“Trying to stop people from blending into the background.”
An interview with Makoto Kawashima, the last P.S.F. artist.

Makoto Kawashima at Ogose Yamanekoken
Photo by Tatsuo Minami

Though he has played the saxophone for just over 10 years, Makoto Kawashima has emerged as one of the most original improvisers in a new generation of Japanese players. His releases on his own Homosacer label as well as on what would be the final album released by P.S.F. Records reveal a haunting and impassioned style of playing, bursting with what some call the foundations of Japanese free jazz: brutality and virtue. What follows is a far ranging interview in which Kawashima discusses the origins of his playing, his relationship with P.S.F. founder Hideo Ikeezumi, the legacy of Kaoru Abe and a philosophy of music that wrestles with the intersection between music, life, death and the spirits that appear in the spaces in-between…

Purchase the Homo Sacer LP

Makoto Kawashima (alto sax) 

Biography:
Born April 10, 1981. Started playing alto sax in 2008. Released the solo album “Homo Sacer” on P.S.F. Records in 2015. Runs his own label, Homosacer Records.

Discography:
● Unification (solo CDr), HomoSacer Records, HMSD-000 (2011)
● Homo Sacer, P.S.F. Records, PSFD-211 (2015)
● Hamachidori, Makoto Kawashima & Naoto Nishizawa Duo, HomoSacer Records, HMSD-001 (2016)..
● Shuyukan (solo CDr), HomoSacer Records, HMSD-002 (2016). Recorded at Shuyukan on June 25, 2016.
● Dialogue, HomoSacer Records, HMSD-003 (2017). Recorded at Ogose Yamanekoken.
● “Mado kara no kagayaki” on V.A., Tokyo Flashback P.S.F. -Psychedelic Speed Freaks-, 2CD, Super Fuji Discs, FJSP271/272 (2017).
● You Also Here, Homosacer Records, HMSD-003 (2018). Recorded at Kid Ailack Art Hall, Downtown Music Gallery (NYC), Kawagoe I.M.O., Hanno Amigo.
● Harutaka Mochizuki, Kawashima Makoto. Free Wind Mood LP. An’archives An’14 (2018). Split LP, recorded on November 18, 2017 at Shuyukan.

Homosacer Records: http://kanpanelra.wix.com/homosacerrecords

“Trying to stop people from blending into the background.”
An Interview with Makoto Kawashima

by Takeshi Goda
Translation by Alan Cummings

Saturday, February 18, 2018 at Kugutsuso, Kichijoji, Tokyo

Youth

Q: Where were you born? What was your family like?

A: I was born on April 10, 1981 in a town called Ogawamachi in Saitama.1 I was an only child and my parents were both beauticians. At the weekends, I would go to sleep over with my grandparents in Arashiyama. My grandfather was a strict, salt of the earth type. I have very clear memories of riding on his shoulders when we would go to watch the trains.

Q: Was there music around?

A: We had a brown upright piano at home, and I used to hammer away on it. My mother often sang Takurō Yoshida songs to me till she fell over laughing.2 The first instrument I touched was the piano. My grandmother played the shamisen, and my grandfather the shakuhachi. My great-grandfather was a sculptor and they’d show me his works, so I feel like I got exposed to Japanese aesthetics and wabi-sabi from very early.

Q: What was your childhood like?

A: Honestly, I’ve been told that I was a good kid. I never begged for candy. If I got offered one, I would only take just one. I didn’t hate school either. Thanks to my dad, I got into Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan movies and I used to copy their moves. I was always bouncing around and I liked telling jokes to make people laugh. But at the same time I was intensely shy, and with a new person I’d get too anxious to speak. One of those kids who was very curious but afraid of strangers.

Q: What’s your first musical memory?

A: I remember my mum playing guitar and we’d sing “Kaette kita yopparai” together.3 The first line, “Now I’ve gone and died”, we’d really draw that out and sing it over and over again, and even as a child I remember being shocked and wondering to myself just what kind of song this was. I remember thinking really seriously about someone climbing up a staircase towards heaven and wondering if that was what happened when you died.

