“Anything was fine, as long as it was different from what others were doing”
Winter 1997: Interview no. 1 with Chie Mukai from G-Modern Vol. 14

The following is the first of two interviews with Chie Mukai that were published in G-Modern Volume 14 during the winter of 1996-97. This interview was conducted by Kimiko Isaki on December 23, 1996 in Nishiogikubo, Tokyo. The translation was made by Justin Simon in the Spring of 2018.

“A Journey” The 2LP second album by Chie Mukai’s group Ché-SHIZU is Available Now for Pre-Order from Black Editions.

Chie Mukai Profile

Chie Mukai: vocal, er-hu, piano
From Osaka, Japan.

Studied under Takehisa Kosugi at Bigakko art school in 1975. Part of the “East Bionic Symphonia,” a post-graduation project of Bigakko students, along with Kazuo Imai, Yasushi Ozawa (Fushitsusha), Masami Tada, et al. Following her tenure in the EBS, she played in a reggae band called Stereos, A-Musik, Kenichi Takeda’s Vedda Music Workshop, and other groups.

Started a group called Cho-SHIZU in 1980 (name was later changed to Ché-SHIZU). Initially an improvisational group, over time it became more song-based.. Early Ché-SHIZU members included Takuya Nishimura (bass), Tori Kudo (piano, guitar), Tsukasa Takahashi (drums), and guest artists such as the late Masami Shinoda (sax) and Yuriko Mukojima (accordian). In 1983, Mukai gave an improvised performance on er-hu at Plan B (later released as Er-hu (Kokyu) Improvisations, PSFD-10), and Ché-SHIZU released their first album, I Can’t Promise, on Zero Records. She continues to perform both as a solo artist and with Ché-SHIZU. Various recordings of her collaborations with Morio Agata, percussionist Takashi Kazamaki, Swiss saxophone player Christoph Gallio, the American group L.A.F.M.S. and others have been released.

“Anything was fine, as long as it was different from what others were doing.”

Isaki: I don’t think you’ve done many interviews so far, but a couple recently appeared in Jungle Life (vol. 8, 1996), the free publication circulated in Osaka, and in G-Modern (vol. 7, 1995). Aside from those two, was the last interview you did for COS (#3, 1990)?

Mukai: Oh, I interviewed myself for that one.

Isaki: Some kind of a charade? The publisher didn’t mind you doing that?

Mukai: Okazaki’s not the type to get angry…Also, interviewing myself made it easier to say what I wanted to say, and it went straight to the printer without the need for transcription. Good idea, right? [laughs]

Isaki: So did you periodically agree with yourself while interviewing yourself?

Mukai: Well, that was so long ago, it’s kind of a blur, but that was the gist of it. Later on I had some exchanges with Okazaki via fax about the tour I did with Nachtluft1 and Hiroshima in 1988.

Isaki: Do you think you are a good interviewee?

Mukai: Do I think I am? I don’t think so, do you?

Isaki: Not really. [laughs]

Mukai: Nobody gets as tongue-tied as I do.

Isaki: Which leads me to my next question: do you think there’s any connection between your music making and your feeling tongue-tied? In the sense that you’re expressing something with music that you can’t express otherwise?

Mukai: I don’t think so. There are musicians who are very talkative and eloquent, like Kenichi Takeda and Shuichi Chino, for instance. I’m just not very good at explaining myself in words.

Isaki: What’s the first music you remember getting into?

Mukai: Classical. We had a record player with a wooden lid in our house and my father had a collection of classical 78s. As a kid I would listen to them all, but this one piece particularly moved me. I’d forgotten what it was, so I went back as an adult and listened to some of the 78s again. I’m not entirely sure, but the piece I really loved might have been “Hungarian Dances.”  Then, when I was in grade school, an employee of my parents’ store lent me a Beatles single. I think it was “Please Please Me.” I listened in secret and hid it from my mother because I thought she would be angry. She was kind of a helicopter mother.

