Corey Fuller: Tomo and I were fans of each other’s music. We first met when I was invited to play a show in Tokyo with Opitope while I was still living in the US. We recorded some music as a trio (with Chihei Hatakeyama) while I was in Tokyo, and we discovered through this session that our sounds combined really well and that we enjoyed working together. We kept in touch and exchanged music periodically after I returned to the States. The following year, by coincidence, Tomo came to Seattle for work. At the time, I was making use of the 100 year old church in Bellingham to record my music (where I recorded "Seas Between") and so I invited Tomo to come up on the weekends to record in this beautiful church. Those two weekends we spent together recording in this church eventually became "Shizuku", our first album as Illuha.
You come from quite similar experiences, but your DNA probably speaks really different languages, both musically and geographicaly... How did you manage to find a common denominator between your arts?
C.F.: We do have a lot in common... Transcultural upbringing, a love for detailed, slowly evolving music, travel, good food, a juvenile sense of humor etc. But I think more than our similarities, it is our differences that make Illuha interesting. For example sonically, Tomo tends more toward using drier sounds that are more upfront in the mix, and I tend toward wetter sounds that are distant. Tomo is currently exploring a lot of textures, and I’m deep into melody and harmonic theory. I almost invariably compose in a minor key and Tomo tends to compose in a major key. I think it’s the tension of these differences in our music, constantly pulling and pushing at and against each other, that makes Illuha a fascinating project for us.
And did you find it hard to mix your subjectivities and build this common language?
C.F.: As I mentioned this tension is what we and perhaps listeners find intriguing about our music. But our music isn’t born without a certain amount of blood and struggle. I think when we are truly listening to each other and are open and receptive to what the other is doing, then this is when we begin to speak a common language; this is when our sounds merge and combine to ultimately grow into songs. We do tend to disagree a lot during the making of an album, and sometimes there are ideas that we bring to the table that aren’t for Illuha, so we explore those in our own work, or in other collaborations. So it’s a continual process to build a common language. Our best music is born though when it’s not forced and when we allow it to flow without contrivance or censorship though and between us.
Let's start talking about your last project with Taylor and Sakamoto... How did take shape?
C.F.: Ryuichi had been invited act as the curator and director for the 10th anniversary programs at YCAM (Yamaguchi Center for Arts and Media.) He then invited Taylor to perform with him, and Taylor suggested and invited us to join the two of them for the program.
It was a huge honor to collaborate with Ryuichi and Taylor.
If I am right, both you worked with Taylor in an open teaming-up called Between, didn't you? Did you bring something from that experience too?
C.F.: Yeah, definitely. Between was a project that was born during a Japan tour in 2012 with fellow 12k artists Marcus Fischer, Simon Scott, as well as Taylor and Illuha. The circumstances were quite similar in that it was 100% improvisation in front of a live audience. I distinctly remember before this session in Kyoto talking with the other artists about the need to listen carefully to each other, and taking care not to add too much. With five people improvising, if you’re not careful, it can really become a mess and over saturated with too much sound…like a conversation where everyone is talking over each other and where no one is heard. "Between" is a really special work, not just because of the memories, but because it was really successful as a group improvisation where everyone was intently listening to each other, and only adding sound where it was necessary. Sometimes, not adding anything, but substracting yourself and leaving silence to create space is what is necessary in a group improv. Going into the concert with Sakamoto, we were very much focused on the need to listen carefully to each other and on not adding too much to the mix and to leave space.
Did you work together with them, sharing physical spaces and times, or did you just exchange some material and files, working on them separately? How did you divide the work and roles between us?
C.F.: Both "Between" and "Perpetual" are live improvisations in front of a live audience. As far as roles go, for "Perpetual", Ryuichi played prepared and treated piano, and used various percussion objects inside the piano as well as playing the piano in a more traditional way at the end. Taylor played modular synthesizer, Tomo played pump organ, various electronics as well as field recordings and noises, and I played processed guitar and Pianet as well as electronics and various small objects.
And instead, what about the title and the album cover? The title reminded me about another wonderful album on 12k, Marsen Jules' "The Endless Change Of Colour"... Was this your first attempt to work mainly with generative sounds too?
C.F.: After we decided to release the recording, we were searching for a title and "Perpetual" seems to resonate with us as it intimates at the ageless and eternal qualities of music.
