The Legacy of Shibuya-Kei Part Five

What did Shibuya-kei mean?

Like the Alternative revolution in America, Shibuya-kei brought more sophisticated musical tastes up from subcultural groups into the mainstream Japanese popular music market. Obscure music that was once only available to a specific underground clique was now available to everyone. Furthermore, Flipper’s Guitar, Pizzicato Five, and Kahimi Karie all sold so well that the entire industry had to take notice and start gearing their own mainstream acts — like Puffy and My Little Lover — to be as o-share as the those on the fringe.

The Bubble Economy produced great wealth for Japan, but Shibuya-kei was the nation’s initiative for good taste. America could be the leader for economic growth, but Shibuya-kei showed that Europe was the better model for style and aesthetic sense. This may be slight hyperbole, but I think that we can thank Shibuya-kei for the overwhelming scope of well-designed products that now litter Japan. Certainly, Japan looks more Shibuya-kei now than it did in the early ’90s — the products and stores based on the style appeared en masse after the music enjoyed commercial success. Even if these bands are not fully responsible for the changes to the consumer market, they surely acted as a visible and audible representation of the movement for a more cultured approach to culture.

The Shibuya-kei bands also created a product that was mukokuseki — nationality-less — and palatable to an international audience. Shibuya-kei does not sound particularly Oriental; it’s an amalgam of various regional music — French pop, UK indies and psych, Brazilian jazz, American dance music, German Krautrock, and Japanese synthpop — all thrown together under a rubric of ’60s retro-future Internationalism. If De Stijl was Internationalism through channeling the universal, Shibuya-kei was Internationalism through all-inclusive bricolage.

Even though this sound became known as distinctly “Japanese,” the accessibility and quality of the music itself helped the bands break into the American and European market like no other Japanese acts had done before. Pizzicato Five and Cornelius each sold more than 100,000 records on Matador in the U.S. and opened the floodgate of Japanese acts into America after a long dry spell. (Can you imagine a “Japan Nite” at SXSW without Shibuya-kei?) Combined with the rise in Japanese street fashion and animation, Shibuya-kei changed the worldwide image of Japan from being a nation of imitative consumers with delayed tastes to a high-tech, cutting-edge wonderland.

There is no doubt that Shibuya-kei was a style of music destined to be born in Japan, not the West. By the mid ’90s, Japan had the most diverse and active consumer market ever assembled, and the music itself was a logical aural extension of this consumer culture. Shibuya-kei did not just glorify shopping and products in the lyrics — the entire base of the music itself relied on sampling or pastiche of pre-existing media. Konishi Yasuharu of Pizzicato Five was a record collector first and a musician second. Like the DJ Shadow school of hip hop, Shibuya-kei was about finding and buying the most obscure (and therefore, best) records and reintroducing them to the world. Beikoku Ongaku‘s editor-in-chief Kawasaki Daisuke sees Shibuya-kei as just the ’90s progression of rich, urban youth consumer culture, and indeed all our innovators of the scene fit the Hosono Haruomi upper middle class model. Oyamada and Ozawa (who is part of the Ozawas) went to top-tier private high schools. Supposedly, Konishi was supported by his parents until he turned 30 and spent all of their hard earned money on records.

Accordingly, Shibuya-kei has no explicit political message other than delineating the creator and listener from mainstream culture through product choices and taste. I do not think that this should be held against the artists, but it explains why the movement was so easily subsumed into the mainstream. Shibuya-kei exclaimed, you are all consuming the wrong goods! And their fans, who were also upper middle class educated kids agreed. The market responded by providing those more sophisticated goods and incorporating them into the mainstream “middle class” lifestyle. In this way, Shibuya-kei was just fashion — but it was interesting fashion, and Japan was better off for it.

By 1991, Oyamada Keigo’s fame had made him a full out fashion and cultural authority, and he alone deserves credit for introducing the nation’s youth to a slew of interesting and challenging acts. (We are all indebted to him just for his patronage of Citrus). He did not use his new position of power to promote himself like the Last Orgy 3 crew in Ura-Harajuku (aka Fujiwara Hiroshi, Nigo, and Takahashi Jun), but worked to spread the gospel about overlooked music and culture. Japan’s magazine system needs personalities to legitimize products for insecure reader/consumers, and lately the country has suffered with no one as daring as Cornelius at the helm.

