The pioneering Japanese experimental musician Otomo Yoshihide was born on August 1, 1959 in Yokohama, Japan. He spent his teenage years in Fukushima, about 300 kilometers north of Tokyo. Influenced by his father, an engineer, Otomo began making electrical devices such as a radio and an electronic oscillator. In junior high school, his hobby was making sound collages using open-reel tape recorders. This was his first experience creating music.
In 1979 Otomo moved to Tokyo to attend university. While continuing to play jazz and punk rock, in his third and fourth years of university he took part in an ethnomusicology seminar directed by Professor Akira Ebato. Otomo became increasingly involved in the study of ethnomusical history, and of two subjects in particular: Japanese popular music during World War II, and the evolution of Chinese musical instruments during the Cultural Revolution. In 1981 he went to Hainan, China with a group led by Ebato, to research ethnic music. In the same year he began playing free improvisation professionally—using guitars, tapes, radios, etc.—at Goodman, a live music club in Ogikubo, Tokyo, where he continued to play for about a year.
In 1990 Otomo formed the groundbreaking band Ground-0 (later Ground Zero). Until it disbanded in March 1998, the band was always at the core of his musical creativity, while it underwent several changes in style and membership. Otomo first played outside Japan in 1991. In April of that year he took Ground-0 to Hong Kong to play with two local musicians (bass and drums) in the “Best of Indies” concert; and in December he played in Berlin with Koichi Makigami (vocals), Yuji Katsui (violin), Hiroshi Higo (bass), David Moss (percussion), and Frank Schulte (turntables).
His bands Celluloid Machine Gun and Mosquito Paper were eventually absorbed by Ground Zero, when the band launched its monumental work Revolutionary Pekinese Opera. Another of Otomo’s major projects at that time was the Sampling Virus Project (’92 to ’98), in which sampling processes were applied to musical works which were “passed around” among musicians. In this way, the sampling acted in much the same way computer viruses do—invading, multiplying in, and transforming the works—thus bringing new works into being.
Since the disbanding of Ground Zero, Otomo’s sound has evolved with current projects including I.S.O., his trio with Yoshimitsu Ichiraku (drums, electronics) and Sachiko M (sampler); and Filament, his duo with Sachiko M. The sound, which tends to embrace simplicity, minimalism, and texture much more than dynamism and instrumental performance, contrasts sharply with the extreme chopping and plunderphonics (“plagiaristic” sampling) which used to characterize Otomo’s style.
$25, CMA members $22
Support for this performance provided by the Asian Cultural Council