MATSUI a daring and creative force
My main job is working as a composer,
but I do album reviews on a sparing basis. I'm especially drawn to
write about music that I feel has great potential to counterbalance
some of the "sameness" I hear in some music today.
Narada sent me Kazu Matsui's album STONE
MONKEY awhile back and I admit I put off listening for
awhile. My mistake. This is interesting, creative, and risk taking in
it's boldest sense. We spoke by phone when he was in LA working on a
movie soundtrack with James Horner. Talking to the guy made me feel a
sense of simpatico. He is forthright, open, and hasn't let the
"business' end of music temper his attitude. Supported by
charming bits of elfish laughter, this review/interview was a gas!
You are in the USA doing music for the ZORRO 2 soundtrack?
Kazu Yeah, Itís called Legend of The Zorro, with
Katherine Zeta Jones and Antonia Bandaris
PA I got a hold of
you because of the excitement I felt when I heard your new album STONE
MONKEY. The thing that excited me was that there doesnít seem to be
much risk taking in Instrumental or New Age music. There does seem to
be a ďsamenessĒ. But you threw everything in this album but the
Kazu (Laughter) Right
PAWhy did you take
such a risk?
Kazu Well if I am making a living ONLY on my music it
might be risky. But, I write books and produce, and my living depends
on that those things (Kazu produces all of the recordings by his wife
Keiko Matsui). Fortunately I have a deal that the record company (Narada)
allows me to make all the creative decisions
PA That was a very
Kazu Yeah (Laughter) I donít know if I can continue
that, but anytime they can cut me! (Laughter)
PA Well, I find it
an irony that we live in a time where we have very sophisticated
composing tools, but I donít see music in the market place pushing
artistic boundaries. Matter of fact it seems less ďchance takingĒ
now than 25 years ago. Iím excited to see people push parameters and
hope that there will be a place for those who want to do that.
Kazu I hope so too. But now the outlet of music is
shrinking in some ways. They only seem to want certain types of music
and thatís a problem.
interesting irony is that you mentioned that you donít make a living
from album sales. NOW, if you donít have that market already defined
and you have other means of support, this allows you more freedom in
composing. So, lack of success in sales can foster more creativity!
There are no executives telling you what and how to do something!
Kazu Yeah. We used to make albums in one or two
months in the studio. However we donít need it anymore. You can have
five thousand dollars worth of equipment and you can make an album.
Technology has advanced so much that ones creativity can flourish.
Unfortunately the market system is in the middle of a maze. We donít
know what to do. Internet is helping and killing part of the industry
too. WE are in transition. I think weíll be OK. And again, we are
able to create using this technology and come up w/ great stuff. We
may need to work on something else to make a living so it is a special
PA Iagree with you
Kazu Of coarse we need an (Marketing) outlet because
we want other people to listen. We havenít figured out what to do,
but this internet is either killing us or make us flourish. It can go
PA Well itís
filled w/ irony
What is going to happen? Itís such
a blessing and I curse. IíI've always believed that the internet was
going to be a continuation of the same. Most folks will drift to
Rolling Stone or People magazine. Pop icons will attract the most
attention. BUT, thereís going to be a place where you can find
something different. Something more unique. They cannot make us go
Kazu Yes, exactly
PA Ihad a friend in
a band called Gentle Giant. Another in a band called HAPPY THE MAN. Of
coarse progressive rock died a painful death and these groups
make music after they were dropped by the label. Because of this
revolution in technology They can NOW record their own albums. So we
have guys like you who can take these tools of MIDI, DIGITAL
RECORDING, SAMPLING, COMPUTER AND LIVE INSTRUMENTATION and make a
complete cool mix of that.
Kazu Yes, um hum. Yes, exactly what I was talking
about. It is a great time.
PA want to make a
turn and ask about your interest in the shakuhachi Flute which you
blend with this technology. How old were you when fell in love w/ this
Kazu I think I was about 16 or so.
PA Some find that
the pentatonic scale of the flute may pose a limitation (Pentatonic
scale has 5 notes and is usually in a fixed scale )
K I like limitation
PA Tell me more
Kazu If I have more talent in western music some may
find the Shakuhachi to be at a disadvantage. However my music taste
and ability is limited. I love music, but I donít read western
notation. Iím more like a ďstreet player.Ē For a street player,
limited technique is our ďballparkĒ. We stay there and we remain
in the true character of the instrument. This limitation is a cultural
thing in Japan - like Kabuki ( Kabuki theater is an old and
established performance and theatrical art form) In the last 300 years
we donít change or evolve. Even in the limited thing, there is so
much depth. Like a comedian in Japan, he is saying the same joke for
years. Everybody knows how the same joke goes. This comic theater
called Kyogen has played the same joke for years and still people
ďdig it.Ē Like Shakespeare, many people know the story or the
lines, but many people go to the theater to hear an artists
interpretation of it.