Q: What were your experiences of music at elementary and middle school?

A: The music classes left the biggest impression on me. We’d practice these choir pieces really seriously. Then we won first prize at a choir contest and I was so happy that I burst into tears. I remember thinking that I would never have felt this emotional if I’d been performing alone. Later, when I was in my second year of middle school, a kid from the neighborhood taught me how to play the guitar.

Q: In your teens what sort of music were you listening to?

A: At the start of middle school I was into X Japan. I liked up-tempo hard rock. After that, Bon Jovi and Tamio Okuda, and my mum introduced me to Yōsui Inoue and Takurō Yoshida.4

Q: Did you play instruments or in a band?

A: My mum gave me a Yamaha acoustic guitar when I was in middle school and I still play it today. I used to sit at the kotatsu and fall asleep still holding that guitar. At the lunch break at school I would run to the music room and play Bon Jovi songs on classical guitar. In my second year of middle school I started a band. We covered Bon Jovi and X Japan songs and I played lead guitar. Then, when I was 17, I heard Nirvana and the Velvet Underground and that inspired me to switch to vocals and guitar and start writing my own songs. I played in a band for ten years.

Q: Were you living in the same place all this time?

A: Yes. I’d go to live at my grandparents’ house, and we moved a few times but it was always in Saitama. I’ve always lived in and around Kawagoe.

Q: Did you take anything from that environment?

A: Definitely. I’ve always lived in the countryside. If I walked for a few minutes I’d be surrounded by paddy fields, and when I was a kid I would walk to school along these spring roads. It was an hour to school and an hour back home. Sometimes there would be an old woman working in the fields and she’d be singing as she gazed at the sunset. Songs like “Aka tonbo”.5 I’d sing along. That’s a happy memory. I have these fragments of memories from my childhood deep in my consciousness and they probably had some influence on me.

at Shuyukan, photo by Funaki Kazuyuki

Encountering the alto sax

Q: When and how did you first encounter the alto saxophone?

A: I think it was in 2007, after my band split up. I wanted to do something by myself and I happened to see a film by Jim Jarmusch (Permanent Vacation, 1980) which has an itinerant saxophonist in it. John Lurie’s sound really affected me and I got really interested in how he made those sounds. That was the beginning. At the time I didn’t even know his name – he was just the guy playing sax in that movie. At the time he was the only saxophonist I knew.

Q: The following year, when you were 27, you started to play alto yourself. How did that come about?

A: At the time, I was expressing myself by drawing these abstract pictures. I had a pretty vague need to express myself so I’d been making art for a long time. I would pin sheets of white paper up on the wall, put some charcoal next to them and when I woke up the first thing I would do would be to draw something. I did that for ages. (laughs) I never knew when the drawing was going to be finished, but I would do a little bit more every morning. Either it would come together, or I’d rip up the paper and throw it away. I wasn’t interested in creating a finished work that I could keep, it was more like I wanted something that I could do as part of my daily routine, somewhere where I could be myself. I guess it means that I’m a mess if I don’t create.

Q: Did you think that it would be impossible to do something similar through music?

A: Once I realized how easy it was to rip up a picture, it made me feel sad. I ended up putting them all away and I started trying to do the same thing on sax. As a kind of daily discipline. It felt like the sounds were alive and they didn’t linger in the room so it was fun. It felt more real than drawing.

Q: Did you learn just through self-study? Was your style from the start similar to how you play now?

A: I am totally self-taught. I had no idea who could teach me. But as I’ve been influenced by various people, my style has changed pretty radically. At the start it was really soft.

Q: How much would you practice back then? How many hours each day?

A: I never consciously decided to practice for a set number of hours. Instead, I would pick a sound that I wanted to produce, then I would keep going until I could produce it. Normally I just tap on the keys of the sax, and I actually spend longer playing the guitar. Sometimes I will make up the melodies on the guitar, and then I find that I can reproduce them immediately on the sax. Learning by ear is a similar process probably. But the melodies that just suddenly appear when I am playing live (AKA a situation of anxiety), those are the most beautiful, the most precious.

