One of the highlights of the Fuji Rock Festival 2019 was a chance to see Wednesday Campanella vocalist KOM_I and experimental music producer Oorutaichi perform songs from their recent collaboration EP, Yakushima Treasure.
This magnificent EP was made on Yakushima, an island in Japan’s Kagoshima Prefecture which has a rich natural habitat, ancient subtropical evergreen forests, and varied wildlife, earning it a designation as a World Heritage Site in 1980.
The two musicians visited the island to find inspiration in nature and from the traditions of the 13,000-strong local population. They recorded found sounds and learned traditional melodies upon which the EP’s six songs were based. The result is an ethereal and evocative sound steeped in nature and history, but with a leftfield digital tinge.
While the making of the EP is excellently documented in a YouTube Original series titled Re:Set, Yakushima Treasure’s two performances at Fuji Rock on July 26 and 27 were a rare opportunity to hear these beautiful songs live, and in a nature-rich environment high in the Naeba mountains of Niigata Prefecture that was perfectly suited to the music itself.
After their magical and soothing set on July 27 at the Pyramid Garden, KOM_I and Oorutaichi spoke with JAPAN Forward to explain the process of bringing those songs to the stage. Excerpts of their interview are below:
Since the songs on Yakushima Treasure were conceived in nature, how did it feel to perform them on a stage surrounded by nature today? Did the setting affect the way you played?
KOM_I: Yes. We started the set with a very slow buildup of sounds, creating a small climax before actually going into the first song. We wanted to gaze at the mountains and the clouds and build up sounds and vocals in relation to our surroundings.
The making of the songs themselves had been documented in your Re:Set documentary on YouTube, but how did you then prepare those songs to be performed live on stage? Did you make changes to the music?
Oorutaichi: Yes. First, we just decided the order we would like to play the songs in. After that, there are a lot of elements that are completely live — for example KOM_I’s vocals, or the way effects are added to the music, and then we can change the scene for a particular song on the fly, based on the moment. We also changed the audio mix a little bit for a live setting.
KOM_I: The EP is very short! It’s something like 30 minutes long, and we had a 45-minute set today, so if we’d just played the songs as they are on the EP, it would not be enough. We added a couple of songs that we had previously worked on together and released as Wednesday Campanella: “The Sand Castle” and “Utah.”
Usually with Wednesday Campanella, KOM_I, your vocals are closer to rap than full-on singing, and you have a very laid-back style of expression. The vocals on Yakushima Treasure are completely different, with elements of traditional minyo (folk) melody, and you sing with much more passion. Was that an intentional choice?
KOM_I: It’s difficult to explain why it’s different. I never intentionally decided to sing in a different way. But human beings have a biorhythm and we change every day, and I pay attention to that. Also it makes a big difference to have a band member on stage with me, because in Wednesday Campanella I go on stage alone. Since there are two of us, we can improvise and respond to each other, which is refreshing in itself, so I think that makes a big difference. Taichi also does not go on stage with a final idea of what he will play, so that he can feel the vibe and respond to that.
We’re not the kind of band that rehearses loads in advance and goes in with a fixed product. Improvisation is a big part of it. But with Campanella, the songs don’t usually go through changes. Also, with Campanella, we have older songs that I can include in the set, whereas Yakushima Treasure is new, and we only just released our EP this year, so it feels fresh.
As you say, when you perform as Wednesday Campanella, you are alone on stage, and you look out to the crowd as you perform and dominate the stage. During today’s set, I noticed that you looked at one another a lot, or that you looked down at your feet, rather than looking out to the audience. Were you conscious of that?
KOM_I: It’s like I’m going into myself. Until now I was kind of depending on visual presentation, but I feel there’s a limit to that. I might only be able to reach five or six people at a time that way, but the music can be felt by everyone in the same space. So while I am aiming for the same effect, this time I tried to do it only with the music itself. I want to become better at doing it this way, so that’s why I didn’t really turn to the outside world this time. By going into myself, I hope that for the fans it can almost feel like they are singing themselves, or that the music is within their own bodies. I think being able to synchronize like that is very interesting.
Is there a message you hope the audience will take home with them?
Oorutaichi: I’m interested to know how the audience felt. This was only our third time to perform these songs live.
KOM_I: Yes, we played a private performance at Red Bull’s music studio, and then yesterday at the Day Dreaming stage at Fuji Rock, so today was the third.
Oorutaichi: It’s just the beginning. But like KOM_I was saying before, I hope that listeners will hear her voice and feel like she is singing on their behalf. I feel that way myself when I hear her voice while we are performing. We want to explore the potential of singing.
KOM_I: Taichi has recently been working on some remixes of minyo songs and Awa Odori (Awa dance festival) field recordings. And he’s very knowledgeable about that style of singing, so I have been learning as much as I can from him.
Oorutaichi: There is an endless amount of that kind of traditional music to discover, so I want to continue to find new elements to draw on.
The duo will have a solo show at Liquidroom in Tokyo on August 22. Tickets are on sale now.
For more information, visit the websites of Wednesday Campanella and Oorutaichi.
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Author: Daniel Robson