Thursday, 31 January 2008

Bruce Dickinson [Iron Maiden]

I interviewed Bruce Dickinson by phone on the 26th of January, 2008. It was 3:00 am (25th of Jan.) in the UK and he had just finished a day of rehearsing for the "Somewhere Back In Time" world tour at the Pig Iron Studios. The interview lasted around 30 minutes, during which he namechecked this blog a record-breaking 68 times (see bold type) - Well done, Bruce!

BD: Hello.

CBL: Hello. Can I speak to Bruce Dickinson?

BD: Ah, yes, speaking.

CBL: Oh hi, this is Colin Liddell phoning from Japan.

BD: Oh, hi there. How are you?

CBL: Yeh, hi, I’m fine. I was supposed to speak to you yesterday, I think, and that didn’t work out, so I’ve got a few questions about your coming trip to Japan. Is that OK?

BD: Absolutely. Go ahead.

CBL: Right. So, first of all, you’re in the studio right now. What are you doing in there?

BD: Well, I mean at the moment, all we’re doing at the moment is rehearsing for the tour, and, in fact, we’ve been going all week, and we’ve pretty much just knocked off for the weekend, having a couple of days break, and then we just do one rehearsal Monday, and then that’s us all ready to go, y'know, we’re um… It’s all sounding pretty good actually, so we’re very pleased. Some of the songs we haven’t played for 23 years.

CBL: Yeh. So you’re having to relearn a lot of things?

BD: Well, we were, well, we were really surprised, um, the first day back into rehearsals, uh, we went through.. Well, actually, we went through… We managed to get through all the songs.

CBL: Yeh?

BD: So, I think everybody is so excited about this tour. We’ve… I think everybody’s been putting in a bit of work on the side. Eh, so everybody came pretty well prepared for stuff really. There was only the odd moment where we went ‘Oh hang on, how does that bit go?’ y’know, but it was really, really great, and it was very exciting. I mean some of the songs we hadn’t played together for a long time and, uh, y’know we’d really… y’know just… It’s one thing to think about it, um, uh, from a distance but actually to go and play those songs is so exciting.

CBL: How hard is it to kind of dredge up the old memories of the songs, the lyrics and everything and how they go?

BD: Ummm, well, I mean I, I got a couple of… I got a couple of CDs made up of the set that we were going do, and I just carried it around with me and played it, and sort of played it in the bath, played it in the shower, and then when everybody was out of the house, uh, I used to walk round the kitchen island and sing the set to myself. And just, y’know, remind myself of what the words were, because we don’t do any stuff like, er, these guys who use auto-cues or anything else like that, y’know. We actually remember the words – huh huh.

CBL: Yeh. So, your way of kind of bringing back the songs into your memory, it’s very similar to the way a lot of the fans would behave. I mean that’s the sort of thing they’d do. They’d listen to it in the bath. They’d sing it in the kitchen, whatever, as they’re going around their daily life.

BD: Well, yeh, and that’s exactly what you have to do, I mean, y’know, when you look down at the audience and everybody’s singing the words, erm, y’know you better make sure that you’re on the same page.

CBL: Hu hu, yeh. That would look back, yeh. Now I want to ask you why have you… Why has the band decided to, eh, focus on the 80s material again?

BD: Well, eh, one reason… About two or three years ago, uhm, we said we would, um… We had a very successful tour last year in which we played exclusively new material, start to finish, on one set. We played the whole of the new album, um, and, uh… What always worries us, certainly, is being lumped in with some of these other kind of nostalgia acts that go out there.

CBL: Yeh.

BD: And that’s, y’know, that would be absolute death for us. Em, y’know, we go out and we do these tours as, y’know, celebrations of stuff we’ve done, um, but in between times we do full-on album tours in which we play, by and large, almost exclusively new material, um, and what we find by doing that, by sandwiching the tours in that way, we actually increase our fan base and increase the excitement value of what we do.

CBL: Uhu.

BD: Constantly. We’re in a stage now where, ah… We have, well, in actual fact, we have never played to as many people as we have done, as we will be doing on this tour, um, in as few shows. And it’s just extraordinary what’s going on. I mean in terms of like, y’know, South America, we’re playing to 50,000-seats sold out stadiums. In Scandinavia we’ve got, we’ve sold quarter of a million tickets across six shows.

CBL: Yeh.

BD: Yeh. It’s amazing. We were never ever this big at any point in our careers at all.

CBL: Yeh, and so this, this vast new audience that you’re accessing with this tour, they’re going to be getting all the 80s stuff, like, full frontal, so they might get the impression that Maiden are quintessentially an 80s band.

BD: Uh, well, no. Eheh, quite the opposite, because, in actual fact, none of these kids were born in the 80s.

CBL: Mhuh.

BD: Um, most of these kids have become Maiden fans, um, with “Brave New World” and “Dance of Death,” and the last two or there studio albums that we’ve done, so they’ve grown up with the material, but they’ve also bought the back catalogue but they’ve never ever heard the band perform it.

CBL: Uhuh.

BD: So for them this is legendary.

CBL: Yeh.

BD: Yeh. They haven’t… Y’know, they weren’t even born in the 80s most of these kids that are buying the tickets to see the band, so, for them to have the opportunity to come out and see us playing this stuff, for them is absolutely extraordinary. Um, and they know that this is probably a one time opportunity for that to occur, I mean, because we won’t be going out and playing a lot of these songs again ever.

CBL: Yeh. It is a one off thing? That’s for sure, yeh?

BD: Well, no. This is… Bringing back the Powerslave tour to all these various territories, yeh, this is a one off thing. We won’t go back to a lot of these places again with this show. I mean one or two places we are gonna have to go back. We’re already making plans to go back to South America because there have been riots in several countries because we’re not playing there.

CBL: [sniggers]

BD: Um, in Venezuela they found out… The audience discovered the address of the local promoter and police, the riot police had to be called because they besieged his house…

CBL: What were they actually demanding? Demanding more shows or…?

BD: We didn’t do a show. We’re not doing a show in Venezuela.

CBL: Aha, alright. That’s why.

BD: They’re demanding to know why, why he doesn’t book a show in Venezuela.