The Pakuri Problem

While I think that Shibuya-kei was overall an important influence on Japanese culture, I do have to point out its fatal creative flaw: the systematic embrace of pakuri as art. Pakuri comes from the Japanese verb “pakuru” (パクる) — to rip off or steal. Shibuya-kei artists like Pizzicato Five and Cornelius often walked the thin line between “influence” and outright thievery. Some find this charming, but the question must be asked: Does essentially rewriting someone else’s music count as creative endeavor?

Pastiche — the act of creating a new work using someone else’s idiosyncratic conventions — is a well-accepted art form, and certainly parody has been an effective creative tool throughout the years. However, I would gamble that few people find these kinds of artistic works as original as creating a new work out of whole cloth. If there was an axis of originality, pakuri seems to be one step below “tribute band” and “Weird” Al but nowhere near the other side.

There is plenty of pastiche in The Beatles’ work, but the Shibuya-kei folk took it one step further by stealing the melodies as well as the production techniques. Flipper’s Guitar’s “The Quizmaster” does not just have the same instrumentation and tempo as Primal Scream’s “Loaded” — it has the same melody. (For an example of classic Shibuya-kei pakuri, listen to Gary Lewis & the Playboys’s “Green Grass ” and Pizzicato Five’s “Baby Portable Rock” back to back. Both are good songs, no doubt, but one is highly indebted to the other.

Hip hop’s use of sampling gets the same flack for being “unoriginal,” and I do not want to dismiss the entire Shibuya-kei oeuvre as hack rewriting. Works should be judged by the cleverness and quality of the material’s reuse. Sometimes the new work is better than the original: I find Cornelius’ “The Microdisneycal World Tour” superior to actual songs by The High Llamas. (But I would also claim that this work is pastiche not pakuri.)

But lately there have been difficult ethical questions arising out of this semi-legal borrowing of styles and melodies. A recent Nissan commercial used Flipper’s Guitar’s “Young, Alive, in Love” as background music, but only the intro segment that Oyamada and Ozawa stole directly from an Italian film soundtrack. The Double Knockout Corporation owns the copyright to the song, even though they did not come up with that particular melody. George Harrison was sued for unintentionally ripping off the melody to “He’s So Fine.” Is it worse to steal intentionally or just more of a tribute?

(For more information on the amount of theft in Shibuya-kei works, check out one of the many Shibuya-kei reference guides on the market.)

W. David MARX (Marxy)
November 22, 2004

Marxy wrote a lot of essays back on his old site Néomarxisme. This is one of them.

41 Responses

  1. shane Says:

    Actually, in your last couple of posts I had been meaning to put in a request for an evaluation (or proclamation?) of Neo Shibuya-Kei! Where does stuff like Plus Tech Squeeze Box, Satanicpornocultshop, Takagi Masakatsu, Shugo Tokumaru, all the Flyrec artists, The Konki Duet, etc. fit in?

    Also, Marxy, I’m quite curious to know if you listen to Tsujiko Noriko, and how you reconcile music like this (From Tokyo To Naiagara in particular), that is completely Japanese, completely Avant-Pop, and yet seems quite absent of curation / pastiche / appropriation of other genres of music, with Neo Shibuya-Kei.

  2. Momus Says:

    Ha, that’s funny, I talk about Tujiko Noriko in my today’s blog entry, by sheer co-incidence!

    http://www.livejournal.com/users/imomus/2004/11/23/

  3. marxy Says:

    Plus Tech Squeeze Box, Satanicpornocultshop, Takagi Masakatsu, Shugo Tokumaru, all the Flyrec artists, The Konki Duet, etc. fit in?

    The only one out of that group that I would consider slightly Neo-Shibuya-kei is Plus-Tech Squeeze Box, but it’s unfair to say that their high-pace sampling mania is just a new version of the old.

    Shugo Tokumaru is his own thing.

    I don’t really listen to lappop or experimental stuff, so I think Momus or Robert Duckworth would be better guides. I don’t really have an opinion on Tujiko Noriko other that she is definitely not a descendent of Shibuya-kei.

  4. marxy Says:

    Also, I think a good point Momus brings up is that Shibuya-kei (besides Violent Onsen Geisha who were only associated by being on Trattoria) was really really pop influenced and very easy to listen to. I think it was “elite’ but not “avant garde.” If Bubble Japan Pop was a big cadillac, Shibuya-kei was a 60s BMW. Avant-Pop would be a whole different kind of vehicle altogether.