Isaki: Funny how even as a child you instinctively knew the music might have had a bit of an edge to it…

Mukai: Actually, my parents bought me a Beatles record for my birthday around the time I was in junior high. I asked them for a record with “Help” and “Yesterday” on it, and they actually brought one home. After that I got deep into rock and roll. I used to like the Beatles, but they’re a little too mainstream for my tastes now. Anyway, around the same time I heard either “In the Steppes of Central Asia” or “Bolero” in school and was really impressed, so I went to a record shop in Juso to try to find the record. I couldn’t decide between that and Bach, but my mother told me to choose the Bach record because she thought he was more sophisticated…so the first record I bought myself was a Bach record. Then I was a huge rock fan from high school through college. I listened to everything from Grand Funk [laughs] to EL&P to Led Zeppelin. I was like, “Jimmy!” [waving her hands in the air]

Isaki: Did you like the vocalist in Grand Funk Railroad?

Mukai: I couldn’t really tell who was who. [laughs]

Isaki: How about Yes?

Mukai: I wasn’t that into them.

Isaki: I recently read a quote from Yes guitarist Steve Howe where he described his attitude towards music, and I felt like it might be similar to yours. It was in a 1981 issue of Yu magazine, in a feature where Derek Bailey compiled quotes from various musicians. Howe said, “I guess I always try to mix improvisational ideas with the sort of music that’s normally written in musical notation. So regardless of what type of music I start out with, I end up improvising and stepping into something else entirely. And if I really like where I end up, I try to use it. I feel like I can create something new this way. And I like it when creation comes easy like that.”

Mukai: …I wish I could talk like that. [laughs] But, basically, my mind is blank (when I’m creating something).

Isaki: Let’s go back to where we left off. Who were some of your favorites after Jimmy Page?

Mukai: In college I was really into progressive rock, which was popular back then. King Crimson was intoxicating.

Isaki: You and I are from the same generation. Was the Vienna Boys Choir one of the first groups you idolized? They were my first obsession.

Mukai: Yes! I saw a movie about them at school, about a boy who hits puberty and his voice changes.

Isaki: Born to Sing. The one about the boy who suddenly can’t sing soprano anymore, and almost quits but then comes back as a conductor.

Mukai: I just remember his face, with his mouth always open.

Isaki: Sean Scully was the actor on the poster. He was photographed from below while conducting.

Mukai: That image worked its way into my subconscious. Without thinking, I used to imitate him and make the same expression, with my mouth half open. I convinced my parents to buy me records and flexi discs of the Vienna Boys Choir. I listened to them constantly.

Isaki: Back then, whenever members of the choir visited Japan, magazines like Girlfriend ran articles about them with glossy photos and captions like “Emily Takami and other celebrities greeted the choir members at their welcome reception.” Takami is actually the wife of the current prime minister, Hatoyama. Back then she was a model. Of course, young people today would have no idea what I’m talking about.

Mukai: Nope.

Isaki: How about Kayokyoku2? Who did you like?

Mukai: No one in particular.  But I watched Jun Mayuzumi and Chiyo Okumura on TV.  In terms of Group Sounds3, I liked the Spiders and the Tigers, you know, as “idols.” I loved Toppo.

Isaki: I knew it.

Mukai: Really? Is it that obvious?

Isaki: Sort of. When did you start playing instruments?

Mukai: I started taking piano lessons in kindergarten. My father pushed his unfulfilled childhood dreams on me.

Isaki: Same here. Not the best situation.

Mukai: I didn’t like practicing. I still don’t, but I admit it was good that I learned to play.

Isaki: Do you think stringed instruments are a better match for you than piano?

Mukai with Ché-SHIZU.