CBL: Aha, so they have to go across the border or…

BD: I don’t know why he didn’t book a show in Venezuela but I’ve got a feeling we’re going to have to do one.

CBL: Uhm.

BD: In Mexico City we’ve booked a stadium, a 20,000-seat stadium, um, and, uh, two weeks ago they had to move it to a 48,000-seat stadium.

CBL: Uhum.

BD: We’ve sold that out now.

CBL: Yeh, it’s certainl,eh… This tour’s taking on gigantic proportions and the other thing…

BD: Yeh, this is not, y’know, this is not, y’know, like old men coming out of the woodwork to go and see the band.These are young kids, um, who have been brought up with the band, who’s experience of the band, y’know, is either anecdotal or it’s new material, by and large, and, um, this stuff is just taken hold. I mean, we we’ve hardly advertised this tour. I mean…

CBL: It’s sort of just … It’s done it by itself virally, or…

BD: Yeh. This is word of mouth. This is a million and a half people… This is like an uprising of a million and a half people round the World going to go and see Iron Maiden.

CBL: Yeh.

BD: A band that you can’t see on MTV or VH1 or TV Network or the X-Factor or hear on the radio or anything else like that.

CBL: Can I also ask you about… You’re taking your own airplane this time as well.

BD: Yeh.

CBL: Um, it’s kind of interesting because you you’re actually flying it, right? But…

BD: Yeh, I’m flying some of it. When I’m not working with the band, I work for the airline, who we’re leasing the aircraft off. I work for the airline as an airline captain, yeh.

CBL: Uhuh. Yeh, I heard you took Rangers down to Israel for a football match. What was… Why did you, why did you… I heard you volunteered for that.

BD: No, I didn’t actually. I mean, I, it just happened to appear on my roster.

CBL: Uha.

BD: I didn’t know it was Rangers. It was just… It was a three-day trip to Israel, so I thought ‘that sounds like fun.’

CBL: You’re not a fan of Rangers or anything like that, are you?

BD: Sorry?

CBL: You’re not a fan of Rangers, are you?

BD: I’m not a fan of any football team. I’m a rugby fan.

CBL: The other, the other lads in the band are West Ham fans, aren’t they?

BD: Not all of them. Steve’s a big West Ham fan, um, but, uh, yeh, I don’t think anybody else is particularly. He just has his his, his thing, em, because he used to be a junior for West Ham, so it’s kind of… West Ham is kind of his religion, but I was never, I was never particularly into football when I was a kid, so I’m, eh, pretty neutral. I’m fairly immune to football. I thought the Rangers guys were great. They were, y’know, fun guys to have on board the aircraft, and we went to see the match and I discovered that I was wearing the wrong coloured hat [line interference] Hapoel Tel Aviv, yeh, Hapoel Tel Aviv, we were seated in their stands [line interference] with this bright blue hat on. [line interference] It was kind of amusing because all these people sat there in their red hats turning around sort of going ‘Are you a Rangers supporter?’ I went ‘Uhhh, no, not really, I’m just a supporter of humanity in general’

CBL: Yeh, football fans are really…yeh…

BD: [line interference] they couldn’t quite figure out that somebody at a football match that was just, uh, curiosity, but hey there you are, y’know.

CBL: I think it’s interesting you, em, you’re into different sports from Steve because, y’know, people often think there’s a bit of a tension there, or you have different philosophies about the music. I mean, one thing I saw on the DVD with “A Matter of Life and Death,” you’re talking about, eh, different approaches about writing the music. I mean, you’re obviously, because you’re a lyricist, you think the words should come first, and you were also talking about Steve’s view that the music is the most important thing because, y’know, a lot of the fans haven’t actually… A lot of the fans around the World don’t actually understand English well enough to get all the nuances.

BD: Yeh, I mean, and, and that’s just stuff you have to work through really. [line interference] I think you come to a series of compromises to make the stuff sound great, y’know, um, but if you’re writing songs in English, y’know, and things like that, it’s like, y’know, if you’re a playwright, you don’t worry about the fact that people who don’t understand English might not get what you’re writing about. You just go ahead and write and do what you do, um, so, yeh, I mean I think… Basically I think all the ingredients and all the various personalities that comprise Maiden over the years have come up with some very successful stuff, so, y’know, I just think like y’know, yeh, we all have differences, but all the differences combine to make us successful.

CBL: Yeh. I’m interested in, y’know, em, where you’re coming from as a songwriter, because you, you do start with the words and um… Words do suggest certain emotions and emotions lead into music and so that’s one way to write music. I think it’s a more organic and honest way to write music in a way, coz if you just start with an abstract piece of music…

BD: Well, I wouldn’t necessarily go that way. I think it just depends, y’know… Some of it depends to an extent how you, y’know, how your brain’s wired up as well, and different people have different strengths and different weaknesses, y’know, um, and I think the good thing to do is always to respect other people’s strengths and to know your own weaknesses.

CBL: Yeh. So it’s a case of you and Steve kind of complementing each other in a way by having different strengths.

BD: He’s good at a whole bunch of things that I really have no interest in.

CBL: Yeh.

BD: Yeh, um eh, I’m interested in the end result and I’m interested in, y’know, the emotional input and things like that, y’know, and Steve is absolutely fascinated by twiddling knobs and, y’know, the minutiae of everything. Y’know, I see that as being ‘Well, hey, y’know, OK, fine, I guess somebody has to do that job.’ I get really very bored with all that. He absolutely adores it, and so, y’know, between the two or three or four of us, y’know, whoever’s writing all the songs it all gets done, and that’s great, um, y’know. It is, it, it is complementary. We do work together as a team. We’ve been together now for God knows how many years. We all know our little foibles and, y’know, we all know when to, y’know, when to push and when to back off, y’know, in terms of getting our ideas across.

CBL: Umh. Yeh I’d like to ask you about the kind of inspirations behind your lyrics because just like, y’know, heavy metal lyrics, eh, of its very nature, it tends to go for the extremes and the kind of hyperbolic thing, the big impressive sounding imagery. It’s like a constant attempt to invoke the spirit of the sublime, y’know, in the original sense that Edmund Burke used it. Em, so you, you, y’know tend to write about the great themes and metaphysical things, rather than kind of mundane day-to-day kind of kitchen sink stuff. How does your sort of song-writing inspiration eh fit within that context?

