PHEW: “I cannot free myself from my tastes”
I met Phew a couple of years ago at a festival in Poland dedicated to Japanese Music. My husband Alexander Hacke had collaborated with her in the early 1980ies and the Avant Art Festival festival had invited us to improvise with her for the event.
After meeting shortly before our performance, we went on stage and Phew started building a vast wall of sound, complex but unfaltering. As we had not known what to expect we were both amazed and delighted, jumping into the collaboration with our instruments spending 45 minutes on stage having a lot of fun.
The day after, we had tea with her before driving back to Berlin and have stayed in touch every since. Phew is an impressive personality, she is inspiring in conversation as well as on stage. She has been working in music since the 1970ies and is still part of the avant-garde proving that age has nothing to do with being experimentally courageous. I saw her perform in Berlin last year and the concert was breathtakingly beautiful. Her light touch can produce pillars of sound that transform into beautiful soft clouds of tonality and back, enveloping the audience into a universe of resonance and reverberation. I am very honored to be able to present her here today.
Danielle de Picciotto: What is it you want to express in your music?
Phew: Reality independent of us, a world outside of subjectivity. However I understand that expressing this is very difficult, because I cannot free myself from my tastes. When I improvise or make a track that is guided by a sound I have just come up with, I sometimes felt like I am getting closer, but in the next moment I realized I am not.
What do you consider interesting in other music?
My recent interests are blues and pop music. Both are genres that, until recently, I have consciously avoided listening to. When I was a teenager, fake blues was the mainstream of the Japanese rock scene that I didn’t like. However, I happened to hear Robert Johnson on youtube and was very impressed. Now I regret that I haven´t listened to blues.
Regarding pop music,I saw “Bohemian Rhapsody” on an airplane last year. I knew all the songs in the movie even though I had never listened to any albums of Queen. I was surprised that I knew these songs which I didn’t like, and that sparked my interest.
What interests you specifically in electronic music and what programs do you use?
I mainly use analog synthesizers because it’s interesting to be able to face and play along with invisible electricity. Older analog synthesizers are unstable, and the change in voltage may sometimes cause the filter to be ineffective so the sound will change just after power cycling. It is very difficult to reproduce the same thing and not suitable for live performances other than improvisation. Synths with keys that are relatively easy to control are too heavy and unsuitable for tours. So during live performances, I use samplers and music software Live with plug-in effects. My DAW is Logic.
How do think electronic music has developed since the beginning of your career?
I started the band in 1978, but at that time synthesizers were expensive and not affordable to teenagers. I was a singer, but I was fascinated by the sounds of Mellotron, Hammond and Yamaha electronic organs, Arp and Moog synthesizers. When I saw bands that had Mellotron and Minimoog, I was very jealous. I used to have a longing for digital music until the early 1980s. At that time I had an opportunity to hear the sound of the first imported digital synthesizer in Japan, Synclavia – it had the reputation of being able to reproduce any sound -I was surprised at the sound of the strings, but disappointed with the sound of the guitar. Before and after that, I also performed using the digital sequencer MC-8, but there were many problems and the data would disappear during live performances. Then I became skeptical of the words that were being developed and used when talking about music at the time. Until then, I had been obsessed with digital, new technology, new toys, but I began to think that it had almost nothing to do with the music itself, and at the same time, electronic music was no longer a special genre for me.
Do you feel that living in Japan influences how you work with music?
From 2012, I started making music with electronic musical instruments in earnest. After the 2011 earthquake and nuclear power plant accident, I was cautious and skeptical of singing words and melodies – something that evokes some kind of emotion from the listener sometimes has the effect of inciting people or making them turn away from unpleasant facts. Then I started thinking about making music like drawing. I was also hesitant to play music in a structure of audience and performer, sender and receiver. So I got a simple oscillator and started recording at home.
I live on the outskirts of Tokyo, it’s boring, with no lively places, no beautiful nature, but I think it’s a good place to make music.
You did an installation in Berlin last year -could you describe it?
I composed an electronic requiem called “Names”, which was dedicated to deceased friends, family, acquaintances, dogs, birds and hamsters. I installed it into nine subwoofers and 64 speakers, and released a three-dimensional sound composition. It was a voice-centered work, in which I called their names. Multi-speakers are interesting, but as a musician, I think music should be made in monol first.
What development do you see in your own music from the beginning to today?
When I started music, I had no idea. I was ignorant and only had the desire to do something interesting. It’s been more than 40 years since I first started with music, and I still feel the same. I think this is horrible….
What are your current projects?
Right now I am preparing my next album release. It’s an unconscious sound sketch and a personal documentary of a disturbing time in the late 2010s.Two newly recorded songs, outtakes of Voice Hardcore, and tracks of CD-R which were sold at live venues are compiled.
What are your future plans?
I have started to record the next solo album and also want to start the second album of the collaboration with Ana da Silva. I hope they will be released later this year or in 2021.