Q: How about now?

A: I don’t consciously practice. But I like songs so recently I’ve been practicing the melody for “Moon River”. But for me, practice isn’t just when I am actually touching the instrument, and I don’t put a lot of weight on improving my technique. It’s more the physical experiences I get from living: they become the elements for creativity and change. I believe that it is through expressing those experiences that I create a link to improving my performance. For me, in music the idea of song is vital. But song doesn’t come into existence unless there is something that strikes the heart. Most of the time it is some super sad experience, but it’s impossible to hold it inside for very long.

In one sense, playing live (AKA a situation of extreme anxiety) is the only place where I can practice and where I can come into dialogue with myself. It’s the one time when I can understand the situation I am in with direct clarity, and I think that in that space I am testing myself. It would never be possible for me to play a perfect set. Because my state of mind is constantly changing, the performance is totally different each time. In improvised performance you can summon unknown versions of yourself, and that ability to express something in another dimension is amazing. As I play, I start to feel like my senses are connected to everything and I’ve come to understand that what you get back from a performance totally changes depending on the audience and the venue.

Q: I know you play other instruments, but what is special about the alto sax to you?

A: For me, the alto is the only instrument that becomes part of my body. It’s like a soul that fuses together with my spirit. When I hold the instrument ready to play, something external to me appears behind me. That doesn’t happen with any other instrument.

Yamanekoken in the forest mountains of Ogosemachi in Saitama, the site of the recording of Homo Sacer and countless free jazz performances over the years.

Yamanekoken and Kaoru Abe

Q: When you start playing improvised sax, where were you performing?

A: I’ve always liked visiting cafes, and I read a magazine article about a café and gallery called Yamanekoken in the mountains of Ogosemachi in Saitama, and I decided to check it out.6 So, I walk in and there’s a massive photograph of Kaoru Abe on the wall and they are selling Masayuki Takayanagi CDs. I was really surprised, so I asked Tatsuo Minami, the owner, about them.7 He told me that he had taken the photo so I got to be surprised all over again. It was the first time I’d ever met anyone who had known Abe, so we started talking and he wanted to hear my playing. One thing led to another and I began to perform and record there. This would have been around 2010.

Q: How did you hear about Kaoru Abe? What did you think when you first heard him?

A: I first heard him soon after I started playing sax. A friend said that what I was doing sounded like Abe, so he lent me a record. It was the studio session one.8 My first impression was “what the fuck is this?” It felt inorganic and cold, like there was no blood flowing through it. I turned it off immediately. To begin with I didn’t understand his playing. But somehow I got interested in him and I tried to listen to him again. So I bought Mort à crédit, just from the look of the jacket, and as soon as I put it on it froze me to the spot.9 Is this even a human being playing, I thought, then tears started rolling down my face. There was no falsehood in it, just a simply beautiful sound. I felt like I understood everything he was feeling and thinking, like I had directly touched his soul. It was too naked and frightening but that made me really happy too.

Q: Minami-san had seen Kaoru Abe performing. Did he give you any opinions or advice on your performance?

A: Hardly anything, actually. He’s not the kind of person to talk about his impressions. He’s really open, but he’s not a performer himself so he’d often say that it wasn’t his place to give his opinions. I think he is careful about giving any unwarranted advice because he wants lots of different people to use Yamanekoken. The sound there is just amazing. You can hear the rain and the calls of the birds outside. It’s like one of the only places where you can perform together with nature. And you have Abe gazing down on you too.

Q: It was there that you recorded your first CDr, Unification, wasn’t it?

A: I had started to see what it was that I wanted to do, so I thought it would be a good idea to “unify” everything by recording at Yamanekoken. On the day, I felt like I wanted to cut my consciousness to a certain level, so I turned down all the lights and recorded in the dark. It felt like I could see the sounds like blue flashes of light. It was the first document of my own work that I felt happy with, so I decided to release it.

