Interview / Inoyamaland / ExT Recordings

Inoyamaland are Makoto Inoue and Yasushi Yamashita. The alias is a pairing of the friends` surnames – while the Land part perhaps refers to the imagined idylls that they paint with the music they make. YMO`s Haruomi Hosono produced the duo`s acclaimed and in-demand innovative 1983 “ambient” album, Danzindan-Pojidon.

While over the course of the subsequent three decades Inoyamaland`s recorded output, on the surface at least, might appear to have been sporadic, the LP`s initial success cemented a non-stop career composing for adverts, exhibitions, galleries, installations, museums, and theatre. In 2019, Visible Cloaks` Spencer Doran collected some of this commissioned work for an excellent compilation on Light In The Attic off-shoot, Empire Of Signs.

In the late 1990s Inoyamaland began collaborating with Kazunao Nagata, the founder of the important local electronic imprints, Transonic, Zero Gravity, and most recently, ExT Recordings. Last year, through the the latter, they released a new album of originals, entitled Swiva, while its follow-up, the terrific Trans Kunang, will be in stores tomorrow. 

One of the four “ambient” acts scheduled to play Tokyo`s Seion event this Saturday, December 4th, at Galaxy Gingakei, it was an honor to speak to both Inoue-san and Yamashita-san.

INOYAMALAND PHOTOinoyamaland new photo

Thank you to Ken Hidaka for assistance with the translation.

Where are you from?

Yamashita: Musashino City, Tokyo.

Inoue: Yugawara Town, Kanagawa Prefecture. 

Where are you currently based?

Yamashita: Mitaka City, Tokyo.

Inoue: I still live in Yugawara.

When did you start making music?

Yamashita: I began improvising when I was around 14 years old, and then composing at around 17. 

Inoue: My father ran a kindergarten and there I used to play the organ, piano, and xylophone, for the children since I was a child myself, but for me these things were really only “toys” that made sounds. It was just fun. I started playing music properly at around the age of 15. The first time I composed it was when I was in charge of the music for a 1977 performance called “COLLECTING NET”, with Yamashita-san.

Do you come from a musical family?

Yamashita: My family was not a musical family but when I was young, my parents listened to records frequently. They told me that when they played Swan Lake, I would always dance to it.

Inoue: There were no musicians in my family, but my mother would sometimes sing hymns while playing the organ. My father listened to light classical music on the record player – rather, both my parents had a keen interest in art.

Which instrument can they play? Have you ever received formal training?

Yamashita: I’ve picked up most musical instruments, at least once. I was learning the piano between the ages of 8 and 9 years old.

Inoue: The first instrument I bought was a patch-type analog synthesizer called the Roland System 100. Rather than playing by myself, I enjoyed its “automatic” performance, using the analog sequencer built into the system. I have never received any formal training.

How did the two of you meet?

Yamashita: We met as members of the same theatre production, in 1976. I was in charge of music, Inoue-san was in charge of art.

Inoue: It was the the following year that I worked with Yamashita-san on “COLLECTING NET”, this is when we started to make and play music together.

Before forming Inoyama Land, you both belonged to a group called Hikashu. Can you please tell us why you both decided to leave the group and the concept behind Inoyama Land?

Inoue: When we started in 1977, the name we gave ourselves was Hikashu. Then in 1978, Hikashu’s musical style changed to New Wave, with the addition of vocalist Koichi Makigami, guitarist Masamichi Kairin, and saxophonist Satoshi Tobe. Hikashu is still active with Koichi-san as the leader. By the time he left Hikashu in 1982, Yamashita-san had worked on four albums with the band. I was a member of Hikashu until 1991, and worked on a total of 10 albums with them. During that time, Inoyama Land’s activities continued in parallel, but from around 1990, requests for ambient music production – from Inoyama Land  – and my personal music production work increased, and so I left Hikashu. For me, the concept behind Inoyama Land is revisiting the memory of innocent sound-play, as in early childhood.