Mukai: Definitely. But would I have worked harder if I’d learned violin instead? Probably not. I didn’t really care for its sound. If I were playing cello instead? Hmm…I still don’t think I would have practiced. After I had been playing piano for a while, I got an acoustic guitar in high school, and learned to play from songbooks. I taught myself how to play “Romance” from the movie Jeux Interdits, “Kokiriko no Uta,” and “Sekai wa Futari no Tameni.” What else did I learn? Oh, my father’s hobby was utai4. I lived in Tokyo for a bit, but after I moved back to Osaka I asked him to teach me utai. He told me to pick up the basics from someone else first, so I took lessons for a year at the Asahi Culture Center. But in the end, I never got any lessons from him.”

Isaki: Did you ever incorporate utai vocalization techniques into your singing?

Mukai: No. A few years later I became really interested in jiuta5. It all started with my love of film. When I was in high school, I often applied for free tickets to preview screenings. I’d see anything, regardless of the genre. I loved Pasolini, and he used Japanese music in the final scene in Teorema where a man runs around a sand dune naked. It sounded like jiuta. Normally I’d pay no attention to Japanese music, but I thought this was really fresh and great. But I didn’t know what it was at the time. Much later on I was taking a Japanese music history course at a culture center where some gagaku6. musicians who’d been given Living National Treasure status would sometimes perform. And one day an old jiuta musician named Hatsuko Kikuhara (also a Living National Treasure) was invited to sing a jiuta song called “Kosunoto” (an old term for a mosquito net). I was floored, and wanted to try jiuta myself. Then, during a performance at Gatty shortly after that, I banged on a tambourine with a stick and ended up breaking it. I got some leather to repair my tambourine with from Kawaguchi, a chindonya7 musician and taiko builder in Osaka at the time. And while we were chatting I learned that his mother actually taught jiuta. Purely coincidentally, later that same day my mother suggested I take up a hobby, like tea ceremony or flower arrangement, thinking that some sort of distraction would help cheer me up. But I told her I wasn’t interested in learning that stuff and wanted to learn jiuta instead. The next day I visited Kawaguchi’s mother and was able to see her right away, for it happened to be her day off. Kind of strange.

Isaki: And what about Ché-SHIZU?

Mukai: This was 10 years ago, so Ché-SHIZU had already started.

Isaki: You’ve had many serendipitous encounters, haven’t you?

Mukai: Yeah.

Isaki: It seems like the same thing happened when you entered art school at Bigakko, even though at the time you weren’t that familiar with Bigakko or Takehisa Kosugi8. What inspired you? Were you trying to learn composition at that point?

Mukai: Not at all. I was in college, and I belonged to a photography club and a neo-theater club. The founder of the club was a fan of Jūrō Kara9 pieces, so we ended up doing lots of those. But in the middle of performances I’d be thinking to myself, “Music is my thing.”

Isaki: So you decided to go in a different direction all of a sudden.

Mukai: Yeah, but there’s more to the story. I moved in with a guy when I was a freshman at college in Kyoto. We lived in a tiny, six-mat room, exactly like the famous folk song “Kanda River.” I wrote lyrics that described my lifestyle – “A sign on the utility pole is making an empty noise” – and then I wrote a song around them. It was very indicative of the life I led then, an indescribably depressing song. That’s the first song I ever wrote. A while after all that, I took a trip on my own and stopped in Matsumoto, where I saw a flyer recruiting students for Bigakko in a café. I decided to enter the school. That was in 1975. My parents were completely opposed to the idea.

Isaki: So daring.

Mukai: Looking back, I was really bold. [laughs]

Isaki: You didn’t waste any time once you’d made your decision.

Mukai: I’m usually really indecisive. And I’m a slowpoke. I have some sort of obsession, but it never goes smoothly. I’m lazy.

Isaki: And yet you forged your own path as an artist, all on your own. What did you gain from studying with Kosugi? In an interview he did with G-Modern, Ozawa10 from Fushitsusha (also a student of Kosugi’s) mentioned that improvisation was more of an attitude than a method, and that rather than focusing all of one’s energy on the sound one makes, one should listen to outside sounds, and focus on one’s own movements and breathing first and foremost. And that this approach would give the improviser more freedom. What was your experience with Kosugi like?