The final P.S.F. release, PSFD-211 Kawashima’s “Homo Sacer”
Produced by Hideo Ikeezumi cover photo by Minami Tatsuo.

Hideo Ikeezumi and P.S.F. Records

Q: How did you first hear about P.S.F. Records and Modern Music?

A: I don’t remember when it was, but there was a time when there was no music that I wanted to listen to. All I wanted were CDs by Abe, so I was searching for likely shops and then I found Modern Music. It sounded like a cool place and I thought I might be able to talk with the owner about various things or get him to listen to my CD. So I went over to check it out. That was probably 2011 or 2012, and that was when I first talked with Hideo Ikeezumi.

Q: What was your first impression of him?

A: At first I thought he was a really chatty shop assistant. I didn’t know his face, so I had no idea who he was. No idea at all that it was Ikeezumi-san himself. But while we were talking I realized. He was really candid and spoke his mind, and it was a great conversation.

Q: Why did you play him your music?

A: I thought that he might like what I had recorded at Yamanekoken. And maybe he would stock it in the shop, so I brought it along with me. If I’m honest, I had this intuition that if he liked it, that would mean it was good music. So I was testing myself.

Q: Tell us a little about how you came to have that CD release on P.S.F.?

A: From the start he had talked about releasing a record on P.S.F. But my performances weren’t up to scratch. Ikeezumi-san would say you’d have to go deeper or you’re trying too hard. It was from around that time that I started to realize that I didn’t have enough heart, enough emotion. Ikeezumi-san gave me a whole bunch of enka CDrs and told me to listen to them. I listened to a lot of stuff by Tōru Funamura, Yoshio Tabata and Naomi Chiaki.

One time, I went with Ikeezumi-san to visit Kaoru Abe’s mother. We had a few drinks together and his mother asked if I would play Abe’s alto sax for her. “Kaoru says he wants you to play it,” she said. There and then she handed me a Mark 6, still with Abe’s fingerprints on it. I played it and she got all emotional and started crying. Then she gave me a reed that Abe had used and told me to take it and play with it. I so happy that she had entrusted me with a really important memento of her son… I thought to myself that this is the kind of feeling that turns into sound, so I went straight to Yamanekoken and recorded with that reed. In the middle of a huge rainstorm.

Q: How did it feel?

A: The second I touched it, where his hands had been, his habits, it all rushed into me. Something decrepit and always risking its life had used this saxophone, that was what I felt immediately. And I also felt that he was always close to his mother. It sent huge chills up my spine. When I talked with his mother, I really felt the love she had for her son. And it felt like that love was being entrusted to me when she gave me the reed. Like Ikeezumi’s feelings and Minami’s feelings, all of them were gathered together in that reed.

Q: How was it in performance?

A: I stared up at the ceiling the whole time. Again I saw those same blue flashes of light on the ceiling and it felt like I was becoming one with something. I felt like I had found a space where the “heart” of Ikeezumi-san, Abe, Abe’s mother, and Minami-san, where they all were. It made me feel super calm and I was able to relax and just play. When I played the recording to Ikeezumi-san, he said it was great and that we should release it. I was more happy than I can tell you. I started crying. That was the recording that was on Homo Sacer.

Q: What do you think those blue flashes were, the ones you saw when you were playing Abe’s reed?

A: It only ever happens at Yamanekoken. I think they are friction from the sounds colliding with each other in nature, in the middle of the mountains. Or the friction from consciousness, maybe?

Q: Do you see things when you play normally?

A: I see spirits all the time. Shadows, phantoms. They appear at the border between your internal world and where the external world affects you. What I want to do is do give a certain concrete reality to that stuff. The essential part of yourself that your internal eyes want to look away from. I try to make that concrete, to give it a melody and let it out.

Q: Is it like it may have a beautiful melody but it’s mixed together with the monstrous and the ugly?

A: Well, I think it’s inevitable that that will happen, if you are living honestly. But there are times when I don’t see any monsters too.

