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Mouse on the Keys: Playing about architecture

img  Tobias Fischer

The album is said to be a sonic representation of Tokyo. Why did you characterise it as possessing a haunting restlessness?
Because I think this ultra-modernized city is causing Japanese people to forget. I think the average Japanese person today is losing his or her traditional lifestyle and aesthetic values. These days, being East Asian in appearance, thinking and speaking in Japanese, eating Japanese food and taking our shoes off when we enter a house are the only elements which make us Japanese - the rest is entirely westernized. I guess you'll understand what I'm saying when you see us at one of our shows, but this confusion in Tokyo is, for me, an object symbolizing our situation. The reason I picked this issue as a concept for our music is not only because I reside in Tokyo, but also to introduce today's Tokyo to the audience - and for us to learn about and figure out who we are by doing so.

With the concept of the album in mind, how did you go about shaping the music?

You may think it strange, but when I see this landscape of city and buildings, I can hear the music in my head. I don't know why, but that's how I've always composed all my songs.

Does Tokyo's architecture have a distinct rhythm?
There can be no doubt that architecture is one of the sources of the inspiration for the music I make. I would say that all sorts of rhythms in Tokyo are quite fast. I've heard that music comes from the influence of the environment, language, and the kind of labor practised in a particular region in ancient times. Take a traditional folk song, for an example. It was created and sung by the farmers while they planted rice. But as we live in this modern Tokyo and serve secondary and tertiary sectors of industry, it is difficult for us to attach a rhythm to those traditional folk songs. I guess something more rhythmical or edgy, a faster type of music would match Tokyo today. On the other hand, ambient music intended for healing would also be a good match.

The ECM label has often been cited as an influence on many Japanese bands ...

Keith Jarrett is quite popular here in Japan, and so, indeed, is ECM. I'm not sure about the influence the label brought to the jazz scene though. Personally, whenever I listen to music from ECM New Series, especially, I get a kind of totally sublime feeling. I think it's close to the impression you get from a rock garden at a Zen temple.
It's not just contemporary jazz, however; I think everything we create is a product of its time. Creation and expression should resonate with changes in the environment. Tokyo's city environment is diverse and I believe this fact is influencing the music and other forms of art.

I thought it quite intriguing that the only obvious reference I can make out in your music is Steve Reich who, just like a few of the American minimalists, had a close relationship with painting and abstract arts. So do you think there is a connection between visual arts and music?
Out of the American minimalists, I like Steve Reich best. I also enjoy the work of Louis Andriessen, Steve Martland, Graham Fitkin and others regarded as post-minimalists. When it comes to a common ground between music and the visual arts, I think it is found in imagining new expressions that have not yet been turned into language.

Some of your pieces require an incredibly precise co-ordination between the piano lines and the drums. Does the piece require a special practise and preparation in some form?
I really don't know how other bands rehearse, but I guess we do have a pretty unique way of practicing. Next time, why don't you join us in the studio? I think it would be faster to just show you rather than explaining it to you.

Homepage: Mouse on the Keys

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