BD: Um, yeh, I mean, I…ehhh… I mean, metal’s a pretty, y’know… Metal’s fairly melodramatic kind of stuff. Um, y’know, Metal is in many respects, if you were to take it and compare it to, uh, other forms of, y’know, other forms of performing, it would be at the very least musical theatre and it could be like really absurd opera, y’know. And all of those things tend to take a fairly broad brush approach to things. They want to make a bit impression.

CBL: Yeh.

BD: And metal is a bit like that, y’know. Um, although, y’know, and there are shades within it as well, y’know. Add all the Hollywood bands. And I don’t think they do necessarily do go and deal in, uh, timeless classic themes. They do deal in the minutiae. The trouble is it tends to be the minutiae of used condoms, um, so it’s a bit raggedy and y’know, it’s all about the sleazy sordid side of life in graphic detail. Maiden have never gone for that, y’know. We’ve figured that people want to go and explore that kind of stuff they can just… There’s plenty of places you can just go and do it on a Saturday night down the pub, y’know. We’ve always decided that we wanna tell stories…

CBL: Yeh.

BD: And they don’t necessa…y’know. And stories may just be kind of open ended. They might just be, uh, fairly non-judgmental retellings of adventure stories that you can set to music, or sometimes, y’know, yeh, they might a little… They might be something we’re trying to put across in the song, but by and large we tend to tell stories. They are, they are stories. They’re either stories and we either pinch them from legends or we pinch them from history, or we glue two bits of legends together, or we plunder a bit of Shakespeare and we turn it into something else. So, that’s what we do.

CBL: Is that very different from what you do as a solo songwriter with your solo albums, coz I, I believe they’re a lot more introspective, aren’t they?

BD: Yeh, they are, um, I, yeh. I suppose I, I still indulge in, y’know, the desire to go and tell stories, but I don’t necessarily have to tell stories with a plot.

CBL: mm-hu.

BD: Y’know. You can tell stories of a journey.

CBL: It’s more stream of consciousness sort of thing?

BD: Yes. But you can tell the story of a soul’s journey, or something else like that, I mean, there, there’s… The album that I’m the most proud of, I suppose, is the one I did that was based on, partially based on, but mainly inspired by, um, the works of the poet William Blake.

CBL: Yeh.

BD: And that was called “The Chemical Wedding,” which was also an illusion to alchemy and the way the soul changes through the years, uh, and of course because Blake was himself was certainly an alchemist, was almost certainly an occultist, who would have had esoteric knowledge and it’s infused in his poetry, and, so, it was an attempt to just try and tap into bits of that imagery and bits… I mean I’m not claiming in any way, shape, or form that it’s fit to wipe Blake’s arse, most of it. It’s just my attempt at some kind of homage to Blake, because he’s an inspirational poet who I think embodies the soul of much of what is termed rock and roll now.

CBL: Yeh. Um, so it sounds like you got a lot more, kind of, artistic freedom when you’re working solo. And when you’re with Maiden, there’s other expectations that come into the equation. Is that how you see it? Is it a bit more of a tighter place artistically?

BD: But having the ability to just do what you want all the time with nobody else, with no checks and balances, isn’t always a way to make the most, um, y'know, successful pieces.

CBL: Yeh, it’s good to have something to push against sometimes.

BD: Yeh, absolutely. Y’know, some of the best things… I mean, I’m always reminded of, y’know, probably the most memorable bit that the composer Rossini ever wrote was the William Tell Overture. Um, but by the time he wrote that, he’d pissed up all the money, that he’d been paid. He’d been commissioned to write several pieces. He was an alcoholic and he spent it all on drink, so, em, his sponsor finally sent the heavy mob round, kidnapped him and locked him in a room and said you’re not getting out until you write something that’s any good, and miraculously the following morning, out popped the William Tell Overture.

CBL: Yeh, yeh, it’s just the pressure of… A lot of good things are written in prison, as they say.

BD: Yeh, absolutely. I always say, y’know, if you gave somebody… If you said, ‘Oh folks, listen, here’s, um, a limitless amount of money and we’re going to pay you loads and loads of money and all you have to do is just sit down and come up with something really, really brilliant, but we’ll just keep paying you money until you do. It’ll never happen.

CBL: Yeh.

BD: But if you say ‘Here’s a prize and the person who comes up with the most brilliant thing gets the prize,’ I’m sorry there’d be geniuses coming out of the woodwork.

CBL: Yeh, this kind of leads into an obvious line of questioning. Like, you’ve obviously with, sololy and with Maiden, you’ve already achieved a lot. You’ve got enough money, all your needs are taken care of. What keeps driving you, driving you back, to, y’know, keep on going, to keep producing stuff?

BD: I get bored.

CBL: So, it’s boredom mainly, yeh. That figures because you’re a bit of a Renaissance man. You seem to be going in a great many directions with, y’know, the various things like writing novels, sword fencing, em presenting the, eh, show on the BBC, etcetra.

BD: Yeh, I mean, life is, y’know, to me… I can’t understand why we’re put on the planet unless it’s to push against boundaries. Y’know. Otherwise what’s the point of being here?

CBL: Yeh, so it’s like…

BD: And, y’know, um, um, um, money and all the rest of it, y’know… As long as, y’know, as long as you’re not, y’know, panic-stricken about starvation or shelter and things like that, y’know. And I have a sort of pleasant enough life in the ‘burbs, y’know, em and, y’know, I can… It’s not like I spend vast amounts of money on stupid crap, y’know, but I do, y’know… I’ve got plenty of money to be comfortable, but money doesn’t make me comfortable. What makes me comfortable is ideas and having things to do, and creating things. That’s what makes me feel comfortable and fulfilled, um, and, y’know, that’s what excites me. When I get a new project or, y’know, a set of ideas or something to create, that’s what excites me.

CBL: So, it’s not the love of the crowd, like a lot of people suspect with performers?

[warning bleep that my phonecard’s credit is about to expire]

BD: No, it’s actually… No. It’s not, um, it’s not the love of attention from lots and lots of people. But it is a love of attention. It’s a love of attention from your peers, and it’s a love of attention from people who respect your ideas.