When did you first become interested in synthesizers and electronic music? 

Yamashita: For synthesizers, 1968. I think I was around 15 years old when it came to electronic music. I heard Stockhausen’s Song Of The Youths on the radio.

Inoue: My interest was triggered by two solo albums that George Harrison produced while he was still a Beatle. Listening to Wonderwall Music, released in 1968, I learned about the fun of sound collage, produced by a Mellotron, and from Electronic Sound, in 1969, I was strongly attracted to the possibility of creating various sounds with a huge synthesizer.

What was the first synth you owned? 

Yamashita: Roland SH-1000

Inoue: Roland SYSTEM-100

What kind of equipment do you have now? 

Yamashita: CASIO TONE Large, medium, and small.

Inoue: Roland FANTOM, Kurzweil K2000, YAMAHA DX7, MELLOTRON M400, etc.

Do you have a favourite piece of equipment? 

Yamashita: Really just electronic keyboards, electronic organs, pianos, etc.

Inoue: A Roland FANTOM with built-in MELLOTRON sound source.

When did you first become interested in ambient music? 

Yamashita: From around 1967, I began to be interested in the ideas of John Cage and La Monte Young. Then I saw a performance by Takehisa Kosugi in 1969. The record No Pussyfooting by Fripp & Eno, in 1973, was also important. 

Inoue: From around 1976, I became aware of the diverse possibilities of music, and new styles of jazz / fusion, released by German rock bands in West Germany, and the ECM Record label. I also became interested in Asian folk music, the early medieval music of Europe, Nino Rota and Akira Ifukube. I was interested in the movie soundtracks as well. I felt a new style of music in these things, which all led to “ambient”, and in the process of searching for more music in the same vein, I came across Eno’s Ambient series of LPs.

Do you have a favourite recorded ambient work?

Yamashita: Cluster & Eno

Inoue: Music for Airports.

Haruomi Hosono produced your first album as Inoyama Land. How did you meet Hosono-san and how did you come to work with him? 

Yamashita: We were introduced to Hosono-san by Koji Ueno.

Inoue: In 1981, I made the first Inoyama Land demo tape and handed it to Ueno-san, who was friends wth Hosono-san. Ueno-san had a group called, Guernica, and Hosono-san was working with them.  Ueno-san gave him the demo tape.

How was it working with Hosono-san? Have you ever worked with him on another project? 

Yamashita: At that time, Hosono-san was interested in musicians like us, such as Harold Budd, so the work went very smoothly, but we didn’t work together again.

Do you still keep in touch Hosono-san?

Yamashita, Inoue: When INOYAMA-LAND’s first album, DANZINDAN POJIDON, was released as a new master edition in 2018, Hosono contributed some writing to the package. We also appeared on a radio program with him, and talked with him for the first time in more than 30 years.

There was almost a decade between the 1988 album, Recovery Relaxation, and the 1997 Inoyamaland album. What were you doing in the meantime?

Yamashita, Inoue: Since 1988, Inoyama Land has been commissioned by Sound Process Design to produce ambient music. Sound Process Design is an ambient music production company founded by Satoshi Ashikawa in 1983, while Munetaka Tanaka took over after Ashikawa’s death. Hiroshi Yoshimura and Yutaka Hirose also produced music for Sound Process Design. Around that time, the bubble economy had allowed the construction of pavilions for international expositions, museums, art galleries, and large commercial facilities, one after another in Japan, and Inoyama Land continued to create ambient music works for those facilities.

Were you friends with other artists on the Crescent / Wave Notation label, such as Hiroshi Yoshimura and Satoshi Ashikawa? 

Yamashita: I met Satoshi Ashikawa in around 1976. He was a clerk at the Earl Vivant store at the time, and I asked him to import records such as those by Harry Partch. Hiroshi Yoshimura met for the first time in 1988.

Inoue: In 1998, Yoshimura-san collaborated with Inoyama Land to produce ambient music for the Yokohama International Stadium.

