Interview – Jan Jelinek & Masayoshi Fujita


Jan Jelinek has showcased a number of different approaches to creating music and done that under numerous aliases. Masayoshi Fujita is a vibraphonist composing in an experimental and exploratory way. As a duo they’ve realised two albums that unite their interests, styles and sounds – all of those so different in each one’s music. Luckily, Radio Azja Festival provided us with a chance to experience this remarkable musical meeting in person. It also gave us an opportunity to talk to Jelinek and Fujita and ask them some questions.

Patryk Wojciechowski: I know that you Jan, have already been to Poland but what about you Masayoshi?

Masayoshi Fujita: Yes. I have been to Poland and I find people here very much interested in experimental music.

Marta Konieczna: You’ve known each other for a couple of years now and I would like to know how well do you know each other, but as musicians.

MF: I knew Jan’s records and knew him as an artist before we met. I think it was in 2009.

MK: So now when you play together do you sense some kind of chemistry? Can you feel what the other one is going to do with the sound when you perform together?

Jan Jelinek: It’s hard to say. We don’t play that often recently together. Nevertheless, I would say I know how Masayoshi is going to perform. What I like about him is that he creates a lot of space for me because mostly I’m doing textures and it’s more dense. Actually, I know what to expect from Masayoshi and I like playing with him [laughs]

MF: I also like playing with you [laughs]. I rather react to Jan’s sounds and sometimes that means I play less because I’m listening a lot. I feel there’s a lot of free time for me and I don’t have to react quickly. It’s an improvisation but not like a jazz improvisation. I take more time to react. Jan doesn’t change so quickly, so I can think about what to do.

JJ: What we play is mostly based on a long progression.

PW: Do you prepare separately before the show?

JJ: Sort of. Today we actually have one piece or, as you can call it, repertoire and besides that we will improvise.

MK: But it’s not an improvisation in a sense of jazz music as we said, right? How is it different?

MF: I mean, in a way it’s similar but we don’t play tonal sounds, nor chords or scales. It’s more about very abstract sounds so I don’t have to care which chord we are playing now.

PW: So you rather concentrate on sounds and sonics.

MF: Yes. I also have kind of a different approach to the vibraphone. It’s a tuned instrument which has certain keys and notes and with this instrument we play kinda non atonal things. It’s a different approach to this instrument.

MK: Talking about instruments. Masayoshi you prepare your instrument and Jan, you, manipulate your sounds digitally. It seems like searching for other kinds of sounds but I wonder how do these two methods differ or what similarities they share.

MF: Actually, I do also use digital effects. I use a very simple, minimal setup which consists of delay and reverb. I make use of it to create a texture sound or to chop sounds and loop them to deconstruct it a little. I find these textures and sounds very interesting. We do similar things. And there are many different ways to play vibraphone. I try to look for different sounds by playing maybe slowly and more softly. I’m interested in something betweeen harmony and melody.

MK: Does this search for different sounds come from sheer curiosity or do you want to explore all the possibilities?

JJ: I wouldn’t call it that scientific to be honest. I’m not searching for new sounds that haven’t been ever heard before, I’m not that ambitious in this case. It’s more like creating textures which somehow do have a conotation that triggers other things. What interests me in music is to create something out of a scratch and then I’m starting to imagine totally different things. However, it’s not that I always search for more contemporary version of sound esthetique or sound design or whatever. I don’t have that in mind when I’m working.

PW: Speaking about that, is there a reason you’ve moved away from using beats as Jan Jelinek? I know that you still use beats under other aliases but under this one you stopped it. You have different ideas when you work under different aliases?

JJ: Yeah, of course. Aliases always give you a chance to reach other audience and confront it with different ideas. It came naturally. It drifted from club context mostly bass focused and through the years I used it less and less. My last two albums that I did under my real name do not have beats anymore it’s only textures. Actually, I still really like club music even though I don’t know what’s going on. Ten or fifteen years ago I just decided that other people can do it much better and even then I started listening to different music and it wasn’t my main focus anymore.

MK: Still in the electronic music spectrum or some different genres?

JJ: I listen to a really wide range of music.

PW: How often do you in fact listen to music? Do you look for inspiration when listening or you search it somewhere else?

MF: I listen to music every day but I don’t particularly do it to find inspiration. Mostly for my solo pieces I get inspiration from the sound of the vibraphone. I always play around and listen to nice harmony and chords by chance and I stick with it in order to compose a piece. Maybe there are influences from different things like art, my memory or even music but I don’t really look for influence or ideas.

JJ: Similarly. I listen to music a lot but I don’t do it for inspiration. However, of course, music is inspiring.

PW: How the new features of software impact composing and producing music? Do you use them and try to be up to date? Or you rather stick to your equipment and setups.

JJ: I don’t work that much with software honestly. It’s funny because this year I came back to using software but for last ten years or so I used computer more like a band machine for recording audio files. This year I came back to it for very banal reasons. I had to buy a new computer and update everything so I just started to have interest in software. It’s not that I was never interested in it. I always looked at what friends did and so on but mostly hardware could also do it as well.