  5. shane Says:

    All right, I’ll admit, its a bit tangential, though personally I do see at least some relationships there worth exploring. Tujiko Noriko for one, not Shibuya-Kei of course, but seems like an interesting case study for you in terms of being a completely original Japanese contemporary artist whose work is chock-full of content and a dazzling and original aesthetic sense (if Shibuya-Kei is perhaps lacking in the first, and emphasizing the latter), without a disassociation of musical signifiers / signifieds.

    Admitedly, Shugo is his own thing, but I still wonder where it fits in. With regard to Flyec, When I heard Hidenobu Ito’s First Love I felt that some of the tracks wouldn’t feel out of place in an imaginary sequel to Point, but then again I think it came out only less than a year later than Cornelius’ album. As for Takagi, though definitely not a descendent formally, all your points about curation in Shibuya-Kei weigh heavily. He actively travels the world recording sound and visual sources for his work. It’s a bit of a case of that “upper middle class model” you mention–-spending the parent’s money to enhance your art.

    Konki Duet: I think this is quite an interesting case, almost like a displaced Shibuya-Kei coming from France! But a lot of the same influences are there. The hypohetical question being: what purpose does it serve, or what does it mean if you go and do something Shibuya-Kei related, inside of the very culture that Shibuya-Kei is most indebted to.

    I take your point about Avant Pop, Laptop shit, etc. being an entirely different vehicle, and I don’t mean to derail the focus of your current posts. Guess I’d better start my own blog if I want to go into it more ;P

    Anyhow, I eagerly await your Neo-Shibuya Kei perspective.

  6. Momus Says:

    Konki Duet: I think this is quite an interesting case, almost like a displaced Shibuya-Kei coming from France!

    Konki Duet is indeed an interesting case. When she was still in Japan Kumi Okamoto was in Crazy Curl, which to me sounds like any number of sub- or neo-Shibuya-kei bands from Metro to McDonald Duck Eclair. But Kumi went to Paris and fell in with the Active / Clapping label scene there, and, particularly in her collaborations with boyfriend Shinsei, made a kind of hybrid of laptop music and that jazzy-bossa neo-aco Shibuya-kei thing. Now, with Konki Duet’s first proper album, the sound has come full circle — the sounds are mostly acoustic, although it’s clearly ‘post-electronic’. In this sense, Kumi resembles people like Kahimi, because she’s gone further out than most Shibuya-kei bands. But I think she’s currently ‘ahead’ of Kahimi, because Kahimi has settled on a glitched-up techno-pop sound which is rather yukky and overproduced to my ears, whereas Kumi’s stuff has a freshness, naivete and simplicity to it. I guess you’d have to call it post-laptop kindercore or something like that…

    Kumi’s blog here:

    http://bonjourjournal.free.fr/index/main.html

  7. Laura Says:

    Note from stateside:
    Cartoon Network has just started running Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi episodes. Haven’t caught it yet, but will Puffy conquer the U.S.?

  8. marxy Says:

    Ladies and gentlemen: my sister, Laura.

  9. Brad Says:

    I’ve been meaning to ask you what role, if any, do you think design houses had to play in this? For me, one of the keys about a lot of the Shibuya-kei releases was the amazing design that went into the albums, Contemporary Production’s work with Pizzicato Five being a stand out in my mind. Also notable would be Central67, I suppose.

    Obviously, they had little to do with music side of things, though I do believe that CTPP’s Shindo Mitsuo did do some music production work. Maybe I am mistaken. But I would certainly think that any discussion of the genre would need to include some discussion of the image, specifically through album covers, videos, etc. and a lot of that came from a very small number of people.

    A second thing I was interested in your take on is what do you think the current sound of Japan is? When I lived in Japan in the mid- to late-90′s, for me Pizzicato Five epitomized the “sound of Japan”. For some reason, in my mind, their music was the perfect soundtrack to the country I lived in. Maybe that was just me. :)

    Now, however, I’d go with something more along the lines of something like Zazen Boys to score Japan. Of course, this is a totally subjective thing, but I’d be interested to hear what you think.

