Takagi Masakatsu: Dark Beauty

Published at September 17, 2004

exclusive interview by Gerrit Hillebrand, 2004

Takagi was born in 1979, lives in Kyoto. Started working solo in 2001, attracting a large following with his high level fusion of sound and visuals. His activities transcend over various fields such as music, club culture, fashion and art scene. He’s done several video installations at art spaces and had live performances.

2004 davidsylvian.net by Gerrit Hillebrand 17 September 2004

Takagi Masakatsu is a young, talented artist involved in many kinds of art like music, video, fashion, contemporary art etc. The fans of David Sylvian were introduced to his work during the Fire In The Forest tour 2003-2004. On stage, David and Steve Jansen’s music was being accompanied by beautiful visuals of Takagi Masakatsu.

On September 8th 2004, Takagi’s album COIEDA was released, being a CD and a DVD in one. The CD contains many beautiful tracks, including Exit/Delete featuring David Sylvian, and the DVD is loaded with videos of which a few are used during the Fire In The Forest tour.

It’s definitely time to ask Takagi all about his new album and his involvement in the Fire In The Forest tour. Read here the exclusive interview with Takagi and on top of that, this article is completed with some answers by David about his work with Takagi.

Who is Takagi Masakatsu?
I started my career as a video artist in 1999. At that time, I’ve been making only video things for my friend musician Aoki Takamasa. We did live performances and released a DVD. The name of the project was SILICOM. After 2 years of that project, I started to make music by myself for my video works. I didn’t mean to be a musician (still difficult to explain who I am), but fortunately a music label in New York city, Carpark records, asked me to release my audio and video together as a CD and DVD (2001).
From that time on, I’ve made music and video together and released sets of CD/DVD on several labels in different countries, like Karaoke Kalk (Berlin), Daisyworld (Tokyo) and W+K Tokyo Lab. (Tokyo). My video works was mainly used for galleries or museums. I didn’t make video projects for DVD. For me, DVD is a kind of Catalog. For example, video works “World is so beautiful” was originally made for agnes b.. They asked me to make video works for their shops in Japan. After that, it was shown as a video installation at the Contemporary Art Museum of Tokyo and the Singapore Museum.
A few times, I have been asked to play videos at other artists live performance. For example, Sketch Show (Haruomi Hosono and Yukihiro Takahashi) and thhe last tour with David Sylvian and Steve Jansen.
Recently, I made some music videos for Japanese singers and some video spots for TV. So it’s difficult to explain who I am. I’m just making music and video together.
Besides music your work involves many other things like video, installations, fashion and art. What would you call yourself?
That’s the problem… Maybe I just want to express myself with the work I do. So the style is not so important for me.
Now I’m using music and video, so I should say I’m a music and video artist.
Amongst the David Sylvian fans you are well known for your magnificent visual support of the Fire In The Forest tour, 2003-2004. How did you get involved?
I went to Europe for a live tour. When I was in London, one of David Sylvian’s managers, Ms.Yuka Fujii, came to see my live performance. She introduced my work to David Sylvian. I heard, at that time, he was searching for a video artist for the tour. Actually Ms.Yuka and my manager are old friend, so it was kind of lucky for me to get involved in his tour.
Did you know David’s work before the tour?
Honestly, I haven’t listened to his music before the tour … I just knew him from a picture on the sleeve of a Japan album. I found it when I was in junior high school; I thought “What is this? And why are they making up their faces???”
So I only remembered his face…
Do you like his work? Any favorites?
I listened to his music so much during his tour. I love every track he did at that tour.
But especially I like Blue Skinned Gods.
Did you like the tour and what is the most memorable?
During the tour, I had my 24th birthday. I celebrated it with David and Steve during a diner in Italy. At that occasion, David gave me his notebook as a present. I’m using that for my music now 🙂
I also have had happy times with the crew and staffs, and especially Steve’s son.
COIEDA is your most recent project. It is quite an astonishing packaging containing beautiful songs and videos! What is COIEDA?
In the last 4 years, I released 7 CDs and 3 DVDs. But in every package, I couldn’t express myself.
I had lots of styles which I liked and didn’t want to mix them up into one CD/DVD. And at the same time, as I mentioned, I was asked to make music/video for galleries and labels. This meant that I always had to think first of the people or places that gave me the assignment. It was not necessary to think about any other audience; I was only making what I was asked for. But maybe that was the most enjoyable style for me at that time.
However, after David’s tour, I thought I should do something only for myself. Maybe because I could see what he was doing as a musician and learned how to express the feeling.
So COIEDA is kind of my first album. It includes a CD and a DVD together, but this is the most reasonable style for me to express myself at this time, because I’m making both of them.
Visitors of the tour could see visuals/videos of you. Some of these are featured on the COIEDA dvd. What is the process of creating the music and videos?
::: video works.