PW: When you were working on your last album how did you sample vocals?

JJ: Of course I was working with the computer for editing but the sounds were created with analogs.

MK: Is that why I could see the word organic in reviews of the music of your project?

JJ: I wouldn’t use this word. I’ve never understood what people mean by it. Three years ago I was in LA for some time and the word organic was everywhere. I even saw organic carwash. I started to hate this word. Everything you bought was organic. It’s a brand actually. Beat machines I use are mostly digital and can sound much more digital than computers. I wouldn’t install a border between a computer and analogs. I never understand people who use a word organic to describe the sound.

MK: What interests you in the one’s another cultures and heritages?

JJ: For me it is easy to answer – Japan is still very exotic of course for people from Europe. The society works all different, which makes it kind of attractive for tourists. What I like about Japanese culture, what I’m addicted to is the general aesthetics. Everything they do reflects a high level of aesthetics. Even the supermarket music! It can be also surreal, because everything is overcurated but on the other hand it’s interesting, definitely. Plus, I like Japanese culture because I’m a very shy person and perhaps it’s the only society, where it would not be pathologized. I always feel very comfortable there as a shy person. Because here in Europe it’s a negative term.

MF: I didn’t think that shyness is a negative feature. As it goes to the surrealness, I can see what Jan means. Sometimes you see or hear about foreign people travelling to Japan looking for funny things, also music. Yes, that’s one of Japan’s characteristics. Since for long time we’ve been admiring foreign cultures and their stuff, we’ve been trying to make similar thing by ourselves or to integrate them into our all day life. Then maybe try to do our own version of it. Even buddhism is an example here, or food, or cars. But European culture? It’s hard to say because it is so common in Japan. You buy lots of western things. And living in Europe… well everything is quite different.

PW: Jan, we can find a question to Lady Gaga on Zwischen, in one interview you said that your son likes Kendrick Lamar. What is your approach to pop culture?

JJ: I said that in an interview? Such private things! (laughs). I like popular culture, definitely. I listen to a lot of pop music, especially when I drive a car. I come from popular culture and was surrounded by it while growing up.

MF: Me too, I listen to pop music, Japanese one as I’m not really into European or American pop, maybe old ones. Pop sounds interesting but I don’t follow the pop industry.

MK: Since Zwischen was already mentioned, having in mind a question for John Cage – Jan, Masayoshi, we’ve been told to ask you the following question: where are you going?

MF: (muttering)

JJ: Maybe you can answer like John Cage? (laughs)

MF: I remember when he said he didn’t like vibraphone’s sound… He said it sounds like smog in San Francisco.

MK: The next question will be about the ghosts. Jan, the critic Mark Fisher associated one of your projects – G.E.S. – with the so-called hauntology and I’m curious if there was really something that was haunting you while making this music?

JJ: Not really. I wasn’t that much reflecting on an aesthetic such as nostalgia thing or whatever. Actually, I was more driven by copyright issues. For the media I have to mention that the idea of G.E.S. project was to place audio devices in public spaces to make field recordings, then sample it into the music I wanted to create – including noise of the streets. I thought it’s a good idea because before I was nearly getting sued with copyright issues and since then there was this ,,policeman’’ on my back controlling me, asking myself if the sample is still recognizable. And I wanted to get rid of this, emancipate myself, try to get back to the position when I was starting doing sample-based music. That’s why I came across the idea of sampling in public spaces. It’s still not legal. But it was a kind of an illusion, a hallucination. And it was helpful because after finishing the album I was relieved – all right, nothing happened, I can sample again. The samples were so obvious and so recognizable (most of them based on classical music, like Debussy). I’m still curious how come no one ever knocked on my door.

MK: So you’re not really familiar with the whole hauntology thing?

JJ: Well, it was widely discussed in Germany as well. But I don’t relly feel connected to it. I understand this term, I think Fisher coined it pretty well by transferring the Derrida’s concept into music and music production. But I didn’t, I still don’t, have it in mind when I’m making music

MK: And your ghosts Masayoshi? As far as I know, it is belived in Japan that there is a spirit inhabiting every object. Which one lives in your instrument?

MF: Ah, it’s just vibraphone. But animism indeed is fundamental for people’s thinking in Japan, at least for me. I’ve heard lots of stories and fairytales as a kid, like when you waste something, food for example, then its spirit comes to you at night. I like that idea.

PW: Have you ever had a situation when that stopped you from doing something? Because you were afraid that the ghost will come to you?

MF: Yeah, yeah, of course! (laughs). Thats funny, in my family when we have to throw away some food we say ,,I’m sorry’’. Like literally, we say it aloud, because we feel so. Me and my wife, we don’t see food as objects or as a material but as life you know? They died for us, we killed them. It’s a natural way of thinking for us. Even this table (taps it) or this water has a spirit. We say that there are millions of gods in the world. So if you waste something, it’s insulting the god of it. And a vibraphone – has its own spirit.

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