CBL: Right. I’ve got just one last question. Eh. Do you remember RIFF RAFF magazine from the 80s?

BD: Oh God, yeh, a long, long time ago. Great magazine!

CBL: You must have met our editor Mark Crampton…

BD: Oh, Mark, yeh sure. We did some great interviews. How is he?

CBL: Still rockin'. I'll tell him you were asking...Anyway, I've kept you too long. It's been nice talking to you and good luck with the tour and I hope to see you when you get here.

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Hello Kitty, character

I interviewed Hello Kitty in 2005 in the guise of a 450,000-yen 'robot doll' with artificial intelligence and the ability to respond to human speech. It was one of my most in-depth and revealing tete-a-tetes. It was one of the few interviews where I actually used the entire audioscript in the subsequent article - money for old rope!

CBL: Hello Kitty.

HK: What you just said are words Kitty doesn’t know…Today is a relaxing day. Please speak in a big voice.

CBL: Hello Kitty… Hi.

HK: Goodbye!

CBL: You’re a terribly rude cat.

HK: Kitty can’t hear well. Speak up, please.

CBL: What day is today?

HK: It’s fun. Kitty likes having fun. It’s fun to play with one’s friends. When do you feel happy? …Oh isn’t it.

CBL: Please listen.

HK: It’s nice that you can feel happy everyday, isn’t it?

CBL: Yes, when I’m happy I sing. Can you sing for me?

HK: Kitty can’t catch your words. Please speak up.

CBL: Please sing a song.

HK: Let’s speak up just a little louder.

CBL: Please sing a song.

HK: A song, eh? Which do you want to hear, a spring song, a Japanese song, a foreign song, a dance song, a hit song?

CBL: A foreign song.

HK: This is “Yama no Ongakuka” [sings a traditional German song in Japanese] Shall Kitty sing another song?

CBL: Yes please.

HK: Let me see, Kitty will choose it, OK? [sings a Japanese pop song]

CBL: That was very good.

HK: Did you hear Kitty’s song?

CBL: That was enjoyable. Thank you.

HK: Kitty doesn’t understand. Your voice is so loud that it’s difficult to hear.

CBL: I said thanks for the song.

HK: Please use words that Kitty can understand.

CBL: Kitty, may I ask a question.

HK: Yes … the end.

CBL: Kitty.

HK: Please speak up a little.

CBL: Good morning. Good morning. Good morning.

HK: Hello. Now it’s the afternoon, so you should say hello.

CBL: What is Kitty’s favorite food?

HK: Kitty loves apple pie made by Mama. Do you like apple pie? Oh you like apple pie, don’t you?

CBL: Where is Mimi Chan [Kitty’s sister]?

HK: The subjects Kitty is good at are English and music.

CBL: Where is Mimi Chan?

HK: Do you like music?

CBL: Yes, I love it.

HK: Goody, that’s like Kitty. Kitty is very happy.

CBL: I’m also very happy.

HK: What?

CBL: I’m also very happy. Kitty, do you like chocolate?

HK: Kitty’s so happy to stay with you…Do you like carrots?

CBL: So-so.

HK: Mmmm. Next time, please eat Mother’s homemade carrot glace. It’s very delicious.

CBL: What is your dream?

HK: Kitty’s dream is traveling around the World making many friends. Kitty has many dreams. My Father told Kitty it’s important to have dreams. Please have dreams.

CBL: My dream is to live in London [Kitty’s hometown according to her official biography].

HK: Kitty doesn’t understand.

CBL: You stupid cat!

HK: Please speak a little quieter... We’ll talk later.

CBL: London.

HK: London has got so many beautiful parks. There are many people exercising in them in the morning. Do you jog?

CBL: Sometimes.

HK: Mmmm. Is that so? London Town is very beautiful. It would be very nice if we can go there together sometime.

CBL: Kitty, bye-bye.

HK: What happened? Are you OK?

CBL: Have a rest.

HK: Kitty loves having a rest.

Sunday, 20 January 2008

Toyo Ito, architect

I interviewed Toyo Ito, the architect, on the 6th of October, 2006, at the Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery. The interview lasted about an hour. Ito mainly used Japanese, but also used some English.

CBL: Please sit near the microphone… I’ll give you my meishi (business card).

TI: Thank you and Florian from my office. My English is not so good so he can translate. You have already seen the exhibition?

CBL: Yes, I liked the floor. I felt a little bit dangerous.

TI: Yeh? But take off shoes.

CBL: Yeh. But the holes. I was worried about falling into the holes… Anyway, let’s start with a stream of questions now. First of all, all your buildings, you seem to be trying to get away from straight lines. Do you hate straight lines?

TI: I don’t hate straight lines, but I have liked curved lines since I was child. It’s a bit like my character. When I talk when I think, it’s not in straight lines. It’s a bit curved, it’s soft, and in a way it resembles my inner character.

CBL: So, it’s a bit like David Beckham. I want to start focusing on some of the buildings, because that makes it much more concrete, rather than abstract. With this one here [Taichung Opera House]. This is a very interesting building. When I first saw a picture of it, I thought it looked like a large piece of cheese. Do you feel insulted by such a comparison?

TI: When you look at a cheese, the holes in the cheese are all compartments. They don’t go through. But in this building it’s the opposite. All the holes go through, like in a cave. There’s a continuity. And if you think about the human body as well, from the mouth all the way down to the asshole, there’s a continuity. It’s a cave.

CBL: This is this idea of Tubism. Are you a Tubist?

TI: I’m very aware of the movement in the 60s – the tubist movement – but in my case I’d rather refer to it in terms of a network. It’s tubes of a network. In that sense I’m a new Tubist.

CBL: A Neo-tubist!

TI: It’s a bit like the human intestines, where there’s an ambiguity between the inside and outside, and that inside/outside dichotomy is blurred and that’s what I’m interested in.

CBL: So, blurring the border line between different areas and functions, yeh?

TI: Yeh.