Mukai: I can’t recall any specific things Kosugi said. It would be difficult for me to say that I learned such and such a technique. Because [meeting Kosugi] literally changed my life. That encounter was so huge for me, much more than any one technique. Even in terms of the er-hu, I only started playing it because Kosugi gave it to me.

Isaki: Do you feel sympathetic to those improvisers who refuse to be labeled as such? Derek Bailey seems to be the most well-known figure for this sort of attitude. Is this of any significance to you?

Mukai: Not at all.

Isaki: Next Point, with Shuichi Chino, is the only active improvisation unit with set members that you’re currently involved in, right? When did that group come together?

Mukai: In 1992, Christoph Charles11 organized a European tour and 20 of us, including Haino, went. The following year, we did a show in Japan that was meant to be a sort of “report” from the European tour, and purely by chance Chino, Christoph and I performed together at a place called Riverside something-or-other on the Sumida river in Tokyo. That was when it started. And then we performed again at Bears and Minoya Hall in Osaka, and at Seibu Kodo in Kyoto. In 1994 we performed throughout Japan, first in Konronsha in Matsuzaka city in Mie, and then in Kansai, Hiroshima and Fukuoka.

Isaki: What sorts of places have you played overseas?

Mukai: My first overseas performance was with Nachtluft in Zurich in 1990. I also recorded with Christoph Gallio that trip. The Venice Biennale was also taking place at that time, and I performed a piece by a guy named Erick Anderson. In 1992 I toured Eindhoven in Holland, Gent in Belgium, and Nice in France. After that I took a personal trip to Montserrat in Spain, where I performed in the courtyard of a monastery without permission. I really wanted to go there because I had used a song from “Llibre Vermell de Montserrat.” There was this performer named Toshimasa Furukawa from Osaka who I got to come along to Spain with me. I was a little nervous to go alone. He had heard from another performer named Goji Hamada in Nice that Gaudi had blown up a mountain in Montserrat, and became interested in the place. We went, and he did a solo performance on the mountain. It was great. I played er-hu, but it didn’t go so well. And later that night I played in the monastery. There is something inexplicable about the place, it being sacred and all. After the trip I became really attractive; all my friends said the same thing to me once I got back to Japan.

Isaki: Do you think the “attractive” part is still holding up?

Mukai: No, I’m back to the way I was before, so I want to go back again. Montserrat picked up its name “Saw Mountain” because of the shape its sandy rock formations make.

Isaki: Ché-SHIZU actually has a song named “Saw Mountain Dog,” doesn’t it?

Mukai: That’s Nishimura’s song, about getting chased by a dog as a kid on Saw Mountain in Chiba.

Isaki: At the moment, you perform with Ché-SHIZU and do improvisational performances, but do you still do Butoh?

Mukai: Not these days. And in terms of improvisation, I perform solo, collaborate with groups like Next Point, and participate in other sorts of sessions, like performing alongside video projections, etc.

Isaki: Any plans to release a Next Point CD?

Mukai: I’d like to, but the guy running Modern Music doesn’t seem too fond of the idea. [laughs] We played at Showboat recently but Chino double booked with his other band and didn’t show up. I think that’s how it went down. I think his other band was called Nairobi. I was like, ‘Really? Double book with your own band?’ [laughs]

Isaki: So it was just the two of you then?

Mukai: No. Reiko Azuma12  joined, and Christoph brought in one of Kuroyuri Shimai. So there were 4 of us.

Isaki: That’s an odd show. You once collaborated with Kenichi Takeda13 at Showboat, right?