  10. marxy Says:

    Brad: Good point. Shindo is a huge part of Shibuya-kei, and I didn’t mention him at all. I implied in my essays that design was a big factor, but I am less qualified to talk about that part than the music. I am glad you brought it up.

    As for the “current sound of Japan,” I would think Zazen Boys would be close. Maybe they’re actually a little too interesting.

    Japan isn’t as glam and rainbow-colored as it was in the 90s, so I would want to pick something a little harder and darker. Hip hop is around, but doesn’t really sum up the city. I feel like no one shops anymore or goes to clubs, they just drink at izakayas. Japan is all Shirokiyas and Warawaras. KZK really fit with my 2003, and Tokyo Jihen’s rock blandness may be what I remember about 2004. If Tokyo is anything at the moment, it is “rock blandness.”

  11. Momus Says:

    The band that Shindo and his wife made was, of course, Hi-Posi:

    http://www.hi-posi.com/hi-posi_e.html

  12. marxy Says:

    Ah, Hi-Posi was Shindo! Now I get it. Thanks for the info.

  13. sparkligbeatnic Says:

    Marxy: the impression I’m getting is that your view of Shibuya-kei is condescending and, ultimately, negative. I find myself asking: why are you doing this?

  14. marxy Says:

    Sparkligbeatnic: the impression I’m getting of your posts is that you’re reading the negative into everything. I find myself asking: why are you reading this blog?

    I wrote a very balanced view of Shibuya-kei. Maybe I am the first one to ever really talk about some of the weaker points of the movement in English, so it sounds “negative.” There are plenty of cursory rah-rah type things if you want to shield yourself from criticism. I am writing to explain, not just inform.

    But throughout the entire piece, I think it’s clear that I respect the artists and think they made Japan a better place. I think the pakuri thing is something that we shouldn’t ignore, but if someone wants to defend it, I’d be happy to hear the case.

  15. sparkligbeatnic Says:

    I think you’ll be hard-pressed to find any example of cultural activity where borrowing is not a critical aspect of that activity. Rock music borrowed heavily from the Black American blues tradition. Eventually this was acknowledged and some of the old bluesmen benefitted economically, but not before the scores of inferior, derivative British and American rock musicians became filthy rich.

    As to why I read your essays, they are well written and researched, but infuriatingly one-sided. I’m puzzled about why this is. Why do you take a strong interest in Japanese cultural products but then refuse to give the Japanese credit for creativity or originality?

  16. marxy Says:

    As to why I read your essays, they are well written and researched, but infuriatingly one-sided. I’m puzzled about why this is. Why do you take a strong interest in Japanese cultural products but then refuse to give the Japanese credit for creativity or originality?

    They are not one-sided as much as they aim to approach this culture from a somewhat deeper perspective than usual. The Japanese media surely cannot talk about any negative aspects of the music or its creativity, and anyone reporting about it to the West has no incentive to badmouth what they are trying to preach. My aim is to speak to those people who already know Shibuya-kei and say, okay, what do we have in our hands here?

    Have you heard much Shibuya-kei? It is imitative, but that was the charm. The curation of imitative styles was the strong point. However, there are times when they crossed the line and we have to ask, if an American pop star did this, would we be okay with it? If I stole a Flipper’s Guitar melody and released it in America with a couple of notes changed, you’d have me by my throat in about a minute!

    Like any country does, I think that Japan has a class of very original and creative people (although I think the music and education systems do not promote this kind of talent.) I also think that the Jpop world is purposely formulaic and conventional to stay conservative for marketing purposes, and I don’t understand why an attack on this structure would be an attack that “the Japanese” are not creative. Obviously, there is tons of creativity in Japan (can you deny the Boredoms?), but I don’t think the current music market is where you are going to to want to look for it.

    As you’ve said yourself, there are “many Japans” and I just happen to spend my time – as a critic, thank you – attacking the ones that are less creative. I think this is the only way that you can start to appreciate how creative the creative side really is.

  17. Les Says:

    I think the piece was rather well-written and balanced. I simply do not understand Sparkligbeatnic’s problem. He sees evil subtext hiding under every sentence. My suggestion to you is to look in the mirror and see the problem within, first. Regards.

  18. sparkligbeatnic Says:

    If there was an axis of originality, pakuri seems to be one step below “tribute band” and “Weird” Al but nowhere near the other side.