Q: Is there anything that Ikeezumi-san said to you that has stuck in your memory?

A: The main thing is that it’s pointless if there is no heart in what you’re doing. The other thing he said a lot was that I should play with a “natural feel”. If you put on any kind of a front, people will feel it immediately. And how you will develop things can’t be too transparent. We talked together a lot, so he told me all kinds of things but there was a lot of repetition. I was really happy when he told me once that he felt the soul of song in my sound.

At Roppongi SuperDeluxe, photo by Kazuyuki Funaki

Toshiko Matsuzaka and Café Passe-Temps

Q: You’ve played at Café Passe-Temps in Fukushima, where Abe often played too.10 Do you have any stories you can share about its late owner, Toshiko Matsuzaka?

A: The first time I talked with her was when I went to visit Kaoru Abe’s mother with Ikeezumi-san. Matsuzaka-san happened to call while we were there. And as soon as I started talking to her on the phone she said, “come and play at Passe-Temps. I can tell just from hearing your voice.” So I played there for the first time that year, 2015.

I had always been intrigued about Passe-Temps because Abe had played there so often. But standing on that stage myself, it became like a testing ground. Matsuzaka-san had heard Abe’s playing, who’d been drawn to it and felt things from it. I felt sure that she was going to compare my playing to his. If I am honest, I was terrified. But she didn’t say anything about Abe. She just liked my sound in a pure way and said all kinds of nice things. I was so happy. She was just someone who really loved sound, you know?

Q: Did she give you any advice?

A: She told me to practice in her garden before playing at the café. It was all hand-planted with lots of wild flowers, a really beautiful garden. She told me to practice there before the show and she said that it would definitely help me. So actually it might have been Matsuzaka-san who really taught me that natural feel thing.

Q: What was the audience like?

A: There were people in the audience who had been visiting Passe-Temps for years, so there was a weird atmosphere. No one smiled. I was nervous because so many of them would have seen Abe play too. One person told me later that he could feel my emotions and he thanked me. That felt good. Matsuzaka-san said that I must be a reborn Kaoru Abe, but I just laughed and said no way, I’d hate to be that.

Q: Later you played there on the anniversary of Abe’s death.

A: The following year she called me and from her voice she sounded really unwell. “Play for me one more time before I die. Bring some of your friends and come and play on September 9,” she said. Before I die… at first I thought she was joking. But I invited Kazuo Imai, Keiko Higuchi, and Takayuki Hashimoto. The show we played, it felt like each of us was possessed by something, like something was being transmitted to us. As I was leaving, I said that I would be back to visit her soon. But she died on January 2 so the next time I saw her she was in her coffin. Her face wasn’t smiling and it felt like she was angry at me for coming too late. But I played and afterwards it looked like she had a smile on her face. Or maybe that was just what I wanted to think. She was really good to me. So Passe-Temps was really important for me.

Q: Has anyone else told you that you sound like Abe?

A: Not really. I think you can hear Abe’s influence on my first CDr. But even so, Ikeezumi-san heard something original in my playing and I was really grateful for that. Even when he told me that I still had a long way to go.

Q: Does that comparison feel like an insult?

A: I’ve never felt that. From the start I’ve felt like I know what I want to get out there. When I am playing, I’m not thinking about Abe at all.

Kawashima, Susumu Matsuzaka and Toshiko Matsuzaka at Café Passe-Temps, photo by turbo

Performance spaces and consciousness

Q: I know that sometimes you play on a pedestrian bridge outside Kawagoe station. Why play there?

A: I play on the bridge because I hope that I might create some sort of change in awareness in the people who hear me. I’m aware of trying to stop people blending into the background. I think it’s important to have an objective view of yourself, even when you are in a large crowd of people. So, the bridge is for people, and Yamanekoken is for the grasses and trees, the animals, the river, the stars, for nature. It feels like I am being made to play at myself from nature. Even there, I feel like I am looking at myself objectively. I’m a human being so it’s because I want to feel the street and the mountain and the change between them.

