Fond Memories of a Traveler: Chris Child on Japan and Korea

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How living in Japan shaped his IDM sound and aesthetic as Kodomo.

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Chris Child | August 27, 2014

As a kid, I mostly listened to classical music and was especially drawn to music by Bach. I also loved Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert. During high school a cousin of mine exposed me to bands like Inspiral Carpets, Psychedelic Furs, Janes Addiction, Nine Inch Nails, and Ministry. These were the first generation of bands that eventually led me to discover the electronic/ industrial music I feel informed me the most: Cabaret Voltaire, Skinny Puppy, Doubting Thomas, Cyberaktif, Front 242, Kraftwerk, Pigface, and KMFDM. I was simultaneously exposed to music by Philip Glass, Steve Reich, and George Crumb through my brother. Later on in college I discovered early “IDM” through Autechre’s first album Incunabula which left a major impression on me.

Media I Grew Up On As A Child In Japan

1. Kamen Rider

This was show about a martial arts expert who transformed into a bad-ass super hero who looked like a beetle robot and drove a motorcycle. I loved it and remember being feeling extremely sad if I ever missed an episode. The intensity of the sounds and images most likely made an impact on me for better or worse.

Description from the WIKI page: The series takes place in a world plagued by Shocker, a mysterious terrorist organization. To further its plans for world domination, Shocker recruited its agents through kidnapping, turning their victims into mutantcyborgs and, ultimately, brainwashing them. However, one victim named Takeshi Hongo escaped just before the final brainwashing. With his sanity and moral conscience intact, Hongo battled Shocker’s minions as the grasshopper-themed altered human (改造人間 kaizō ningen?) superhero Kamen Rider. Another victim of the altered human process, freelance photographer Hayato Ichimonji, became Kamen Rider 2 after Kamen Rider, who renamed himself as “Kamen Rider 1”, saved him from Shocker’s brainwashing. Assisted by motorcycle race team manager Tobei Tachibana and FBI agent Kazuya Taki, the Kamen Riders fought in both solo and partnered missions against Shocker and its successor organization, Gel-Shocker.

2. Sanbarukan

This was my favorite of all the super hero action shows. Something about a team of three personifying an eagle, shark, and panther. I remember especially liking the “Shark” character. Like Kamen Rider, the sound design in these shows are very raw and industrial, drawing from a lot of early synths and samplers. Most of the action took place in urban Tokyo.

3. Kinnikuman

Kinnikuman was a super-hero meets pro wrestler cartoon I grew up watching. (and collecting the rubber action figures) The characters were insanely creative; ranging from the English knight “Robin Mask” to “Ramen-Man” who made ramen noodles after defeating opponents in the ring. The sounds and visuals were super intense with loads of quick cuts in the edits. I don’t think I ever really understood any story line here but that didn’t keep me from watching obsessively.

Description from the WIKI page: Kinnikuman (Japanese: キン肉マン?, lit. “Muscleman”) is a manga series created by the duo Yoshinori Nakai and Takashi Shimada, known as Yudetamago. It follows Suguru Kinniku, a superhero who must win a wrestling tournament to retain the title of prince of Planet Kinniku. Nakai and Takashi planned the series when they were attending high school originally as a parody to Ultraman.

4. Ultraman

Ultraman was a sci-fi TV show that dates back to the 60’s but was actively playing on TV while I was in Japan. The show features men who transform into giant robots and battle Godzilla-like monsters using their martial arts skills and shooting radioactive rays. The sounds and images of course uniquely Japanese and definitely made use of early electronic instruments at the time.

Description from the WIKI page: Ultraman (ウルトラマン Urutoraman?) is a Japanese Tokusatsu television series that first aired in 1966. Ultraman is a follow-up to the television series Ultra Q, though not technically a sequel or spin-off. The show was produced by the Tsuburaya Productions, and was broadcast on Tokyo Broadcasting System (TBS) from July 17, 1966 to April 9, 1967, with a total of 39 episodes (40, counting the pre-premiere special that aired on July 10, 1966).

