Tujiko Noriko – When the sound is the synthesis

August 25, 2008 § Leave a comment

Published: The Age, A2, August 23, 2008.

Tujiko Noriko’s music echoes with the contradictions of contemporary Japan, writes Dan Rule.

THERE IS SOMETHING INHERENTLY disconnected about the music of Tujiko Noriko. The Japanese electronic musician’s delicately looped and layered avant-pop meanderings seem to float in cultural and historical ether.

Rendered via laptop, synthesiser and voice, her music whispers with evocation, with hint, with trace. Nonetheless, it remains void of solid, immovable context.

“I think maybe it’s like a drug,” she offers in her sticky Japanese accent. “I think the brain remembers the process and it just comes again and again.”

Noriko’s craft is neither directionless nor vacant. There are echoes of traditional Japanese musical forms; skeletal melodic and tonal strands weave and entwine among sparse, decelerated rhythmic structures. But also present is the distinct syntax of the contemporary; moments of opaque electronic texture underlay the crackle, crunch and pop of computer-birthed beats, the elegant hooks of more sophisticated Western pop. Noriko’s fluttering voice – “the Japanese Bjork” she is often called in passing – adds another ephemeral layer to schema.

For Noriko, speaking over the phone from her home in Paris, where she lives with her two-year-old daughter, musical process is less about articulation then intuition. “I might just be looking out the window, be in the train – you know, when you’re spaced out – or just thinking of memories and things,” she says.”The brain remembers to capture those moments. Most people don’t. I didn’t ever want to resist it. It’s normal for people in Japan to kind of resist this creativity, especially if they have a job or are in school. All of my friends were like that, but I didn’t even think that what I was doing was strange. I just did it.”

For Noriko, who is completely untrained and didn’t begin composing until she was 24, music is without a conceptual base. Since her earliest experiments – which she undertook on a boyfriend’s synthesiser that was “just lying around in his apartment” – her attraction to music has been its strange tactility, the way in which it could directly affect the mind and physiology of the creator.

“Music is very easy in a way,” she suggests. “You don’t have to think so much when you make it. You just start and you feel and you finish.”

With singing, it’s really physical, so you just feel really good inside. It feels natural and if you’re out of tune a bit and out of rhythm a bit, it’s not a good feeling. That is how I find where I am going. It’s very basic and natural and kind of physical.”

Having released a staggering 12 albums in just eight years, not to mention two experimental films – Sand and Mini Hawaii and Sun – the 32-year-old has become one of the signpost artists of Japan’s experimental electronic landscape.

It’s a movement that – at least to Western ears – has seemed to aesthetically intimate the cultural and generational push and pull of contemporary Japan, of globalised idiom and inherent tradition.

While electronic music has defined itself by forging new and progressive musical languages, since the turn of the millennium, a proliferation of young Japanese artists have put forward their new vision with an ear for the past.

The spacious melodic fragments and rhythmic configurations of artists like Kobe’s Radicalfashion (aka Hirohito Ihara), Tokyo’s Chib (aka Yukiko Chiba) and Berlin-based Lambent (aka Akira Inagawa) have established a strain of electronic minimalism that is both wistful and forward-thinking, reticent and expressive.

But Noriko is unsure of her work’s direct linkage. “I didn’t ever try to have an atmosphere that was Japanese,” she says.”

My music is very slow and sometimes out of rhythm, because I’m not really into building rhythm, but I think maybe that is just me.

Maybe that’s a female thing.”

Interestingly, she has actually produced the majority of her output since moving away from Japan in late 2002. Indeed, the last six years have seen eight new records, including 2005’s brilliant collaboration with Brisbane sound artist Lawrence English, Blurred In My Mirror, and 2007’s stunning Solo.

Mind you, Noriko’s relationship with Japan is a multi-layered one. Having grown up the youngest of three sisters in the hills outside Osaka, she recalls feeling great isolation as a child. “No friends come to our home,” she says. “We didn’t have any friends in the neighbourhood.” Like so many children of her generation, she couldn’t wait to leave the family home for the bright lights of Tokyo.

She managed to move to the bustling Ikebukuru area as a late teen, studying philosophy at Waseda University and juggling jobs as a hostess and waitress at night. The era was formative.”

Tokyo was like heaven!” she gushes. “The first one year I was lonely with no family, but I was happy, and after nine years it was really heaven to be in Tokyo. “I miss Ikebukuru so much. It is not an elegant place, but it is a really nice place.”

But Tokyo also engendered a mounting sense of fissure.

As she fell into music and became increasingly uninterested in her studies, she also began to feel alienated from her family and her childhood experience of Japan.

“My sisters and my family never understand what I do,” she says. “They know that I’m making music, but they don’t really enjoy it or understand it. It’s a bit of a shame. My mother tells me often that I am lazy in life,” she laughs. “France is much easier for artists than Japan.”

But after six years away from her homeland, Noriko is becoming more and more conscious of her intrinsic connection. “For me, the last album that I released, Solo, was really Japanese and maybe closer to old Japanese music,” she offers. “I didn’t make any kind of art before music,” she continues. “Even now I’m not really a person who is really looking for something in art all the time. I’m not intellectual,” she laughs. “Music just came from feeling.”

And for Noriko, that “feeling”, at least in part, hails from a life much different to the one she lives today. “More and more, I don’t listen to Japanese sounds, but of course, I have memories of melodies from Japan, most, I think,” she says. “I think because I’ve never learned music, I will maybe always return to this in my mind.”

Tujiko Noriko performs at the Toff in Town tomorrow. Doors open at 8pm.

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