Most of them are originally taped with a DV camera.
And in the computer, effected and processed with software, like Adobe After Effects and Adobe Premiere. I’m very interested in painting, even more than the video stuff, but I can’t paint very well. In COIEDA, I wanted to show my appreciation to painting and tried to make some kind of “video painting”.

::: music

I have 3 different kinds of styles in my music.
1: kind of Chamber music with natural instruments.
2: music for video works (ambient, electric, piano)
3: POP music with vocal

So for COIEDA, I wanted to mix these styles together. Before that I was interested in computer generated sound, but this time, I was not interested in that. I wanted to use my fingers and body. So most of the instruments were played by myself. Some of the instruments I couldn’t play, I played only few notes and recorded them into the sampler and played it with the keyboard.
Before this, I never tried to make something dark. So I wanted to try that too. Maybe this is influenced by David Sylvian’s Blemish.

Which comes first, music or video?
For COIEDA, I finished the video first.
In the beginning, I didn’t mean to release both a CD and DVD. I just wanted to make a music album without thinking about the video thing. But after finishing it, I felt the need to release them together. So, some of the audio tracks from the DVD were included on the CD as well.
Most of the time, I don’t think about the other thing during making music or video. Somehow music and video always come together at the end…
What equipment and software do you use? (for recording and on stage)
For video:

PowerMac G5 2G
Adobe After Effects 6.5
Final Cut pro

For music

Powerbook G4 1G
Logic pro

On stage (David Sylvian’s tour)

Powerbook G4 1G
Powerbook G3 500M
Motiondive tokyo (VJ soft)
Roland video mixer
2 DV camera

