Into the Prisms of Iu Takahashi

Iu Takahashi creates worlds out of everyday sounds that feel otherworldly. Her music is delicate, almost fragile in a way that leaves me breathless. Timeless motifs weave their way through increate sound design and expertly captured field recordings. On her latest album, Late in Life, on Regional Attraction, she rides under a shroud of mystery while exlpornig organic, aural passages. Reflective moments wind their way through Late in Life, giving the album a surprising emotional heft. It honestly caught me off guard on my first listen as I found myself totally spent by the end, but in a overwhelming yet satisfying way. Takahashi is a silent sonic assassin and give her work the air and space it needs to take full flight and you will be richly rewarded. 

We talked through email in April and May about memories, sound, process, and more. Late in Life is out now Regional Attraction.

So when you were growing up, what were some of your earliest memories of sounds and music? 

When I was five or six years old, I was staring blankly at my mother practicing playing Ryuichi Sakamoto’s “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence” on the piano at home. It was a hazy memory from my childhood, but the beautiful melody left a strong impression on me, and I wanted to be able to play it, which is probably my earliest memory.

Were there any specific sounds that you remember as a child that you were fascinated with?

There was a very small waterfall near my house. I couldn’t hear it from my balcony during the daytime because of the noise of cars and outside, but I liked to hear the sound of the waterfall when I went out on the balcony when people were asleep.

Was there a certain point or a certain experience where you realized that you had the desire to make your own creations?

At first, I wrote my own music to sing. At that time, I became more and more interested in making music that only used two chords or music that repeated the same melody. A friend of mine introduced me to an artist who was doing the mastering, and he was making ambient music, and that’s when I first learned about ambient music. I felt that music that didn’t change too much, music like the flow of a river, was the kind of music I was eager for, so I started to make the kind of work I make now. 

What most inspires your work?

All creations, which are made from other than me.

I love how much you incorporate field recordings into your work. How do you decide what sounds you want to record and work with?

Thank you so much. I always carry a portable recorder and If I find a sound that attracts me, I record it. For example, the song “Vacant House” from my recently released album Late in Life has rain sounds in it, which I recorded because I was attracted to the sound of rain echoing on the old roof when I stayed for a few days last year in an empty house that no one lived in anymore. Also, the song Oblivion from the same album has a creaking sound in the second half of the song. That was the sound of a fan attached to the ceiling of an old building that had deteriorated and creaked as it spun, I was fascinated by that sound and recorded it.

I don’t want to apply effects to my recordings as much as possible, so I often put them directly into the song.

What are some of your favorite sounds in the world?

My favorite sound in the world right now is the sound of a quiet museum or gallery. I love the sound of the space, which is a combination of the sound of the ventilation fan, the irregular footsteps of visitors moving around while looking at the works, and the sounds of the outside coming from far away.

Your description of the sound of the gallery space is really lovely. It relates a lot to something I’ve been thinking about a lot in the past year – about the important role sound plays in our memories and experiences. For me, the sound and ambiance of a memory is usually the thing that stays with me the most and I think your music taps into those feelings and ideas so well. What kind of emotions and experiences are you hoping to create – for yourself and for listeners – with your work?

I am most pleased when I receive feedback after releasing my work, and I am overflowing with happiness the moment when I am touched by someone’s sensibilities, such as when they say, “That scenery came into my mind,” or “This sound reminds me of that.”

I believe that people think, imagine, and have a deep and rich sensitivity. It can be to get close to the listener’s thoughts, or it is awareness in the unconscious…for example, you notice the sounds you unconsciously listen to in your daily lives, and the visual information you see unconsciously moves your emotions and imagination. I hope my music can be a part of that, even if only a little.

Related to that, new worlds and new, inviting spaces can be created nearly-instantly from sounds, which isn’t often the case with most other mediums, and build connections with others. How do you think sound can be used to connect with people?

That is a tough question… I am not a good talker and not a good communicator, so I may have less of a fundamental desire to connect or relate to people than others. The question of how to use sound to connect with people is difficult for me to answer, this may not be what you are asking, but even if we can’t connect with people through words, we can work together through music like this, and even if we live in different countries or places, we can respect each other because of the connection of sounds.

I think it’s really interesting that you mentioned the waterfall as one the first specific sounds you remember because one thing that stands out to me with Late In Life is your use of recordings of water. For me, those sounds give me a deep, emotional connection to the work because some of my earliest memories with sound also involve water. What sounds evoke a deep emotional response in you?

It is the sound of water for me as well. I feel like listening to them when I am thinking or want to stimulate my sensitivity.

Oceans, rivers, waterfalls, rain, drops of water…etc. they remind me to strain my ears to the sound. Before I know it, those sounds are unconsciously playing all the time without my awareness. In this way, my thoughts and senses are not interrupted, and I can spend time deeply and richly.

The way you use your voice on Late In Life is wonderful and adds an intimacy to the album. When did you first start singing and how do you approach using your voice in your ambient recordings?

I started singing when I was eighteen-ish. When I record my voice for ambient music, I add the voice that is neither Japanese nor English, like a coined word that has no meaning. If words have meaning, people will perceive them as information, and I don’t want to do that. I also believe that the human voice is a sound with strong power because it comes directly from the body. Especially in ambient music, I think it will stand out strongly, so I try to keep that balance in my works.

Why did you call your latest album Late In Life?

Most of the songs on this album are about things left behind afterlife (works, houses, things, memories of the person, etc.). I think the phrase “Late In Life” is used when people die and then we look back on their life. Those who are left behind will respect and look back on the life of the people. That is the meaning behind the name of this album.

What new and future projects are you working on and planning?

The next release has been decided and I am preparing for it.

Also, as I said in the interview, I love the sound of the gallery space, so I would like to open an exhibition in a gallery using sound someday, such as a sound installation.