Q: What do you mean that you are “aware of trying to stop people blending into the background”? That you want your own existence to be something that doesn’t harmonize with the environment on the street?

A: Something like that. The sense of something alien appearing in an everyday place. I think it’s interesting if you have something like that. Creating that kind of change in people’s awareness is one of the objectives of my live shows.

Q: You also talked about seeing yourself objectively. Concretely, what do you mean by that?

A: I want to have a perception of myself as if I was seeing myself from space.

Q: In performance, does that mean that there is the you who is playing and another you who is observing?

A: That’s right, but it feels like more of a macro viewpoint.

Q: I first saw you playing live in December 2016, at the Kid Ailack Hall in Meidaimae just before it closed.11 I watched you playing in that empty space, illuminated by just one single light, and it felt like a ritual where you were purifying the souls of those present and then sending them away again. Even now I think of your playing in terms of ritual. Not in a religious sense, more like a sense of the divine. The audience has to concentrate and that turns them into participants in the ritual. What do you think?

A: I’ve never thought of them as rituals, but I suppose I might be doing something similar to a ritual. That time at Kid Ailack, just the thought that the space would be closing permanently, it added an element of gratitude to my performance. I feel like there I also have an internal sense of the kind of sounds that I should be producing.

Q: When I watch your performances, I’m always really impressed by things other than your sound, your stance or your movements. They have a power to transmit your sounds even more fully. Where do those movements come from?

A: It’s pretty simple: sound is produced by physical movements, so if I want to play a low note, getting closer to the ground transmits the sound better. The movement determines the sound. That’s all I do.

Q: There are also times when you are standing, holding the sax and not moving. When you are not producing any sounds and your body is not moving, is there still sound?

A: There is always sound and one sound is always connected to the next.

Q: When I’ve seen you play live, even when your body is still I feel like I can hear sounds produced by very small movements. But when I listen to your CD, the parts without sound are totally silent. Is there sound in those spaces?

A: Sound never ceases.

Q: How do you think about the end of a performance? I feel like bringing an improvised piece to a close is always difficult. Do you decide beforehand when you will stop?

A: I’m not thinking about the end. Sound is always present. But I’ve got to stop at some point or else I would collapse. So… for me, a single performance is around 20 minutes and I seem to just naturally stop at around that mark.

Q: I’ve seen you play, so yeah, I can see how you’d end up flat on your back if you went for a whole hour. (laughs)

A: Yeah. When I played together with Masayoshi Urabe, it was an hour without a break and I thought I was going to die.

Q: So it’s not like you calculate the length of your performances, but they just naturally turn out to be 20 minutes. Do you have any specific phrases that you use at the end?

A: Not really. I don’t like those kinds of predetermined structures.

 

What’s in the darkness

Q: During your shows you normally have the lights turned down low. In photographs too and even while we are sitting here at this table, it seems that you are mostly in the shadows or darkness.

A: You’re right. For some reason, it’s always dark.

Q: Why is that?

A: Since I was a kid I’ve liked being in the corner. I just like dark places. (laughs) My house is always gloomy. When I get up in the morning I’ll open the curtains and then shut them again. I take a look at the sunlight outside, then I close them again and turn on a lamp. I like creating that evening feeling during the day. I live a really luxurious life. (laughs)

Q: What is your favourite season?

A: Hmm. I like being at home during the autumn and winter, because it’s warm. But when it’s summer I like to go outside. I like the outdoors more than you might think. Barbecues and so on.

Q: So you don’t live your life entirely in the darkness?

A: My house is dark, but I go outside every day and sometimes I’ll sit in the sun on the embankment. Then when I go back home, it’s back into the darkness.

Q: What is there in the darkness?

A: Existence.

Q: Kaoru Abe has an album called Nord (a duo album with Motoharu Yoshizawa), and in the liner notes Aquirax Aida writes that in everything you should aim for the extreme north.12 I have this idea that all kinds of musical expression, not just improvised music, have to be “north”. Do you have a sense in yourself of always aiming for the north?

A: Not at all. Whichever way I turn, it’s always north.