    There is plenty of pastiche in the Beatles’ work, but the Shibuya-kei folk took it one step further by stealing the melodies as well as the production techniques.

    Sorry, maybe I have a problem “within”, but it’s hard for me to read the above as anything other than condescending.

    For an example of Shibuya-kei pakuri, listen to Gary Lewis & the Playboys’s “Green Grass “” and Pizzicato Five’s “Baby Portable Rock” back to back. Both are good songs, no doubt, but one is highly indebted to the other.

    I suggest it may be interesting to find out who Gary Lewis’s influences were and see who he was ‘stealing’ from. Or did he pull it all out of thin air?

  19. marxy Says:

    I think you are confusing “influences” with “pakuri” – which are two concepts I am trying to differentiate. Every musical act in history has been “influenced” by others, but few have gone so far as to copy the production, instrumentation, harmonies, and melodies exactly as was recorded and declared the new version an “original work.” Probably 80-85% of Shibuya-kei is just “influenced,” but I think it’s fair to point out the 15% of pakuri. I am not saying Pizzicato Five should be reconsidered because they were “influenced” by Gary Lewis – they stole that song wholesale and rewrote it! The more interesting argument should be, does it matter?

  20. sparkligbeatnic Says:

    Still my favourite parts of that P5 song, ‘Baby Portable Rock’, are the parts that are not in ‘Green Grass’. It’s not my favourite P5 song but I’d still much rather listen to it than ‘Green Grass’.

    My guess is that you’ll find a continuum between influence and plagiarism rather than a categorcal difference. An indicator of plagiarism is the extent to which the culprit tries to conceal or deny the theft.

    But I agree this an interesting questiona and I think you’re making a step in the right direction by soliciting opinions from Japanese listeners. I think what would be really valuable would be if you could interview people like Konishi or Oyamada about these points.

    I recall hearing a live interview of P5′s Konishi by Chris Douridas of Santa Monica public radio KCRW’s ‘Morning Becomes Eclectic’ sometime in late 1995 or early 1996. Chris was discretely asking him a similar question about the extent of the influence of western music on P5. Konishi’s answer included a (bafflying to me at the time) statement to the effect that his goal was to improve western pop, in the way that Japanese cars had improved on American cars. Douridas (who would make an excellent diplomat) wisely avoided following up on his comment. At the time I couldn’t tell if Konishi was serious or ironic, I now think that he was making an ironic comment on all the bashing of Japan about being ‘copiers’ rather than ‘creators’. Isn’t culture all about copying, assimilating, tweaking, and modifying messages we receive from others? Recording technology has made it easier to document influences (or plagiarists as the case may be) but that doesn’t mean that ‘copying’ is anything new.

  21. Chris_B Says:

    marxy: LOTS of hyperbole in this one. Not having been here in the early 90s and bing unwilling to talk to the people I know who might know, I dont know how seriously I can take your comment regarding a semi underground music style/movement as having influenced the design sensibilties of consumer products, especially considering the long standing history of design aesthetic which is associated with this particular culture.

    As far as the stealing/refining issue goes, it looks/sounds to me (from what little I’ve heard) that this is another case of localizing imported culture to match Japanese tastes. Go to any Indian/Italian/Russian/”American”/etc resteraunt in Tokyo and you will know what I mean. Even if some songs are lifted almost note for note, its pretty hard to talk about a “theft” in a culture that has no real tradition of IP laws and very selective enforcement of those that do exist.

    Your comments regarding a core of hyper elitist consumer culture ring true however. Reminds me a bit of the jacket in William Gibson’s last novel. Kind of an otaku thing from my perspective, (note the word is used in the original sense, not in the current US English usage).

  22. marxy Says:

    I dont know how seriously I can take your comment regarding a semi underground music style/movement as having influenced the design sensibilties of consumer products, especially considering the long standing history of design aesthetic which is associated with this particular culture.

    I am specifically talking about a certain colorful Internationalist “mod,” cafe aesthetic that a lot of Westerners find appealing about Japan. This design sense has extended lately to keitai and stationary. I can’t nail down exactly if they are linked, but it seems that Shibuya-kei helped take the akogare focus from the US and place it on Europe. In terms of fashion, this happened in the mid 80s during the DC Boom, although that was a serious, monotone affair. Shibuya-kei predates the Ura-Harajuku, Fruits-esque explosion of the mid-90s, and I think it’s possible to find links between them.

