15 December 2011

Uchihashi Kazuhisa from Altered States in Singapore - An Interview

Interview with Uchihashi Kazuhisa, 2011: 
In the recent Sonorous Festival organised by Tim O’ Dwyer and Darren Moore at the DaSalle College of the Arts in Singapore, I had the rare opportunity to interview one of the key Japanese improvising stalwarts, Uchihashi Kazuhisa just before his performance. We talked briefly about the Improvised music scene in Japan as well as some of his personal thoughts on related subjects.

He first shared with me a short history of one of his most renown groups, Altered States. The group was established in 1990 and thus it has been an on-going enterprise of his for the past 21 years and from the sound of it, it is still going on strongly as Uchihashi Kazuhisa will be releasing the new album soon. He was also involved with Otomo Yoshihide in Yoshihide’s key group in the 1990s, Ground Zero for much of the group’s existence then. He also shared with me his ideas for Altered States; they started with a structure and gradually they moved into more improvised realms. The ultimate stage for the group would be playing in a totally improvised setting.

We then talked about the Improvised music scene in Japan in general. He commented that the scene saw its greatest share of fan base and support in the 1990s (we somehow have a common view that it was due partially to the interests shown by the western press during the same period of time). But he qualified that the fan base is always there regardless of musical trends and currents awashed in the music press.

He expressed his enthusiasm for new and younger musicians to emerge to meet and play with but he did admit that the newer musicians seem to appear from other genres like Noise and electronic music but not so much in the improvised music scene. When I mentioned about the Improvised Music From Japan scene he showed his dissatisfaction with the curatorship of the label as he felt that it is mainly the idea of one person and thus the name which he used does not justify the use of such a comprehensive term.

We ended off our conversation with a short discussion on his favourite Improvised music hero – Fred Frith (Henry Cow, Naked City and solo, just to name a few of Frith’s musical involvement). He felt that Fred Frith’s ability to move between the various musical forms and his improvisational skills are points which earned him his admiration.

Postscript I: Altered States are a great band to listen to on CD (sadly I still have not heard them live yet); but the music of the group is the best distillation of the less convoluted moments of Magma, Henry Cow’s looser instances but all blended together with the unique vision of Uchihashi Kazuhisa and co. to integrated avant rock form, improvised thought-process and basic raw power of modern music of the 20th century. They are music which sounds intellectual on paper but groovy, fun and genre-defining when heard through your speakers (yes real speakers so please no listening to it via phones and puny little earphones attached to your mp3 players).

Postscript II: I have very busy in recent months but currently I am in the process of transcribing another interview which I have conducted with another artist at the said festival as Uchihashi Kazuhisa - Yan Jun from China, as well as another interview which I have done with Marc of Singapore's very own One Man Nation. More coming up on the Review of 2011 and my recent trip to Japan where I caught Cut Hands, Incapacitants and Ramleh live in Tokyo. So watch this space!

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