Power in the Details: An Interview With Chie Otomi

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Whenever I think of Chie Otomi, one of the first memories that pops into my mind is from a livestream early in the pandemic. I can’t remember who all was involved, but at the time I was less familiar with Otomi’s work than everyone else. By the end of the night, she’d stolen the show. Her performance, like much of her work, was intricate and captivating. Her latest album, Touch Again, from late last year on Muzan Editions, is a world unto itself. Otomi has a special way of weaving different tonal palettes together in new, surprising ways that transport listeners to far away vistas. I am excited to hear what she creates next.

This interview was done in early 2022 with translation help from Josuha Stefane of Muzan Editions. Chie Otomi can be reached via her website.

First, I want to ask about your earliest memories of music and of sound. What were some songs or albums that made a lasting impression on you when you were younger? Even if it is music that isn’t necessarily related to your current creative practice, I love hearing about how it all started.

When I was about 15 years old, I heard Nirvana’s live album “From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah”. It was totally different from anything I had heard up to that point and I could feel it move something in me that other music hadn’t.

Were there any specific environmental sounds that you remember as a child that you were fascinated with? I ask specifically because there’s an aspect to your work – or maybe a feeling in it – that always reminds me of landscape paintings or something like that.

That’s a great question, but to tell the truth I don’t think that there were. The experience of a landscape painting that you describe perhaps comes from my attempt to produce environmental sounds through synthesis, without using any field recordings. This is a theme that spans all of my work I think. 

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

The desire to make my own music came to me quite naturally as I listened to more and more music from a variety of genres. I learned piano for a few years as a child, but even at that time I enjoyed changing and improvising on the songs we had to practice.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how new worlds and new, inviting spaces can be created nearly instantly from sounds, which isn’t often the case with most other mediums, and how those worlds and sounds can build connections with others. How do you think sound can be used to connect with people?

Recently I’ve felt that music, whatever the genre, is kind of like an offering, or a gift, made to the people listening and even to the place in which the music is performed, full of the feelings and thoughts of the artists performing it. Each audience member may receive the offering differently, but since everyone is immersed in the music together, they can share the experience of connection and happiness in that environment.

One thing about your recent album, Touch Again, that I love is that it feels very alive and inviting – there’s an almost glow to it that makes it this place I want to be. Can you talk a little bit about what inspired you when you were making the album and what feelings you are conveying? 

This album was inspired by an event in my life that happened last year. At that time I couldn’t really face the situation head on and found myself trying to escape. Looking back at myself during that time, I was able to gain a little more perspective – and that’s when I started to make this album.

There was a lot of shame and sadness, but as I began to face that part of myself, I was able to finally process it and move forward. I just thought that I’d had enough of feeling that way. This process of running away and then finally facing myself is reflected in the sound of Touch Again.

Jumping back a little further, you released a fantastic collaboration with Hideo Nakasako a couple years ago. How did you all come to work together on the album and what was the experience like?

Hideo is an incredibly talented artist and someone who I trust. Before working on the album, we had already performed together on many occasions. We had been talking about the idea of working on some music together when we did several collaborative shows at Space Eauuu, an electronic music space in Kobe. These sessions formed the basis of the album that we eventually released together.

What do you appreciate most when it comes to working collaboratively like on that album? Are there any other collaborations you are currently working on?

When collaborating on music, I think that it’s important for each artist to value their own sound, while at the same time be open to the mutual development and evolution that comes with playing together. 

When I work on music with someone, we usually don’t have a clear concept or image of the track at first. Rather we both listen to each other’s sound and see what comes from that, watching as the music takes shape.

At the moment I’m collaborating with artists such as Rhucle, Elliott, and monospin, although I can’t say when any of the projects will be finished!

What sounds evoke an emotional response in you?

Instrumental sounds, non-instrumental sounds, or even noise: any sound that is both detailed and powerful.

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

I want to start working on a new album. At the end of last year, I had the opportunity to perform outdoors at a festival. The experience felt amazing and I can still remember it clearly. I’d like to evoke some of that experience in the next album I make.

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