    About localizing culture, I don’t particularly see anything wrong about a “Japanese” version of the Western culture, but I think you reach a limit when you start breaking copyright laws. As you said, Japan is a country without IP laws (or maybe, just no enforcement), which has been a source of great creativity in some ways (a freedom of sampling culture), but a bad example to set in others.

    I would like to write about this more in the future, but the Western guilt-ridden sense of “imitation” does not exist in Japan. In some ways, the process-over-product style of educational teaching demands years of exact imitation before anything new can be created. The cultural relativist view would say, we can’t be mad at the Japanese for imitating when it is a standard part of Japanese culture.

  23. trevor Says:

    i’d like to say, these are all my favorite comments, and original entry to date.. A.. someone [well, marxy] said “citrus”.. thats pretty much al i would need to be happy. B.. but then! people mentioned shugo.. and it warmed my heart.. it really makes me endlessly happy. C.. and THEN! macdonald duck elcair was mentioned.. witch also makes me endlessly happy.
    shugo, toyomu, michi [i never got to meet yuki] are, in my opinion, great artists, and really great people..
    or atleast, they’ve all been great to me. i really can’t say enough good things about that. so thats where i’ll leave that.

    sorry i’m completely OT on that. i’m 100% tainted and bias on the whole thing. regardless of my opinion.. plus, these are conversations i’ll save, for being over a cup of coffee, or tea. if you don’t drink coffee OR tea.. i doubt it would happen then, cause you couldn’t possibly be human..

  24. Momus Says:

    I agree with Chris that the influence of Shibuya-kei was massively overstated in Marxy’s original posting.

    I also agree that the copyright / pakuri issue is culturally bound, and it’s another instance of one of my favourite themes, the link between Japan and postmodernism. Pomo stresses the death of the author and the collapse of distinctions like ‘high/low’, ‘surface/depth’, ‘original/copy’. Digital culture also erases the difference between the original and the copy, and the internet era has seen a crisis in intellectual copyright in the west. I’ve made a lot of the parallels between the pre-copyright era and the post-copyright era, and I’ve spoken in public (for instance at the Future of Music conference in Washington DC) about copyright being a thing that restricts creativity. I believe very strongly that pop music is a collective artform, and it’s counter-productive to police individual ownership of works.

    When I first arrived in Japan, I noticed this pakuri phenomenon. There was an artist called Poison Boyfriend, for instance, who had named herself after one of my albums. There was early Kahimi, whose group with Takako Groovy Face Fancy Name was obviously named after el Records band Bad Dream Fancy Dress. There was Keigo Oyamada with his Primal Screamisms. People would drop chunks of Gainsbourg into a song wholesale. I found this refreshing. It’s like the curating and re-appropriation that goes on in the art world, specifically in Pop Art and Appropriationism. Except that of those two movements, Japan is closer to Pop Art, because Warhol celebrated the culture he was incorporating. There was no critique. This meant that artists appropriated were ‘paid’ with promotion and respect. Did my own work sell better in Japan after being appropriated in this way? Of course it did. I got copied, and I got paid in full. Kahimi and Cornelius played my stuff on their radio shows. They ‘curated’ me rather than ripping me off. What’s more, they made something I found completely fresh with the influences they melded together. Cornelius is much better than either Primal Scream or The Clash, I think. What’s more, if Primal Scream or The Clash are good, it’s to the extent that they curated other bands and sounds well, the same way Cornelius does.

    When I made records for Kahimi, I made a point of ripping stuff off, or rather, curating stuff. I did this at the level of songwriting (for instance, ‘Lolitapop Dollhouse’ makes a very clear musical reference to ‘Catch A Falling Star’ in the version by Francoise Hardy) and at the level of inviting guest musicians like Little Rabbits or Add N To X to participate. Often I mixed samples of these artists with performances by the artists themselves, reproducing their samples live! Often the artists couldn’t capture the ‘feel’ of the samples, and the final mix is mostly the sample, with the performance fee to the group being just a way to pay and credit them. Then again, samples I made from Shibuya-kei artists (like the main riff of my song ‘Enlightenment’, which comes from a Pizzicato 5 track) turned out to be something they’d sampled from elsewhere (Konishi refused to tell me where he’d got that one)!

