Making tape loops is fun. It can be frustrating at times, especially when you have lil’ sausage fingers like I do, but still fun. Think of them like ships in a bottle, but for weirdos. And in the end, you have a tape loop instead of a useless ship in a bottle. Justin Lakes, who records under the name Shredded Nerve and operates the NYC based store Thousands of Dead Gods, has taken the hobby of making tape loops and upgraded that shit to a fine art (for weirdos). Using extra (sometimes WAY extra) pinch rollers and spools, Lakes transforms cassettes from machines to contraptions with meandering paths of analog tape. They are fucking gorgeous and available for purchase [email email@example.com].
Listen to some of Lakes’ loops in action on “Failing to Maintain” while perusing some images of these juicy zig-zaggers.
Eli Zeger on the origins of a complex and conversational vocal technique, from its use by African Pygmies to appearance in modern contexts
The musical technique known as hocketing has been shaping creative processes for centuries, appearing in forms ranging from medieval classical music to contemporary indie rock and EDM. Hocketing either involves instruments taking turns playing discrete portions of a single melody, normally at a rapid tempo and in fluid succession, or two instruments playing in a call-and-response. A guitar, for instance, plays do-re-mi; a saxophone plays fa-so-la; piano finishes with ti-do and the cycle of instruments repeats. Whether listening to hocketing in headphones or hearing it played by musicians positioned at different points around a stage, the technique can make you feel like you’re inside the melody. Compared to counterpoint, which involves layering different melodies on top of each other, hocketing is essentially a fraction of the work, with the goal being singularity rather than plurality. It’s a device based on dialogue: If counterpoint is multiple voices talking over each other, then hocketing is conversational.
Although widely believed to have originated in medieval classical music, hocketing actually dates back to African music from over 80,000 years ago. It began as a solely vocal tradition, practiced by the Central African Pygmies in tropical forests and the Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert, according to musicologist Dr. Victor Grauer in his “Echoes Of Our Forgotten Ancestors.” Just as medieval composers evidently never interacted with hocketing peoples in Africa, to the point of presuming they invented the form, the Pygmies and Bushmen evidently never interacted with each other. Yet both African peoples hocketed specifically in their vocal ensembles and for the same symbolic purpose, in Grauer’s words, of “echoing forgotten ancestors.” Early hocketing eventually translated to instruments. Ghanaian flutes, called atentebens, didn’t have a definitive model – they were made of different materials and varied in shape and size – but were each confined to a single octave range. In atenteben ensembles, whether or not limited octave ranges were deliberate, they were compensated for by the timbral variety of hocketing with multiple flutes.
Guillaume de Machaut - Hoquetus David
Hocketing was first transcribed in formal compositions from the 13th and 14th centuries, appearing in pieces such as “Manere,” written by the composer Anonymous of St. Emmeram, and in “Hoquetus David,” by the French composer Guillaume de Machaut. Whether performed as a capellas or with traditional medieval instruments, both pieces demonstrate the technique specifically in their upper-voice parts, intertwining varied patterns of whole notes, half notes and rests in order to achieve the fractured sonic effect. It’s this transcription that has led to the assertion that the form came first from these classical styles, and not Africa. In addition to sheet music, not only was the term “hocket” first recorded in European archives (albeit in a slightly alternate spelling), but the general maintenance of exhaustive institutional documentation written in Latin is what legitimized the European composers over the African ones. Anonymous of St. Emmeram first described hocketing in a treatise from 1279, now preserved as a manuscript, that was published by the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. In Africa, though, hocketing was not documented in text, but in the live performance traditions that had already existed for hundreds of centuries prior to Anonymous and his ecclesiastical ilk.
How did separate musical cultures, thousands of miles and hundreds of years apart, with no record of direct interaction, manage to develop such a similar-sounding technique? It’s likely to do with a shared, innate desire for practicality. “It seems to me that hocketing is a natural solution to the problem of how to arrange melodies among multiple vocal parts, so my guess would be that it was invented independently,” Dr. Patrick Savage, a musicologist at the Keio University Shonan Fujisawa Campus, writes over email. “If so, then medieval Europeans could be excused for thinking that they originated hocketing, since they might not have known about African hocketing. It is less excusable for modern scholars to make this claim, since they should be aware of African hocketing, but unfortunately there is still much Eurocentrism among musicologists.”
