Interview / Ayane Shino / Musicmine / Mental Groove Records

Classical guitarist Ayane Shino`s SAKURA was one of the true, new, Japanese ambient gems of this last year. The album highlights her amazingly intricate acoustic transcriptions of the work of celebrated, and sadly missed, electronic musician, Susumu Yokota. 

Released on CD in Japan by Musicmine in 2020, we, my friends and I, flashed the odd photo on social media, and included a few tracks in online mixes, but we didn’t make a song and dance about it, because, well, we knew that worldwide licensing was on the way….and here it is. Mental Groove Records have now pressed up some wonderful white vinyl copies, which should be in a store near you – wherever you are – as of November 26th. This vinyl reissue will be accompanied by a lavish launch event, taking place at Tokyo venue, Galaxy, on Saturday December 4th – showcasing live performances from homegrown ambient artists, both pioneers, veterans, and a younger generation of musicians. The show, as such, incredibly, is a first for Tokyo. For more details please see the footer at the end of this interview. Ahead of the show I quickly caught up with Ayane-san – fascinated by how she managed to transcribe Yokota`s complex electronica, and also how she discovered his music in the first place.

Thank you to Ken Hidaka for very able assistance with the translation. 

Where are you from?

I`m originally from Hyogo prefecture, Japan. I have also lived in Kochi, Kyoto and Kagoshima. I`m currently based in Tokyo.

When did you first start learning to play the guitar?

I started learning the guitar when I was 8 years old. One day, I went shopping with my mother and were walked passed a musical instrument store when the owner approached us. This person asked me if I would be interested in doing a trial guitar lesson. When I was doing this trial lesson, I immediately felt the guitar to be quite an attractive and pleasant instrument so I bought one on the spot.

Where did you study, and for how long?

I went for a lesson every day until I was 10 years old, but due to my father’s work, my family had to move so attending lessons became quite difficult. Instead I switched to receiving lessons from my teacher, who sent me tapes of live performances, and I then also participated in master classes. 

How many hours a day do you practice?

It depends on the day. It`s sometimes really difficult to find time to practice, so there are times when I am only able to practice for 10 minutes. When it is close to a performance, though, I will practice for hours on end. I make sure that I try to play my guitar every day.

Do you have any favourite classical composers, or any favourite classical guitar players? 

My favorite classical music composers are F. Chopin and P. Tchaikovsky. My favorite classical guitarist is Julian Bream.

Do you play any other instruments? 

I play the piano as well.

Do you come from a musical family?

My mother is a jazz singer. With her influence, and guidance, from when I was small, I was able to attend many concerts across many different musical genres.

Is Sakura your first solo recording? 

No, I`ve actually released 2 solo albums prior to this one, but they were not like Sakura  – where I did multiple channel recordings for each piece. I experimented with multiple channel recordings while I was attending university, but this will be the first time for me to release an album like this.

Have you ever collaborated, performed or recorded with other musicians? 

Yes. I`ve played and recorded with many other musicians, artists who play guitar, piano, violin, cello, flute, saxophone, bass, percussion, etc. I`ve also performed with an orchestra as both a guitar and piano soloist. I`m very attracted to creating new musical worlds, and collaboration opens up opportunity and possibility.

What drew you to the music of Susumu Yokota?

The compositions that I`m most familiar usually have scores, written notes and chords – but Susumu Yokota’s works do not exist as scores. When I started listening to his music, I found that that there were many pieces that I wanted to play on classical guitar. I heard and felt a beauty in every one of them – born out of the bonding of various interwoven motifs. I was enthralled by the way in which his music would always take me to a new imagined world, one that I had never heard / seen before.

How did you discover his music?

Until I entered university, I was mainly listening to classical music, jazz fusion, rock, latin, and pop music but once I started attending school, I was also introduced to the music of Brian Eno, Aphex Twin, Oneohtrix Point Never, Steve Reich, etc. – either through classes or through friends. I then discovered the music of Rei Harakami, and found I was able to replicate his music on classical guitar, and from Harakami-san I made the connection to Sublime Records and Musicmine. From this catalyst, I found Susumu Yokota’s Skintone works.

What was it that drew you to the album Sakura in particular? 

I discovered in the motifs and timbre of Sakura, a fragile sense of beauty – inside the pieces consequent transient state, similar to the Japanese phrase, “mujou” (ever-changing). I also felt “a natural reverberation” inside my brain, like ocean waves gently trembling, the air in a rain forest, the smell of a gentle breeze, etc.

How long did it take you to transcribe the parts?

It didn’t take that much time to transcribe most of the parts. There were some compositions that I was able to write down the notes in less than 1 hour. But on the other hand, for example, the piece, Saku, as throughout the track the timings alter slightly. It took a while to recreate that fluctuation in the main melody. Also, since the plucked strings, the notes, of the classical guitar produce their own unique sound delays, I had to be quite meticulous in selecting some effective chords, to add to each piece, so as to express the distinctive resonance of space that exists in Susumu Yokota’s work. It was also necessary to come up with a novel playing technique, that I could actually to reenact with my fingers, to replicate effects, such as delays, as well.

For the piece, Genshi, it was necessary to create the resonance of the beat, rhythm and bass  – through a classical guitar – so I had to create these additional phrases. It didn’t take that much time to transcribe each part, but it took a while to formulate how to express it musically, compose it with a finger plucking method and select which sounds to use.

Are you a fan of techno and electronica in general? 

Yes, I am. For instance, I like Oneohtrix Point Never’s Chrome Country, Rei Harakami’s Triple Flat, Aphex Twin’s Ageispolis… But when I listen to music usually, right now, I still overwhelmingly listen to classical music, jazz, fusion, latin, and pop.

Could please give me a few other pieces of music that you are currently enjoying? 

Dori Caymmi / Rio Amazonas

Charlie Haden / En La Orilla Del Mundo

D’Angelo & The Vanguard / Really Love

Was the lockdown period creatively productive for you?

I try to think of all the staying at home as something positive, since I was able to make the time to arrange and play a whole lot of songs that I`d like to perform. Choose these pieces freely, since they had nothing to do with work. 

Are you working on any new music at the moment? Are you working on a new album?

Currently, I am working on a Rei Harakami covers album. I`m producing some original 

material for other artists.

Other than the event at Galaxy on December 4th, do you have any other gigs / performances scheduled? 

Regarding appearances connected with Sakura, I`m scheduled to appear on Nick Luscombe’s radio show on CIC LIVE on Monday, Nov. 29th. For the concerts where I play classical, jazz and latin, I usually have several dates every month. In December, I`m performing some piano duo concerts, where we will play classical music, tango and movie soundtracks. 

Ayane Shino`s Sakura will be released globally by Mental Groove Records on November 26th. The launch event takes place at Tokyo gallery,  Galaxy – Gingakei, on December 4th. Legendary ambient innovators, Inoyamaland and Takashi Kokubo – who both gained global recognition via Light In The Attic`s Grammy-nominated, Kankyo Ongaku – will share the bill alongside relative newcomers, Chillax, who themselves were one of the stars of Music For Dreams` “Japanese Chill Out” compilation, Oto No Wa. Renowned local DJ / Producer, Yakenohara, aka Unknown Me, will also perform, while Ayane-san takes the headline slot. The event will be open to a limited physical audience, and also available pay-per-view. The Lone Star crew are honoured to provide additional DJ support on the night, and also host the after-party at Bar Bonobo, in Harajuku.

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