Q: That’s true. If you start improvising with some extreme north as your objective, at that moment you’ll creating fetters for yourself.

A: Right. It’s not like there is any correct way to do things anyway. If people have a concept of making some work that aims for the extreme north, then that’s perfectly fine. But it won’t be me who does that.

Confronting death

Q: In your everyday life you work with elderly people who have no relatives to look after them. How did you come to be involved with that kind of work?

A: I worked in the food and drink industry for a long time but I never wanted to have my own place. I had this idea that I wanted to put myself in close proximity to social issues and see that reality for myself. Around the same time in an employment listings magazine I saw an ad from an NPO that was helping elderly people who had no relatives. At first I was just interested to see what it was like, so I went along for an interview. It wasn’t like being a home helper or a care manager, more like doing work for them in the place of their families. But I didn’t need to have any special knowledge or qualifications and I’ve now been working there for ten years.

Q: In another interview you said “my daily life influences my sensibility and it is reflected in my music”. Could you give us a concrete example?

A: One concrete example would be the times when I have come into contact with death. That happens in various different ways, but basically the clients I work with have no close relatives, so even if we try contacting relatives no one comes to the crematorium. So a great deal of the time I am the only one there for the funeral. When I face the body of the deceased, I always feel that human beings are fundamentally alone. It’s the same for me, I’m one person, one thing. I feel that I reflect that reality in the totality of my playing.

Q: How about recently?

A: It was the same when Ikeezumi-san died. The day before he died I was in a recording session. I never imagined that he was going to pass so quickly. The music I recorded that day became the track on Tokyo Flashback.13 I called it “Light from the Window” because three days before his death, I had gone to visit him with the guitarist (Hideaki) Kondo-san and the sun was shining really brightly on the window in his room. The grass outside was beautiful and it was warm. That left a very strong impression on me and I wanted him to hear the recording as soon as he could.

Q: How was he when you visited?

A: He was conscious but he could barely speak. It seemed like he was trying to speak, but we couldn’t make out many of his words.

Q: So you were thinking of that experience and his room as you played?

A: Maybe it’s more like there was a place inside me where I was praying for him.

Q: Aside from your work with the elderly, is there anything else in your daily life that has influenced your playing?

A: The extreme happiness I feel when I’m with my cat on a rainy day.

 

Dialogue with others

Q: Do you have any relationships with other artists?

A: I don’t meet other artists very often, but (Masaki) Batoh and all the other P.S.F. artists were very kind to me when I played at the memorial concert for Ikeezumi (June 25, 2017 at SuperDeluxe in Roppongi). I’d played with some people before – Takayuki Hashimoto, Shizuo Uchida, Aki (à qui avec Gabriel), Keiko Higuchi, and Kazuo Imai too. Hideaki Kondo is like an older brother to me, and I’ve recorded with and been out drinking with Naoto Nishizawa. Recently I’ve been working with Harutaka Mochizuki for an overseas release, and in April I’ll play in a duo with Tetsu Saitoh. Haino-san has also been really good to me.

Q: The other day you said that you’d rather play alone than with other people. Why is that? Your only collaborative release so far is Hamachidori with Naoto Nishizawa, but you’ve played live with other people too, right?

A: Playing with other people is important, but when I play alone I can be in a dialogue with myself, and I still need that. I don’t really know why.

Q: But it’s not that you hate playing with others?

A: Sometimes I do!

Q: What do you look for in a collaborator?

A: I want them to be themselves.

Q: But don’t many people think of a collaborative performance as more of a dialogue?

A: I think it’s better for everyone to be themselves. I don’t really like the idea of, you know, let’s find something that works together, or let’s create something cool together. So, not the strict sense of that word dialogue, I feel more there has to be communication on the level of the individual soul or else it’s just shit.

Q: In that sense, how is your playing with Nishizawa-san?

A: It’s totally the opposite with him. He studies me, takes aim and then he plays. It’s mechanical, in an interesting way. I can’t play the way he does. But recently I’ve started to feel some more humanity in him.

