Composer Eiko Ishibashi thrives on imbalance – Tone Madison

Tone Madison: Your original music, as heard in the context of the final cut of the film, is surprisingly minimal, but it still feels essential to the mood. The first thing viewers experience is not an image, but your music, which pierces the darkness and silence of dawn in the main character’s bedroom: “We’ll Live Through The Long, Long Days, And Through The Long Nights (Oto).” However, this piece does not feature the instrumental palette I referred to in one of my last questions. It’s more of an ambient drone composition that hints at your more experimental avenues. Could you talk about the writing of this shimmering and haunting “Oto” theme in particular? Did you write it before or after the other songs? What instruments and techniques did you use to create it? It stands out so well for me.

Eiko Ishibashi: Thank you. The song is a variation of the fifth song [on the album release]”We’ll live through the long, long days and through the long nights.” After recording this song with the band [Jim O’Rourke, Tatsuhisa Yamamoto, Marty Holoubek, Toshiaki Sudoh, and Atsuko Hatano]I connected my new Infinite squirts effects pedal to a Rhodes and I experimented myself by playing this theme from the opening credits. While I was doing this I heard an interesting sound and wanted to record it, but luckily Jim had already recorded the whole time.

This is what plays out in the scene at the beginning of the film and the scene in the car in the middle. I am very grateful to director Hamaguchi for his precise placement of not only this song but all the songs. I was lucky enough to work with a director who has a clear vision of when and where the music should come from.

Tone Madison: When I first listened to the movie soundtrack as sequenced, I thought of your 2014 album, car and freezer. (Maybe it’s just because of that titular “car” overlap.) While that sounded a bit silly, I then thought there might be something more to that impression. Driving My Car OST could almost be a template for the more expansive production heard on car and freezerfor this 2014 album similarly features your lively piano melodies and marching beats that complement the lively jazz-pop songwriting by which I came to know you.

Is there a deeper connection between these projects, or is it purely a chance connection that I made? Or perhaps you would point out that the sound of the music you composed for drive my car has a closer relationship with another of your albums.

Eiko Ishibashi: Honestly, I didn’t have car and freezer in mind when I was making the soundtrack for this film, because I don’t consider the drive my car soundtrack to be my own work. The final decision is left to the director, which means you can’t do it the way you want. When I listen to a soundtrack, I can have an image of the film but also put something like my own imagination into it. It can therefore exist as something individual and personal in a way. But maybe I [am saying] it’s not my job, because I don’t think the soundtrack I made is in the realm of soundtracks that I like. (For McCoy could be called my own work, because I was able to shape my imagination as an audience member, not as a production side.)

However, since the theme of car and freezer was the landscape seen of things forgotten, thrown away, and left behind (in my hometown, cars and refrigerators were thrown into the rice fields), I think that naturally had something to do with the theme of the film. Also, for the theme song, the director requested a song without vocals, which may have something to do with it.

Tone Madison: Field recordings, sound effects, and environmental audio are increasingly becoming an integral part of the moods you create. Whether it’s radio static/tuning/frequency loops and fireworks on the weird electronic palette of after the smoke (2018); train whistles and locomotion on The dream of my bones (2018); rattle of miners in a coal mine memory of the future (2020); the rushing water and the chatter of the city on For McCoy; and closing car doors, atmosphere of the roadway, rattling of cassettes, engine ignition on drive my car, it seems to me that you are layering and creating audio logs and sound collages separate from the live performance and unique to the recording and mixing process. Is this aesthetic choice inspired by something or someone in particular? Why did you choose to pursue this aesthetic and incorporate these effects into the compositions of Driving My Car OST?

Eiko Ishibashi: The inclusion of field recordings and sound effects seems to have been a physiological part of my childhood, even before I heard the music of people I loved like Luc Ferrari and Albert Marcoeur. I liked to record with two boomboxes, mixing the sounds of the outside world with the sounds of the radio. When I play live music, I also feel more relaxed if there are noises.

There was a factory near my house, and I loved the sound it produced. I think the rhythms of the machines had a big influence on me. Thus, in drive my car, the sound of the car, the sound of the boat and the voice of the Oto on the tape were naturally more important to me than my own music. The sound is the wonderful work of Miki Nomura (re-recording mixer) and Kadowaki Izuta (recording). Thanks to all these wonderful noises, I decided to make a soundtrack that I have no interest in releasing.

Tone Madison: Your shifts between different writing and performance modes often make listening to your work exciting and ultimately rewarding. Your more traditional song-based albums with English and Japanese vocals have been released in the United States via the Drag City label, but there’s also a wide world of Eiko Ishibashi beyond, from self-released projects to others attached to international labels such as Rhythm tracks, super moveand black truffle.

Your repertoire includes live electroacoustic improvisations on synthesizers and piano, dreamy vocal drones and textural chamber pieces. How do you balance standard composition and more free or structured improvisational modes? Do you start working with a specific intention or performance in mind, or is the general writing process more unpredictable?

Eiko Ishibashi: Whether I create a structured piece or an experimental piece, the songs are created by a coming and going between the conscious and the unconscious. I don’t have a particular fashion, and I never try to find a balance. On the contrary, when there is an imbalance, something interesting comes out unexpectedly. However, I know that this method is very inefficient and time consuming. For example, when I have to create a piece with a solid structure, I sometimes end up with a long experimental piece that has nothing to do with it. But that can’t be helped.

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