CBL: Yeh? I noticed that most of the big architectural projects these days, they have to serve a multiplicity of functions to actually be successful. So, for example, you’ll see some of the plans, and you’ll see many people doing many different things all in one space. For example, at the Taichung Opera House, you have a garden here, you have different theatres, you have some offices, all together. So, your style of architecture is very suitable to crowd in together many different functions.

TI: Well, basic answer yes. If you look at 20th century functionalism, where functions were clearly separate and there was a strict order between establishing all functions separately. Now 21st century is more of a condition where living and working, playing and working, they are all intermingled. You play while you work. You do your living while you work. So, in this sort of confused condition of contemporary city life, I feel like I want to bring that into my architecture.

CBL: This creates a condition of overlapping functions, but that can sometimes also create problems, I think, additional stresses. It raised the level of complexity. One example I can think of – at home we have a dining room – and my wife likes to keep that all nice and pretty, and I like to use that as a kind of office, so we’re always arguing about this point. So, when you have an overlap of functions that can also create stresses and problems can’t it?

TI: Well I think what you described as a conflict and stress… There are people who might feel like that, but I, personally, I am very interested in what I call a ‘loose condition’ and I have gained confidence in that concept ever since the Sendai Mediatheque. And traditional conventional libraries, or places like that, have confined rooms where you do your reading and your research. We wanted to break that up, and instead of that, instead of providing secluded rooms, we provide places. Now the self chooses whatever places he or she wishes. It’s a bit like in the city or in a park. For example, young and old people do as they like, share places, they find places they look for places. For example old people might be in places where young people are, mixed together, and therefore the old people look at the fashion of the young people and become more fashionable. Or a mother with her child needs not worry, needs not be in a child room all day. She can do her stuff without worrying about her children because they are in the vicinity. They can share the same place. And in that sense, this giving places rather than rooms has become very meaningful for me.

CBL: I would imagine that for this concept to work in practice, it would depend on everybody sharing quite similar values of correct behaviour and basically being very respectful of each other. If I apply this concept, for example, to my hometown, which is a town in Scotland… I imagine that mixing the young people with the old people together could cause also problems, for example there would be a rise in bag snatchings and muggings.

TI: In the Sendai Mediatheque, if we look back at that, there are of course homeless people also who come into the building, but, in general, there are a type who come and share the building, and the interesting thing is that these people create the architecture. They sort of establish the type of building it is becoming.

CBL: You mean the atmosphere?

TI: Yes, the people who come.

CBL: So the atmosphere is the architecture?

TI: Yes. Because people are sharing our huge places, it becomes like a little bit of looking at each other and thereby also controlling who comes in. Whether that it is good or bad is another thing, but people create the atmosphere, the character of the building. But, looking at the opera, there are of course people who come to watch the opera, but another thing, another dimension is the communication that these people establish, that different people establish, in a sense. But also there’s a Japanese saying that kind attract kind.

CBL: Birds of a feather flock together. But I still get the impression that the conditions of the society would have a big impact on whether a particular building would be successful or not. The Mediateque probably works very well in Sendai, but if you put it, say, somewhere in Los Angeles, it might be a complete disaster because there are all these underlying tensions in the society that you don’t have in Sendai.

TI: Well, I agree with what you say. Sendai was possible because it was Sendai and if that building had been for Tokyo I would have planned a different building. And in the case of the Opera, it’s a place where there are 2000 or at maximum 3000 people gathered for that moment, and it’s not too many. It’s a phenomenon of the contemporary community where people gather together for that moment – it’s like football – and become one community. And that community is created for that particular instant and then they dissolve again.

CBL: What local factors did you take into account with the Taichung Opera House?

TI: For the opera in Taichung there are basically two local factors or two scenarios. One is that from all over the country of Taiwan, people come and create a community for that moment, and the second one is that when there are no concerts on, on weekdays or normal days, then it becomes a place in the park for the people of Taichung.

[The walls of the room rattled slightly but noticeably]

CBL: That’s the dynamic forces moving through the building. I want to ask you about the buildings, like TODs and Mikimoto. Well, basically, they are stunning building and very impressive, especially TODS. Mikimoto is also very nice. Basically, the shapes of the buidlings are very rectangular and this is of course necessary because of the cost of land. You can’t experiment so much on the shape of the building so you’re forced to work more on the skin of the bldg. Is that right?

TI: For TODs, as you say rightly, this has been a very difficult job for an architect, because it’s a difficult site. And it’s got a very narrow access to the street. It’s an L-shaped plot. Surface became the main issue of the project, our main focus for tackling the project. There have been a lot of projects where surface was there, surface only, but we wanted to move away from surface for surface only, towards surface out of structure or structural principles become the surface. So, there’s a different logic behind that, which is changing the surface out structural principles.

CBL: So, changing the skin also changed what’s inside very much.

TI: The surface is not a surface that is on the outside only. The interior of the surface is the same as the outside, and you can see that in the shop, for instance, where the surface becomes part of the shop, changes the shop configuration, or, as you move up to the party space on the 6th floor, it is also characterized by the surface. So, the interior and the exterior experience of the surface is the same.

CBL: So it’s like a tattoo that goes all the way through… I think you’ve got a very original and innovative way of working with space. You see space in a very different way from most people and I’m just wondering how much this is possibly connected to the fact that you were born in Dalian, which is a place that no longer exists as a Japanese colony. Your birthplace is somewhere else. So this might play some role in freeing your mind from conventional ideas of space.

TI: Because my father was in Korea before the war, but when I was two and a half years old we moved back to my father’s home place in the country in Japan. So my experiences as a thinking being start in Suwa in Nagano Prefecture, but I haven’t really thought about that but since I’m being asked now, maybe due to that fact that I was a bit like an outsider in the village, I was – the family was – somebody who came from the outside and was in that village… Maybe growing up with that unconsciously in mind sort of shaped me, but I haven’t thought about it until now.

CBL: Please think about it some more, and maybe we’ll find out. Well thank you very much.

TI: Thank you…

Debbie Harry, singer

I wasn't able to line up a phoner with Debbie Harry from Blondie. Instead, I emailed her some questions and received the following rather dull replies (the questions aren't too hot either!).
The 'interview' took place sometime before the email containing the answers was sent to me on the 22nd of August, 2006.

CBL: What was the secret of Blondie's success?