Q: When I saw you play in a duo the other day at Yamanekoken, it felt like you were both playing separately.

A: We’re communicating on a soul level, so I think that leads you to see us as separate.

Q: Do you feel a different kind of interest in him?

A: I want to play more with people like him. On Hamachidori we could see the lake, and it felt like Nishizawa-san’s metallic sounds were perfect to create the sound of the bird’s feet splashing in the water.

 

Beyond performance

Q: You told me that you are currently working on a CD that will edit together performances from different places.

A: I’m trying to do something different from what I’ve done so far. I have quite a few solo releases now, so what I want to do is put together lots of short takes by different people that I think are great, just the good bits, with me as the producer. I don’t think there are many releases like that. It could be just a 20 second phrase, or different things put together. Like a collection of different sound materials.

Q: Will you be the producer or will you be editing them too?

A: I’m OK with either. I’ve produced most of my own releases. There are lots of players who I think are great, but there isn’t a work that is just their best bits. Instead of thinking of people, I think it could be interesting to have this compilation of different sound materials that you can listen to. It could lead to the listener making different connections.

Q: So it won’t be Makoto Kawashima the saxophonist, more like presented by Makoto Kawashima?

A: Nothing as grand as that. I’m happy just to take the lead.

Q: Do you have upcoming plans?

A: I’ve always wanted to promote some shows locally, and recently I’ve started working together with an interesting venue in Kawagoe called Rerereno Record. There is nowhere for improvised performances in Kawagoe, so I’m really hoping that this will build into something more. The first concert will be a series of mostly solo sets and reflections by me, Takayuki Hashimoto, Teruto Yamazawa, and Naoto Yamagishi. At some point in the future I’d love to run my own local venue.

Q: So you’ve got some plans for the immediate future. I think it would be interesting to try pushing your skills as a promoter and producer, not just as a performer.

A: I actually quite enjoy organizing things and I’ve done a fair bit of it in the past. I’ve helped organize fashion show, and theatre and music events for the disabled.

Q: You have this image as a bit of a lone wolf, so I’d love to see another side of you.

A: I have totally different sides to me. I’m pretty active, you know.

Q: My last question might be impossible to answer, but where do you think that continuing to perform will take you?

A: Honestly, I haven’t a clue right now. But I have this sense that I don’t want to think about the fact that we all inevitably die one day, that we can’t stay like this forever. One day I’ll be in a world with no sound.

Q: You mean that there will no longer be any sound inside you? Or that sounds will disappear from the world?

A: That I might no longer need to be aware of the sounds within me.

Fin.

  1. The prefecture immediately to the north of Tokyo.
  2. Japanese singer-songwriter, record producer, and record company boss. Born in 1946.
  3. Comical single released by underground folk group The Folk Crusaders in December 1967. It sold over a million copies and became a number one single.
  4. Okuda is a singer-songwriter, who got his first break with the group Unicorn in the mid 80s. Inoue began as a huge successful folk rocker in the early 70s.
  5. ”Red Dragonfly,” a popular children’s song written by Rofū Miki and Kōsaku Yamada.
  6. https://www.yamaneko.info
  7. Tatsuo Minami took many photographs of the Tokyo free jazz scene of the 1970s.
  8. Studio Session 1976.3.12. Recorded in 1976 but not released until 1992.
  9. Double LP, produced by Aquirax Aida and released on ALM Records in 1976.
  10. Famous jazzu kissa in Fukushima, run by Toshiko Matsuzaka.
  11. Underground performance venue and art gallery in Meidaimae, Tokyo run by the art critic Seiichirō Kuboshima. It opened in 1965 and closed in December 2016.
  12. Nord is a duo album with the bassist Motoharu Yoshizawa.
  13. Tokyo Flashback P.S.F. – Psychedelic Speed Freaks. Compilation of PSF artists, compiled by Masaki Batoh and released by Super Fuji Discs (2CD) and Black Editions(4LP) as a benefit for Hideo Ikeezumi in May 2017.