5. Hokuto no ken

Probably the most violent of the cartoons I watched, Hokuto no ken was another fantastical martial arts meets science fiction show taking place in some desolate post apocalyptic future.

Description from the WIKI page: Fist of the North Star (Japanese: 北斗の拳 Hepburn: Hokuto no Ken?)[1] is a Japanese manga series written by Buronson and drawn by Tetsuo Hara. Serialized in Weekly Shōnen Jump from 1983 to 1988, the 245 chapters were initially collected in 27 tankōbon volumes by Shueisha. Set in a post-apocalyptic world that has been destroyed by a nuclear war, the story centers around a warrior named Kenshiro, the successor of a deadly martial art style known as Hokuto Shinken, which gives him the ability to kill most adversaries from within through the use of the human body’s secret vital points, often resulting in an exceptionally violent and gory death. Kenshiro dedicates his life to fighting against the various ravagers who threaten the lives of the weak and innocent, as well as rival martial artists, including his own “brothers” from the same clan.

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Impressions From Japan:

Shimoda Beach on the Izu Peninsula: I remember spending time during the summer going there with my family and watching a massive dark orang sunset over the ocean. The coast is lined with small islands and gorgeous jagged mountains.

Skyline of Tokyo at night: We lived in a small apartment building up fairly high and looking out you could see the pulsing and seemingly endless buildings surrounding you. I remember staring out feeling mesmerized by the shapes of the compact buildings and pulsing neon lights.

Kyoto: I first visited Kyoto when I was around nine years old and was fortunate to see many of the Buddhist temples and gardens. Kyoto is the old capital of Japan and has many examples of its cultural aesthetic. These include the mastery of an artistic practice through dedication, attention to refined detail, a deep appreciation of nature, and the cultivation of one’s mind.

Shinkansen: I remember riding the bullet trains and looking out the window as the train accelerated through cities and out into country side along the sparse rice fields and traditional Japanese homes.

Narrow alleys and wires in the city: I recall a lot of wandering through very narrow streets in Tokyo, both alone and with friends, mostly to see where we could find a cheap candy store, stationary store, or a video game shop. The shapes of the streets, railings and the thick mesh of telephone wires all left a strong visual impression on me.

Impressions from Korea:

Seoul was rapidly developing then and there was construction going on all over the city. The city was noisy and freezing in the winter. You could eat amazing Korean food for super cheap. (Bibimbap cost around $4 I spent my last two years of high school there and this was around when I first started making my own music.)

Photography: I spent a lot of time taking black and white photos around Seoul in the early 90’s. I would take long walks around the area (Angukdon) we lived and just shoot the back streets and various junk I came across. It was what you might expect from an amateur high school photographer, and I loved the fact that I could develop and manipulate these photos in the darkroom at my high school.

Synths: I would head down to the music warehouse not too far from where I lived as much as I could. It was a huge space, totally chaotic and unorganized with shops selling second hand and new gear. There was so much stuff laying around it was hard to distinguish one shop from another. I would spend hours there trying out all kinds of synths, samplers, and drum machines. Eventually, I got my own synth, (a K2000) to much relief of the shop owner.

Art Galleries: The street I lived near was crammed full of tiny art galleries focusing mostly on abstract work. I would check out the work there and take the free art opening posters back and put them up in my bedroom. I found these would often be interesting material for generating ideas on my synths.

Field recordings: I first started experimenting with sampling by recording ambient sounds in Seoul and then sampling them into the K2000. I had four megs of sample ram which I thought was amazing. All the sampling was done at 22500 Hertz and was generally pretty crude sounding. You could maybe fit four or five sounds on a floppy disk. I spent a good amount of time playing with the sampler’s functions, tweaking the pitch, reversing the samples, and running the sounds through guitar pedals to generate radically new sounds that left little impression of the original.

Kodomo’s Patterns & Light is out now and streaming here.

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