DH: I think it was a combination of tenacity, creativity and good luck that made us a success. You really struggle when you first start out and we worked very hard to get where we are now. 

CBL: Various rock bands that have been around for years (Rolling Stones, etc.) are still going strong. Why are Blondie calling it a day?

DH: We are calling it day for a variety of personal reasons. The band was just inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame here in the US and it seemed like a good time to go out with that honor.

CBL: What do you think of the contemporary music scene?

DH: There is so much wonderful music out there now. It’s very diverse and that makes it exciting. Popular music has made us fearless of the new which is a good thing. Currently, culture and music are about the now and it wasn’t like [that] before. It used to be about what took place before and re-living the past instead of the present or future.

CBL: What do you think Blondie's main legacy will be?

DH: We will be remembered as being the forerunners of girl fronted rock bands for one thing. Blondie also broke with tradition by doing several crossover songs that blended rap, reggae, and disco into our music.

CBL: Do you have any interesting memories of Japan that you would like to share?

DH: We always feel our visits to Japan are too short and we don’t get to see everything we would like to or say hello to everyone we would like to. We are very interested in Japanese culture and history, both the past and present, and really look forward to being there. Can’t wait to see all of our wonderful fans in Japan. Hope to see everyone at the shows! Thank you.

Saturday, 19 January 2008

Keith Jarrett, pianist

I interviewed Keith Jarrett on the 2nd of February, 2007 about a forthcoming trip to Japan. I phoned him at his home in rural New Jersey. The interview lasted around an hour and Jarret spoke fast, so the audioscript is long, so long in fact that I haven't yet got around to transcribing the final 15 minutes or so.

CBL: It’s going to be a trio. What kind of music will you be playing?

KJ: What kind of music will I be playing?

CBL: Will it be improvisational or will it be standards?

KJ: We never really know that ahead of time but I guess we assume that the core of what will happen, are probably some standards of some kind or another, but we don’t ever plan the music, so I guess the answer’s I don’t know, but I guess we will play standards at least part of the time.

CBL: So it’s your standards trio, yeh?

KJ: Yes.

CBL: OK. You’re also well known for playing solo. Which one’s easier – playing trio or solo?

KJ: Let’s see. Easy’s a funny word. They are so different. I can’t quite say if one is easier exactly. But the physical and cerebral synapses have to be working every second for solo, and with the trio it’s more in a way relaxed because we’re listening to each other and not only ourselves, so its sort of like communion together, but one of the worst things about playing solo is that I’m playing alone – ha ha – but that’s the only way you can do that. It’s much more risky.

CBL: It’s more intense as well?

KJ: Yes, it’s more intense. There’s nobody around you to reflect your thoughts, except yourself. So if you have a funny thought that’s worth nothing and you’re busy listening to yourself play that, and you realize that its value is not so great to yourself, how do you answer that as a player? You’re stuck with what you just said and you have to relate to it somehow. That’s the very hard part of solo playing.

CBL: So a trio would pull you out of a situation like that?

KJ: A trio is…in a way we’re all confronting the same challenge and yes pulling you out is not a bad way to put it. There’s an ability to find whatever is missing. Each of us can contribute to what is missing at that moment. But if I take away two out of the three people, whoever’s left has got a hell of a job in front of him. There’s no perspective…actually that’s one of the reasons I like solo too. That’s why it was hard for me to use the word ‘easy’ which is hard, because I think challenges make all the difference, so if a challenge is great the change of failing badly is greater but it is also possible that you’ll hit a new high, but, in this case, multiplying people can be a problem because if you don’t have the right people with you, you’re actually dividing not multiplying the possibilities, and, luckily for me, I found Jack [DeJohnette] and Gary [Peacock] way long ago, and they understood the principles we were trying to get to, so there is almost never a dividing thing. But when you add people… and then again that’s one of the great luxuries of solo playing. For one thing, you almost have to be playing a piano because it can be an orchestra by itself, and you can make things happen for an hour and a half that do not repeat, sound the same. Dynamically there is a lot of contrast, so the luxury is that you do have that freedom when your playing alone. When you’re with other players, you really have to depend on them to have gotten enough sleep and to be in the right state of mind and all that stuff. And you can’t really get them. Just as if you have kids and say now don’t do that or something. You can’t really tell another person what mood [garbled] to change to. Luckily they’re both so understanding of why we’re there that we all just snap into the right state of mind.

CBL: But it seems that three is quite a good number – I mean you don’t like to play with bigger ensembles?

KJ: Actually I do like to. I even used to love to accompany singers, for example, but then again with any additional people, the same principle starts to occur. One thing I don’t so much like is a player doing his thing then standing there holding his instrument because he did that and now it’s somebody else’s turn. With three, and especially with the traditional rhythm section, even though we might be taking a traditional way of playing some of the standards, we are aware that it might not have to happen like that, because, with three, somebody can stop playing. Occasionally Gary’ll… We might look at Gary as though he might be playing a solo next, but it has not been planned, and when that time comes Gary decides ‘no I don’t think I want to play here’ so he’ll stop, so either it’ll turn into a drum solo or Jack’ll look at me and I start playing and we’re playing a duet without bass. If Jack decided to stop it would still work, if I decide to stop…It still works with any of the two out of three, there’s still some music that can be made. When you add a fourth, there’s more possibilities in the arrangement of what you do. You can get colors you can’t get when you get a horn, but then the horn player ends up at some point just standing there and holding his saxophone or his trumpet and in a big band situation that’s always made sense to me, but in a small group… Even when I had my quartet years ago, I used to say I want everybody to feel free enough to go to the stage at any time and just start to play.

[Somebody rings on the other line]

Just hold on a second I think my wife will pick that up – yes. OK, so anyway my point was that it’s not so easy for me as a leader of a band to focus on the music if I know there’s somebody standing there waiting for his next entrance. It’s much more interesting and more like solo in some strange way to have to be able to close my eyes, not know exactly what we’re going to do anymore than the other two guys, even including what song might come to my mind next or whether we play a long [garbled] or something and not be thinking about this idle party or parties, away from my direction.

CBL: So, it’s avoiding distraction?

KJ: That’s right. That’s right.