    So it’s all much more complex than simple intellectual property laws could ever codify. We also mustn’t let our individualistic, property-owning mindset lead us into condemnations of a collectivist culture which may, in fact, anticipate future developments in our own society’s attitude to property.

  25. Momus Says:

    Poison Boyfriend Poison Girlfriend

  26. Momus Says:

    Yeah, Poison Boyfriend should read ‘Poison Girlfriend’. And Takako and Kahimi’s early band was called Fancy Face Groovy Name, not Groovy Face Fancy Name!

  27. marxy Says:

    Momus: Nice defense of pakuri. So, being lazy is postmodern! I am going to just rewrite “Good Morning World” under my own name and cash in. No, but seriously, I think you make a good case.

    The only thing that bothers me is the fact that Konishi hates when people call him on his samples. He deplores those sample-list books. Possibly, because they get rid of the fun of collecting, but maybe he really believes he is Bacharach and doesn’t want people to know that he didn’t come up with all those melodies and ideas himself. I had no idea that he ripped any particular songs off until I heard the originals. I believed all those inside-cover pictures of him conducting the orchestra.

  28. sparkligbeatnic Says:

    Sampling is nothing new. Copy + modify is the basic algorithm for genetic and memetic evolution.

    One of the most interesting developments in science in the last decade is the description of mirror neurons in primates, and the suggestion that these may provide a basis for the evolution of language and culture.

    It troubles me a bit that Konishi doesn’t like people to ‘catch him on his sampling’. Perhaps what he doesn’t like is the implication that there is something wrong with sampling? Or in other words, Marxy, it would be helpful if you could give a bit more context to that last statement.

  29. sparkligbeatnic Says:

    …but maybe he really believes he is Bacharach and doesn’t want people to know that he didn’t come up with all those melodies and ideas himself.

    Marxy: I’m wondering if you really think that Bacharach came up with all his songs by himself, or in other words, in a vacuum?

  30. Momus Says:

    I remember Konishi being a big fan of the record I made with Laila France, ‘Orgonon’. He liked it because I sampled Jeanne Moreau on almost every track, and he loves Jeanne Moreau.

  31. marxy Says:

    Marxy: I’m wondering if you really think that Bacharach came up with all his songs by himself, or in other words, in a vacuum?

    Again! Again! There is a difference between “influence” and “sampling”? Was Bacharach influenced by other music? Yes. Did he “sample” other people’s music – that is – did he copy exact phrases from other people’s songs and then change a couple of notes? As far as I know, he did not.

    Momus thinks sampling and pakuri is creative. That is a defensible position. But it’s certainly a different creative process than filling a blank sheet of paper with notes from your head. For the time being, I cannot judge it better or worse, but just different.

    I think Konishi sees himself as a 60s-style Brill Building songwriter, and I don’t remember those guys having the ideal of taking phrases directly from other people’s songs. Maybe they did it, but it was not their standard operating procedure.

    And to clarify: from what I have heard, Konishi does not like when companies publish books or fans make website that list the samples he uses in his records.

  32. sjparkligbeatnic Says:

    I don’t know Konishi (though I used to see him wandering around downtown Kyoto) and haven’t read the articles in question so perhaps, Marxy, you are right and Konishi is pretending to be something he isn’t and doesn’t like to have his fantasy bubble burst when annoying fans publish lists of samples. Or perhaps there’s another interpretation: maybe Konishi thinks that the people who publish the lists of his samples are missing the point about his music – surely it’s how he samples that is his artistry. The samples are his basic material and the creative aspect is the combining and quotation. Certainly that what’s caught my ear the first time I heard a song like “Twiggy, Twiggy” – such an odd, alien form of copying a cultural style that it was like nothing I had heard before. Something completely “original” could not have had the same effect.

  33. Brad Says:

    Lots has been said since I posted but I just wanted to say thanks to Momus for the Hi-Posi ID. Now if only I could find those Hi-Posi analogs…

    (Speaking of Hi-Posi, have they just ceased to exist? Was the last thing they released “Seizensetsu”?)