I guess you see both your partners in this release as sources of inspiration, don't you? How did you feel about working directly in a project with them?
C.F.: Yes, definitely. I was a real honor to work with someone like Ryuichi. He has such a wealth of experience and skill. He’s such a professional and, of course, we were already big fans of his music. With his history and legacy, it would be easy to be intimidated or nervous, but we never really felt that way. There was a genuine mutual respect for what we were all bringing to the table, and the focus was always on the music and on creating beautiful music together in the moment. There was a real openness and I think this is what lead to the successful results of the project. Working with artists like Ryuichi and Taylor and collaborating with them has a way of also affirming what you are doing and gives you a confidence in your own voice and path and sound.
What does this work represent for your (still brief) shared artistic path?
C.F.: Hopefully, it’s just the beginning of a relationship and many such collaborations. We would certainly love to create more works together, but even if this ended up being the only work we made together, there’s still a beauty in that like the sakura (cherry blossoms) that are here so briefly that you have to enjoy them knowing that they are already fading.
I really think your previous works represent some of the highest expressions of modern environmental-sound... I'm mainly referring to "Akari". What about your approach to making music?
C.F.: First of all thank you for your kind words. Our approach to making music is constantly evolving. Our instrumentation, gear, configurations and attitudes are constantly evolving as well and this affects our music. Most of Illuha sessions invariably begin with improvisation though. Ideally, with the two of us in the same room at the same time improvising in real time. We then continue to overdub and add many layers. With "Akari" our approach was largely sculptural whereas with "Shizuku" our approach was more akin to painting. By sculptural, I mean that we improvised and overdubbed layer after layer, creating a mass of sound, and then we would spend countless hours chiseling away and sculpting this mound of sound until a form slowly emerged. Once a form began to emerge, the path forward would become clearer and the song would then tell us what was needed and what was extraneous. I think it was Morton Feldman that said, when asked by Stockhausen what his secret was, that he doesn’t push his sounds around. We also don’t want to force or contrive or push our sounds to become something they are not, so we spend a lot of time listening... Listening to the echoes and spaces and ghosts of sounds for hints about where the songs are trying to naturally grow. Our process is always full of experimentation though, and we are dedicated to trying to discover new sounds. We spend a lot of time processing and transforming sounds. One goal we always have is to try to surprise each other. If we can predict or anticipate the other’s next sound or move too much, then that means we are falling into habits and patterns, and this often leads to stagnation and to repeating ourselves, so we are constantly trying to surprise each other.
That album is, in my opinion, one of the highest point reached by environmental sound art. I really got surprised by discrepancy I felt among the titles and the music... As the sounds seem to be quite spontaneous and organic, substantial, even if incredibly pure, the titles suggested quite complex formal theories between every single sound! "What is the truth", from your point of view?
C.F.: Thank you. Actually, to be completely honest, the titles were a joke to begin with. We always struggle with coming up with titles as they are usually the last thing we do before we send the master off to Taylor. We spend so much time trying to create expression without the use of words, but rather through music and sounds, that then giving the songs concrete titles and bringing these sounds back into the realm of vocabulary and words and signifiers actually defeats the purpose of music. That’s what we felt anyways at the end of working on "Akari". We felt like the titles could be anything really. We didn’t want to reduce the music, which is wordless and abstract, to something literal with words and signifiers. In a sense, the titles are ironic because the music is very emotional and even romantic, and yet the titles are cold, clinical, scientific and emotionless having more to do with the physicality of sound. We thought people would perhaps find humor in the gap between the music and the titles, but no one’s really commented on it so far, except you.
In addition to your teaming-up in Illuha, Tomoyoshi is developing some other projects, Melodia and Opitope - this last is quite linked to Corey too, isn't it? -, plus a solo career now apparently stopped. While Corey, you've never been too prolific, but your "Seas Between" is not more than a wonderful work... Has Illuha become your full-time and first musical expression?
C.F.: After "Seas Between" I was interested more in collaboration and didn’t feel the need or desire to make solo records. I’m always writing music and exploring ideas, but didn’t necessarily feel the need to release it. What fascinates me about collaboration is the prospect of creating something that neither person could make on their own. Something truly new, unexpected and surprising. Working alone you feel your own limitations and have to battle internal censorship that happens. So for the last few years, Illuha has been my main home and project, and I’ve focused my energy on growing that.
