colours from other books, for example. Though we're interested in the Heian era and its history, and it's pretty popular too, there is no direct relation to this album.
Looking at the state of the natural environment today makes us feel that to know history is important. The other day, I learnt a saying: "We're able to rest under the shade of a tree because somebody planted it here in the old days". What this means is that the present is related to our past. When I re-visited the house where Sketch was recorded in the summer of 2007, time and time again things that happened three years ago came back to me. The insects we heard three years ago might have already died. But then again we seem to hear voices, which sound just like them. In those instances, it created a strange sense of déjà vu. At the same time, we felt as though we were connected to the past in an entirely natural way.

While reviews for Sketch were very favourable in Japan, your first review in Europe was not. Do you feel there could indeed be a difference in the Japanese and European approach to composition?
I do think that the approach to composition is different in Japan and Europe. Japanese people feel that the buzz of insects is a pleasing sound. That is perhaps a special sense that the Japanese have. In our music, we don't aim to communicate a specific meaning. We don't intend for listeners to listen specifically to the melody, nor aim at leaving memories of great meanings after listening to our music. Instead, we wanted to imitate the sensitivity that nature carries, or its tempo, like the glitter of the morning light slowly brightening, the strength and weakness of rain, the force of winds, water that passes through, the sparkle of a star in night sky ... Conveying such images to the listener through our sounds, above all, we would like for them to be conscious of the splendour of nature.

So would you say your music bares no relation to memory?
Our music does have a relation with memory. When we are performing music, we try to relax our consciousness as much as we can. We nestle into this state of "thinking about nothing at all", in which we become one with the environment. While performing, as if wanting to fall asleep, we fall into a unique dream-like state. Feeling in touch with memories, our imagination swells freely. It's important for us to record it, allow people to hear it and that each listener can perceive or feel the music in their own way.

By Tobias Fischer

Ironomi Discography:
Ironomi (Ryoondo-Tea) 2008
Recode (Starnet Muzik) 2008
北の果ての物語 (Starnet Muzik) 2009
Ubusuna (Ryoondo-Tea) 2009
Sketch (Kitchen) 2010


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