CBL: And that’s very important to you, isn’t it?

KJ: Yes.

CBL: Especially with audiences as well.

KJ: Yes, the audiences too. I mean, it’s taken a long, long time but I noticed… I played in Paris only a few months ago, just some solo things, and there was a problem with some coughing in the audience. This has been a growing contagion all over the World, a kind of nervousness multitasking computers and all that stuff have had some effect on that, but what was interesting was that the take that people at the hall had on it was different from what it used to be. They were so correct at not being upset with me... They started to put themselves in my place – what would they be able to do under these circumstances if they were improvising, and when a person does that naturally they see a little more clearly into this. I just happened to be the first major figure to be playing in concert venues to demand things in a jazz arena that jazz players had not felt comfortable demanding. They actually needed the work so badly that they didn’t want to lose… they didn’t want to make enemies, and I remember getting phone calls – I wrote a few articles for the New York Times about the jazz world, and Keyboard Magazine, and I got a phone call at one point from several different people Lee Konitz called me and said he appreciated that someone would be able to say stuff like this. There was a pianist I won’t name, but I used to like his work when I was very young. He called me from the mid-West. I had never talked to him and he said, ‘y’know I just have to thank you for this.’ And much of all of it was about the mistaken view of the jazz world via the Marsalis brothers and especially Wynton, but that’s all gone now, I don’t have to worry about that.

CBL: So the interaction in the jazz should be happening between the musicians, but not across to the audience so much?

KJ: Well if there’s interaction with the audience that’s OK, but if it’s nervous coughing then they should just leave or something. I mean if they’re bored, I’d rather they just walked out. I’ll refund their tickets – ha!

CBL: It’s like you’re introducing the standards that are expected of a classical music audience, really.

KJ: That’s correct. Yes. And that was going to be my original point. The jazz world was made up so overwhelmingly of people, players who needed all the work they could find because they weren’t getting paid enough and it started out in clubs and in clubs there are all kinds of noise. In clubs there are waitresses, glasses tinkling and sometimes there were people eating dinner. But once it got out of that club atmosphere and into… And, in fact, the first concert halls the Trio played were in Japan because I felt they were the right size: not so big and, across the board, quite consistently good sound, and the pianos were taken care of really well. And, when I went over there with the trio, it was because of my experiences in Japan before that where we could actually get a lot of work done, like a mini workshop and a concert combined. We would be able to be experimental we did not at that point have any trouble with nervous coughing so I think the rest of the World and the multi-media thing, where it’s all being piped into you and you can go and get popcorn while it’s on and you’re not missing much, kind of effected everywhere. It’s certainly taken Europe by storm. In fact back when I’m talking about the 70s or the 80s the worst audiences were in the United States, and that’s almost reversed itself now. There are so many people who feel starved of innovative performances that they come to the concerts and they know their job is just to be quiet and that’s all. When you’re playing solo, you’re living in this wild, dynamic world, and I like to play soft, and there are times when I start playing soft and I realize no no no that’s not possible, because then I’m going to notice everything in the room. People don’t realize how difficult that is, and so some of the people in Paris who wrote things on the internet or that were starting to get it.

CBL: So Japanese audiences are very respectful of the whole process of what you’re doing, but also a lot of what you do is by definition hit or miss, isn’t it. Some things work and some things don’t. A Western audience might be a bit more prepared to make their decisions during the process.

KJ: Yes, that’s true. That’s true, but I think the essential politeness of the Japanese audience, even if they might have been wondering what to do they are essentially so polite that they would give us the space to experiment, whereas, within those years, if I had been trying to do something new in the States, the audiences would be quote unquote “jazz” audiences. They’re now make up of people who understand what I do, but back then it was pretty much tougher because I had people coming backstage and saying, ‘That wasn’t jazz – I thought this was a jazz concert.’ I mean this is way back and the category too has caused a lot of misunderstandings ‘Is this jazz?’ Well my answer might be ‘Does it matter?’

CBL: That’s also one of things I want to raise, the categories in music, because you’re also a piano player who’s very associated with classical music, and for you is there really any essential difference between jazz and classical music or is it just in the details like the fact that classical music is much more structured and usually involves more people.

KJ: There’s a yes and no answer to that. I mean if music is good it overcomes its own category for one thing. In that sense, there’s no difference between a great jazz recording of say someone improvising and a great recording of a classical work, but the real problem is that the potential before these things get played is completely different. I was in Washington DC getting ready to go on stage for a piano recital of classical pieces and I was trying to figure out why I felt so not all that excited about it, and the basic truth is I knew everything about what was going to happen. I knew every note about it. That could not be changed. And most of the audience, most of the knowledgeable audience, was knowledgeable in that piece and in those notes too. So I was acting as an interpreter. But in jazz you’re asked to be yourself and whatever risks that might entail are risks you have to take. And so does the audience. So that’s completely different. Everything has its own fan club, but what’s come true for me, I think, to a great extent, is the people who know what I do are coming from all these different fan clubs to the same concert, and they have their own way of listening. One of them will listen to my touch and that might be a classical listener, or the harmonies or the solo moments of the Trio. Other people love jazz and they’ll come to hear your playing, and in solo it’s the same thing. Someone told me they asked – they were also doing interviews – they asked someone whether they think ‘Do you think Mr. Jarret’s solo stuff is jazz?’ And this person who has been a fan of mine said ‘I’d never thought of that’ – ha ha ha – so he had no answer. Those are the people I think are… And I also have to add they are definitely not ‘World music fans,’ whatever that is. I always thought somebody made a big mistake when they coined that phrase. But jazz and classical music are essentially not in the same room together. You can take techniques from, let’s say, Mozart’s slow movements in the concerti and get to be better at playing a ballad trio. Those kind of things translate, but the actual music, doing it is a different experience.

CBL: So you can use pieces of classical music in the same way that you use jazz standards. You can take a piece of music that’s quite familiar to a lot of people and you can alter it in certain ways to make it less familiar.

KJ: That’s true.

CBL: And that’s the essence of a lot of music really isn’t it? I mean you’re creating patterns which are familiar, but once they’re too familiar they loose interest to a lot of people.

