Meet Chihei Hatakeyama, one of Japan's premiere ambient musicians.
Chihei's rather prolific output is something to be commended and respected, but it is his ability to consistently release projects that sound just as good as the one preceding it that has earned the sound-smith significant admiration over the years.
For some time now, many people have stated that Japanese ambient has a particularly unique and minimalistic profile (perhaps as a result of the zen and shinto underpinnings present in Japan) and it's sound signature nigh indescribable. Chihei does an impressive job at translating some of the culture's intricacies by way of his compositions.
He was kind enough to share a few of his thoughts on Japanese ambient, his output, and something he would like to do in the future.
Prox: I’m very curious about your philosophical beliefs in regards to the importance of ambient music. What do you think this genre provides to listeners that others don’t?
Chihei: That is a difficult question. In modern society, it seems like time is moving so quickly. I feel that the amount of information taken in today is getting excessive and I think that mainstream music has an influence on that. There is always so much new content to be absorbed. Of course, software such as Pro Tools has made it possible, so it seems that music is becoming too saturated due to that effect.
My work consists of long, quiet songs, as a form of resistance to modern society. I think that thoroughly immersing in thought while listening to this music will be a wonderful experience.
Prox: What do you think is the most recognizable element of Japanese ambient? In what ways does it represent the culture?
Chihei: Ambient music in Japan has also been developed under the influence of British artists such as Brian Eno and other kinds of experimental music out of Europe and the USA.
It is also affected by noise musicians like Merzbow and Keiji Haino. Brian Eno invented ambient music and was influenced by John Cage and Cage is influenced by Zen culture including the temple of Kyoto. It’s plausible to think that Japanese ambient music is indirectly influenced by the Zen culture, but I myself have never experienced Zen-like phenomena such as Zazen. The Japanese tea ceremony is also influenced by Zen culture, but I have never experienced a Japanese tea ceremony either. It has become a very celebrity centered culture. However, I was very impressed by seeing the Sen No Rikyu Black cup in the museum.
In creating ambient works there are also things inspired by the paintings of the Edo period such as Katsushika Hokusai and the stance towards the work and the behavior style.
Prox: How do you manage to repeatedly produce music that sounds fresh? Is it always easy to remain confident in your work?
Chihei: Repeatedly producing fresh compositions is not easy for me. There is always a battle with fatigue. If I feel that I'm getting tired or uninspired, I will stop creating for a time. I found that the simple solution is changing which equipment I use. Reverb brings considerable change for example. Inspiration comes from the tone of certain kinds of Reverb and from the compact effector. I will make songs in just about two weeks if I enter production mode and for about a month I will also be absent from composition. Meanwhile, reading, watching movies, football, and drawing ideas. Actually, I think that it is more important to think about ideas than the actual composition work.
Prox: Where do you think your motivation comes from to produce music at such an impressive rate? What does the creative process do for you on a deeper level?
Chihei: I get inspiration by going on a trip. The places I do not know are always exciting for me. I really want to realize that I came from far away, so I try to travel by train instead of plane in Japan. I am not familiar with philosophy and metaphysics, but maybe I am getting a feeling that I am here now by traveling.
Prox: I think a lot of musicians are trying to tell a story with their work. Would you say this is true for you? What are some things you want your listeners to feel and “see”?
Chihei: In my case it might be scenery, not a story. I want you to have your eyes closed. I would appreciate it if you could create some visuals in your mind as a result of my music.
Prox: Could you discuss some of the hardware and software you’re using for those who might be interested?
Chihei: Recently, most of my tracks have been produced using hardware. I only record on my computer, sometimes the post-processing is done with an analog mixer.
Prox: If you could collaborate with some artists from any genre, who would they be?
Chihei: I hope to collaborate with vocalists. It would be wonderful if I could work with Ian William Craig.
Prox: Any artists, creatives, music, or entertainment you’d like the readers to know about?
Prox: Final Thoughts?
Chihei: I want to complete a US tour because I haven’t done one in over 10 years.
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