PA Ihave an injury
to my left hand and have found that the limitation may have helped me
to paint w/ a different color on the guitar and not fall into the trap
of playing the same thing everyone else.
Kazu Yeah, because of my limitation I never really go
for the technique. I never wanted to play faster or jazzier, it was
never fun for me. But at the same time, the music depth is so wide and
deep, even w/ the limitation, one can go very far. There is an analogy
to Indian Raga scales here. I have tendency to go to a theatrical
emphasis on the music. I always like going into some world or
different dimension or other world.
PA think thatís evident for you, as well as your
production of your wife Keiko Matsuiís albums. Iíve seen your
stage shows and there is defiantly a sense of cinema or theater there.
Kazu Yeah. I like to create imaginative stories with
the music. The music as a journey.
PA You have had the opportunity to play with some of
the finest and best trained musicians in the world. Explain how you
marry your sense of ďstreet playingĒsimplicity with their trained
Kazu Well, as I said, I am a visual player. I canít
explain to them in western harmony what to do. But often I ask them to
use their imagination. For example Iíll ask them to imagine an elf
sitting on a mountain top. Good musicians understand this and they can
bring out their own creativity to adapt to this. We both create an
PA So there is an
openness to those musicians you play with
Kazu Yes . Their ability and knowledge of theory will
not inhibit their use of simplicity.
PA So, if a well
schooled musician modulates to a different key because he wants to
make change this is a problem?
Kazu Yeah, Iím not a fan of this. I appreciate
their vocabulary but it may be that keeping things simple within the
key may be necessary for what I am doing. I am looking for emotion.
Limitation helps to create space. Sometimes when I produce Keiko), I
tell her to cut notes. I ask her to listen to silence. I want to feel
the silence between the notes. I think I have a problem when a jazz
player uses too many notes.
PA find thereís an
analogy w/ pop music - say Rap or Hip Hop - music simple in form. My
problem is that there is no space. Everything both vocally as well as
rhythmically is constantly busy. I think they and their producers
realize that all this activity does all the work for the audience. It
doesnít force them to use their imagination. It almost grabs you
physically and pulls you in - it does all the work so to speak.
Whatís your feedback on my little theory?
Kazu Simple music is popular. Some Rap is very
creative. Sometimes I just want to listen to the groove but I canít
hear the words.
PA Lets take a turn.
Here. You took up w/ the Shakuachi Flute when you were younger. What
pop music influenced you when you were younger?
Kazu When I started to produce my own album, I asked
others to tell me what I should listen to to get a good example of
contemporary music. I was told to listen to Pink Floydís THE WALL,
and Michael Jacksonís THRILLER. I listened to them hundreds of
times. I listened to Q Jones production
PA Ah, Here we are
back to the visual cues of music
Kazu Yeah, I imagine visuals of watching the moon or
traveling through the jungle. If you listen to STONE MONKEY, it is
very visual. It all comes from my travels. Thirty years ago I drove
from England to India and this left a deep impact on me. All these
experiences come back to me and I want to express this in my music
PA STONE MONKEY is very cinematic. I am thinking of
the Cirque Du Soleil.
KAZU Yeah I love them.
PA When you were a
very young man, what other music did you listen to?
Kazu Well, like in high school I listened to Santana,
Coltrane, The Doors and anything theatrical. Anything that told a
PA Tell me about
your interest in Coltrane
Kazu Others introduced me to him. I especially like
the simple work as on LOVE SUPREME. Sometimes he played many many
notes but he used space very well, You can feel the silence behind it.
I donít know how he does it (Laughter). I liked him more than other
PA Isnít it great
to live in a time with this digital chip? At one time people argued
that it was evil, but it can be a marvelous tool.
Kazu Yeah, those people donít understand. Like, I
love the use of the drum machine. I believe these digital tools have
spirit. I believe everything has spirit, and should be seen as this.
Sometimes machines makes more sense. I donít like it if a live
drummer doesnít feel or connect with the visual aspect. Sometimes
these machines can express what we want to say. They are part of the
PA So, itís how we
USE those machines that makes the real difference as to their
Kazu Yes, to use them, you have to feel as if you and
the machine are part of the universe. There is a relationship there.
The creative mixture of human and machine is the way to go. After all,
nature, the universe, includes the computer
PA So if itís
here, itís part of nature, otherwise it wouldnít be here?
Kazu Yeah, (Laughter). Exactly. Certain people block
themselves into a narrow interpretation, but sometimes a narrow thing
can go deeper.
PA Once you put up
rigid judgment, there is an opportunity to miss something. This takes
me back to what you said about time and space in music. Of not
playing. Those moments can allow deeper penetration what you have
Kazu Yeah, and people should judge from what they
hear and not be negative about what tool was used to create the music.