Making music and videos, do you feel more like a programmer or a composer?
I’m not good in programming for both. So when making music, I always play the keyboard.
Starting when I was 13 years old, I love to play the piano. I’m making music like playing the piano, and I’m making video like painting. That might sound funny, but I’m working in that style.
A lot of the tracks combine various styles of music. To me it sounds like you use many samples to compose them but at the same time ‘real’ instruments can be heard within them too. Do you play all the instruments yourself?
As I already mentioned, most of the instruments I play myself, like Piano, Guitar, Percussion, etc. But other instruments that I couldn’t play very well, I just played a few notes and recorded it in the sampler, and played them on the keyboard. For example, violin and clarinet.
For beat sounds, I play with braking branches of a tree, crashing ice, bumping the floor, sticking steal cans, shuffling rice in a steal can, or using sounds in and around my house.
Are the samples used, sampled from own music?
I never used samples from the other artist’s music. I record from what I have.
What is your favorite track?
Track 5, exit/delete and track 6, COIEDA, track 9, girls, track 15, primo.
One track differs a lot from the rest and that is EXIT/DELETE with David Sylvian. It’s a perfect track for David! Was it written especially for David?
Actually no.
I made that song before I went to his tour, and Toma Itoko (who’s also singing on my CDs) added her lyrics to my live performance. But somehow, I wanted to finish this track in a different way. Then I got idea to ask a mail vocalist with a low voice to sing this track. I was afraid to ask David to sing my track, so the idea to ask David never happened to me.
However, my friend just said to me, “How about asking David Sylvian to sing ?”.
I mailed David about this project. (hahaha…) David was really nice to say “OK”, so I sent him the track.
I planned to go to his studio and record his vocal, but when I arrived at his house, he already finished the recording! After coming back to my house in Kyoto, I added some sounds and finished it.
Will you ask David again for future projects?
I want to do that any time!!
But he seems to be busy at this moment with his projects. So maybe after that, when time comes, I want to try again 🙂
Yes, I hope something like this might happen again in the near future. I really do respect him.
In the liner notes of the DVD you write: “Deepest thanks to David Sylvian for freeing me into another world.” What do you mean by this?
Before meeting David, the work I made was always kind of happy. Not only happy, but my work actually sounded happy!
Yes, actually I was very happy and wanted to show that too.
But when I visited David for the rehearsals, my mind was changing. From conversations with him or feeling the atmosphere from his house and studio, I learned lots of different things than before. Especially dark beauty. I don’t want to use the word “dark”, but I can’t find any other nice word for that. He taught me some beautiful inside darkness.
Without meeting him, I couldn’t have made my album COIEDA. The liner note describe my honest thoughts for him.
Are there any plans to release COIEDA outside Japan? Where can people buy COIEDA?
I hope I can get a chance to release COIEDA outside Japan… But it is a little bit difficult, I don’t know why.
If somebody get interested in releasing it toward world wide, please let me know. :)You can buy my CD/DVD from my manager’s office web site. But the payment system is still not good enough. Only cheques, no credit card system…Some companies in Europe have been ordering COIEDA, so maybe there is a chance to see it in some shops.
What is the ultimate goal of your work ?
I can’t imagine any goal…
I hope somebody gets interested in my works and have good feelings about it. That’s all.
I think these works are just like a “Knot of chain”. If somebody get like my works and do something different by him/herself, I’m happy with that. I don’t know where we are heading at, but I feel I’m working in a big tide towards somewhere unknown.
I hope so.

David Sylvian about his work with Takagi Masakatsu

When did Takagi’s work came to your attention?
A couple of years back Yuka Fujii was involved in the coordination of certain aspects of Takagi’s European tour. She was very impressed by his visual work and sent me a couple of DVD’s and CDs of his material.
I think I’d also heard something of Takagi’s material on a Daisy World compilation.
Anyway, the work made an impression and I made a mental note of the kind of project I could foresee us exploring together at some unspecified point in the future should favorable conditions arise.
Where did the idea come from of using visuals from Takagi during the tour? (I mean, what was first: the idea of using visuals or Takagi offering his craftsmanship)
Originally I hadn’t considered touring the Blemish material. I wasn’t sure how well it would lend itself to the context of live performance. When offers for shows started to come in I gave the matter more serious consideration. Given the economic framework, I realized that the only means of working with this material ‘live’ was to give a laptop based performance. My immediate worry attached to this notion was over the resulting static nature of the performance itself. It was then that I began to entertain the notion of visual imagery and shortly thereafter Takagi came on board.
Exit/Delete on Coieda is a wonderful track! What is it about?
Someone who finds the inability to communicate with others a cul-de-sac from which she’ll never escape. Someone who feels her loneliness and isolation intensely. She’s exhausted and is ultimately defeated by her inability to change, to see beyond her suffering.
To me, Exit/Delete sounds like a ‘real David Sylvian solo’ track, however the music is by Takagi Masakatsu. I can image that you consider to ask Takagi to be involved in more of your future projects (audio and/or visuals). Is that a possibility?
I always keep the doors of possibility and communication open.
Did you record more tracks for Takagi?
No, we recorded just one.

2004 www.davidsylvian.net by Gerrit Hillebrand (September 2004)

Special thanks to Takagi Masakatsu and David Sylvian.
Further thanks go out to Richard Chadwick at Opium (Arts) Ltd and Bruce Ikeda at W+K Tokyo Lab.

Photo Credits: Dirk Tholenaar.

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