  34. Chris_B Says:

    Momus: I cant even begin to agree with your opinion on using post-modernism as a justification for outright theft. I’ve heard all the justifications for sampling have been doing sample/loop based music on and off since the mid 80s myself. Of course composing music using samples or loops as part of a song or to build an entire song can be creative and there is an undenyable tradtion of quotation in all forms of music. Wholesale theft is hardly creative and has never been recognized as such. If you lift all of someone’s music making only minor changes, at best what you end up with is a cover of the original. Covers are good in their own sense. I got turned on to lots of reggae and hiphop by The Clash, but I would not presume to say that The Clash were a reggae band. To put it another way, tribute != theft.

    As far as your claims of Japan == pomo society, how do you reconsile the “death of authorship” with the longstanding sensei/deshi tradition and the recognition of master craftsmen? Dont confuse a lack of recognition of oritinal authorship (particularly foreign authorship) with an idea of original == copy.

    As far as copyright goes, if you particularly can not recognize a disticntion between original authorship and wholesale copying, it would naturally follow that you can not respect copyright law. Personally I agree that the current international superstructure of copyright law has become oppressive, but OTOH, its good to see movements like Creative Commons appearing. What license are you releasing your music under? Would you mind very much if I were to sell copies of your CDs with my name on the cover and not pay you any royalties?

  35. sparkligbeatnic Says:

    The intellectual property question is quite topical. Close to 70 Japanese universities opened new graduate schools of law this year. This is related to the reform of the legal system but I also perceive a greater interest in intellectual property law of late.

    For example, Toshiba is suing Korean company Hynex over intellectual property violations related to Flash memory such as is used in digital cameras.
    The dispute is being handled in American courts.

    I think we’ll see more of this kind of thing as Chinese and Korean industries move into manufacturing domains controlled by Japanese companies.

    I just hope this does not make Japan a more litigious society. Would a Japan with strong copyright protection mechanisms ever have given us Shibuya-kei?

  36. Momus Says:

    Somewhat to my regret, I’ve been very little sampled and, as far as I know, never pirated — unless you call filesharing pirating, in which case you can see what people are downloading on sites like Audioscrobbler:

    http://www.audioscrobbler.com/music/Momus

    My attitude to all this is pretty ad hoc. ‘What works’, basically. Some balance of self and tradition, personal property and communal. I do still sample, and I think my low profile makes that easier. The law is expensive and out of my reach, so the law doesn’t really concern me. I collect revenues from traditional music publishers and rights organisations (Sony Music Japan, Warner Chappell, PRS), but I know their calculations are often wildly inaccurate and somewhat tokenesque. I also collect donations from people who’ve downloaded my work in mp3 form from my site and other sites and want to recompense me in some way. It’s up to them how much, and whether, they pay.

    I would be sad to see Japan becoming a more litigious country. Obviously a balance has to be struck between the rights of ownership and the rights of use. I think in the west the power is too much with the owners — witness the recent extension of copyright from 50 to 70 years in both the EU and US. The Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act was passed in 1998 largely due to lobbying from Disney, who were reluctant to see Mickey Mouse become public property by 2004. Well, Mickey is still under copyright, but that doesn’t stop me — and millions of Asians — from wearing pirated Mickey Mouse T shirts in illegal (and innovative) colour and form combinations.

  37. marxy Says:

    Doesn’t Audioscrobbler track what people are listening to on their home computers, not necessarily downloading illegally?

  38. Momus Says:

    Technically, yes. But the facility for connecting users and allowing them to ‘recommend’ tracks to each other makes it basically a legal front for filesharing.

  39. Chris_B Says:

    Momus: You completely dodged my questions.

  40. Momus Says:

    Sorry, Chris, I was out saving the world from Evil and didn’t get to them without the time period designated in my superhero service contract. You wrote:

    ‘As far as your claims of Japan == pomo society, how do you reconsile the “death of authorship” with the longstanding sensei/deshi tradition and the recognition of master craftsmen?’

    I think it would be a mistake to say that Japan isn’t a postmodern society, and use as proof a residual pre-modern tradition of master craftsmen.

    I think I answered your copyright questions with my ‘ad hoc’ answer. Whatever works, basically. If it works for you to copy my CDs and release them under your own name, do that. It might backfire on your at some point, though — not because I or my copyright holders object (I’d just think it was funny, and Sony have bigger fish to fry), but because your audience might spot the steal and call you a plagiarist.

  41. ndkent Says:

    Speaking of Hi-Posi, checking out their website they/she is still playing but hasn’t released an album in a long time. Miho Moribayashi wrote a sweet sounding tune for Halcali’s first album.