There are times when I even use sample CDís to cut and paste into
the music I compose (Many top musicians have out CDís containing
grooves they have played - allowing you to paste them into your
project)). AND, if I do this, it is almost like I have involved this
musician in the album. Itís like having another player easily
PA So, even though
they are samples, you are still communicating with him
Kazu Yes. I spoke to a number of well known musicians
that have sample CDís of their work and phrases. They assured me
that using their samples and phrases was OK.
PA in STONE MONKEY
you have a lot of mixes with grooves that involved a bit of sampling.
Kazu Yes, I was helped with the project by Hajime
Hyakkoku. who was able to paste many musical statements using the
Macintosh computer. I didnít want to use JUST drum machine, but to
mix all the elements together of machine, sampler, and live individual
voice. I am influenced greatly by this new technology
PA Yes, you might
say it is like being a sculptor - working with clay. You can place
your sound, stand back, take some away, add proportions, ad infinitum.
Itís a joy
Kazu Exactly, and these techniques are there for
everybody. For a few thousand dollars you have your own studio. This
is a time that so many people - who didnít have a chance to be in
music - can now create. Anybody who is interested can create music.
Itís a great time
PA Everything we do
can be done in the living room. We can exchange files with others, and
the creative process unfolds.
Kazu Yes yes! Actually I am now making a documentary
about the Dalit People in India. I can shoot - edit - and do
everything by myself with hi digital quality. This is the first time I
have made a film - apart from Keikoís DVDís. Again, I can do it
all myself. I'm also pleased that I was able to use cuts from STONE
MONKEY inthe documentary.
PA Well you have an
album that is much like a story or film. Youíve been talking about
theater and as I previously remarked, your music is very visual.
Kazu Yeah, I love our imagination
PA Iíve been
taking your album with me on my journeys to the river where I lay and
allow my imagination to flow. I find the varied elements to be calming
- even in their most dynamic sections. As I said previously, you threw
everything in this album but the kitchen sink.
Kazu Yeah but you know - some of the critics say I
went too far (Kazu is laughing as he says this), I was not as NEW AGE
as I was supposed to be - but why not (More laughter)?
Kazu the music industry is doing so bad right now and
everybody is trying to chase the same rabbit. Everything sounds all
the same. Itís OK to try to make a living, but the industry is
killing creativity because they donít budge. Sometimes artists
produce work that doesnít reach full appreciation in their time
PA Yes, that means
we need a day job
PA An interesting
irony here. As I said earlier, perhaps itís the guy who is somewhat
unsuccessful, that is more successful. He doesnít have the bound
duty to produce for the market. His day job allows him to paint his
pictures the way HE see them
Kazu Right . And many times, people have quit music
because of the business difficulty. Well, because of the new
technology, they can now come back and continue to produce. We donít
have to rely on the money from the record companies. AND, they donít
have the money anymore anyway. What we have to do is to find a market
on the internet - I donít know how to do it - but we need to develop
new marketing strategy
PA Iím really glad
we had this time to talk. I feel a connection with your creative
process because you seem to be drawn to the idea of making passionate
interesting music, rather than just commercial music that can get
boring and lackluster over time
Kazu Yeah Yeah Yeah. And I hope XM radio will do
great (Referring to the new satellite radio subscription services like
XM and Sirius that are not as bound to the same play lists as
PA OK, AND THIS
LEADS TO THE QUESTION: Where does your album STONE MONKEY fit? In what
genre is it placed? New Age, World Fusion?
Kazu Iím not sure. Narada is a good label and well
recognized. I just hope everybody will, get further into this
subscription radio and listen to music that is good
PA This leads to
some of the new internet stations Like LIVE 365
Kazu Yes, I am hopeful to see how these stations
PA Again, they
donít have the same constraints as commercial radio.
Kazu YES exactly As long as people have choice. If
they choose me or they donít choose me thatís OK. I just want them
to have choices available. I want to see stations available that will
offer something different
PA When will you be
done with your current work on the James Horner soundtrack ?
Kazu I will go back to Japan next week.
PA What was it like
working with James?
Kazu He is great. AND, he knows how to work with
ďstreet PlayersĒ which is what I consider myself. He uses ethnic
players very well. When we did LEGENDS OF THE FALL (Brad Pitt and
Anthony Hopkins.), James brought in many folk players to work with the
symphony. AND the orchestra members really appreciated their talents.
The good composers let the street players play (Within their styles).
And the blend of the folk and orchestral traditions add a great deal
to the overall sound of the music
PA Well, thank you
for the interview. It was so good to talk and hear you speak of the
unique approach of blending technology and street playing, with
schooled and traditional orchestra. Your album STONE MONKEY is truly
daring and I think one of the most adventurous albums Iíve heard in
a long time. It is a melting pot of the worlds sounds and traditions.
I think many will appreciate your courage in making an album that
truly pushed boundaries
Kazu Thank you