Yamashita: We was also worked with Takashi Sekiguchi, from Bamboo From Asia.

Did you discuss and share your ideas with them? Do you think there was an “ambient movement” in Tokyo or Japan at that time? 

Yamashita: I had similar sensibilities to Hiroshi Yoshimura, and we talked about various musicians and composers. At that time, there was certainly an “ambient movement” in Tokyo and Japan. The central figure was Hiroshi Yoshimura.

How did you meet, and begin working with, 永田一直 (Nagata Kazunao) – first at Transonic, and then ExT Recordings?

Yamashita: In 1998, my cousin’s nephew, a studio engineer, Masuko Tatsuki, introduced me to Nagata-san, and we have been with him since then.

There was a 20 year gap between 1998`s 1984 Pithecanthropus and 2018`s Collecting Net. Again could you please tell us a little about your activities between these recordings?

Yamashita: Again, we were working with Sound Process Design, and producing music for exhibitions and museums.

Inoue: With the release of 1984 Pithecanthropus in 1998, we started playing live again. I`ve come to enjoy playing with Makigami-san’s Hikashu on a regular basis, and also with a younger generation artists, associated with Nagata-san and his labels. Many of the performances during this period were recorded digitally, and as of 2018 they have begun to be released on CD.

Can you please explain how the Commissions compilation for Empire Of Signs came about? 

Yamashita: When I first received an email from Spencer Doran in 2017, he`d already drafted a compilation. We then had the opportunity to meet him in Tokyo and handed him some additional archival InoyamaLand material. The song selection, song order, album title, everything was done by Spencer.

Were you surprised by the International interest in your theatre and installations work?

Yamashita, Inoue: Yes. We were very surprised.

When I’ve written about your work in the past I’ve thought that there is a sense of humor at play, which distinguishes your music from that of your contemporaries. Would you say that this is true?

Yamashita: Yes. I think it’s true.  

Do you listen to a lot of music? Could you please tell us a few pieces that you are currently enjoying?

Yamashita: I listen to a lot of music. My recent favourites are the following three songs:

Chromatics / Shadow

Sufjan Stevens & Lowell Brams / The Runaround 

Martin Rev / Sophie Eagle

Inoue: I don’t listen to ambient music so much these days. So my three favorite songs aren’t ambient music, but these pieces have had a big impact on my musical activities.

Nino Rota / Fellini Satyricon

Akira Ifukube / La Fontaine Sacree

Matching Mole / O Caroline

Can you please tell me more about the new album, Trans Kunang?

Inoue: In the spring of 2011, I recorded a suite of ambient music for a high-rise hotel in central Tokyo. It was a work that I liked very much, but the hotel was closed down. So I took the pieces and reconstructed and re-recorded them to make a new album. The song arrangement was influenced by the idea of music playing at an Asian restaurant adjacent to the garden in the area in this hotel. There`s a strong South East Asian influence, and this was somewhere that Yamashita-san often visited at the time.

Is there a concept behind it?

Yamashita: The concept is Ambient, or New Age.

Inoue: It`s music to be played discreetly, on a jukebox, in a quiet hotel lounge.

How long did it take to record? 

Yamashita, Inoue: About 3 months.

Were the lockdowns a creative and productive period for you? 

Yamashita: For me, it was a creative and productive period, but I don’t think that it really had anything to do with COVID19 or the lockdowns. Rather, I feel that it`s related to my age.

Inoue: Although I had less chance to go out, I was busy with a lot of miscellaneous tasks that I had tackled before, and as the cycle of life changed, I encountered, found, new art in places that I hadn`t noticed before.

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

Yamashita, Inoue: On December 18th, we play SUPER DOMMUNE, then on December 28th, we will be at Star Pines Cafe.

Inoyamaland`s Trans Kunang is released tomorrow, on ExT Recordings.

INOYAMALAND_Trans Kunang copy

Ayane Shino`s Sakura will be released globally by WRWTFWW / Mental Groove 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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