(aka Apache 61) makes drum 'n bass music that breathes jazz-fast beats
with a slow groove, like an ocean wave whose forward motion is constantly
pulled back by its own undertow. She moved to London from Tokyo in 1988,
intending to stay only three months for recording. Twelve years later,
she's still there-living in London, and performing live electronic sets
around the UK and Europe. A new album is in the works with the UK label
No Immortal, as well as a re-release of Apache 61's self-titled first
album from 1997. analog tara tracks down the history behind Apache 61's
music, and the technicalities that go into its creation.
PN: What instruments do you play, and how would you describe how you've
learned to play them (i.e., self-taught, formally trained, etc.)?
MS: Actually I'm a singer and a keyboard (piano) player who's ended
up doing electronica. My mother was a music teacher and my father was
a jazz bass player. I learned music mainly from my father and [am] mostly
self-taught, although I had a piano teacher [from ages] 3 to 17. I went
to a jazz school when I was 18 and dropped out.
PN: You mentioned that your live gig is based on your first album-what
gear set-up do you use for your live show? And do you perform solo or
MS: I use a sampler to trigger samples manually, two or three CD players
to mix prepared sounds, and some guitar effectors to make sounds more
exciting and sometimes mad. Normally I plan what to play in advance,
but I improvise a lot especially on the rhythm side and filtering sounds.
I normally perform on my own, but there are a few projects I join occasionally
[including the] Rhys Chatham Band and Pat Thomas Band. When I play with
them, I use a sampler quite a lot and mostly improvise. I used to use
a sequencer around 10 years ago but I'm not interested in that kind
of live [performance] at the moment...
PN: One sonic aspect that stands out on
your 1997 album are the organic, melodic, warbling bass lines. What
do you use to create your bass lines?
MS: I've got a series of bass sounds in my sampler and a synthesizer
which I've been collecting or making for a long time. When I need a
bass, I use those sounds and find some lines 'til I fall in love with
[them], or I ask a bassist to play something interesting...
PN: Do you have a favorite piece of gear, and if so, what specifically
about it do you like?
MS: Akai Roger Linn MPC 60. It's such an old machine and the quantize
function is very weird. Somehow the dodgy quantize function makes very
groovy beats and I can't live without it at the moment. The sampling
rate is 12 bit. Akai developed some sound system to make the 12 bit
samples sound powerful especially for drums-God knows how they managed
that-so the drum sounds are so powerful and solid. I love it! But unfortunately
this machine is so old-fashioned and programming takes so much time...
PN: Do you have a particular method for building tracks-like are they
beat-driven, or does the melody come first for you? Do you have a means
of drafting your compositions or working them out in your head first,
or do you mostly compose by tactile methods, just fooling around with
MS: All coming from my head first. I always have some image in my head
and try to re-create the image outside of my head. So the first sound
I begin to work with could be anything... melodies, interesting sounds,
beats... I usually don't compose by playing around [with] equipment.
If I ever do that, this would only be for getting some images together.
PN: I'm interested in your jazz background
and your family's extensive musical talent. I wondered if you'd comment
on how your family has influenced (or continues to influence) your music,
and to what degree jazz training or knowledge of jazz history inflects
your current work.
MS: As I mentioned before, my father was a jazz bassist but he plays
most instruments from the piano to [the] vibraphone, just like other
musicians from his period (pre- and postwar periods). We had a music
room in the house with most equipment a band [could] possibly need including
a drum set, piano, synthesizer, vibraphone-we had a PA as well-and always
music-related people were coming and going.
Although my father taught me basic things like how to play the piano
and how to use theory to actually play or compose, I guess the biggest
thing he taught me was philosophy, like how to think about myself through
the process of creating music or vice versa... This is always influencing
my work and myself rather than technical things.
PN: I'm also interested in the wide variety
of musics you were involved with when you were in Tokyo after college.
When, and for how long, were you involved in the music scene there?
What do you remember most about that time?
MS: I think it was for seven years I was involved with the music industry
in Japan. I started with a jazz singer playing the piano at the same
time in a nightclub just after my college period and ended up being
an obscure music composer for TV advertisements or animations.
I remember that I couldn't relate myself to the Japanese music scene
at all in those days (1980s). What I was working on was totally alien
to the scene or the market. I was always frustrated by record companies
who [would] ask me what kind of category my music is, or management
companies who [would] tell me to make music which [would be] likely
to sell more. Only visual people were interested in my music in those
I lived in Tokyo basically in most of the 80s. At that time, [the] rock-based
pop music scene was enormous as usual, and people who were not really
into that [like me!] had to find a way to enjoy themselves and listen
to something completely different.
I was collecting so many records from other countries (African, Bulgarian,
Balinese, Indian, Hawaiian, Latin) and making bizarre music influenced
by those exotic atmospheres. And I was working with some musicians with
jazz backgrounds at the same time, so somehow my ethnicky music got
mixed up with [a] jazz feel in a strange way, so I called it Ethno-Jazz...
For [one project called "Japanese Tango"] I was working with
an Indonesian jazz pianist (Pane Febian Lesar) and a Japanese trumpet
player (Jun Miyake). Tango by two pianos and one trumpet with some strange
grooves recorded on metal cassettes... I was playing the piano and singing
both in Japanese and Spanish... a bit mad. Unfortunately, nothing was
recorded from the project except for acover album of Ryoichi Hattori
(Japanese composer from postwar period) which was kind of tango-based
pop music. It was recorded with a strings orchestra (my brother wrote
the strings, he is a composer too), and that was beautiful.
PN: How would you comment on your years
of work creating music for advertising? I wonder if this gave you any
particular insight on how music functions within culture; and how you
dealt with creating music within certain constraints (like time constraints,
as well as working to please your clients). How was this creatively
challenging, and/or satisfying?
MS: When I was living in Tokyo, [the] Japanese economy was still going
up enormously and major companies had tons of money for making visual
images and music. So in those days music composers like me and video
makers could be creatively so adventurous. I was lucky that I experienced
that period, in a way. It was incredible fun.
Making music with certain restrictions (crucial deadlines, working for
other people's image, [constraints on] length of music), was a big challenge
as a professional writer and it made me very strong and tough against
some pressure. I had to be able to write anytime, anywhere for any kind
of deadlines and also had to be able to be good all the time. Sometimes
competitions with other companies involved gets pretty serious and scary.
It was a good experience, though. I'm still working in the business
occasionally, and deadlines are still scary.
PN: What are your sources of musical inspiration
now? Are you working with any other artists, or listening to any particular
artists or styles of music that are particularly informing your own
MS: My sources of musical inspiration vary all the time... could be
books, records, a person or what happens in my life. But generally some
inspiration comes from nowhere out of the blue and surprises me. What
I'm doing at the moment is just to keep my creative filter healthy and
catch lots of input and wait a moment like a spider. But I must say
I'm feeling something special about dub music for some reasons. It doesn't
necessarily mean that I'm gonna do dub music next though...
Discography of available music:
Apache 61 - distributed by Daisyworld, available Fall 2000
"A Day in the Life of Spiderman" - on Female of the Species
(Law & Auder/1999)
China_syntax EP – no immortal, 2002
Solo album under the name of Mieko Shimizu:
TOTEM - distributed by ReR records (UK) and Wolf Records (UK)
World music project:
Minimul Dance / Mekong Zoo - distributed by ReR records (UK) and Wolf