Name: Masaki Batoh
Occupation: Guitarist, Improviser
Current release: Electric Meditations with The Silence on Drag City
Recommendations: Kyosai Kawanabe Ukiyoe; Koku Nishimura Shakuhachi
If you enjoyed this interview with Masaki Batoh and would like to find out more about him, visit his artist profile on the Drag City website.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What what is about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
My first encounter with music was probably in my childhood around the age of five. It was then that I witnessed Japanese traditional ceremonies of Shinto or Buddhism - seasonal ritual ceremonies or funerals.
I started my band when I was 16 years old in high school. The first school band was lovely. We mostly played Japanese, British, and American rock music. Our repertoire also contained some blues. I remember we played songs by Mops, Flower Travellin’ Band, The Rolling Stones, Them, The Who, Muddy Waters etc. I was just a singer.
I feel myself influenced by mostly rock music of the 60’s and 70’s (at least until 1975). American blues and folk exerted an enormous power on me as well. As did British folk or traditional folk music. Everything in this direction until 1970 since before that war.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
Yes, it was exactly the same with me. My compositional style is very simple, just like in old rock (I don’t actually think these are truly old, but it seems like they are considered “old” by contemporary society). But at the same time, I personally don’t feel as though there are any copies or influenced materials in my music.
All the music we made since 1984 has matured over time through our own sensitivity. All those creatures united to our spirits are ourselves. For this reason, there’s no progression or development in our music.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
Actually there was no challenge for me. All my music comes out very naturally. I cannot create anything, it's all naturally born inside of me – equally smoothly in the morning as in the evening.
What was your first studio like? How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?
My first studio experience was the greatest fun. Maybe it was the most enjoyable and happiest moment in my music career.
My set up is simple. My instrumental part consists of nothing more than electric and acoustic guitar, plus vocals. In the beginning, between 1984 to 1987, I put my acoustic Guild guitar into an amplifier. That was it. That's how simple it was.
When Michio Kurihara joined Ghost in 1988, I took an electric guitar and plugged it into an amp directly without any pedals because I didn’t need to play lead guitar. Now, in The Silence since 2014, my mates at my foot are wah wah (Greco) – fuzz (Milano) and Leslie speakers-tape echo unit (Roland Space echo) - amplifier (Marshall ‘60s). My comrades are Gibson Les Paul Custom ‘63 and Guild D-50 ‘73.
How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
We’re making our music 100% analog only. No need for a feedback system.
Production tools, from instruments to complex software environments, contribute to the compositional process. How does this manifest itself in your work? Can you describe the co-authorship between yourself and your tools?
My comrades to support my songwriting are pen and notebook.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other a creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
In the current band I lead, the Silence, we are four guys who live apart in different prefectures. We never see each other until we have shows. We communicate just before we go on stage. So I think we’re far out of collaboration or concrete communication. It’s seldom that I make any collaborations with other musicians - at least for me.
Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
Well ... I normally wake up at 6 am, make breakfast, leave my house, take a train to my own acupuncture clinic. At 9 am, I start treating 4 patients in the morning, take lunch, treat 6 patients in afternoon, then go home past 9 pm. This is my routine.
Music and acupuncture are quite the same things to me. There’s no division between them.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece or album that's particularly dear to you, please? Where did the ideas come from, how were they transformed in your mind, what did you start with and how do you refine these beginnings into the finished work of art?
Sorry, I haven’t had my favourite works yet. I’m not satisfied with my work yet.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
Music is not made by man; it’s given from above. It’s naturally born in the state of peace of mind.
How is playing live and writing music in the studio connected? What do you achieve and draw from each experience personally? How do you see the relationship between improvisation and composition in this regard?
Of course both activities are the same. But the live activity has a special meaning; you're facing an audience which gives you back their energy. The energy creates a continuous feedback loop. It’s a beautiful spiritual moment for me.
Improvisation has been a very important part, both in The Silence as well as my former group, Ghost. It’s a spiritual conversation between the Silence members.
How do you see the relationship between the 'sound' aspects of music and the 'composition' aspects? How do you work with sound and timbre to meet certain production ideas and in which way can certain sounds already take on compositional qualities?
If the composition is successful, the entire production goes well. Everything comes out naturally.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work? What happens to sound at its outermost borders?
Based on our traditional thought, specifically the Yin-Yang Five Elements Theory, all our senses are connected. Our Chi is born from deep within our original and newly customised selves, flowing all around our bodies and spirit.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
I’m not sure if my musical expression is art or not, but still I feel that I can develop some creativity.
Art can change society. Its energy is enormous. We can change this crazy world and allow it to become better than it is now. No doubt.
It is remarkable, in a way, that we have arrived in the 21st century with the basic concept of music still intact. Do you have a vision of music, an idea of what music could be beyond its current form?
I’m sorry, I don’t listen to 21st century music. I especially have no interest in recent or future music after 1973.