Mukai: Masayoshi Urabe14 put that show on, just like the Next Point show I mentioned earlier. Takeda, Motoharu Yoshizawa and I were the original line-up, but then Yoshizawa fell ill around that time, so I invited Joji Sawada to join us.

Isaki: Any plans to play with Takeda again?

Mukai: Not that I know of.

Isaki: The sound of the er-hu is often compared to the sound of a human voice, and I would have to agree that, in your case, the sound of your er-hu resembles your voice. I often can’t distinguish the sound of your voice from the sound of your er-hu, especially during your live performances. That blurring of the lines is really cool.

Mukai: I get that a lot.

Isaki: Perhaps your voice has come to sound like the instrument? I don’t think there is anyone else with a voice that sounds like yours.

Mukai: Actually, just recently someone told me I sounded like a woman from this band I can’t remember the name of. I’d like to hear them sometime.

Isaki: Who are the original members of Ché-SHIZU? Is it Tori Kudo, Tsukasa Takahashi, Takuya Nishimura, and Chie Mukai, the group that was credited in I Can’t Promise?

Mukai: Those were the people involved when Ché-SHIZU started making songs, but initially Ché-SHIZU was an improvisation unit comprised of whomever I was playing with. The first Ché-SHIZU performance was at Goodman in Ogikubo, in 1981. Taniguchi from Hijokaidan joined us for that performance. There were three of us in the group, with one member usually rotating in or out. Once we moved our base to Gatty, Tsukasa Takahashi and Hiroshi Yano joined us. They had played all over the place as a duo called Doctor and Morning. Eventually Yano quit and Nishimura joined, and we played as a three-piece. Then one day it occurred to us to ask Tori to join. The next day, I heard a melody in my head as I was leaving for Gatty. I thought, “That must be coming from the neighbor’s place,” but I wrote it down anyway. I wrote lyrics to the melody on the train, and that same day it became our song “Hi no Umi.” We’d perform “I’m Dancing in My Heart,” which I had played with a group that pre-dated Ché-SHIZU, and “Hi no Umi,” and then we’d shift to improvisational material. That became a routine for us for a while, but with more songs under our belt, we became more and more like a real band. That was also kind of strange, come to think of it.

Isaki: You experienced a sort of surprise visit by something.

Mukai: That was the first and last time I heard a melody like that. It hasn’t happened since.

Isaki: Various musicians contributed to Ché-SHIZU’s Nazareth15 album, but you haven’t been working that way recently, have you?

Mukai: No, we haven’t.

Isaki: Ché-SHIZU keeps charging forward even as its members change, doesn’t it? I feel as if “A Journey” could be Ché-SHIZU’s theme song. Do you still incorporate improvisational elements into Ché-SHIZU performances?

Mukai: “A Journey” is precisely that. For me, though, there is a theme, or something to that effect, even when our performance unfolds in an improvised way. On “A Journey 1,” the other members were improvising completely. But “A Journey 2” was the second time we’d played it, and it was about something that happened five or six days prior to the recording. I was on tour with Next Point at the time, and we played at the Ohori Museum in Fukuoka. While we were rehearsing before the show, I randomly played the melody on the piano, and the song was born. It even found its way into the Next Point performance that night. We didn’t mic the piano though, so it’s not really audible on tape.

Isaki: Going back in time again, you worked with Takeda in Vedda Music Workshop. When did that start?

Mukai: It started at a place called Space Jora in Waseda University, where Mizutama Shobodan (The Polka Dot Fire Brigade) used to play. It was so long ago, I don’t remember exactly, but I think it was around 1982 or 1983.

Isaki: Did you play often?

Mukai: Once a week maybe. I’d already moved back to Osaka. When I visited Tokyo we’d play at Workshop or Heavenly Needle. We also did tours around Osaka.

Isaki: There’s a Vedda Music Workshop piece on the “Aiyokujinminjujigekijou” compilation16 right?

Mukai: Oh, that was when Minor was still around, so it must have been 1980.