Tomoyoshi Date: Like Illuha, Opitope always starts with improvisation so perhaps the projects are linked in this way. Physis was the last project where we used laptops in Opitope, and "Interstices" was the last project where I used a laptop in Illuha. For solo work, like Corey, I probably have 10 times the amount of recordings than what I release. The reason I have more collaborative projects is that with solo work, you can rework and revise endlessly, but with collaborations, there is a limit.
And Tomoyoshi, I think Melodia is something quite different from the music you're most known for, maybe the most far of your projects from your usual sounds... What can you tell about it?
T.D.: While touring Europe with Federico, my power supplies broke and I couldn’t use my electronic gear. But we realized we could still use acoustic instruments and record outside in the field. These circumstances birthed the album. I am a physician specializing in a hybrid approach using western and oriental medicine. Just when I was the touring with Federico my thoughts about science and western medicine were changing, as were my thoughts on music with regards to digital and analog technology. Human technology isn’t adequate to explain the mysteries of birth, life, and sound. We can edit and process, but we still need Physis.
What about, instead, your impro-work with the Legend Toshimaru Nakamura and Ken Ikeda? It's already 2 years old, I didn't realize it!
T.D.: I was very nervous recording, mixing and mastering the music with these two musicians that I respect. I think they are two of the most exciting contemporary musicians.
Now we spend time more time drinking together than playing music, but our 2nd album is finished.
All of your albums have been published by 12k to date... Did you find some kind of an house in Taylor's label?
C.F.: Taylor is great. He gives us total freedom, a critical ear, an honest opinion, and incredible support. I think he runs one of the best labels large or small in terms of total overall aesthetic, passion, integrity and long term vision. I think this largely has to do with the fact that Taylor is also a musician and artist. Not many labels can boast that. One of the best things about 12k is that it’s constantly evolving….I mean look where it started and where it is now! And so it’s exciting to feel like we are a small part of that evolution. Many of the artists on the label are dear friends and I constantly feel inspired and challenged by them. 12k is like a family, and in that sense it feels very much like home.
And regarding music, how do you usually build up sets? Do you like to take stuff from albums or just to improvise? I know Tomoyoshi has a great experience in impro-music too, that's very developed in japanese experimental scene...
C.F.: We’ve approached live sets both ways. We both used to perform with laptops, but then we became really bored with watching this kind of set and also performing this way. So right around the time "Shizuku" was released and we were playing shows in support of it, we started to rethink our approach to live sets. After "Shizuku" was release we started to take songs from the album and reinterpret them, deconstruct them and perform them. This turned out to be rewarding for both us and the audience. For the audience, because if they were familiar with the songs from the album, they would get to hear a fresh interpretation of the song unfold live, and for us because we could revisit old ideas from different angles and it kept it fresh for us. This approach provided us with enough structure but also left enough room open for improvisation. Since then, we’ve taken a hybrid approach, keeping some structure but also leaving enough room for chance and happy accidents to happen through improvisation. We still don’t perform with any prerecorded bit using laptop, but instead prefer to build things live from the ground up using a bunch of instruments.
What are the projects you're going to work on the next months, alone and together?
C.F.: Illuha is on a bit of a hiatus at the moment as we explore other projects. As I mentioned, I’m in the middle of several solo albums. Taylor and I are also writing an album together as a duo, which is a new project and very exciting. I’ve also got an album in the works with Christopher Willits, and a few other top secret projects. All very exciting stuff ahead and I can’t wait to share these new directions and projects with the world.
Well, are you going to bring on these projects and your solo careers too in the next years? What should we expect from you in the next period?
C.F.: Since "Akari", ideas have emerged that don’t necessary fit Illuha and there are things I wanted to explore but couldn’t in the context of a collaboration. So I’m currently working on finishing up multiple solo albums as well as a few new collaborative projects. I’m very excited to share the new music I’m currently creating!
T.D.：Last October, I opened my Oriental Ambient Clinic “Tsuyukusa Clinic” in Tokyo. It’s based on the philosophy of Japanese Tea. Now I’m planning the releases for my new music label Tsuyukusa which is the label of my clinic. And I’m also creating my next solo album for my 2nd daughter.
Header photo by Taylor Deupree