Name: Midori Hirano aka MimiCof
Occupation: Composer, improviser, multi-instrumentalist, sound artist
Current release: Midori Hirano's remix for vibraphonist Pascal Schumacher “Re: Lift - Resonating Pulse” is out on all digital formats through Neue Meister. [Read our Pascal Schumacher interview] Also still available: Her solo album Invisible Island.
Recommendations: Book - „The Gift“ by Lewis Hyde; Music - „Rhythm“ by Frank Bretschneider
If you enjoyed this interview with Midori Hirano and would like to find out more about her work, visit her official website, which contains an up to date news section, biographical information and music. She is also on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter as well as on Soundcloud and Bandcamp.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I grew up playing the piano. And it was during my teenage years, that I started writing my own music only with this instrument. But at that time it was nothing serious and I just did for fun, since I needed some musical freedom to escape from the classical training I had been taking for long time. I didn’t have any machines except a cassette tape recorder back then, so I recorded my piano performances to cassette tapes mostly for myself. But sometimes, I would give one of them to my friends.
I became serious about writing music only after finishing my studies. I started working at a studio, which produced music for advertisements. That is where I learned to use musical software and hardware for the very first time. And I was introduced to electronic music by the people working there and everything sounded really fresh to me. So the time I spent there gave me a big shift in my musical perspective and it eventually led me to producing my own music with gear and software.
For most artists, originality is 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?
It was a kind of irony for myself that I decided to leave the classical music world I had been devoted to since I was a small kid, and then moved to the advertisement music business with all of its new equipment to learn about what I thought would be the future – only to be disappointed in the latter.
In the end, I realised that what they were doing was all about making big money. You were just a slave to what the industrial giants wanted. I was too young to accept how the whole thing worked, and I eventually decided to leave this business working there for a while. Around the same time I encountered lots of experimental music mostly by Japanese noise/improvisers which surely influenced me in a way.
I’m still happy that I went through all those paths to develop myself, in order to find a way to focus on the music I want to make now. I’m sure I had a phase of trying to emulate others, but I think this was also a necessary process to learn and acquire the skills well enough to establish my own voice.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
I think making music is just an alternative way of expressing your identity. Every single work contains more or less the artist’s identity, regardless of whether it's on purpose or not.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
After learning and acquiring the basic skills of producing music, it took me a long time to be satisfied with what I made. The first challenge for me was to find the best way to create something I can be honest about, without relying too much on technology. And this is not only about dealing with tools, but also with acoustic instruments, which are even harder to deal with than digital tools, because you can't get any updates for them, except for a few exceptions. The number of keys of a piano is always limited to 88, and its mechanism of the hammers and strings never changes. So you really need to be creative within this limitation, while there are almost no limits to making sounds with electronics.
I find working in both ways challenging but rewarding, and there’s no end to the process.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
In my early years of producing music, I always tended to use lots of preset sounds, except doing some recordings with piano or string instruments which I'd later edit or process as well. It was still a necessary process for me to seek my own way of creation, but at some point I realised that I got stuck too much with it and needed more alternatives to make me feel more free. I returned to focusing on playing the piano, and eventually found a way to keep my creation in a good balance of electronic and acoustic sounds.
That is how I ended up having two different monikers - one is my real name which is for a piano-based music, and the other one I’m using when I focus more on the electronic/experimental sounds, is MimiCof.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
I got the chance to use a Buchla synthesizer several years ago for the first time at the EMS studio in Stockholm. This was quite inspiring, since it gave me the same kind of joy that I would get with acoustic instruments, although it was still an electronic instrument. I sometimes need these kinds of moments, especially to get myself away from computers which I still easily get stuck with.
Recently I visited the EMS Radio Belgrade Electronic Studio to do a one-week residency to work with the historical SYNTHI100, which was also another great sound excursion for me.
But of course they are not the instruments I want to have, and it's nearly impossible to acquire them for personal use anyway. I just need the occasional exploration to get fresh ideas. I'll leave my own familiar sound environment and dive into unknown worlds - but without losing my mind.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
I work alone most of the time. Yet doing collaborations has become an important part of expanding my musical world over the years, since I have been getting more involved in different ways of collaborations through jamming and sharing files now.
But no matter how I collaborate with others, they always give me a spark to get new ideas I would never be able to reach to by myself. Collaborations can sometimes end in failure, but at other times, they can be incredible. They are just another way of communication and openness than the one you need for life.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. 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?
I don’t have any fixed schedule. Sometimes I have to work pretty long and intensively, but sometimes can be quite lazy, depending on how many commissions I have. There are always so many distractions from the flood of information from Internet, e-mails, and other small things, I have to do what everyone else has to do, so sometimes it’s hard to set a routine. But one thing I try not do these days is work till midnight.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
My cassette tape album And I Am Here which I released in 2015 through staaltape might be the breakthrough work of mine. This is the simplest music I ever made without thinking of the sound quality at all, while recording an out of tune piano with a field recorder, and adding some field recordings I did in the city or nature on top of it. It was the album where I managed to escape from using preset sounds and going back to my roots with the piano.
It led me to make the another album Minor Planet, where I established my new styles of blending piano sounds and electronic elements in a balance I find best.
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?
It’s not easy to not get distracted by the information and getting involved in correspondences. But I at least go for a walk to a big park in my neighbourhood when I get too many things on my mind and not turn on my phone.
The other method to silence my mind is drawing on paper. I’m not good with drawing at all, so it’s nothing more than just scribbling. But still, it helps me to get my mind organized and sometimes I can even get inspired.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
I don’t know if I ever get hurt by music - there was surely some music I couldn’t stand and didn’t want to keep listening to in the club. But I was not "hurt".
I believe music has the potential to heal people, if they want to be healed by music too. I don’t deny this necessity, although I don’t want to make music for the purpose of healing people, because it could be too sleazy. I think it relies completely on the emotional level of listeners if this music can heal them or not.
But of course I’m not offended if someone hears my music to heal herself/himself, since once my music is released to the public, it has already become something else and is no longer just mine. And I’m sure I sometimes listen to music to relax, and this can be a kind of healing too.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
It’s hard to answer, because this of course depends on how you use them and what kind of contexts you want to express through these signs. But I think you really need to be aware of how what you are going to do can potentially hurt someone.
Also I think the most important thing is that whatever you do should not be done only for your own artistic ego, without any interests of having dialogues with origins or communities who belong to the cultures you want to exchange for your art.
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?
For me, memories and our sense of hearing are strongly connected. My mother used to listen to the Beatles’ and Peter, Paul and Mary’s music while cooking or doing other housework. Then the smells of cooked fishes or the laundry hanging in the garden, or some specks I’ve seen on the wall of our Japanese house often come in my mind, every time I listen to their music - although these images have nothing to do with their songs.
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 think I can’t really separate my creation from the life I have, as my music is consciously but also unconsciously a response to what I experience over time for sure. But on the other hand, I want to be free from any of political views when creating music. Just because I always want to be as intuitive as possible to what I’m going to make, and don’t want to get distracted by any contexts.
Though it might change when I get older.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
I think you can feel it somewhere between loudness and silence.