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When asked what he’s most proud of in his five decade career in music, the answer doesn’t come easy for Makoto Kubota. The prolific Kyoto-born singer, songwriter, and producer has never been one to look back at his past work, and like his longtime friend and collaborator Haruomi Hosono, Kubota remains eternally humble, preferring to let the music do the talking. Kubota’s involvement with cult noise pioneers Les Rallizes Denudes may incite the most curiosity among Western listeners, but to him it’s merely a tiny blip on his long, impressive resume. Some have dubbed him the Japanese Ry Cooder, which perhaps is not an inaccurate way to describe his sensibilities and philosophy as a musician.
Kubota got his start in the Kansai folk scene in the ‘60s, alongside like-minded musicians as Sachiko Kanenobu and others on the URC label. A friendship with college classmate Takashi Mizutani led to playing in his band Les Rallizes Denudes. Through his Cheech & Chong-esque travels through countercultural America, brushes with worldwide fame in the ‘70s-‘80s with the Sunset Gang and the Sunsetz, and a successful chapter as a prolific producer, Kubota has carved out an idiosyncratic career that’s earned him his current status as a cool, elder statesman of Japanese rock. Ultimately, Kubota is simply a lover of music, spreading the gospel of good music across the globe, whether it be through his own music or championing the work of others, like the music from Okinawa traditional minyo music that’s so dear to his heart. That’s certainly something he can be proud of.
As the coronavirus pandemic rages on around the globe, Kubota has kept himself busy at his home studio in Tokyo. He’s finding inspiration from young lo-fi musicians he finds online, while learning how to make music with the latest gears and gadgets, building on his mastery of the MPC he had developed in the ‘80s. He recently remastered and reissued several of his acclaimed albums from the ‘70s, including the classic album with the Sunset Gang, Hawaii Champloo.
On the occasion of these latest remasters, we had a long, wide-ranging conversation with Kubota, lasting until the wee hours of the morning. Kubota looked back at his life and many accomplishments, from growing up in a movie theater surrounded by American jazz, seeing the Grateful Dead at a Black Panther rally in Oakland, his friendship with Levon Helm, and eating the last slice of turkey at the Last Waltz. Below are excerpts from the four hour chat—one of very few interviews with Kubota that has been translated into English. | words & translation: y. kitazawa
Aquarium Drunkard: The remastered albums sound great. How did you end up doing the remasters yourself?
Makoto Kubota: In the ‘70s the idea of mastering didn’t really exist in Japan. It was always a source of frustration for me. I would get the recording to sound good on tape, but when it was getting cut onto vinyl I had to stand there and watch silently. If I suggested they raise the levels, they would say no, that’s not technically feasible because the needle would jump. The parent companies of record labels were audio companies, like Victor, and there would be complaints coming from the top if we’d done it that way. In Japan it was like that for a while, but gradually mastering became an important thing.
This year Ultravybe bought the master tapes from Trio. They called me up and said, if we’re going to do it, let’s do it properly. I’ve been working as a mastering engineer for more than 10 years now, so I asked them to let me do it. Including a few remixed albums, there were a total of maybe 60-70 tracks. I was working on that during the corona lockdown.
AD: Do you want to see these records get reissued outside of Japan?
Makoto Kubota: I don’t have a preference for who hears those records. I don’t get obsessive over it. My own music is just one part of the relationship I have with music, so I don’t consider it to represent who I am. I keep a distance between what I’ve done and who I am.
AD: So you don’t listen to your own music from the past?
Makoto Kubota: No, I had mostly forgotten about it. When I was remastering the albums I was thinking to myself, this is actually pretty good! But I very rarely listen to my past work. Take Les Rallizes Denudes for example. I had forgotten about that part of my life. But when I went to see Sachiko play at Central Park [in 2019] with Steve Gunn and the guys from Yo La Tengo—they all knew so much about the Rallizes. It was a total surprise. The Rallizes have so few official recordings. What’s out there are mostly bootlegs.