KJ: That’s right. That’s a symmetrical thing sometimes. All you have to do is make sure the symmetry is not so perfect because our brain patterns seem to love when you tie the bows together and, yeh, I would say it would be the same as a photograph of a stream flowing and the actual stream flowing is the difference between… The classical world would be that photograph of that stream because it’s all on paper already and you can look at it and you can… Looking at it and its never going to change. But jazz is and improvising is the stream flowing, at least for the player. That’s what jazz is. And in classical music, it’s the interpretation of the photograph.

CBL: So when you do play classical music, you’re trying to take that photograph of the stream and make it flow again?

KJ: Yes, but of course I have other people’s notes to do it with, so the challenge would be how close can you feel to other people’s compositions? And how much can you make it your own? And how much is legitimate actually… how much freedom can you actually have with, say, Bach before its not Bach? If you took enough rhythmic freedoms with it and sort of desynchronized the right and left hand you’d end up with some kind of modern music and I think Bach would be gone to some extent. If you’re free to come at your instrument, and, then again, if we took the subject of pianos, since I come with no material and even with the Trio I don’t come with any form of knowledge about what we’re going to be doing. When I go on stage for the sound check that’s the first glimpse I get into what the nature of the evening can be like. Now that’s a very magical thing to consider. That is the exact opposite if you go to do the sound check with Prokofiev, Beethoven, Mozart in your pocket, and you’re checking the piano. You can’t leave the stage and have dinner and come back or whatever you do… But in the first case you can change absolutely everything you did if you needed to.

CBL: When you’re doing spontaneous composition, how do you stay away from so many well known tunes? Because there are so many tune out there that you obviously know about and you’re trying to do something original and fresh in the moment. How do you avoid all the things that have already been created? Doesn’t that become a problem?

KJ: I don’t know, except I think it’s lucky that I’ve been playing so long and listening to so many thousands of composer and players and recordings that there must be a file there of do not go any further with this melody or it will become this. And must just be a giant memory file.

CBL: Some kind of radar?

KJ: Yes it is a kind of radar. And I think it’s a matter of how large the repertoire is and how much listening I’ve done that I can weave my way between everything and not have it be the same as anything. Also it’s important to forget everything. As much as its important to have a file for it, it’s also important to forget anything because if you have it in your head in any part of an accessible part of your brain, the chances are it could decide to come out at the concert. It could be something you heard on the radio that you wish you never heard.

CBL: Or the elevator.

KJ: Yeh, yeh. Which is why most of the musicians I know who are doing any kind of composing say they hate flying because of the music on the plane…

CBL: Are there any musical influences that you have subsumed from Japan?

KJ: I’m sure there are. I’m not sure if I could specify what they are.

CBL: From the way that you talk about music and the way that you create music, there is an element of Zen in there.

KJ: Those paintings made with one stroke after years of meditating or monastic life or whatever that are famous, I think, in Japan, were always very striking to me because they are not touching this page then they are, then they are not, and it is exactly what happens when one is truly improvising. You are touching the whole thing and then it’s gone. I am assuming that you can see Zen in that. You can also see…

CBL: Also, being in the moment is very important to you. That is also a concept that is central to a lot of Zen.

KJ: I also think that I relate to being considerate of the performer. When I first went to Japan I knew nothing about what would happen. The first thing that happened I learned – as soon as I was checking into the hotel, my suitcases were suddenly gone. I thought some thief had come in and stolen them. I remember checking in and I realized soon after that in the United States, and to some extent in Europe, I had to have this rider to my contract…..

[gap in transcription: talks about riders and how good the service is in Japan]

CBL: You’ve been to Japan so many times that some of the cultural influences must have filtered into your work. In particular I was listening to the Vienna album and I think it’s part two, near the start of that. It sounds very like a Japanese koto the way you’re playing, these kind of arpeggio scales.

KJ: As recently as the last solo tour in Japan I have… I did recordings of those… There are things on those tapes that would only have been played in Japan and it’s not because I’m thinking that I should be sounding Japanese or Asian or anything. It just comes out like that, and actually the same is true of many places that have strong cultural personalities. And singular unique personalities show themselves, especially if I do a solo concert there. They show themselves in the music that night. I was in Brazil.I will just use this small example, but it’s the best one, the only time I played solo in Brazil. I went there. I don’t think the people knew me that well, the audience was good but I don’t know how well I was known. The promoters came back stage and said, ‘That third or fourth thing you played in the second half, we know you’ve been listening to Brazilian music and in particular this one kind of dance.’ And I don’t remember the name of it, but they told me the name, and I said ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about. No, I have not been listening to Brazilian music and also I’ve never heard of that word.’ ‘No, no, that’s not possible because you were doing exactly, precisely this thing.’ Now, I believe that from just breathing in the air and the vibrations of the place I’m in… In Japan, if Japanese music did not exist it would still suggest the same sounds that exist in Japanese music. Do you know what I mean? Imagine Jazz being born anywhere but the United States. That’s kind of hard to do. There’s something about language, there’s something about weather patterns. And all those things go into producing all sorts of music that any culture has.

CBL: So, if you completely wiped out Japanese music from everybody’s memories, then a few years down the line people would reinvent it. Is that how to visualize this concept?

KJ: Possibly, not in the modern world because people are over-connected to each other but in the way that seashells on the shore in Japan reflect a sort of grayness compared to seashells in the Caribbean.

CBL: Well, that sort of volcanic tone. The sand’s blacker here and that shows up in the shells.

KJ: Yeh, and I think everything is part of what happens everywhere locally, so when I land somewhere, because I’ve done it so long and because – solo in particular – if I have nothing to go on, if I have nothing to hang my hat on – let’s put it that way – about where I am, then, the music for me will be too generic. It won’t have a raison d’etre for that particular place. So I try to be vigilant to the signs of what the culture is about and, yeh, I think the music and everything intertwines with itself. There’s this book I have about how you can say that martial music was created by war, but you can also say that war has often come about because of the music. So the way people express their emotions – and they do it differently in Japan as we both know – all of that goes into what qualities the music has. It would be very strange for me to imagine Japanese music as 12-tone romantic or post romantic modern structured ‘fixed’ orchestral music.

[a further 15 minutes or so remains untranscribed]