Eiko Ishibashi is a singer-songwriter and composer who has worked both solo and collaboratively with artists such as Jim O’Rourke, Merzbow, Yamamoto Tatsuhisa, and Darin Gray. Throughout her 20s, Ishibashi played drums in the art rock band Panicsmile. She has also created music for numerous plays, installations, and films, including the Japanese theatrical release of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s World on a Wire. Throughout the past year, Ishibashi has released numerous albums, including Hyakki Yagyō on Black Truffle. Joshua Minsoo Kim talked with Ishibashi on September 18th, 2020 to discuss the films and albums that impacted her as a child, her recent albums, and more. Special thanks to O’Rourke for interpreting.
Joshua Minsoo Kim: Hi Eiko! How are you?
Eiko Ishibashi: Hi! Thank you for having me.
Of course, I’m a big fan. You’ve been doing a lot of great stuff this year so I wanted to talk. You’re probably my favorite artist of the year.
Eiko Ishibashi: Thank you, thank you.
I was wondering—did you two watch an episode of Law & Order last night (laughter). [Editor’s note: O’Rourke mentioned watching Law & Order every day in our previous interview].
Eiko Ishibashi: I didn’t see it! I usually go to an onsen every day, and during that time Jim is cooking and watching Law & Order (laughter).
Jim O’Rourke: They don’t have it here with subtitles anymore.
Eiko Ishibashi: But I like to watch it, always (laughter).
What do you like about it?
Eiko Ishibashi: [Jack] McCoy (laughs). I just love McCoy’s character. I love how the show always has the same structure, how the first half is about pursuing the criminal and the second half is about how they’re gonna get him in jail (laughter).
Thanks for sharing that (laughs). I wanted to start off by asking you—what’s the earliest memory you have of creating music?
Eiko Ishibashi: I made 8mm films but I didn’t want them to be silent, so I made music with a cassette multitrack recorder. So it was at first for these films.
What kind of films were these? And how old were you when you made them?
Eiko Ishibashi: I was 19 when I started making them. They were more abstract, like me shooting spiral staircases and other architecture—there was nothing narrative.
What was the music like?
Eiko Ishibashi: Mostly just field recordings with piano.
I know you’ve talked about films being a big influence in your work. Do you see films as being the primary influence for you when you create any art?
Eiko Ishibashi: I was always more personally connected with film because I watched films from a young age, and would sometimes watch them with my mother. And especially, it was these stranger films I watched that I felt had a direct relation to my life. I wasn’t ever as close to music as I was with film at the time.
Of course, there’s an influence that film has on my art but it’s never the case that a film inspires me to make something—there isn’t a direct correlative. It’s more so that film has shaped my aesthetics and way of looking at life, and that affects how I make music. Music has to go through the filter of me being me before it comes back out again.
Was your mom really into film as well?
Eiko Ishibashi: Both of my parents watched a lot of films. A lot of war films, especially. (laughter). It wasn’t so much that the whole family would sit down and watch a movie together—it wasn’t that kind of cheery image.
Jim O’Rourke: Film was a really big part of the culture in Japan up until maybe the late ’80s—an enormous amount of magazines, lots of critics.
Eiko Ishibashi: Right, right.
Jim O’Rourke: That’s just some context, sorry.
No, it’s all good, I appreciate it! Would you say that you were close with your parents when you were younger?
Eiko Ishibashi: (laughs with O’Rourke, the two talk at length in Japanese).
Jim O’Rourke: You might be able to tell that it was a bit complicated (laughter). Japanese families are very difficult in the first place. It’s very normal for the father to be absent, and if the mother doesn’t pick up the slack for that, then there isn’t much of a feeling that kids were really wanted in the first place (laughs).
Eiko Ishibashi: My father was considerably older than my mother, about 12 years older. He was definitely from a different generation so it felt like my parents were and weren’t there. Nonetheless, I still feel like I was lucky.
Lucky in what way?
Eiko Ishibashi: My mother was ridden with angst, so I felt like I had the chance to create my own world because my mother wasn’t imposing her world on me.