Isaki: People with good memories from that generation can immediately pinpoint events from the past, even events from other people’s lives, can’t they?

Mukai: Yeah. [laughs] I can’t do that though.

Isaki: Let’s talk about more recent events. First, regarding your performance at Showboat on December 17th. I didn’t think the vocals or the instruments sounded very good that night.

Mukai: I didn’t realize it at the time, but once I heard a recording of the show I was really disappointed.

Isaki: For some reason, it sounded like no one was on the same page. It was abnormally hot that day too, so maybe that affected the instruments? Also, with you in Osaka and the other members in Tokyo it must be difficult to rehearse.

Mukai: That’s true. We only practice right before shows.

Isaki: Is the song with the line, “Let me tell you about my dream” a cover of a British rock group’s song?

Mukai: Did it sound like that? It’s actually an original song called “You Are Welcome.” I thought of it as a song that a boy band at a high school battle of the bands might play.

Isaki: Is it fair to say that the group has taken a more pop-oriented direction since “Juso Station”? What do you think?

Mukai: Well, they were all covers, except for “Juso Station.”

Isaki: Who chooses the songs for the live set?

Mukai: Whenever an old song pops into my head, I talk to those guys about it. We’ll play it if everyone is excited about it.

Isaki: The other recent show I want to mention is the session you did with Butoh dancer Sakana Ishimaru at Terpsicore on December 22nd. I was nervous after that gig on the 17th, but your er-hu sounded great.

Mukai: I turned it way up. What did you think?

Isaki: It sounded solid. And there were many moments when it sounded less like a stringed instrument than a percussion instrument playing a melody. The aggressive sound was really refreshing.

Mukai: Since I was using delay, every time I did pizzicato, the er-hu made a ton-ton-ton-ton kind of sound.

Isaki: Do you rehearse before sessions with Butoh dancers like that one?

Mukai: Not at all. Ishimaru just asked that we start with some sounds that Shotaro Toda mixed beforehand.

Isaki: I had assumed that you orchestrated those kinds of performances carefully. How do you make decisions like when to transfer from er-hu to piano, or when to walk on the bells you’ve spread on the stage floor, or when to momentarily leave the stage? Do you just watch how the dance unfolds and make your decision in the moment?

Mukai: I’m not trying to come up with music that matches the dance perfectly. For me it’s an improvised set. So, basically, I don’t pay any attention to the dance, and my movements flow naturally as part of my improvisation.

Isaki: It was really natural. I think you and Ishimaru are a perfect pair.

Mukai: Really? We did our first performance in Osaka five or six years ago and have collaborated a number of times since.

Isaki: How many times a year do you collaborate with Butoh dancers?

Mukai: This year I performed twice in September with Ishimaru in Osaka, collaborated with Miyashita at a church in Miyajima, and also did some performances at a gallery, so I think maybe six times this year.

Isaki: Have there been any performances lately that you were really happy about?

Mukai: The Ché-SHIZU show at Magazine in Gifu was really good. I was really relaxed during the performance. We’re going to release a CD of the show, but I need to mix the recording first, and it’s a pain so I’ve been procrastinating.

Isaki: Ché-SHIZU songs have very strange titles, don’t you think? “Nigihayahi,” for example. Where did that title come from?

Mukai: When I wrote that song, “Nigihayahi no Mikoto” just happened to be a hot topic among the members of my family, so I titled it “Dear Nigihayahi no Mikoto.” The other members of the band thought the “Dear” was unnecessary, so we just took it off. That’s it. We weren’t thinking about much of anything. [laughs]

Isaki: I think you have lots of nostalgic melodies and lyrics. Has anyone in particular influenced your writing?

Mukai: Not really. I’m not at all interested in literature. [laughs]

Isaki: Your songs remind me of the work of a novelist named Midori Osaki who was only active for a short period in the 1920s.

Mukai: Really?

