Interview With Kazu Matsui
Artist: Kazu Matsui
Title: Stone Monkey
Genre: Instrumental/New Age
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 its 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!
[Paul Adams] You are in the USA doing music for the Zorro 2 soundtrack?
Kazu Matsui Yeah, Itís called ďLegend of The Zorro,Ē with Katherine Zeta Jones and Antonia Bandaris
[Paul Adams] 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 ďsameness.Ē But you threw everything in this album but the kitchen sink!
Kazu Matsui (Laughter) Right!
[Paul Adams] Why did you take such a risk?
Kazu Matsui 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 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
[Paul Adams] That was a very good deal.
Kazu Matsui Yeah! (Laughter) I donít know if I can continue that, but anytime they can cut me! (Laughter)
[Paul Adams] 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 Matsui 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.
[Paul Adams] Another interesting irony is that you mentioned that you donít make a living from album sales. 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 Matsui 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 oneís 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 with great stuff. We may need to work on something else to make a living, so it is a special time.
[Paul Adams] I agree with you 100 percent.
Kazu Matsui 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 either way.
[Paul Adams] Well, itís filled with irony
Kazu Matsui Exactly.
[Paul Adams] What is going to happen? Itís such a blessing and I curse. I'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 away
Kazu Matsui Yes, exactly.
[Paul Adams] I had 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 couldn't
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 Matsui Yes, um hum. Yes, exactly what I was talking about. It is a great time.
[Paul Adams] I 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 with this instrument?
Kazu Matsui I think I was about 16 or so.
[Paul Adams] Some find that the pentatonic scale of the flute may pose a limitation because the pentatonic scale has five notes and is usually in a fixed scale.
Kazu Matsui I like limitation.
[Paul Adams] Tell me more about that.
Kazu Matsui 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 ďballpark.Ē 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 artistís interpretation of it.
[Paul Adams] I have an injury to my left hand and have found that the limitation may have helped me to paint with a different color on the guitar, and not fall into the trap of playing the same thing everyone else.
Kazu Matsui 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 with 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.
[Paul Adams] I 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 Matsui Yeah. I like to create imaginative stories with the music. The music as a journey.
[Paul Adams] 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 playingĒ simplicity with their trained virtuosity.
Kazu Matsui 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 atmosphere.
[Paul Adams] So there is an openness to those musicians you play with?
Kazu Matsui Yes. Their ability and knowledge of theory will not inhibit their use of simplicity.
[Paul Adams] So, if a well schooled musician modulates to a different key because he wants to make change, is this is a problem?
Kazu Matsui 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.
[Paul Adams] I find thereís an analogy with 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 Matsui Simple music is popular. Some Rap is very creative. Sometimes I just want to listen to the groove but I canít hear the words.
[Paul Adams] Lets take a turn here. You took up with the Shakuachi flute when you were younger. What pop music influenced you when you were younger?
Kazu Matsui When I started to produce my own album, I asked others to tell me what I should listen 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 Qunicy Jonesí production.
[Paul Adams] Ah, here we are back to the visual cues of music.
Kazu Matsui 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.
[Paul Adams] Stone Monkey is very cinematic. I am thinking of the Cirque Du Soleil.
Kazu Matsui Yeah, I love them.
[Paul Adams] When you were a very young man, what other music did you listen to?
Kazu Matsui Well, like in high school I listened to Santana, Coltrane, The Doors and anything theatrical. Anything that told a story.
[Paul Adams] Tell me about your interest in Coltrane.
Kazu Matsui 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 jazz musicians.
[Paul Adams] 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 Matsui 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 universe.
[Paul Adams] So, itís how we USE those machines that makes the real difference as to their validity?
Kazu Matsui 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.
[Paul Adams] So if itís here, itís part of nature, otherwise it wouldnít be here?
Kazu Matsui Yeah, (Laughter). Exactly. Certain people block themselves into a narrow interpretation, but sometimes a narrow thing can go deeper.
[Paul Adams] 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 created
Kazu Matsui 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 CDs to cut and paste into the music I compose (many top musicians have released CDs 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 accessible.
[Paul Adams] So, even though they are samples, you are still communicating with him.
Kazu Matsui Yes. I spoke to a number of well-known musicians that have sample CDs of their work and phrases. They assured me that using their samples and phrases was OK.
[Paul Adams] In Stone Monkey you have a lot of mixes with grooves that involved a bit of sampling.
Kazu Matsui 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
[Paul Adams] 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 Matsui 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.
[Paul Adams] Everything we do can be done in the living room. We can exchange files with others, and the creative process unfolds.
Kazu Matsui 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 DVDs. Again, I can do it all myself. I'm also pleased that I was able to use cuts from Stone Monkeyin the documentary.
[Paul Adams] 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 Matsui Yeah, I love our imagination.
[Paul Adams] 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 Matsui 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)?
[Paul Adams] Exactly!!
Kazu Matsui 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
[Paul Adams] Yes, that means we need a day job.
Kazu Matsui Exactly.
[Paul Adams] 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 Matsui 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.
[Paul Adams] 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 Matsui Yeah, yeah, yeah. And I hope XM radio will do great.
[Paul Adams] 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 Matsui 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.
[Paul Adams] This leads to some of the new Internet stations Like LIVE 365.
Kazu Matsui Yes, I am hopeful to see how these stations develop.
[Paul Adams] Again, they donít have the same constraints as commercial radio.
Kazu Matsui 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.
[Paul Adams] When will you be done with your current work on the James Horner soundtrack ?
Kazu Matsui I will go back to Japan next week.
[Paul Adams] What was it like working with James?
Kazu Matsui He is great. AND, he knows how to work with ďstreet players,Ē which is what I consider myself. He uses ethnic players very well. When we did ďLegends Of The FalĒl (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.
[Paul Adams] 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 worldís sounds and traditions. I think many will appreciate your courage in making an album that truly pushed boundaries.
Kazu Matsui Thank you.
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