Name: Toshimaru Nakamura
Occupation: Improviser, Sound Artist
Labels: Another Timbre, Erstwhile, For 4 Ears, Improvised Music from Japan, Potlatch, Samadhisound
Musical Recommendations: Tetuzi Akiyama – both a great artist and a great friend of mine.
When did you start playing your instrument, and what or who were your early passions or influences?
I originally started using a mixer to play music in 1995 as an extension of my guitar playing. In 1997, I unplugged my guitar from the mixer to concentrate on the mixer itself. It was then that I finally felt free from the guitar and discovered music away from a musical instrument.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
As I stopped playing the guitar, which I had played for nearly twenty years, the technical side of the influences I had gathered until then did not continue. But my aesthetics I have now should be an accumulation of all things I liked and disliked before.
Tell me about your instrument, please. How would you describe the relationship with it? What are its most important qualities and how do they influence the musical results – and possibly even your own performance?
It is an audio mixer with some effect pedals to obtain feedback sounds. I named it “no-input mixing board”, because there is no external sound source such as samples, musical instruments and microphones to the mixer. The relationship between my instrument and myself is pretty much equal. I have to resign a great deal of determinacy in the music to the system of the instrument, be obedient to the result and accept it.
Many artists feel as though, at some point, certain people gave them the ”permission to do certain things”. How was that for you – in which way did the work of particular artists before you “allow” you to take decisions which were vital for your creative development?
I don’t know if I am permitted to play my music. I don’t particularly feel if I am or not. But I guess I can continue to make music for another couple of years, since I have already done this for a long time. Well, I hope so …
What were some of your main artistic challenges when starting out as an artist and in which way have they changed over the years?
Wanting to sound like myself, getting fed up with it at some point, trying out something else.
What do improvisation and composition mean to you and what, to you, are their respective merits?
When it comes to the decision when you produce your sound in the music, there is no difference between improvising and playing compositions. You have to make the right sound at the right moment. But those two things are different in approaches toward the creation of music. When you compose a piece of music, you create a system before you and other performers (if there are any) play your music. I would like to avoid that sort of situation. I still have a naive fantasy in improvisation that there is more freedom than in playing compositions, and even more freedom than in actual life. I would like to be as free from any system and structure as possible. I know freedom is just a fantasy, and it is not really the thing you should seek for in music making. But still, I would stay away from compositions.
How do you see the relationship between sound, space and performance and what are some of your strategies and approaches of working with them?
I don’t think I have a strategy that I can explain to you at the moment. I will usually go in to the space for soundcheck prior to a show, look around, tell the technicians where I would like to be situated and how my sound should come out, and such sort of things.
Derek Bailey defined improvising as the search for material which is endlessly transformable. Regardless of whether or not you agree with his perspective, what kind of materials have turned to be particularly transformable and stimulating for you?
Sound, other players to play with, the audience, rooms, the atmosphere, surroundings, the situation …
Purportedly, John Stevens of the Spontaneous Music Ensemble had two basic rules to playing in his ensemble: (1) If you can't hear another musician, you're playing too loud, and (2) if the music you're producing doesn't regularly relate to what you're hearing others create, why be in the group. What's your perspective on this statement and how, more generally, does playing in a group compare to a solo situation?
I basically agree with these two points, which Mr. Stevens defined as his rules for playing in his ensemble. But Tetuzi Akiyama and I do something opposite to them sometimes. I will play really really loud so nobody including ourselves can hear Tetuzi for a while - but Tetuzi just carries on playing. But perhaps we do it because we have been long standing musical partners for each other for a long time, so we are kind of a group. It is only another way of playing music in a particular group.