Isaki: She conjures up a world blurry with fog yet enveloped in warm light. She called it the ‘realm of the seventh sense,’ and believed it was the logical next step from the sixth sense. I find it very comparable to the world of Ché-SHIZU, and I think she would be delighted to hear your music.

Mukai: Songs are their own inspiration. I don’t build them around preconceived ideas. I usually start with a melody, play it over and over, and in the process words come to me. Recently I’ve been taking notes and piecing fragments of lyrics together to make complete songs.

Isaki: It’s been awhile since the last album. New songs must be piling up.

Mukai: Yeah, tons. Enough for a double album. [laughs]

Isaki: Can’t wait to hear them. Back to live shows, do you care about turnout?

Mukai: I do, but worrying about it won’t bring in a larger audience. As long as I’m enjoying the performance, I don’t pay much attention to the turnout.

Isaki: How about the audience’s reaction? Can you tell in the moment how an audience is responding?

Mukai: Not really. Sometimes there’s a disconnect; I like how things are going, but the audience doesn’t, and vice versa.

Isaki: What do you listen to on daily basis?

Mukai: I listen back to cassettes of my own performances. And I listen to CDs I’ve borrowed from friends who are into stuff like ECM and “world” or “traditional” music. But I don’t just listen to quiet music. I don’t listen to it much at home, but I often check out live shows by noise musicians. I love Merzbow and Masonna. I once traded CDs with Akita (Merzbow). The CD he gave me was a collection of very quiet songs he recorded for an S&M film score, but I got anxious as I listened, so I haven’t made it all the way through the CD yet. The Morton Feldman CD Chino lent me makes me feel the same way. Have you ever had that feeling?

Isaki: I can’t think of anything that makes me feel particularly anxious, but sometimes I come across music that make me feel awful. Sounds that are kind of slippery or bendy don’t work for me. What sorts of songs do you sing to yourself when you’re alone?

Mukai: Sometimes when I’m out riding my bike, I sing my own songs to myself.

Isaki: Changing the subject, I know that you believe in reincarnation, and that you go to channeling sessions every once in awhile. What are you trying to gain from that? In a past interview with G-Modern you stated that your spiritual home might be somewhere in the vicinity of Turkey.

Mukai: I used to read a magazine called AZ because I was interested in channeling from early on. Eventually, I met someone who introduced me to a channeler. I started seeing him semi-regularly about two and a half years ago. According to him, I’ve never been to Turkey, not even in a past life. [laughs] In my previous life, I was a female chief of a South American village, like a wise leader.

Isaki: A neighborhood association boss.

Mukai: Oma describes it as a Yaritebaabaa.

Isaki: Yuck. That makes it sound like you’re an old woman in a brothel.

Mukai: In my case, it’s more like a healer or a caretaker. And the channeler told me that all the members of Ché-SHIZU were with me in my previous life. And apparently Christoph Charles and I were an item in ancient Greece. [laughs] So in this life the two are colleagues of mine, carrying the weight of millennium on their shoulders. I never told anyone about this. They’re going to be surprised to hear this. [laughs] I also asked the channeler about Masami Shinoda once. Apparently, he was standing at the gates of heaven, smiling. But that was a little while ago, and now he is someplace else apparently. The channeler said Shinoda didn’t pursue what he really wanted to do, which is why he passed on so early.

Isaki: I wanted to ask about your relationship with Shinoda. What are your memories of him?

Mukai: We had a mutual friend, Nishimura. Shinoda and Nishimura were super close. They’d burst out laughing each time they looked at each other. One time, Nishimura, Shinoda, a girlfriend of his, and I went to a gym in Kunitachi to play ping-pong. I had played ping-pong for five years in junior high school and high school, and so had Shinoda’s girlfriend. The Seoul Olympics just happened to be going on at that time. Shinoda’s girlfriend and I were rallying, and the boys were pretending to be commentators.

Isaki: 1996 is coming to a close. What are your plans for next year?

