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apache 61 >> pink noises interview

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apache 61
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Mieko Shimizu (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 with others?

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... nightmare.

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 the equipment?

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 days.

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 work?

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:

Electronica project:
Apache 61 - distributed by Daisyworld, available Fall 2000
"A Day in the Life of Spiderman" - on Female of the Species Compilation
(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 Records (UK)
no immortal