Mukai: I’d like to perform somewhere I’ve never been. Or maybe do a solo tour. Play somewhere overseas.

Isaki: It’s amazing how long your career has been.

Mukai: I’m in my 22nd year now. It’s crazy, if I really think about it. The cost of transportation, for one, is huge. [laughs] And the return is miniscule. Wherever I go, I crash at an acquaintance’s place. I do sometimes think about giving up this lifestyle. I’m pretty daring, but it gets tiring. Kosugi gave a lecture at a university in Kyoto six years ago, and we chatted for a bit afterwards. He said that travelling around the world can be exhausting, but the joy of playing music always overshadows the negative aspects of the lifestyle. His words left a strong impression on me.

Isaki: Have you ever thought about giving up music?

Mukai: Never.

Isaki: You may face various hardships, but perhaps being single makes this lifestyle possible for the time being?

Mukai: Yeah, I’m not sure if it’s a good thing or a bad thing. When you’re alone, and depressed, you feel as if you’re going deeper and deeper into a hole. But then you’ll end up talking with someone else and functioning completely normally. You realize, ‘Oh, I’m normal. I’m actually pretty cheery.’ [laughs] Sometimes these sorts of opposing feelings coexist.

Isaki: So you plan to stay single for the time being?

Mukai: Nothing I can do about that one. But someday I’ll marry up. [laughs]

Isaki: We’ve all got troubles, regardless of our lot in life. And yet, how do you appreciate the significance of the twenty-two years of professional experience you’ve built up?

Mukai: This may be a bit of an exaggeration, but for me each performance is like a rigorous spiritual practice. So I’m sort of “polishing” my skills. [laughs]

Isaki: You’re “shriveling”?? You must expend so much energy!

Mukai: You expend energy, but you take it in as well. That’s how performance is.

Isaki: But what is it like to feel like you’re “shriveling”?

Mukai: “Shriveling”?  No, I meant “polishing.”

Isaki: Oh, “polishing,” not “shriveling.”

Mukai: Why should I be shriveling? [laughs]

Isaki: [laughs] I thought you meant that performance exhausts you. In that case, I guess it will be “A Journey” forever.

Mukai: Yup, “A Journey.” [laughs]

Isaki: So you’re always moving forward. Do you have a particular goal?

Mukai: Nope, just gotta push forward!

  1. 1980’s Zurich-based experimental trio featuring Günter Müller, Jacques Widmer and Andres Bosshard
  2. Showa-era pop from the 1950s.
  3. Japanese rock popular in the mid-to-late 1960s that fused Western rock with kayokyoku.
  4. Vocal section of the music in classical Noh theater.
  5. Traditional Japanese music performed on the shamisen during the Edo period
  6. Japanese imperial court music.
  7. Traditionally, costumed street musicians who advertised for shops and other establishments.
  8. Renowned Japanese composer and violinist associated with the Fluxus art movement and a founding member of influential improvising groups including Group Ongaku, Taj Mahal Travellers and the East Bionic Symphonia.
  9. Japanese playwright, theatre director, author, actor, and songwriter “at the forefront of the underground theatre movement” in Japan.
  10. Yasushi Ozawa, best known as the long time bassist for Fushitsusha. He passed away in 2008.
  11. French born sound artist, currently a professor at Musashino Art University in Tokyo
  12. “Reiko A.” vocalist and theremin player, performed as part of the Mezbow live unit in the 1990’s. Later performed solo and with other artists such as Astro.
  13. Experimental musician known for collaborations with Ryuichi Sakamoto in the early 1970’s and his “anti-pop” group A-Musik in the 1980’s
  14. Renowned free improvising saxophonist known for his intense playing and several releases on P.S.F.
  15. 1993 live album released by P.S.F. (PSFD-35)
  16. LP compilation released by Pinakotheca Records in 1980, it also features Keiji Haino’s first released solo recording